Celebrity automotive pitchmen are usually inoffensive, plain-vanilla entertainment and sports stars. But every now and again, ad agencies choose some pretty unlikely people to associate with an auto brand’s cars, trucks and motorcycles.
The Stooges for Audi
Like Lou Reed, Iggy Pop should be the picture next to the dictionary entry for “Rock and Roll, Punk Era.” In this commercial for the Audi A4, you get a brief clip of Iggy in his prime, performing with a ferocity that he maintains almost 45 years after the Stooges released Raw Power.
The song is perfect. What it’s linked to is a montage of every trope related to hipster geniusdom: ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange in a pair of Vans. Gracing the cover of Wired magazine. Coding in front of an audience. Presenting some kind of “wearable” the way Steve Jobs used to show off an iPhone. Davey Johnson at Car and Driver described it with perfection: “It’s a grody, tone-deaf repackaging of affluent life as some sort of rebellion in the name of capitalism.”
The best thing you can say about it is that somehow, Iggy manages to sidestep looking like a sellout.
Lou Reed for the Honda Elite
The Honda Elite commercial from the early 1980s features former Velvet Underground frontman Lou Reed. In the background, it includes Ronnie Ross’s great saxophone solo from Reed’s most recognizable song, “Walk on the Wild Side.”
From Reed’s second solo record, Transformer, it’s an intimate character study of the people that hung around the Andy Warhol Factory with Lou Reed at the time. For example, “Little Joe” in the song refers to Joe Dallesandro, who starred as a street hustler in one of Warhol’s early films. Holly Woodlawn was a drag queen who appeared in Warhol’s 1970 movie Trash, along with Dallesandro.
It is unquestionably one of the great songs of the early 1970s, but it is about as weird a choice as you can make to sell a cheap, plastic scooter.
Sid Vicious for Acura
Nothing embodies “The True Definition of Luxury” quite like a heroin addict who was accused of murdering his girlfriend.
For the 2015 Acura TLX TV spot, Acura chose the dulcet tones of Sid Vicious — bass player for the 1970s punk band/performance art troupe/marketing vehicle the Sex Pistols — belting out a punk rendition of Frank Sinatra’s signature song, “My Way.”
After the Sex Pistols augered in at their final show at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco in 1978, Sid Vicious launched a solo career just weeks later. He recorded three songs, including Eddie Cochran’s “Come on Everybody,” and “Somethin’ Else,” and Sinatra’s song, “My Way,” as an anthem for his departure from the band that made him famous.
By October 12 of 1978, Sid Vicious would be charged with murder in the death of his girlfriend, Nancy Spundgen. Five months later, Sid Vicious was dead, either from an unintentional or quite intentional heroin overdose, depending on who you ask.
Grace Jones for Citroën
Few have built weirder cars than Citroën. From its umbrella-handle shifters in the 2CV to the pneumatic suspension in the DS, to the Maserati Merak-engined SM, Citroën has built cars that ignored trends from the beginning of its history.
One celebrity that made a career out of ignoring trends was Grace Jones. The model, actress and singer was at the peak of stardom in 1985, with a recent Grammy nomination, and supporting roles in both the Arnold Schwarzenegger epic Conan The Barbarian and the James Bond movie View To a Kill, when she appeared in a commercial for the equally unconventional Citroën CX.
The spot was directed by Jean-Paul Goude, who had been the art director at Esquire magazine during that magazine’s heyday. The commercial is a wild bit of surrealism, featuring Grace Jones’s angular head as a pop-up garage for the new CX. It’s weird in the best possible way.
The Clash for Jaguar
“It was the call to wake up, get wise, get angry, get political and get noisy about it,” said U2’s lead guitar player The Edge in his tribute to the Clash for Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists wrapup. “They were…railing against injustice, railing against a system they were just sick of. And they thought it had to go.”
By September of 2002, the Clash thought you should go…go to your local Ja-you-are dealer to score a sweet deal on an XK, XJ, S-Type or X-Type during the London Calling Sales Event!
It was the height of Ford’s influence on Jaguar. In 1999, Ford had folded Jaguar into its ill-fated Premier Automotive Group, and was pitching its Ford-based S-Type and X-Type like you’d blow out the last remaining Escorts at the end of the model year.
It was a cringe-worthy commercial that by itself should be an MBA-level marketing class in “how not to appropriate the punk era.”
The Pogues for Cadillac
We know exactly how the Stooges’ “Search and Destroy” made it into that Audi commercial: The lyrics say “Look out honey, ’cause I’m using technology.” Some ad weenie sat up straight in a meeting and say “Say, kids, we use technology!” and a commercial was born.
How the “Sunny Side of the Street” makes it into a car commercial for a brand like Cadillac is beyond all possible reason.
Exhibit A: The first two verses
Had the women, I had the booze
All that I can remember now
Is little kids without no shoes
With a heartful of hate and a lust for vomit
Now I’m walking on the sunnyside of the street
Exhibit B: Frontman Shane MacGowan
Legendary singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock once recalled an incident at the Hope and Anchor before a gig in London: “The Pogues were all on stage and ready, it was a full house, but they hadn’t started yet. Then this character shambled in through the door and shambled downstairs. I thought, ‘Jesus, you’re not letting that guy in are you?’. Then he walked on stage. That guy was Shane MacGowan.”