If you’ve been watching any television in the last few weeks, you’ll probably have seen Iggy Pop posturing and gurning like a prize fool while shouting about the merits of Swiftcover insurance. For those who haven’t seen the advert, let me summarise the basic message: Swiftcover is easy and quick, so even if you’re dumb and impatient, you can still get insurance. Now, I don’t know whether the credit crunch has hit Mr. Pop harder than most (though from looking at the advert, it would seem that he can no longer afford shirts), but surely he could find a way to earn a little pocket money without selling out quite so blatantly.
It does seem a little unfair to single out Iggy in this respect, though. Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, The Clash, The Beatles and countless other great bands have succumbed to the lure of the advertising man and his deep pockets. In some cases, of course, the band doesn’t really get a say. For example, Sony/ATV hold the licenses to much of The Beatles’ back catalogue, and do not need the permission of any of the Fab Four to sell the rights to the advertisers. This led to the rather ludicrous decision to let Proctor and Gamble use ‘All You Need Is Love’ to sell nappies in America. However, Bob Dylan’s personal appearance in a Victoria Secret advert, for example, implies a little more endorsement. I can believe that Dylan liked the idea of selling underwear. Back in 1965, he said it was the one thing that might persuade him to sell out, and it’s not unfeasible that the idea just piqued his interest. Likewise, I can believe that Led Zeppelin genuinely do like Cadillacs, and therefore had less qualms about selling the firm the right to use ‘Rock and Roll’. The idea that Iggy Pop really believes in the excellence of the Swiftcover brand is a bit harder to swallow. Ultimately, in this case, money really does appear to be the only factor.
Still, it could be argued that this really isn’t anything to care about. If Dylan can get paid to leer at women in their underwear, then it’s probably a just reward for his years of brilliant songwriting. Iggy Pop may be acting like an idiot on national television, but you know that most of us would jump at the chance if the pay-check was half decent. They’ve done the work to get where they are, now they should be able to reap the rewards, right?
Of course, advertising’s benefits aren’t solely linked to money. José González was, in 2005, a relatively unknown singer-songwriter with a cult following at best. Enter Sony, and 250,000 colourful balls. Relatively quickly, he became something of a household name, with his debut album, Veneer, reaching number 7 in the album charts, and his cover of ‘Heartbeats’ that featured on the advert peaked at number 9. Yet there has been no real outcry from those who were fans before Sony came and knocked on his door. Well, barring the odd diehard elitist mumbling angrily about his favourite niche artist becoming popular. The most obvious reason for this is simple – what he was selling was his music, not his image. No-one was going to buy a Sony television because some unknown Swedish guy endorsed them. But ‘Heartbeats’ was a wonderful little track, and worked perfectly with the advert to create something memorable.
It helps that singer-songwriters don’t take an implied stand against the establishment. Punk has strong roots in rebellion and anarchy, and any punk band who thinks about selling out is going to face a severe loss of credibility. It’s a bit of a kick in the teeth when the Godfather of Punk sells his image to the highest bidder, sacrificing his principles for the right amount of money. Maybe the principles attributed to him were unwarranted, I don’t know. But there were certainly those who thought him above this, and to find that their hero is human after all is always going to hurt. Many of them probably still rankle at Johnny Rotten dressing up as a country squire to sell butter. ‘I am an anarchist’, indeed. Ultimately, it all comes down to the fact that the images and feelings evoked by an artist or a song can really mean a lot to people, more than the artist may have expected. When they see them thrown to the wayside in order to make a quick buck, they’re understandably going to be upset. So, on the off chance that anyone reads this ends up as a member of a successful punk rock band, try to avoid selling your music to the Conservative party, ok?