Anarchy in the Butter Dish

Discussion
Oct 10, 2008

By Tom Ryan

Johnny Rotten, the lead singer for the legendary punk brand, The Sex Pistols, is starring in a $9 million campaign on British television for Country Life butter. The campaign marks the first time the 52-year-old, whose real name is John Lydon, has appeared in a TV commercial.

U.K. marketers believe the notoriously controversial and bad-mouthed Mr. Lydon was picked because he’s a British icon while the singer said he did the commercial because it was made for him.

“People know I only do things that I want to or that I believe in and I have to do it my way,” Mr. Lydon told the Guardian. “I’ve never done anything like this before and never thought I would, but this Country Life ad was made for me and I couldn’t resist the opportunity.”

In the cheeky commercial, Mr. Lydon, dressed in tweeds, gallivants among Morris dancers, dairy farmers and herds of cows, questioning why he likes Country Life and emphasizing the strong British connection of the brand. He concludes, “I buy Country Life because it tastes the best.”

At the height of the punk movement in 1977, the Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen sparked outrage across the U.K. when it was released during the week of the Queen’s silver jubilee. Mr. Lydon was attacked on the street.

Music purists were again rattled at seeing one of their heroes “selling out” their anti-corporate and anti-establishment ideals for a buck. But rock songs have become fairly common in commercials, including many with messages running counter to the songs lyrics. A large outcry occurred when the Beatle’s song, Revolution, was used in a Nike ad in 1987.

Increasingly, songs by Iggy Pop, The Clash, The Ramones and other punk icons have begun backing commercials as well. A song by Nirvana was recently used in an MLB video game.

But using Mr. Lydon as a spokesperson for a brand represents a further treacherous step for some.

Probably the last similar leap has been the appearance of Dennis Hopper, star of counter-culture films such as Easy Rider, in commercials for Ameriprise Financial. In the long-running campaign created by Saatchi, Mr. Hopper extols edgy baby boomers to continue to follow their dreams through smart retirement planning.

“Boomers aren’t going to spend this phase of life playing shuffleboard,” Kim Sharan, chief marketing and communications officer at Saatchi, told Adweek at the time the ads were launched in 2006. “There is no better figure to personify our message than legendary actor Dennis Hopper, who embodies the spirit of the generation.”

Discussion Questions: What do you think of the use of counterculture and even anti-establishment icons as spokespersons for brands? How has matching spokespersons to brands changed over the years? Is it less important for the spokesperson to embody the message of the brand?

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14 Comments on "Anarchy in the Butter Dish"


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James Tenser
Guest
13 years 7 months ago

Sell out? Yes. But it seems like aging British rockers and counterculture figures all sell out eventually. Led Zep music on Cadillac commercials. The Who themes on TV crime dramas. Dennis Hopper hawking investments.

Appearing in commercials and recycling old tunes for television is like a retirement annuity program for old guys who can’t keep it up on stage anymore. I fantasize that some day a major advertiser contacts me and offers big bucks if I recycle my best RetailWire quips to promote laxatives, or some such.

Ron Margulis
Guest
13 years 7 months ago

Perhaps Johnny Rotten had all his money in the market and needs to replenish his stash.

I had the interesting experience of meeting John Lydon and his Public Image band mates when I was working as a radio reporter in college. He was all persona until one of the other deejays called him on his antics (including breaking a beer bottle on a desk) and threatened to leave. He suddenly became very civil and answered all of our questions. I realized then that he is totally about manipulating people and circumstances. His move to the commercial side of the world is simply a continuation of this strategy.

David Biernbaum
Guest
13 years 7 months ago

I think if done right it can be very successful.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
13 years 7 months ago

Cheeky, edgy, unexpected…consumers love ads that relate consumer products to lifestyle expressions. Who would have expected that the company that would pick Led Zeppelin for their ads would be Cadillac?

Infusing everyday household products with cultural personality is a terrific way to create brand differentiation. God Save the Queen!

Stacey Silliman
Guest
Stacey Silliman
13 years 7 months ago

Funny how John Lydon agrees to do this but he refused to attend the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. His band is the only band not to be shown and celebrated (as per their request) in the video montage shown at the museum. Again, they had to have their way and it only makes them look foolish. I can’t see someone like him serving as a reputable spokesperson for any product. What a joke. He did it for the money.

Stephen ORourke
Guest
Stephen ORourke
13 years 7 months ago

Considering the Sex Pistols were as much a promotional tool for their manager’s (Malcom McLaren) punk rock fashion boutique, SEX, as they were a true band, it is not surprising.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
13 years 7 months ago

We’ve all matured. And we know now what we didn’t want to know 30 or 40 years ago. These icons are all entertainment. Their counter-culture positions were to put bodies in seats at concerts. That is to say nothing about how, generationally, we gray haired folks have mellowed in our counter-culture affinity.

It doesn’t seem like nostalgia, but in a strange way it is. We are just not using stereotypical forms of nostalgia. Country Life ads will get attention and they will sell more butter.

Warren Thayer
Guest
13 years 7 months ago

(Yawn!)

Marc Gordon
Guest
Marc Gordon
13 years 7 months ago

TV commercials are unique marketing tools in that elements like core message, target market, and listing features and benefits can be tossed in place of some great and memorable entertainment. An in many cases these are the commercials that garner the most attention.

I’m not sure if the ads with Johnny Rotten have started running yet, but if they are already getting mainstream attention in this side of the pond, I can only imagine what people are saying over there.

Will this campaign directly result in an increase in sales? Who knows. But at the very least, more people will now be talking about the product and its new spokesperson. And that in itself can be a great ROI.

Art Williams
Guest
Art Williams
13 years 7 months ago

Just another example of it’s all about the money. Whatever happened to good taste? Makes both of them look desperate.

Max Goldberg
Guest
13 years 7 months ago

A sellout by any name is still a sellout. What seemed impossible 20 years ago is now reality. Fans may denounce the use of their icons (whether music or personality) in commercials, but the question is, “Do they sell?”

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
13 years 7 months ago

The agency is getting publicity. Johnny is getting publicity. We are talking about the campaign. What’s the problem? Oh, that’s right, what does the consumer think? The success depends upon whether the consumers being targeted relate to Johnny, like the ad, and like the product.

Lisa Bradner
Guest
Lisa Bradner
13 years 7 months ago

I actually think the key line here is “the 52 year old former lead singer”…Johnny Rotten was counter culture but hasn’t been visible in that dimension for many years. Using aging baby boomer rebels as spokespeople is a great way to appeal to that generation’s desire to believe that while they may be old they’re still rebellious and somehow different while also winking at the fact that they have some basic pedestrian needs. The advertisers using these spokespeople are looking for attitude and lifestyle over direct brand connection and from that perspective I believe it works.

Anne Howe
Guest
13 years 7 months ago

I hope the docs checked Johnny’s heart so he doesn’t end up on the bypass table any time soon with clogged arteries! As long as he’s not in danger of an event that could really damage the perception of the brand, why not let him endorse butter? If the Brits don’t like it, the ad testing and even the social media watchdogs should be able to get a handle on that pretty quickly.

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