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Donald Trump’s use of “Revolution,” though egregious, is far from the only time the spirit of John Lennon’s been pressed into service to sell something. The Lennon commercial pasted below is objectionable on so many levels, not least dubbing and vocal impression (have they ever heard John talk?):
And here’s a 1992 Nike ad featuring “Instant Karma” (ironic, that):
And here’s an ad that works hard to get around the Estate:
People often ask why rock music doesn’t pack the same political punch — Beyoncé’s halftime show aside — as it did in the Sixties and Seventies. One reason is how many of the big 60s groups kept advertisers at arm’s length (with the noted exceptions coming early in the band’s careers). Whenever groups eschew advertising — whenever they refuse to rent themselves out — they have the chance to achieve a meaning beyond pure cultural presence. Then and now, advertisers seek to immediately co-opt any artist with an authentic connection with their coveted demographic; and since the Sixties, there’s been a steady shift towards playing ball — either through cynicism, or financial need (thanks, Spotify).
Did the Beatles do any advertising? I don’t recall any; and this became unthinkable after Pepper. Lennon knew the power of advertising, and knew that he was the product he was advertising. If he rented himself to a brand, he weakened his own. (That’s why this ad is somewhat tongue-in-cheek.)
What Trump, and every other advertiser, wants from John Lennon is his integrity — what he stands for. That integrity was cultivated over decades of advertising-free communication with an audience. Every time he’s used by someone else, he’s a little blurrier and a little more cheapened, a little smaller — and I simply don’t see the point. Very few 18-year-olds watched that Nike ad and thought, “Hey, cool song. I wonder who wrote it? I’m going to go buy that CD!”
When a song is used to sell something, it becomes less important than the item it’s selling. That’s OK when it’s Boney M’s cover of “Sunny.” (Which I like, btw.) But for many reasons, John Lennon is bigger than Nike or Apple, and yoking him to mere commerce diminishes him. I’m sure the pitch to the Estate is always, “Kids don’t know who John Lennon is anymore. This will get him into their minds.” Both are lies. If that were so, they wouldn’t be using John Lennon in the commercial; it’s precisely because kids do still know who John Lennon is, and he’s already in their minds, that Citroen, Nike, and yes, Donald Trump, want his song playing under their product shots.