Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Bands and brands: Beach House’s problems with the ad industry

It’s not the first time that a brand has cogged a band’s sound after being rebuffed by the act – see Sigur Ros’ accounts of their adventures in the advertising industry, for instance – but Beach House’s recent run-in with …

Tue, May 22, 2012, 09:14


It’s not the first time that a brand has cogged a band’s sound after being rebuffed by the act – see Sigur Ros’ accounts of their adventures in the advertising industry, for instance – but Beach House’s recent run-in with Volkswagen is worthy of note. As the band explain, they were tapped by the company’s advertising agency DDB who wanted to use “Take Care” in an ad campaign. The band said no and so, the agency went off, hired a bunch of musicians called Sniffy Dog and got them to produce a BeachHousesque track. The band are naturally a little unhappy with this state of affairs and hence, why we know about what has happened. Fans too are not amused and have taken to Volkswagen’s Facebook page to do a spot of keyboard fuming.

Of course, it’s not as if Beach House are advert refuseniks – there’s this, for example – but they do seem quite irked by this turn of events and not just because it turns out that their trademark sound is so easily copied. There has been no comment to date from the car manufacturer or the ad agency on what has happened, probably because it’s not the first and won’t be the last time this sort of thing happens. After all, the brands think, we’re willing to pay big dosh at a time when record labels aren’t dipping into their pockets so what’s the problem? They’re probably just as miffed as Beach House for getting caught up in this and not just because their ruse has been rumbled.

The problem comes down to the rules of engagement and the fact that these rules are largely unwritten. The music industry and all who sail in it have always operated on the basis of requesting and obtaining permissions. We know from watching the music business’ travails how that has worked out with various tech and telecom companies bypassing that barrier to shoot first and ask questions later. The agency did their bit by approaching the band and making them (we would reckon) a generous offer. The band said no and probably thought that was the end of it. Then, they heard the BeachHousesque track, went ‘OMFG!’ (and not just at the thought of the cheque they refused, which was probably larger than the money they pocketed for supporting Villagers in a south county Dublin tent last summer) and went public. Which is where we’re at today.

This is something which the legal eagles who read OTR refer to as “passing off” and there may well be the grounds for some sort of legal action based on this tort. Yet the issue also highlights the problems which arise when a band sometimes says yes and occasionally says no. You can see the story from the agency’s point of view – hey, Beach House are happy to flog alcohol so maybe they’ll flog a car too? – but, as music fans, we can also see it from the Baltimore band’s side. They said no and that should have been that. Instead, the agency go down the route of the sonic photocopier. Like we said, OMFG.

Much of what we wrote about the bands and brands’ waltz (here and here) back in 2010 are still valid in this argument. Brands have moved into the music space and have been welcomed with open arms because they’re providing cash at a time when the traditional sources of funding are not. But with this investment now comes new demands. The days of brands simply wanting to stick their banner up behind a band on a stage in return for their cash are over. Brands want more than that for their cheques and, in all cases, they’re getting it. Look at the Jay-Z curated fest in Philly in September with the brand’s name right in the title. You don’t even have to go across the Atlantic to see an example of this – how about this, this, this and this? – but it’s telling that even a superdupermegastar like Jigga will take the brand cash.

You could call it arrogance – how dare those brands demand all these things from our artists! – but acts have been allowing record labels get away with more onerous demands for years in return for advances. While acts and the permanent establishment which manage, guide and counsel them may have regarded brands as a soft touch for easy cash for years, that has all changed now. Brands want their pound of flesh and many acts are happy to oblige. But this doesn’t mean that brands have a carte blanche to go off and produce BeachHousesque tracks at the drop of a hat and expect to get away with it. No doubt, we’ll see more and more instances of this, an act horrified at what an agency have done on behalf of a brand and the agency wondering what all the fuss is about. Perhaps someday, as the song puts it, the farmer and the cowman can be friends but we can expect many more ruffled feathers before that becomes a reality,