Indie Bands Rock the Ads

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Xiu Xiu

The band Xiu Xiu, along with others, is suing RJ Reynolds and Wenner Media for $195 billion for using their image without their knowledge or consent in an ad for Camel cigarettes that ran in Rolling Stone Courtesy of Kill Rock Stars hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Kill Rock Stars

Rock bands are being used for product endorsement — with and without their consent, says Charlie Moran of Advertising Age.

(Soundbite of song, "1,2,3,4")

Ms. LESLIE FEIST (Singer): (Singing) Teenage hopes who have tears in their eyes, too scared to own up to one little lie.

ALISON STEWART, host:

Of course, you recognize that song. But non-music lovers may have learned about it thanks to Apple iPod's commercial, which put Feist in the mainstream radar, along with some tangible benefits. The ad helped the single move more than 2,000 downloads per week. It went on to hit number 28 on the Billboard Hot 100. But not everyone agrees that product endorsement is a path worth taking. For example, the San Francisco band Xiu Xiu is really unhappy about their music, like this…

(Soundbite of song, "I Luv the Valley")

XIU XIU (Indie Band): (Singing) That you made. That's a heart and the both of you made it. That's a heart that you made. I won't rest until I break it.

STEWART: …being used, they claimed, without their knowledge or consent by Camel cigarettes, when the company included Xiu Xiu in a pull-out ad in a November 15th issue of Rolling Stone magazine.

The band's name appeared along with others, like the hardcore Canadian punk band with the name that we can't really say on the radio. It's F-Up, something like that. The two bands, they got together, they filed a class-action lawsuit on the behalf of 186 artists and bands mentioned in the ad, taking on RJ Reynolds, the maker of Camel cigarettes, and Wenner Media, the owners of Rolling Stone. The suit demands the magazine published an admission that the artists' names were used without consent, and it seeks more than $195 billion in damages.

With us in the studio right now is Charlie Moran, reporter and blogger for Advertising Age magazine. He covers the independent music scene. And he says this case is one of the biggest examples of how marketers take advantage of indie musicians, and it might be actually be harder for them to do.

Hi, Charlie.

Mr. CHARLIE MORAN (Reporter and Blogger, Advertising Age Magazine): Hi.

STEWART: So is it really - let's just put this in a bigger picture. Is it really that prevalent that indie bands find themselves exploited by marketers?

Mr. MORAN: No, I wouldn't say so. I'd say they're more complicit more often than not, and they're more willing to do it than they were before. I should also say that it's sort of unclear whether or not RJ Reynolds picked these bands. In fact, they'd most likely didn't. It was - Rolling Stone is saying it's completely editorial. They…

STEWART: Right.

Mr. MORAN: …picked all these bands and created this spread and that Camel - or, sorry - Camel agreed to sponsor this pull-out section. And Camel is saying, we didn't know what was going to go with it. We just knew they were indie bands.

STEWART: Right. Let's just - I'm actually going to read what Rolling Stone has said about this.

They said: "Indie Rock Universe" spread was not an advertisement, but a feature they thought up in an editorial department without, quote, "Any review by or consultation with any advertiser," end quote. What's with the (unintelligible)? There's a couple different issues here. First of all, why would a band necessarily be unhappy about being featured in Rolling Stone in a giant advertisement?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORAN: Well, there's, I mean, today, bands think of themselves as brands, sort of. And it's really important for the associations with their brands and their fans to be positive especially, for indie bands that rely in these core groups of people a lot of the times, on this core audience. And so associating with a brand like Camel is not always preferable. Also, the magazine, Rolling Stone, has not always been a champion for indie bands, and not always a good venue for them.

STEWART: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MORAN: So, you know, not a lot of bands consider this to be a plus. You know, not every band is like, oh, Rolling Stone, great. You know?

STEWART: So there's a credibility issue here - at heart here for a lot of these artists.

Mr. MORAN: Definitely, and that's something that's been around since, you know, the late '70s when punk bands were saying, you know, forget corporations and all that.

STEWART: So the question is, though, if somebody used your music without your authorization, can you be called a sellout, or are you just a victim?

Mr. MORAN: Well, if it's without your authorization, then you'd have to be, you know, a victim, really. It really depends on how much you want - how important it is for you to get your music out there, really. And some bands are willing…

STEWART: Yeah.

