'98's Best: The Verve Go Commercial With 'Bitter Sweet Symphony'

It's latest contemporary hit used in TV ad campaigns which traditionally focused on the classics.

[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at

1998's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers.]

From radio to MTV to TV commercials, The Verve's mega-hit "Bitter Sweet

Symphony" has taken an unusual albeit increasingly popular route into the

public domain.

Anyone watching the NFC Championship game between the San

Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers recently saw the premiere of a new

Nike commercial that uses "Bitter Sweet Symphony" to help sell the sportswear

giant's product. The decision to use the song as part of the Nike ad campaign is

another example of how large corporations are increasingly looking to attract

younger audiences through cutting-edge rock.

The 60-second television spot aired Jan. 11 on FOX network repeats the Nike's

most recent mantra "I Can" over images of men and women of all ages testing

their physical endurance, while the Verve's opening chords, violins and first

verse of

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Verve,_The/Bitter_Sweet_Symphony.ram">"Bitter Sweet Symphony" (RealAudio excerpt) provide a sort of soundtrack.

"It's just an incredibly emotional piece of music," said Michael Folino, who

worked on the advertisement using "Bitter Sweet Symphony." "We tried out a

number of different songs with the video but we simply responded to that piece."

However, rather than being chosen for its popular appeal, the decision to use

The Verve in a Nike commercial came purely out of a love of the song, he

added. "It wasn't that we were trying to get a younger audience by using this

popular song," says Folino, 33, a copywriter for the Portland, Oregon-based

advertising firm Wieden & Kennedy. Folino, who along with art director Joe

Shands and copywriter Mike Smith, acted as the creative team at Wieden &

Kennedy that produced the advertisement. "We were listening to the song way

before it became a hit."

The song, which reached the #2 position on the U. K. charts last year, is one of a number of today's hits that have found their way to

television commercials in recent years. Among the other examples are

Volkwagon's use of Lush's "Sweetness and Light" in a TV ad and the car

company's plans to use Spiritualized's

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Spiritualized/Ladies_And_Gentlemen_We_Are_

Floating_In_Space.ram">"Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In

Space" (RealAudio excerpt), the title track off their latest album, for a

promotional video to launch the new VW Beetle at auto trade shows across the

country two weeks ago. Negotiations are also underway to use the song in a

worldwide commercial, according to the band's label, Arista.

Prior to this, the trend among corporations seeking rock music-based

advertising was to purchase the rights to high-profile vintage hits such as Sly &

the Family Stone's "Everyday People," which has been used

recently by Toyota. Among the first rock hits to be sampled for commercials by

Nike was the Beatles' classic "Revolution."

But today, those classics seem to be giving way to modern melodies such as

Chumbawamba's "Tubthumping," from their Billboard top-10 album

Tubthumper. The hit song is currently being used in a TV ad for the

movie "Home Alone 3," as well as in an Italian commercial for Reno cars. In both

licensing instances, Chumbawamba are donating all profits to anarchistic

groups and anarchistic radio stations.

Meanwhile, head of U.S. Advertising for Nike Chris Zimmerman said that his

corporation is targeting the same young audience it has in the past and bristled

at the suggestion that Verve lead singer Richard Ashcroft's image -- self-

indulgent, defiant and bone thin -- is the opposite of Nike's positive, healthy

image. "The majority of the audience watching the ad aren't particularly

interested in the background of the band," he said.

The Verve's management recently issued a statement saying that the band

would not have consented to the Nike commercial if they had retained

publishing rights to their song in the first place, according to Ambrosia Healy,

the band publicist. "Though it is not The Verve's policy to have their music used

in commercial advertising, a portion of 'Bitter Sweet Symphony' has been

approved for use in a Nike television ad that is currently appearing in the U.S.

for a limited run. This would not have happened had The Verve not lost the

publishing copyright (and therefore artistic control) of 'Bitter Sweet Symphony' to

Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Allen Klein/Abko Music," the statement read.

The Verve lost publishing copyrights and, thus, any profit for "BitterSweet

Symphony" after it was discovered they used a sample from an Andrew Loog

Oldham orchestral version of the Rolling Stones' "The Last Time." The Verve's

Virgin label still retains recorded synchronization rights, however, ensuring that

the band will make a small percentage of money earned from the Nike

commercial.

The Verve consented to this arrangement, according to the statement, with hope

that Nike's use of the song would prevent "Bitter Sweet Symphony" from being

used elsewhere without the band's knowledge or input. A number of top

advertising agencies had sought rights to use the song, according to the band's

management, which added that The Verve settled on Nike because the band

said it felt the song would be used in a tasteful ad campaign.

A source close to the band, who refused to be named, reassured fans that "The

Verve definitely don't plan on doing this anymore with any of their other songs. It

was a one-time thing only."

Color="#720418">[Wed., Jan. 21, 1998, 9 a.m. PST]