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Corn! Soup! Dirt!

And other musical triumphs of modern TV advertising.

Steve Burgess 27 Apr

Steve Burgess is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

He writes the Please Advise! column and other effluvia as required. He is a former CBC host and author of the 2011 book Who Killed Mom? from Greystone Books. He has won two National Magazine Awards and three Western Magazine Awards.

Raised on the Canadian Prairies, he has lived in Vancouver since 1988. Find him on Twitter @steveburgess1.

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Iggy Pop croons for Carnival Cruises

Is it shameful to like a song from a TV commercial? I’m not talking about some cool song like the Be Good Tanyas’ “The Littlest Birds,” adopted as the soundtrack for a Telus commercial. I’m talking about a song written for an ad.

Specifically I’m talking about “Corn Soup Dirt,” the song that accompanies the Scratch ‘n Win Crossword lottery commercial. In the ad, actors scramble around a hog pen grabbing pigs labeled with letters that will allow them to spell words. The band is hollering out the words — “Corn! Soup! Dirt!” I’ve been singing it for weeks. Corn Soup Dirt also has a great opening — the band is muttering some unintelligible words that can’t possibly be doing anything to sell the product. It’s a hit, I tell you.

It wouldn’t be the first time a hit single emerged from a TV commercial—Coke used to pull off that trick occasionally — but usually it’s the other way around these days. Ad companies grab existing songs for ads. Many of those songs are rather obscure, perhaps because they’re cheaper.

Iggy Pop’s luxury cruise

In fact with the dire state of local radio, I have been introduced to some great songs solely by ads, e.g. “All Right” by Supergrass, a song I was totally unfamiliar with until MasterCard used it for their ad about middle-aged guys running around Europe. And if somebody could tell me who sings that version of the old Rosemary Clooney chestnut “Come-on a My House” that’s featured in an RBC ad, I’d be grateful.

When classic songs are used in TV ads the results can be depressing, obscene, and sometimes unintentionally hilarious. Carnival Cruises used Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life,” deftly obscuring the line where the Ig-Man sings “Of course I’ve had it in my ear before.” (Geez, Martha, what kind of cruising are they talking about?) The very fact that an Iggy Pop song about a crazed and drug-addled demi-monde could be used for a cruise line demonstrates clearly the power of advertising to pulverize art.

The Bank of Montreal still owns the title belt for obscene co-opting for their use of Dylan’s “The Times, They Are A-Changin’” to sell banking services some years ago.

But hey, that’s not a problem with “Corn Soup Dirt.” There’s no art to pulverize. Play it again!

Fido, roll over!

Give credit where it’s due — a good ad campaign can be genuinely brilliant, motives notwithstanding. But they are also frequently bullshit delivery vehicles. We all know that, but sometimes it’s necessary to remind ourselves.

I was thinking about this while watching a recent Fido ad. The Fido cell phone campaign stars a mustachioed Jack Layton-type whom, we are led to believe, is the boss man — the Colonel Sanders of Fido. He’s been in the ads since the beginning, originally seen talking about Fido’s unlimited local-calling plan.

Thing is, Fido was sold last year. Rogers bought it, and some news reports suggested that, among other reasons, they did so specifically so they could eliminate the very same sweet local-calling deal that Mr. Fido once trumpeted in the ads. It was cutting into Rogers’ market share.

So what do Fido’s ads look like now? Is a triumphant Ted Rogers shown with his foot on Mr. Fido’s neck?

Nope. The ads are basically the same, minus the now-cancelled deal. These days the mustachioed guy talks about some other offer instead. It’s not the most egregious example of advertising bullshit ever seen. But it is a handy reminder of the nature of the biz. There was a time when a business almost always meant a person — you dealt with the owner and established a bond of trust. Advertisers know that. So they invent bogus owners and sell them to us. In some situations that would be fraud. But in this case it’s just advertising.

Steve Burgess is at large commentator on many things, including television, for The Tyee.  [Tyee]

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