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3 Oct 2014
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orchestra Music Sells
by Razia Iqbal

Later this month, the manufacturers of that iconic item of clothing, Levi's jeans, will be launching a pan-European ad campaign. Nothing new in that. But, it is noteworthy because the campaign will use classical music for the first time, Handel's Sarabande in D Minor, to be precise.

This may seem like an odd choice for a brand aimed firmly at teenagers, but the relationship between the music industry and advertising is a sophisticated and ever changing one.

The piece was written for a single harpsichord, but Levi's have reworked it for a full orchestra. This dramatic change is in keeping with the mood of the advert, which shows a young man and woman crash through walls, defy gravity by running up trees and finally jump into a vast night sky.

Previous ads for Levi's have proved a reliable means of turning old or obscure pieces of music into massive hits. The creative director behind the current campaign, Stephen Butler of Bartle, Bogle and Hegarty, suggests that this one will be no different. He says it might well be "Handel for Number one".

He believes that it's wrong to assume that classical music is not for teenagers. "The thing about classical music is that we grow into it, and for a fifteen year old, there is a way in, a gravitas that appeals to them; it's certainly a lot less disposable than pop music".

Classical music may be less disposable than pop music, but today's advertising business has a symbiotic relationship with the world of pop music. Some songs are instantly recognisable for their association with particular products, jeans, mobile phones, the list is endless.

But what's really changed in recent years, is that all the main music publishers, and large independent ones, have someone who pitches to new bands. The idea that they will become better known if their songs are initially plugged through commercials, rather than through the more conventional route of play lists on radio stations has gained a lot of currency.

Richard Kirstien, the head of Film, Television and Media at independent music publishers, Zomba, says that he doesn't know of a single band who would turn down the opportunity to see their music used in an advert. Although there are vegetarians who, predictably, won't want to be associated with promoting a hamburger; new bands mostly just want to be associated with cool products.

What's clear is that what new bands choose to have their music used for, isn't decided by any deeply held principles. In fact, James Oldham, the deputy editor of New Musical Express isn't hugely impressed. "If," he contends, "rock and roll is meant to be the place where the outsiders reside, where young people can make a stand against the conventions of society, then it's a sucky thing to do, to have your music used by this large corporate system". He says it's too transparent and a bit disappointing.

In the past, adverts had jingles; now they have soundtracks and prices for music have gone up accordingly. Handel may or may not be turning in his grave, but had he been alive today, the marketing push he would get from this campaign would be hard to ignore.

See the Levi's ad. Flash required.
BBC Music biography of Handel.
Radio 1 interview with the Dandy Warhols.

Levi's have successfully exploited the power of music in their advertising
Listen - full report
The Dandy Warhols are just one band whose career has been jump-started through being featured in an advertising campaign
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