By Mark Frieser
CEO, SyncSummit


Those of you that know me, go to our events, listen to our podcasts or read our newsletters and blogs know that I’m a big proponent of the power of ad campaigns and brand partnerships to help artists engage with new audiences they’d never have the opportunity to reach on their own.

This goes for artists of every level – greater exposure leads to a greater potential audience, greater potential engagement and ultimately, greater potential sales.

And, for the brand or agency, it’s more important than ever to work with artists that can both provide the best music from a creative point of view and get their fans engaged with the brand and its products or the ad’s message – and if they’re really fortunate, win some awards.

To me, this is the future of advertising and the future of music sales – brands and agencies working closely with artists to create relevant, targeted campaigns across all forms of media that leverage the budgets, fan bases, customers and outreach efforts of all parties – with the end result being greater sales for all concerned.

Many of the songs used in ads – and artists involved in these campaigns – are known – or somewhat known quantities, where the song already exists and is then either placed, i.e., licensed, for usage in a campaign, or re-recorded by the artist specifically for the campaign – sometimes with the artist in the commercial.

But what about the songs composed specifically for commercials?

Dependent on who you speak to, music written specifically for ads accounts for between 40% – 60% of all music used for ads and brand campaigns. For the most part, these compositions, and the artists that perform them are pretty much unknown to the general public.

Whether this is by design, or because the source of the music is in-house or from a production house, a good deal of the music that is used for advertising, as catchy as it is, stays that – music that is used for advertising.

And that’s a shame as some of it is every bit as well-produced and catchy as that made for commercial release to the consumer market.

That said, there are always exceptions to the rule.  There are a good number of songs originally made for commercials that other artists or the general public found so interesting they made the jump from commercial music to commercial hits.

In this post, I’d like to present to you the following songs originally written for and used in commercials, i.e. “Commercial Music” that later became “Commercial Hits,” charting as hits in the general market.

1. We’ve Only Just Begun (Crocker Bank/The Carpenters – Hal Riney & Partners)

Commercial Music Beginning: This song, written by ASCAP head Paul Williams (lyrics) and Roger Nicols (music) was commissioned by the San Francisco-based ad Agency Hal Riney & Partners in 1969 to help the band better connect with young people. The original version featured Paul Williams on vocals and the first commercial was released in 1969.

After it debuted, two things happened.  First, a friend of Nichols, Smokey Roberds, liked it so much, he asked Nicols and Willians to write a full-length version. They did, Roberds recorded it under the pseudonym Freddie Allen (why I have no idea) and it was a minor local hit in California but didn’t break out nationally.

At around the same time, Richard Carpenter, the creative mind behind the act The Carpenters, saw the ad, realized it was Paul Williams on vocals – both were signed to A&M – and when they ran into each other on the A&M lot (the labels really had lots back then), asked him if he had a full-length version.

Williams said yes, The Carpenters recorded their iconic version, and the rest, as they say, is history.  The Carpenter’s version hit #2 on the Billboard hot 100, and it became a wedding song for a generation of countless baby boomers.

 Oh, and this song had a second commercial music life in 2016 in a long-form Lowes commercial (BBDO NY (at the time))

2. I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke/I’d like to Teach the World to Sing (Coca-Cola/The New Seekers – McCann Erickson)

Coca-Cola regularly commissions original songs for its global campaigns (like “Taste The Feeling”) – but this was arguably the first song for a c commercial that became a truly global hit.  The song was originally penned by McCann Erickson creative director on the Coca-Cola account Bill Backer and the account’s music director Billy Davis.

Bill Backer Tells (and plays) the story: 

 The version for the ad was recorded by a group of studio singers – called “The Hillside Singers.”  Here’s the original commercial:

This version proved so popular, with people calling into radio stations, writing (literally) hundreds of thousands of letters to Coca-Cola that the commercial version was quickly refreshed with the new Chorus “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” and recorded by the group The New Seekers, subsequently becoming a Top-ten hit on the Billboard Top 100.

3. Inside – (Levi’s/Stiltskin -Bartle Bogle Hegarty)

This song was written by the artist Peter Lawlor (co-founder of the act Scottish rock band Stilkskin) for the 1994 Levi’s ad “Inside.” Lawlor played all the instruments on this version.

Based on the popularity of the ad, Lawlor, then recruited singer Ray Wilson (later of the ill-fated post-Phil Collins Genesis) to sing the song, re-recorded as a full-length song by his group Stiltskin, which ended up charting at #1 on the UK Charts.  Here’s the full version:

4. Forever (Wrigley’s/Chris Brown – BBDO)

Before the notoriety for his off-stage antics, in 2006-2007, Chris Brown wrote and recorded what is arguably the world’s best song for a chewing gum commercial ever.

The song “Forever” was commissioned by BBDO as part of a project featuring three pop stars (the others were Ne-Yo and Julianne Hough) to give three of Wrigley’s brands a refresh (Doublemint, Big Red and Juicy Fruit), but this one was by far the standout song.

From the beginning, the song was created with the intention to be a full-length hit and was released as a full-length digital download and as a single and album track in various international markets in 2007-2008. The song peaked at #2 on the Billboard Top 100 in the US and was a top-ten hit in many countries worldwide.

Unfortunately, for reasons that are painfully obvious to anyone above the age of ten not waking up from suspended animation as of this writing, Chris Brown was suspended as a Wrigley’s spokesman in 2009.

