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Michael Gerber
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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.

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  1. Avatar Rob Geurtsen wrote:

    ha ha Michael, I just wrote to you I wanted to walk away from the discussion about Revolution and Trump, because I might come across insulting a lot of Americans by suggesting guilt by association – which, btw I am not and was not.
    As part of the marketing profession I have to fully disagree with you that you think:
    ” What Trump, (…) wants from John Lennon is his integrity — what he stands for.”
    How do you know? From what, that we can see or hear too and you can share, do you come to this conclusion except a generalization from marketing-thinking? You make me curious even though I think it is just not true.
    Let me try and explain that.
    Integrity is not what Trump needs right now, Trump needs to show off his professionalism and getting the mood of the people right, and being able to express publicly with lot of attention what a lot of people think and say, including a lot of civilized folks like you and me.
    Integrity is not what a future president needs to radiate… a crook is okay as long as he is less crooked to me than for my enemies.
    Reliability that is what he needs to express, what any candidate-POTUS needs to be able to radiate to his voters. Reliable that in office he will be similar to what we think he is/was like before. This is what Trump really does well, even if you and I obviously disagree with both content and prices of his (their) perception of reliability.
    Integrity of The Beatles is an assumption by the audience, the fans and the writers about The Beatles, it never was a creation by The Beatles or their staff. Authenticity was the magic word than as it was later on. Fairness was one too, but their fame disconnected that quality from the individuals part of The Beatles, both privately as well as entertainers.
    Music in most commercial are there to create, or at least not hinder, triggers for moods; moods that might arise either directly from the images etc. in commercial or through association. A mood related to integrity – I have never seen anything or heard about that. The escape could be integrity as an aspiration, but I haven’t seen any research supporting that notion, maybe a commercial tells you who and what you are… or how the brand communicates with you – but there has been no commercials using Beatles music for that purpose and not even Trump was doing that.

    • Rob, if I’d written ” What Trump, (…) wants from John Lennon is his authenticity — what he stands for” would I have been spared this comment?

      How do I get you to write half as much, twice as clear, and less combatively? I’m honestly asking.

      • Avatar Glaven wrote:

        I think it’s a bit disingenuous to ask “how do you know that?” in this context. When someone says, “What X wants …” in situations where he couldn’t possibly know beyond a shadow of a doubt what X wants, it’s pretty well understood that what’s really meant is “What X wants, IMHO, is …”.
        Which I think is what’s obliviously going on in your post, Michael.
        And then I can legitimately ask, well, if you think that’s what Donald Trump wants, make your case for why you think that.
        I think you pretty clearly do make your case for why you think that in the body of the post itself. It’s not at all unclear why you think this.
        I can disagree with your conclusions; and at times I have. (And if I decide to say I do, I, too, should say why. This is how dialogues and colloquies that lead to better understanding and the advancing of a topic work. (IMHO.))
        But I don’t think I’ve ever run across an instance in which you, Michael, didn’t bother to make your case for your opinion. I’ve seen you apologize for not making your case better or more fully because you’re pressed for time, or you feel it might be too taxing for the reader. But I literally can’t recall your ever kinda going, “Fuck it. Here’s my conclusion. Work the rest out for yourself.”
        Or to put it another way: I’m pretty confident that it wasn’t your point in this post to claim that you and only you have insight into Donald Trump’s motivations for misappropriating the Beatles’ “Revolution”. I could be wrong. Once again, this is all IMHO.
        Again, most of what I say above seems to me to be not very earth-shattering and just generally true of how colloquies and dialogues work. We all employ shortcuts to spare our readers or listeners pointless and endless droning. This isn’t just how English works; it’s how language works and I have a hard time believing this needs to be explicitly laid out. And yet …
        I’m not trying to come across as overly-combative here. But I too find myself a bit puzzled by the tenor of some of these comments.

    • Karen Hooper Karen Hooper wrote:

      “Integrity is not what he needs right now…Reliabilty is what he needs to express. Authenticity was the magic word than as it was later on. ”
      That’s infinitesimal hair-splitting, really. Integrity, reliability, authenticity–all aspects of a persona which Trump is appropriating for his own agenda.

