Using gin-soaked hoboes to market to yuppies

Have you noticed the new L.L. Bean TV ad that's set to some of the lyrics of Harry McClintock's Depression-era song, Big Rock Candy Mountain? If not, here's it is, via YouTube:

This strikes me as an odd choice of music for a company which, I assume, wants to be incredibly sensitive to the sensibilities of its customers. The ad takes a brief snippet of lyrics and puts them into a setting that conveys a carefree sense of adventure and wonder, but the original song in its entirety is much darker and filled with references that I'm sure L.L. Bean would not want to be associated with.

The ad wisely omits lyrics such as "There's a lake of gin we can both jump in," "...little streams of alcohol come a-trickling down the rocks," "There's a lake of stew and of whiskey too," and "...where they hung the jerk that invented work." (According to Wikipedia, the original version of the song also contained a verse laced with profanity and a vulgar reference. You can read all the lyrics, sans that original verse that never made it to an actual recording, here. Ironically, the website with the lyrics is the National Institutes of Health's "Kids' Pages.")

Granted, this song has been recorded many times through the years by such family-oriented artists as Burl Ives and included on the Care Bears Karaoke CD - with "sanitized" lyrics, of course - and I suspect that many if not most listeners have no idea about the context or actual lyrics of the entire song. But that still doesn't lessen my surprise that it would end up in a national advertising campaign for a company like L.L. Bean.

This is an interesting area for marketers. How much should the overall context of background music matter to the advertisers? Does the reputation of the writer or original recording artist play into the decision to use a song? Is any connection between song lyrics and ad message, however tenuous, sufficient justification to use that song? And will we thus eventually hear a Michelin ad backed by Why Don't We Do It In The Road?


Eric, I wonder if the ad campaign's creators were introduced to the song - as I was - through the medium of "Captain Kangaroo," where I learned a sanitized version of the lyrics that made no mention ofthe examples you cited ... or "cigarette trees" ... or "kill the jerk who invented work."

I have the same problem with a Budweiser ad that uses the Electric Light Orchestra's song "Don't Bring Me Down." They want you to hear the line "Don't bring me down," but ignore the rest of the verse "I'll tell you once more, before I get off the floor, don't bring me down."

I can't tell if they're being sarcastic or clueless.

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This page contains a single entry by Eric published on August 16, 2010 7:48 AM.

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