HomeAdvertisers Tune In To A Cappella

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"Every day I wake up, and pour myself a cup…"  Most fans of a cappella music recognize the opening line of the Folger’s ad, sung by Rockapella a few years ago.  But these days it seems that a sort of critical mass has been reached, and advertisers are turning to this musical form more and more often.

It’s entirely possible, though, that we just haven’t been paying close attention until now.  Sean Altman, formerly of Rockapella and now a member of GrooveBarbers (among many other projects), has been doing a cappella commercials for the past 20 years, for such diverse products as sunglasses, televisions, beer, insurance, cable networks, fast food, and even nasal spray.  “I wouldn’t call it an emerging trend,” he said recently,  “…[as] a cappella has always been a popular advertising tool.”  It has certainly been kind to Altman, who will be heard doing voiceover in an upcoming spot for Wendy’s; he plays the manic bacon whisperer.  Now this I gotta see… er, hear.

Emerging trend or enduring element, it’s hard to ignore the proliferation of a cappella–accompanied ads currently popping up all over television and radio.  For example, did you know that the underscoring of the Toyota Prius commercials—the ones where the scenery turns out to be people in costume—was performed by a one-woman band named Petra Haden - who also recently worked behind the scenes of "The Sing-Off - (http://www.splendad.com/ads/show/3089-toyota-prius-mpg, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tq4nrmnqY9o)?  And then, of course, there are those nasal spray ads that Sean was talking about, for a product called Astelin (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QvAgVrzR9Ik).

Perhaps one of the most… um… memorable of the most recent mainstream advertising forays into a cappella is the barbershop-singing pizza in the Tabasco ad (http://www.tabasco.com/morethanhot/tabasco-commercial-singing-pizza.cfm).  I’m always oddly fascinated by this one when I see it, and it made me wonder what possesses advertising people to create ads like it.

Chad Vander Lugt, Creative Director at Tracy Locke, the agency of record for the McIlhenny Company (makers of Tabasco) says that the idea of an a cappella quartet seemed appropriate in this campaign because the agency sought to point out how Tabasco harmonizes with food.  “We are aware of the popularity of a cappella singing in such TV shows as The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Scrubs, and hoped to capitalize on this trend by creating a tune that resonated with our target and entertained as well,” said Vander Lugt.  An interesting topping of trivia:  all four voices of the quartet were recorded by a single studio musician, and the four faces in the pepperoni are actors.

I can certainly see what they were going for here, but I fear that this particular spot may bring back too many memories of junior high school anti-drug films—I mean, when your pizza unexpectedly sings to you, isn’t it time to examine what you’ve ingested recently for foreign substances?

The spot is certainly memorable—that can’t be denied.  But an informal survey among my acquaintances netted a nearly unanimous response: When shown this television ad and asked what it made them want to do, there were 25 votes for “run away screaming” and only one for “eat pizza with Tabasco on it.”  There were also four votes for “other” with no further explanation.  I decided I didn’t need to know more.

A cappella music always gets my attention, for better or worse, and it’s probably a safe bet that those who read this newsletter also have more than a passing interest in this art form.  Maybe the fact that we’re hearing more a cappella in the advertising arena means that more folks are listening.  Or maybe there are just more of us who remember those junior high school anti-drug units than we’d like to admit.

About the author:
Melinda L. Thomas was a piano performance major at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and at San Francisco State University.  She has been singing all her life as well, and has performed with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, Conservatory Opera Theatre, Sacred and Profane Chamber Chorus, and was a founding member of Voci women's chamber chorus.  She has also been a music director for many theatrical productions, including Godspell, Grease, Pippin, West Side Story, and Dracula: The Musical?  These days, she sings with an early music a cappella quintet called Harmonium.

[main photo: Toyota Prius ad; music by Petra Haden]


It's Everywhere!

Years back, when I first got into the Contemporary A Cappella scene, I started to notice the music on commercials, and would just go crazy, loudly proclaiming "Hey! That's A Cappella music!" to the annoyed displeasure of my family. We used to have commercials for a local amusement park in Utah called Lagoon that were always done A Cappella.

In my opinion, I think it's a great thing, and I hope that the continued exposure and success of A Cappella in commercials stays for a long time to come.

Music...joy, comfort, pain, sorry, happiness, pleasure, excitement. It's all there.

<<I started to notice the

<<I started to notice the music on commercials, and would just go crazy, loudly proclaiming "Hey! That's A Cappella music!" to the annoyed displeasure of my family.>>

I can SO relate.  LOL

I agree.  It was in high

I agree.  It was in high school that I became exposed to Rockapella and have yet to get enough of it.  As Melinda said, "A cappella music always gets my attention, for better or worse...".  I am just glad that the rising increase in this form of music is coming at a slow pace.  It is more likely to be seeded well that way, rather than a fab that comes full force and then dies just as quick. 

I would also note that with the increasing number of college groups out there, it isn't surpriseing that more of this creeping up in the modern media.  Students who were part of groups know what it is about and are able to apply them into their non-music type jobs.  As more college groups pump out more A-Cappella savy students into the mainstream world, we are more likely to see many usefull and interesting applications of the artform we love so dearly.

I am not expecting it to catch on and have everyone in the world singing a-cappella.  And I am guessing it will eventually reach a plateu, and stay there for a long while. 

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