Marketing Musicology
The marriage of commerce and culture

Academic Articles

September 15, 2011

An Essay on Popular Music in Advertising: The Bankruptcy of Culture or the Marriage of Art and Commerce

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This essay examines the union of popular music and advertising. The commercial use of popular music has inspired opposing opinions. It has been termed a “bankruptcy of culture” as well as a “perfect marriage of art and commerce. “This essay examines the alternative views that have been expressed about the commercial use of popular music.

It is a social and political indicator that mirrors and influences the society we live in (Garofalo 2001). To its proponents, it is a cultural product that entertains and inspires large segments of society by providing meaningful and chronological reference points. To its opponents, it is part of a vast economic system that hypnotizes and massifies segments of consumers through manipulation and commodification. It is popular music. But these descriptions could also be applied to advertising. Some argue that individually, advertising and popular music each provides a positive influence, both socially and economically. Others stress that the two fields create emotions, expectations, and false needs. Yet, when discussing the integration of popular music in advertising, most popular culturalists and theorists speak negatively, describing it as a “bankruptcy of culture” (McChesney 2001) or the combination of “corporation and culture” (“Merchants” 2001). Most marketers and advertisers, however, describe this production technique positively, as more of a so-called marriage of “commerce and art” (“The Newest” 2003). The question then, and the basis for this discussion, is why are there such varying opinions? If the opponents of the integration of these two communication vehicles, that by definition only become “popular” when they are mass distributed and commercially successful, agree that art and commerce have always been “wicked and bizarrely fused

Siamese twins” (Mumford 2004) and that advertising affords new artists without a mass outlet some exposure (Howard 2003), why are they so adamantly against it?

This is an essay determined to find the unpopular. It will present the common ground from something so “commonplace” (Scott 1990, p. 223). It will show how much popular music and advertising have in common. It will argue that it is a marriage of convergence, not just of convenience. It will even attempt to suggest that the use of popular music to brand a product or service in advertising proves how much equity and respect popular music has in our culture.

It is clear that the debate and disagreement over the legitimacy of popular music and advertising begins at the definition stage, so that is where this discussion begins. A brief analysis of how popular music and advertising have been, and are being, described provides helpful insight into how much they have in common.




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