Ah, advertising: The grand pursuit of selling human emotions back to the people who feel them. At its best, a great ad is a form of Don Draper-esque high art; more often, though, it’s a crude copy of something real, a notion that’s heavily emphasized whenever the commercial in question features an actual crude copy of a popular song in order to make its pitch.
Pitchfork ran an article digging deep into the phenomenon this week, even going so far as to track down some of the producers who make a living—and fund their own, more original endeavors—by creating these audio simulacra. Still, just reading about it can’t really capture the bizarre feeling of hearing what sounds like a song you’ve heard a billion times before, only to realize that there’s something vaguely off about it, usually while images of an Audi flash past your eyes. (As we’ll see in a second, Audi pulls this particular shit a lot.)
Songs like Eminem’s instantly recognizable “Lose Yourself,” and its equally recognizable copies in the hands of New Zealand’s National Party (litigation pending), or, again, those music lovers at Audi:
Speaking of Audi, it was also one of the targets of a series of blog posts from Icelandic feelings band Sigur Rós a few years back, calling out any number of companies for ripping off their well-known sound. The advertising-averse band went so far as to post an email it got from a marketing firm representing Audi, asking for use of one of its songs in an ad. Not long after they were turned down, this hit TVs (and apparently won an advertising award for its score, which, neat!):
To be clear, this all went down well after Tom Waits already sued the car company for the following ad, featuring a very clear copy of his “Innocent When You Dream.” (Most of these soundalikes don’t try to rip off an artist’s vocal style, too, so kudos to Audi, we guess.) Waits also successfully forced Frito-Lay to back off for copying his distinctive voice for radio ads:
Why does this keep happening? Well, for one thing, it’s hard to prove in court, even when you’re copying as blatantly as Hugo Boss did for this riff on The XX’s “Intro”:
And, frankly, most bands don’t have enough money to hire official musicologists and weather a big legal battle against a major corporation, so they end up taking a settlement to make the whole thing go away. Still, it’s pretty upsetting, something that Tom Petty’s manager made clear way back in 1987, when the artist successfully forced BF Goodrich to stop using an obvious take on his song “Mary’s New Car”: “We turned down a substantial sum of money to not be associated with B. F. Goodrich. But now they’re doing it anyway, which we feel represents an element of deception. We feel that the pop artist should have the right to draw the line as to where his voice or likeness is used for commercial purposes.”