Ad Rock! Musicians In TV Commercials Part 1

Ad Rock! Musicians In TV Commercials Part 1

David Bowie Vittel
A CGI version of David Bowie reprising his Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) character Pierrot in a 2003 advertisement for Vittel bottled water

Musicians have appeared in television commercials for more than 50 years, with the ‘60s seeing The Rolling Stones advertising Rice Krispies and Chubby Checker appearing in a Bachman Pretzels commercial with a jingle written by Billy Joel. Repeat ad offenders include David Bowie, John Farnham and Johnny Cash, while artists such as Bob Dylan and Iggy Pop waited more than 40 years into their careers before taking the plunge. Here are 12 winners (and losers) from the archives.

David Bowie – Vittel Spring Water

Who wouldn’t want to live in this share house with David Bowies from various eras? Share a bowl of cereal with the Thin White Duke, watch TV with Aladdin Sane and wait to use the bathroom while Ziggy perfects his screwed-down hairdo. Just don’t look at the carpet - the Diamond Dog’s done something awful on it…

Johnny Cash – Canada Trust

In his leaner years of ‘80s and early ‘90s The Man In Black made ads for Taco Bell, fuel outlet STP and Lionel model railways – all now easily available to cringe at on YouTube. Cash’s collaboration with banking institution Canada Trust takes the cake though, with each of their ATMs once bearing the brilliant title Johnny Cash Money Machine. With a surname like that, the dude was born to make staggering ads.  

ABBA – National

Earning huge bucks as the biggest live drawcard in Australia in 1977, it’s hard to believe ABBA messed with the lyrics to their hit "Fernando" and filmed these awkward ads for electronics brand National (the precursor to Panasonic). And all for the princely sum of $30,000, too! Filmed during a day off on their record-breaking Australian tour, Anna-Frid Lyngstad tentatively plays with a National juicer, the band piss about with walkie talkies in a Sydney park and Bjorn Ulvaeus modestly suggests National are “slightly ahead of our time”. Brilliant for nostalgic reasons, even if it doesn’t tempt you to purchase a new National calculator.

Iggy Pop – Swiftcover Insurance

Never get stooged by a dud cover again! Despite not being eligible for Swiftcover car insurance due to the fact he’s an American resident, that didn't stop Iggy Pop from hawking the UK insurance alongside a foam marionette of himself. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which one’s the over-excited rubber dude and which one is the puppet…

Robert Palmer – Pepsi

There are a million soft drink commercials featuring musicians, but the cheek of this one is absurd. Not only does Pepsi bite Robert Palmer’s hit tune and video for "Simply Irresistible" by featuring a bevy of models dancing behind the suited soul man, the UK singer holds his tongue to his cheek as he sings "How can it be permissible? Don’t compromise my principles." Wow.

John Lydon – Country Life Butter

Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated? Former Sex Pistols sneerer John Lydon suggests he sold out for a British butter brand so he could afford to get Public Image Ltd back together. No doubt a noble theory, but punks scoffed at The Artist Formerly Known As Rotten promoting a product he would have a hard time even getting his hands on his Californian home. Even so, Lydon’s so shameless about it all you can almost look past his filthy lucre.

Alice Cooper – Staples

In 2004 Alice Cooper ducked into stationery megastore Staples for a few supplies, giving a lyrical nod to his 1972 hit single "School’s Out". Wearing his trademark eye make-up, Alice "gets trolleyed" in an entirely different way to his booze-quaffing '70s heyday.

Lou Reed – Honda Scooters

"Walk On The Wild Side"'s themes of transvestites, prostitutes and oral sex are soothingly wiped from memory while the sax interlude of Lou Reed’s Transformer hit soundtracks some gritty NYC street scenes. “Don’t settle for walking,” Reed gruffly threatens viewers in his best Travis Bickle voice.

Sting – Jaguar

According to this ad, when Sting’s on stage singing songs from his 1999 album Brand New Day, he is actually dreaming of escaping into the desert in a luxury car. If we had to sit through Sting singing songs from his 1999 album Brand New Day, we’d also probably be dreaming of an escape route.

Bob Dylan – Victoria’s Secret

As noted in Robert Shelton’s dense Bob Dylan tome No Direction Home, when Dylan was asked in 1965, “If you were going to sell out to a commercial interest, which one would you choose?” The idiosyncratic hero chuckled and answered “Ladies garments.” Over 30 years later, a pencil-moustached Dylan finally fulfilled his wish, appearing alongside Victoria’s Secret model Adriana Lima while his tune "Love Sick" plays in the background. 

Ringo Starr - Pizza Hut

The real reason it took Ringo 30 years to write Marge Simpson a reply to her Beatles fan letter? He was busy making shit ads for the Hut. Bonus bizarre moment: a guest appearance by three quarters of The Monkees!

Spinal Tap – Rock‘N’Rolls

A fake rock band advertising a fake-tasting microwave snack? As a marketing concept it’s perverse enough to be a winner. Shorter and more digestible than a jazz odyssey, the Australian Rock‘N’Rolls ads in the early ‘90s proved popular enough to appear on the special edition DVD release of This Is Spinal Tap – long after the foodstuffs themselves became obsolete. “You’re the nit, you nitwit!”

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