There have always been rock stars ready and willing to take the corporate advertising dollar. The Rolling Stones were writing jingles for Rice Krispies back in the 1960s. A couple of decades later Ronnie James Dio was plugging Budweiser on the radio to the tune of Rainbow In The Dark. Then there are the countless existing rock songs have been co-opted to soundtrack ad campaigns of all shapes and sizes.
And sometimes it went beyond the songs to appearances by the musicians themselves. Everyone knows that former Sex Pistol John Lydon went from anarchy in the UK to flogging Country Life butter while a Workday ad aired during this year’s Superbowl featuring Ozzy Osbourne, Billy Idol, Paul Stanley, Joan Jett and Gary Clark Jr. played to a live audience of tens of millions.
These, though, are some of the more obscure, unexpected and plain batshit examples of rock stars appearing in TV ads, from a hair metal band advertising chilli dogs to one of the world’s most famous musicians teaming up with a British comedian.
Lemmy – Valio milk
Lemmy was no stranger to the odd ad. He appeared in a KitKat commercial in 2001 and Motörhead played a wonderfully stripped-down blues-rock version of Ace Of Spades for Kronenbourg 1664 a decade later. He also starred in an advert for Finnish milk filmed just weeks before his death. The shoot was actually supposed to be something entirely different but after he passed away, the makers went with an off-the-cuff ad-lib that was never in the script. “I don’t drink milk and I never will,” Lemmy growls, before calling the viewers “arseholes”. We’ll raise a glass to that.
Cinderella – Pat’s Chili Dogs
Before Cinderella became a big noise in the 80s glam metal scene, their gypsy road led to Pat’s Chili Dogs – an all-night fast food outlet that wanted to target the rock club crowd in the band’s native Philadelphia. “Pat's Chili Dogs advertised on MTV local…when we were approached to do the commercial, it was, like, 'Well, we're kind of on MTV!',” recounted frontman Tom Kiefer after the ad resurfaced online. “I just cringe now when I see it; my vocals are out of key and it's a little embarrassing, but it has its appeal, though, I guess."
David Bowie - Crystal Jun Rock drink
Sofia Coppola’s cult classic Lost In Translation features Bill Murray’s fading movie star mired in cultural misunderstanding as he films whisky ads in Japan. By contrast, David Bowie appeared to nail it as he advertised the Japanese liquor Crystal Jun Rock while reinventing himself at the start of the 1980s. There were a couple of versions but the zen garden clip featuring nothing more than Bowie gazing moodily with a glass of the stuff in his hand proves that sometimes less is definitely more.
Alice Cooper – Sky TV
Alice Cooper has appeared in a number of ads, including an amusing riff on School’s Out for Staples. Even better, though, was his bonkers pairing with diminutive British comedy legend Ronnie Corbett as an odd couple sharing a house and Sky TV box. “I knew who The Two Ronnies were before I worked with him; you’d get all the British shows on cable in America,” Cooper told Classic Rock. “So I knew who Basil Fawlty was, and I knew who all these other characters were. When they asked me to do the commercial and said it was with Ronnie Corbett, I replied: “Oh yeah – he’s the little guy. That’ll be fine.”
Iron Maiden - Seatbelt PSA for the US Department of Transportation
The US Department of Transportation used a couple of crash test dummies named Vince and Larry to convince people to wear a seatbelt in the 1980s and beyond. In 1991 the pair apparently attended an Iron Maiden concert. The resultant Public Service Announcement saw a rather intense Bruce Dickinson exhorting the audience to drive home safe and remember to strap themselves in lest they “end up like Eddie”.
Ratt – Geico insurance
This ad for insurance company Geico starts with a couple extolling the virtues of their lovely home. “We do have a rat problem though,” they add before cutting to glam-metal stalwarts Ratt playing in the basement and kitchen. It does essentially recycle the joke from the original music video for the band’s 80s hit Round And Round, but full marks to Ratt for being willing to poke fun at themselves with straight faces.
Dokken – Norton antivirus
Talking of straight faced self-deprecation, we come to this deranged beauty of a campaign for Norton security software. It invites the viewer to “imagine this chicken is your hard drive and the 80s metal band Dokken is a computer virus”, and if that isn’t the most beautifully unhinged concept for a series of ads, we don’t know what is. “They pay ungodly amounts of money and you just stand there and look mad at a chicken,” frontman Don Dokken told The Classic Metal Show, adding that melodic rockers Styx were originally pencilled in for the ad.
Iggy Pop – Swiftcover insurance
Punk progenitor Iggy Pop spent three years as brand ambassador for insurance provider Swiftcover, shooting a string of ads for the UK market starting in 2009. The concept was ‘Get a life’ and the ones featuring the ‘Little Iggy’ puppet were particularly manic. One ad for car insurance was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), however, as it turned out the insurer didn’t provide cover to people in occupations deemed risky – including musicians. Which wasn’t very punk rock of them, all things considered.
Lita Ford - Indeed.com
Employment website Indeed.com appears to be finding work not only for regular job-hunters but also for veteran rock stars in need of a gig. Having previously shot one with Mike Reno of Canadian rockers Loverboy, the job site turned to The Runaways guitarist and solo star Lita Ford. In the 2016 ad, Ford celebrates landing a new job as a music teacher by pealing out a wailing guitar solo. School Days were never quite like this.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Nike
In 1990, the Red Hot Chili Peppers were an exciting and unique musical force who had yet to truly break the mainstream. Andre Agassi was the rising bad boy of men’s tennis and the ‘Just do it’ slogan was still in its infancy, having been introduced just three years previously. So when all three were brought together in a brace of ads dubbed ‘Rock and Roll Tennis Camp’, it was a frenetic blur of energy, bare chests and silly faces. “That was weird,” declares Agassi at the end, which was something of an understatement.