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Commercial break: Lou Reed - unlikely ad star

Lou Reed was many things.

An innovator.

A transgressive rock and roll poet.

But a pitchman?


If you have more than a passing knowledge of Reed’s music, which ranges from avant garde drone to a song cycle about an abusive relationship, you might not think it wise to tap him for an ad campaign.

But a few companies did.

For example, here is Reed promoting Honda scooters in a mid-80s ad.

The idea for this apparently originated with Jim Riswold, who was, at the time, a copywriter at Wieden+Kennedy.

Not only is Reed in the ad, the soundtrack is Walk on the Wild Side, his only Billboard top 40 hit.

It’s worth noting that the song made the charts despite references to oral sex, drug use, and male prostitution.

Based on its content, it was an unlikely hit in 1972 and an even more unlikely choice for a jingle.

And the fact that Reed appeared in the ad was wild too, not just because his image was not squeaky clean but also because he had just proclaimed his love for the Kawasaki GPz on 1984's New Sensations.

But as Reed himself once sang, those were different times.

The ad ends with Reed imploring viewers ‘don’t settle for walking,’ which deserves a chef’s kiss.

That's great copywriting.

Given that the scooter model featured in the ad was discontinued a few years later, I suspect the campaign was more beneficial for Wieden+Kennedy than Honda, but it would not be the last time a company would seek to capitalize on Reed's hipster cachet.

Here is Reed promoting American Express, which was not likely accepted for certain transactions he sang about.

And then, there is this Dunlop ad, which features The Velvet Underground's Venus in Furs, a song inspired by a book that had nothing to do with tires.

The imagery suggests someone read the book, but you have to wonder why no one thought to use the part of the song where Reed sings 'I am tired.'

Thanks to its appearance in Trainspotting, another Reed song, Perfect Day, became popular enough to appear in ads for AT&T and PlayStation, and on a Susan Boyle album.

Reed was not the first rock and roll legend to appear in or license his music for an ad, and he would not be the last, but it does seem that his appearance in that Honda ad opened the doors for more unconventional thinking about music artists and songs that could be employed for commercial purposes.

Which probably explains why few people batted an eye when an Iggy Pop song with references to liquor and drugs became, with a change of lyric, a jingle for Royal Caribbean.

After all, how shocking could that be given we'd already taken a walk on the wild side?


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