Pop Songs that helped sell product, from Run-D.M.C.'s "My Adidas" To Calvin Harris' "Let's Go" For Pepsi.
Since their heyday in TV and radio advertising of the '50s and '60s, songs written for commercials have had a resurgence in recent years but in a different form. Instead of the 30-second songs you'd hear during commercials, the modern jingle is more frequently becoming a pop song in its own right.
Witness last summer's single from Calvin Harris featuring Ne-Yo, "Let's Go," an electro-pop raver that was initially commissioned by Pepsi Max to be its European soccer anthem. The song reached the top 20 of the Hot 100.
There have certainly been a number of famous examples of this new breed of jingle already. Just look at what happened in 2008 when ad agency Translation paired Chris Brown with Wrigley for an updated take on Doublemint's "Double your pleasure, double your fun" tagline. The result was "Forever," a No. 2 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and one of Brown's biggest hits to date. But with another Super Bowl here -- and a slate of music-fueled Super Bowl ads that include a Hyundai spot with a custom-written The Flaming Lips' tune -- the time is right to delve into other key tunes, past and present, that have made ads rock. Here, Billboard.com takes a look at 10 of the best, with asterisks where noted for songs that were not initially written for a brand. All sales figures are according to Nielsen SoundScan.
"Let's Go" (Pepsi)
Calvin Harris feat. Ne-Yo, 2012
Chart History: No. 17 on the Hot 100
A pop hit in the U.S., "Let's Go" has origins in Europe as an official soccer anthem for Pepsi Max, with lyrics that happen to embody the message of Pepsi's first-ever global ad tagline, "live for now." "It's now or never," Ne-Yo sings on the fist pump-worthy track, "tomorrow's good, tonight is better." Brad Jakeman, Pepsi's chief creative officer, told Billboard in a May 5, 2012 cover story that the "live for now " positioning was the key differentiator between Pepsi and longtime rival Coca-Cola. "They've attracted a group of consumers who've prepared more to trade off on 'tomorrow.' We're much more focused on maximizing the excitement of 'today.'"
"Red Solo Cup" (Solo)*
Toby Keith, 2011
Chart History: No. 15 on the Hot 100
One of Toby Keith's biggest hits is also his most unlikely. Unlike most of his singles, "Red Solo Cup" was not written by Keith but two pairs of Nashville writers known collectively as the Warren Beaver Brothers - Brad and Brett Warren, Brett and Jim Beavers, respectively. Though the writers didn't compose the song under any influence from Solo, the single's release nevertheless coincided serendipitously with the sale of The Solo Cup Co. to Dart Container Corp. this spring, to the tune of $1 billion. Although Solo initially bristled at the song's less-than-favorable lyrics ("A red Solo cup is cheap and disposable / And in 14 years they are decomposable"), the company has since voiced its approval to Keith's camp. "Toby made the red Solo cup a party icon," says TK Kimbrell, Keith's manager.
Chris Brown, 2008
Chart History: No. 2 on Hot 100
Perhaps the most direct template for the modern jingle, "Forever" was a big hit in the summer of 2008 for both Brown and Wrigley's Doublemint, which scored a lot of awareness for the updated take on the brand's "double your pleasure, double your fun" tagline. But the ill-fated deal is also the most direct template for how brands respond to celebrity crises, as Wrigley was the first brand to discontinue its business dealings with Brown following his 2009 incident with Rihanna at the Grammys.
"Wavin' Flag (The Celebration Mix)" (Coca-Cola)
Chart History: No. 82 on Hot 100
African rapper K'naan's breakthrough U.S. hit existed in a more personal form with lyrics that addressed growing up in Somalia, but when Coca-Cola tapped him to adapt the song for a "Celebration Mix" with Will.i.am and David Guetta, "Wavin' Flag" took on a more universal form as a sports anthem. The single has led to a long-term collaboration between K'naan and Coca-Cola, which donated the $500,000 it received from "Wavin' Flag" to clean-water programs for schools in Africa through the charity RAIN, at K'naan's request. More than 500 schools benefited.