Mr. MORAN: …to give a little, and that's definitely a recent trend with indie bands. They're more willing to give up their music for a tradeoff, you know, like Of Montreal gave up one of their songs, the Outback Steakhouse ad a couple of years ago, I believe. You know, and they changed the words, so let's go to Outback tonight. And that was completely acceptable to them. Some of the fans didn't like it, but the band said, hey, you know, we're an indie band. We don't make a ton of money, you know.

STEWART: What does it take? Yeah. I was back to (unintelligible) my next question. What does it take for an indie band to want to make this crossover into marketing?

Mr. MORAN: Well, the thing is that, you know, indie bands do not have the same channels that bands on major labels do to get their music out there. You know, they have promoters, but they don't have the same connections. It's much harder for them to get onto playlists, onto the big commercial radio stations. And so this is one way of getting their music out on TV, something that's all but impossible, especially since MTV doesn't play many music videos. And so, you know, this is an opportunity that they wouldn't have otherwise.

STEWART: Does the product make a difference in the band's decision from your reporting, from what you found?

Mr. MORAN: Certainly.

STEWART: I mean, I've got to imagine there's something about this being cigarettes…

Mr. MORAN: Sure.

STEWART: …although every, you know, guy in the band I know smokes. But…

Mr. MORAN: Yeah.

STEWART: …that's just anecdotal.

Mr. MORAN: Yeah, exactly. And from my own experience, yeah, guys in bands tend to smoke and so do their fans. You know, although it's hard to see it now. In New York, they can't smoke in bars. But, definitely, definitely.

There's another case recently with Dan Deacon, who's an electronic artist who was - they have a picture from one of his shows in a little postcard spread in a magazine paid for by Greyhound. And Greyhound, them and a band called Ruins, another band called Team Robespierre and a fourth one. And they - the - basically, the - whoever created this ad went to a lot of these bands' shows and took pictures. The band said they didn't have permission to do so.

STEWART: Oh, interesting. So it's not just music. They appropriated their image.

Mr. MORAN: Yeah, yeah, and these are their fans at their shows dancing and things like that. Anyway, so Dan Deacon, you know, this Greyhound, which doesn't really seem - it's not really on most people's bottom of the barrel, I guess. You know, it's not like big tobacco, some big scary thing like Camel. (unintelligible) with Dan Deacon, really it's not like Greyhound. He has gone on Greyhound buses many times at tour, and he does not really appreciate their service and whatever. He penned a really, really scathing critique of the company and their service and said he would never have said yes to this.

STEWART: Has - to your knowledge, has any band been really successful in taking on a company that's used their image or their music or their name?

Mr. MORAN: In court, I'm not aware of any examples. They've managed to get apologies. A couple of years ago, Nike ran a parody of a Minor Threat ad, which is an old hardcore punk band that said Major Threat and used the same iconography. And the band was very angry. But they issued an apology and retracted the campaign, which is similar to what has happened here, but I'm not sure if there was any money exchanged or not.

STEWART: Well, what do you think is going to happen with this big case? It's the one we opened up our segment with. They're asking for $195 billion for damages.

Mr. MORAN: That won't happen. I'm not a legal expert, so I can't comment on how - the money or anything.

STEWART: Right.

Mr. MORAN: But I think most people agree that it'll probably be settled out of court for far less money.

STEWART: Now is there something about this whole story, before I let you go, that isn't obvious to the average person's eye? I mean, you deal with this all the time, working for an ad agency about…

Mr. MORAN: Yeah.

STEWART: …decisions about what music to go with what product and how to approach certain musicians about being involved. Is there something that we're not getting at?

Mr. MORAN: Well, see, from my own experience at Advertising Age, people should know that the editorial on sales departments and magazines are not the same.

STEWART: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MORAN: And that, you know, I think, actually, you should maybe take what they - what Rolling Stone says maybe, you know, a little bit of face value, too, because this - the fact that there was collusion between the two of them is not obvious.

Somebody at the end - the problem was before this thing went out, someone said, look, there's Camel in here.

STEWART: Right.

Mr. MORAN: But that's the people think - that Camel devised this whole spread is not likely at all.

STEWART: All right. Well, we'll see what happens. Charlie Moran, blogger for Ad Age, thanks for being with us.

Mr. MORAN: Thank you.

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