  2. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    In their earliest days, the Beatles did a print ad for jeans. I think after they saw how silly they looked posing for jeans, they decided no more advertising. But now I see Paul is doing something for Skype.

  3. Avatar Drew wrote:

    Yoko allowed John’s voice and interview footage to be used in a Citroen car commercial in 2010. She also allowed MontBlanc to sell “Imagine” pens, including one for $26,000. She’s put his name/image/lyrics on umbrellas, coffee mugs, mouse pads, T-shirts — you name it.

    At least Trump’s use of Revolution is substantive. He’s using the song to send a political message (however much Lennon fans may disagree with Trump’s message). Trump isn’t using the song or Lennon to make money, like Yoko has done for 36 years.

    • Karen Hooper Karen Hooper wrote:

      “At least Trump’s use of Revolution is substantive. He’s using the song to send a political message (however much Lennon fans may disagree with Trump’s message). Trump isn’t using the song or Lennon to make money, like Yoko has done for 36 years.”

      The expression “two wrongs don’t make a right” comes to mind. 🙂 Seriously though, one could argue that Trump’s use of John’s message is similar to Yoko’s: both have intents which do not reflect the intended message of the artist. Having said that, I tend to think Yoko was trying to perpetuate John’s persona, as she conceives it, so at least she kind of had HIM in mind. Trump, on the other hand….

  4. Avatar ChelseaQW wrote:

    I just saw the Beatles jeans ad for the first time about a week ago! Paul recalls them being pretty squicked by the experience, but the actual ad is AMAZING, fyi. George and Paul legitimately look like professional models. If anything, it really shines a light on just how damn pretty the Beatles were. 🙂

    I’ll try to find the picture and post it…

  5. Avatar ChelseaQW wrote:

    OK, this scan is not as good as the one I saw on tumblr last week, but you get the idea.
    I have a feeling George Harrison would be a terrific model in most any capacity. He’s such a good hanger… so lithe.

    • My wife and I just wrote some quick copy for this ad:

      George: “Dungarees aren’t just for loading lorries, luv.”
      John: “That’s right George Harrison of the Beatles. There’s also good for wearing to nightclubs of an evening.”
      Paul: “These durable, stylish, machine-washable jeans are great for pulling birds.”
      Ringo: “And this new zip fly is brilliant for quickies in the lav!”

    • Karen Hooper Karen Hooper wrote:

      I’m revealing my age here, but I remember these photos when they first came out. The girl next door was my best friend, and her mom was from England. Her grandmother (who was still living in England) mailed us a ton of British fan mags, in which these photos were part. Needless to say, we became the hit of the neighbourhood–we had British fan mags AND new someone who was actually from England. 🙂 Those were the fun days.

  6. Avatar Linda S. wrote:

    I have tried to post a link here to WogBlog’s entry of Wednesday, 30 December 2015. It didn’t materialize . So I’ll send you to WogBlog, to look in the Blog Archive for 2015. There you will find, on the above-mentioned date, a shoot the Beatles did for Typhoo Tea. (You’ll recognize the photos, which were used without the commercial tie-in.) Also, you can see the Lybro Jeans photo-shoot (with an article) in those same 2015 Blog Archives (posted on 9 December 2015)

    (I like Michael & Kate’s ad copy for the jeans.)

  7. Given Trump’s notorious dislike of just about everybody, I think the title of this article, and his campaign slogan, should be “Get Some!” as in:

  8. Avatar J.R. Clark wrote:

    John Lennon, quoted at the Sgt. Pepper release party at Brian Epstein’s townhouse in Belgravia, 1967: “The sporran’s handy to keep your fags in.”

  9. […] one; Paul (the king of Seventies AOR) was really the genius musician. And Yoko didn’t help, licensing his music to Nike and Apple, and his image to Citroën. People’s boredom with St. Lennon naturally turned to defiling his cult—a cult that no […]

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