"Anywhere In the World" (Coca-Cola)
Mark Ronson feat. Katy B, 2012
Coca-Cola's first Olympic jingle was the result of an 18-month project that saw producer Ronson (Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen) collaborating with five Olympic athletes around the globe to capture the sounds of their respective sports and incorporate those noises into a pop song. The project, which was adapted for over 20 territories, features fellow London-er Katy B on lead vocals. The U.S. push for the song included commercial time as well as custom promos on NBC's coverage of the Games, a Spotify promotion from Ronson's U.S. label RCA, a national media buy on Ryan Seacrest's "American Top 40." and an installation at Coca-Cola's own Olympic pavilion.
"Let's Get It Started" (NBA)
The Black Eyed Peas, 2004
Chart History: No. 21 on Hot 100
Originally a song called "Let's Get Retarded" that appeared on 2003's "Elephunk," the Black Eyed Peas (wisely) changed the title and updated the lyrics for this 2004 single that doubled as the theme for the 2004 NBA playoffs season. It also kick-started a long series of brand partnerships for the band and its members Will.i.am and Fergie, which have included everyone from Pepsi and Intel to Candie's, BlackBerry and Bacardi, prompting the Wall Street Journal to memorably dub them "The Most Corporate Band in America" in a 2010 profile.
Zoosk Girl (Zoosk)
T-Pain Feat. Flo Rida, 2010
Chart History: Has not charted.
Released on the heels of Lady Gaga's epic, product placement-laden "Telephone" video, which featured a cameo from online dating site Plenty of Fish, "Zoosk Girl" was a one-off digital single from T-Pain and Flo Rida that is one of the more transparently sponsored pop song-as-jingles in recent memory. See the heavily branded video above for further proof.
Chart History: No. 20 on Hot 100
Jewel underwent a surprising makeover for 2003's "03/04," a collection of upbeat, glossy pop songs that far transcended her roots as an Alaskan folk singer. Part of that change included this tongue-in-cheek, Lester Mendez-produced single, which did double duty as an unofficial theme song for Schick's Intuition razor. Although written (and titled) independent of the razor, "Intuition" was nevertheless licensed for a national TV campaign and performed by Jewel at a New York event called Intuitionfest, thus cementing its jingle status.
"Pass The Courvoisier, Parts I and II" (Courvoisier)*
Busta Rhymes feat. Diddy & Pharrell, 2002
Chart History: No. 11 on Hot 100
Shout-outs to booze brands has become virtually passé in hip-hop now (if you had a dollar for every time Pitbull name-checks Voli these days, for instance, you'd be quite wealthy.) But Busta Rhymes took the still-nascent trend to a new level in 2002, when his pair of "Pass The Courvoisier" singles became party bangers that happened to reference the popular cognac brand. The company did not pay Busta for the mentions in either single, but later reached a promotional pact with Rhymes' management company Violator after experiencing an uptick in sales as a direct result of the song's popularity. Nelly experienced a similar cause-and-effect that same year when his No. 3 hit "Air Force Ones" ( watch it here), an unpaid ode to the Nike shoe, naturally led to an official endorsement deal to the signature sneakers.
"My Adidas" (Adidas)*
Chart History: No. 5 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs (did not chart on Billboard Hot 100)
In many ways, the song that started it all. Originating as a love song of sorts to the band's favorite shoe, "My Adidas" kick-started the trend of rappers referencing products in songs - often with the hopes that such free PR would eventually lead to the kind of endorsement deal and national exposure Run-D.M.C. got when the group appeared in TV ads for Adidas, inked an endorsement deal worth a reported $1.5 million and released their own custom line of sneakers.
*All songs with an asterisk were not written specifically for an advertiser, but later led to official relationships with their respective brands.