Advertising’s great cover up

Old 80s hit + quirky singer + stripped down arrangement = the new standard for commercials soundtracks. Discuss

Old 80s hit + quirky singer + stripped down arrangement = the new standard for commercials soundtracks. Discuss

AMV BBDO’s current commercials for Sainsbury’s feature the Rufus & Chaka Khan classic Ain’t Nobody re-recorded not once but three times by three different artists.

The pizza ad features Jasmine Thompson (available to download from Sainsburys Entertainment, folks)


James Riley soundtracks fish fingers


And Roo can be heard on the bacon and spinach salad spot


The quirky cover version, as Ben Kay notes on his blog, has replaced (or supplemented) folksiness as the go-to music choice for commercials today. As we moaned back in 2009, “Twee, acoustic, folksy music accompanies practically every second ad on TV at the moment”. Now the tweeness remains, but it is allied with the familiarity-with-a-twist of a cover version.


Take Chipotle, for example, for whom Willie Nelson delivered this memorable Coldplay cover on Back to the Start


The follow up, The Scarecrow, features another stripped down cover – this time by Fiona Apple who gives us her rendition of Pure Imagination from the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film


John Lewis and its agency Adam & Eve DDB has been mining this particular seam for some time, of course. There was the 2010 Christmas ad, featuring Your Song


Followed by 2011’s ‘head in a box’ ad featuring Please, Please, Please


And 2012’s Power of Love


On a slightly different tack, we’ve had Motorhead covering themselves for Kronenbourg (rather than covering themselves IN Kronenbourg, which might be their normal practice)


And even a country version of Cameo classic Word Up for VO5


Where’s it all coming from? Perhaps Gary Jules’ Mad World cover, which featured in 2001 film Donnie Darko, had some influence (video here by Michel Gondry)


Radio 1’s Live Lounge has been featuring ‘unlikely’ cover versions for many years (listen to Elbow cover Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black here, for example, or Franz Ferdinand take on Britney here). And Johnny Cash’s The Man Comes Around featured a host of memorable cover versions


You can see the attraction. These songs are freighted with meaning for older viewers but given new life by the fresh treatment they receive, resulting in iTunes downloads and radio play which aids awareness of the ad campaign. Presumably it’s also cheaper to re-record than use the original. But it all carries more than a whiff of pop eating itself.


With the success of Dumb Ways to Die, perhaps next year we will be moaning about a slew of ‘charming’ original ditties with singalong choruses and funny lyrics instead.


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