Dead Rockers Enliven Today’s Car Ads

Steve Finlay 2

September 29, 2014

4 Min Read
Dead Rockers Enliven Today’s Car Ads

John Simon Ritchie died as a troubled soul. He allegedly killed his girlfriend. Months later, he suffered a fatal drug overdose after a party thrown to celebrate his bond release from jail. His mom gave him the heroin that did him in. She’d supplied him with drugs since he was a kid.

Ritchie, a.k.a. Sid Vicious of the defunct Sex Pistols punk rock band, died 35 years ago. But he’s making a comeback of sorts, thanks to Acura, Honda’s luxury brand.

Lead singer Johnny Rotten said Sid Vicious was the only Sex Pistol who took the group seriously. Everyone else saw it as a spoof.

On his own, Sid did a screeching version of the song “My Way.” Regrets? Assume he had a few.

His take conveys a haunting intensity. It’s not opera. It’s polarizing. You either like it or don’t.

Acura likes it enough to include it in a TV commercial for the ’15 TLX sedan. Sid’s un-Sinatra-like “My Way” accompanies visuals showing the design, development and testing of the TLX.

A YouTube posting of the spot drew plenty of comments from people who found the out-there interpretation of the tune outrageous, kind of like Sid Vicious was in life, even though his friends say that behind the weird exterior dwelt a sweet guy.

In the YouTube comment section someone said: “He probably would have been happy to know so many were offended by his rendition. Rather, he probably wouldn’t care.”

Responding to flak from the ad, Mike Accavitti, head of Acura’s U.S. unit, says it’s not as if Sid Vicious is the brand’s new spokesman. Accavitti says of the late punker and his arrest on suspicion of murder: “The guy was never convicted.” The defense rests, as does Sid.

Although offensive to some, certain people love the Acura ad, such as the demographic group most likely to buy a TLX.

“With men 35 to 55 years old, the ad scores off the charts,” Accavitti says. “Maybe not so much with others, but that’s OK. This is target marketing.”

The irony is that yesterday’s dead anti-establishment rockers provide the lively music for many of today’s car commercials. This has gone on for a while.

At the New York auto show 15 years ago, Pontiac (R.I.P.), unveiled a car amid flashing lights and Jimi Hendrix music.

Soundboard operators at auto-show vehicle debuts amp up the music until it just about blows out a back wall. So the effect in New York was like being at a Jimi Hendrix concert. The only thing missing was Jimi.

Fellow auto journalist John McElroy turned to me and said, “Who’d have thought back in the 1960s that they’d be using Jimi Hendrix music to sell cars in the 1990s?”

Well, not Jimi, who like Sid Vicious, checked out young from a drug overdose.

So did Janis Joplin, but her belting out “Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz?” lives on. Some people say she did the song “Mercedes Benz” as a declaration against materialism. That hasn’t stopped Mercedes-Benz today from using the tune in its commercials.

In fairness, a friend of Joplin said she wasn’t trying to make a statement with the song. She was just blitzed on beer when she recorded it. Here’s to you, Janis.

James Osterberg Jr., better known as Iggy Pop, arguably invented punk rock in the 1960s. He had had a serious drug problem back then. But he’s a survivor, and to this day he remains out there.

So who better to provide the background music for a Cadillac ad? It features Iggy’s song, “I’m a Punk Rocker.” And unlike the aforementioned rock ’n’ rollers, he’s still around to collect royalty checks.

So is Kid Rock who sings in a recent Chevrolet spot. It’s on YouTube, and the weird thing is I had to watch a 15-second Jeep ad to get to the 30-second Chevy ad.

Another odd thing: Kid Rock, real name Bob Ritchie, is the son of a retired Ford dealer. On an airport shuttle bus, I chatted with a woman who, turns out, went to high school with Kid Rock in Romeo, MI.

“What was he like back then?” I asked.

“He was like a rich dealer’s kid; nice, but not wanting for anything.”

In that case, maybe he should have called himself Kid Rich. But that sounds too commercial.

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