5. Anywhere in the World (Mark Ronson+Katy B/Coca-Cola – Mother, London)

Another song for a global tentpole Coca-Cola campaign, “Anywhere in the World” was recorded as part of Coca-Cola’s “Move to the Beat” campaign for the 2012 London Summer Olympics.

Subsequently, a full-length version was recorded and released in various markets leading up to the 2012 Summer Olympics in the spring and summer of 2012

6. No Matter What Shape You’re (Stomach’s) in (Alka-Seltzer/T Bones – Jack Tinker & Partners)

The song was originally written by Grandville A. Burland for Alka-Seltzer’s 1966 commercial “No Matter What Shape Your Stomach’s In”

 After the positive reaction of the public, producer Dave Pell Commissioned Alexander “Sascha” Burland to write a full-length version, then had studio musicians dubbed the “T-Bones” (also called The Wrecking Crew) record it, releasing the song later in 1966.  The song was a hit and charted at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100.

7. Music to Watch Girls by (Diet Pepsi/Bob Crewe – BBDO)

 This misogynistic hit was originally penned by Tony Velona and Sidney “Sid” Ramin for a misogynistic 1966 commercial for Diet Pepsi.

The ad was such a hit with the public that Producer Bob Crewe subsequently recorded a full-length version with his group “The Bob Crewe Generation.” This groovy, ogley instrumental peaked at #15 on the Billboard Hot 100

8. Jeans On (Brutus Jeans/David Dundas – Saatchi & Saatchi)

This happy, feel-good song was recorded by written and recorded originally by David Dundas for a 1974 commercial for Brutus Jeans and commissioned by Saatchi and Saatchi.  It almost makes you want to buy a pair.

 After the popularity of the commercial, David Dundas wrote a full-length version of the song, peaking in 1976 on the UK single chart at #3.

9. Times of Your Life (Kodak/Paul Anka – J. Walter Thompson)

 As a former swing singer, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Canadian singer-songwriter Paul Anka.

Anyone who can both write the lyrics to the English language version of “My Way” and swing out Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is kind of the bomb in my book.

Beyond that, he recorded one of the most iconic brand themes of the 20th Century, “The Times of Your Life” for a 1975 Kodak ad campaign, with music and lyrics by Roger Nichols and Bill Lane.

 While the ad campaign was in full swing, Anka decided to take advantage of its heavy rotation and record and release a full-length version, which reached number seven on the Billboard top 100 and stayed in the top 40 for 12 weeks.

10. The Disadvantages (Benson & Hedges /The Brass Ring – Wells, Rich, Green)

Other than a shorter lifespan, and a generally lower quality of life, it seems that there were other disadvantages to smoking the long-length Benson & Hedges Cigarettes.  It seems they broke a lot – because they were so long.  But then again, I guess they made up for it when you could smoke the full, unbroken cigarette.

This commercial was released in 1967 (before cigarette commercials were banned from TV and radio in 1971) with a groovy soundtrack recorded by a group of studio musicians called The Brass Ring and composed by Mitch Leigh.

Subsequently the hit track “The Dis-Advantages of You” was released in early 1967, charting at #36 on the Billboard top 100.

11. Renegades (Jeep-Fiat Chrysler/X Ambassadors – Wieden + Kennedy)

This one is a pretty interesting one.  In 2015, Fiat Chrysler and Interscope partnered to build a campaign around the X Ambassadors’ song “Renegades.”

It all started when Fiat Chrysler asked Interscope for a song that they could work into Jeep’s new marketing campaign. Interscope suggested X Ambassadors because they happened to already be writing a song, “Renegades” that had a theme matching the feel of the campaign.

What was great about this commercial was that the band not only had a song featured in the commercial, they were also featured wihting the ad playing their music.

The full-length version of the song was released in March of 2015 and subsequently peaked at #17 on the Billboard Hot 100 and hit number 1 in Canada.

12. Driven for you – Brian May/Ford

Probably the most famous guy here, along with Paul Anka and maybe Chris Brown, to transition a song written for a commercial to a hit is Queen’s Brian May. Seriously, Brian May?  Yes.  In 1991, he was commissioned to record a song for the “Driven by You” campaign for Ford Motor Company. It’s pretty decent.  Here’s a video explaining the commissioning of the song by Ford:

 And he’s the final product in the 1991 ad – it feels like a UK version of Chevy’s “Like a Rock” campaign, but maybe that’s just me. It’s a pretty decent usage:

After the commercial went live, on November 6, 1991, May’s label released the single version of the song “Driven By You” – just 18 days before Freddie Mercury’s death. The song peaked at #6 on the UK singles chart and #9 on the US Mainstream Rock Tracks Chart.

13. Bojax Cleanser (Irvin Cohen/SCTV – Volney B. Palmer):

“Give me a C – a bouncy C – for Bojax Cleanser!”

In perhaps one of the most iconic music-brand combinations of the 20th century and beyond, the legendary music composer Irving Cohen (AKA Martin Short) composed original music and starred in a commercial for Bojax Cleanser.

Namechecking Al Jolson, Sophie Tucker (considered The Last of the Red Hot Mamas), Cohen explains how Bojax gets the job done, leaving your kitchen sparkling.

Or course, this is actually an SCTV parody commercial from the early 80’s, not an actual ad but I’d love to see Martin Short reprise it for a future commercial.  Enjoy!