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Bob Dylan: genius, guru, advertising copywriter

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by Neil Mc Cormick

So ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ is to be used in an ad for a supermarket. It’s a curious choice. As a man who does all the shopping in my household, surely a better selection would be U2’s ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’.

What do you think the Co-Op are going to do to Dylan’s civil rights protest classic?

‘How many aisles must a man walk down, before he can find what he needs?
And how many cans must the checkout girl scan, before she finds a bar code that reads?
And how many coupons can one family collect before they get something for free?
The answer, my friend, is all in one shop,
The answer is down the Co-Op’

A Co-Op spokesman said “When we put the ad together we were astounded that no-one had ever used ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ in this context before. We felt the sentiments expressed in Dylan’s masterpiece summed up the optimism we have for the Co-operative.”

And that is clearly what Dylan had in mind when he wrote it. Cheap and plentiful food stuffs and other household goods for all, no matter what creed or colour. Black, white, yellow or blue … you’re all welcome at the Co-Op. Dylanologists have been pouring over his lyrics for years, but it took an advertising man to really get to the bottom of the song.

Dylan is often accused of having no respect for his own milieu. He once sang ‘Money doesn’t talk, it swears’ but it also pays the bills, and he has previously allowed his music to be used in American adverts for iTunes and Victoria’s Secret Lingerie. His own answer to his critics is contained in a telling passage in his autobiography, ‘Chronicles’, when he talks of strategies for evading the oppressiveness of being considered a guru-like font of all wisdom, and spokesman for his generation. “I’d have to send out deviating signals, crank up the wrecking train – create some different impressions.’

But why not go the whole hog and release his entire catalogue to advertisers? with his Biblically apocalyptic tendencies there are plenty of songs for home insurance companies, ‘Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall’, ‘Shelter From The Storm’, Everything Is Broken’. And how about ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ for life insurance? I am sure fashion companies could find a use for ‘Man In The Long Black Coat’, ‘Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat’ and ‘Boots Of Spanish Leather’. The Desire album seems ideal for package holiday ads, with ‘Mozambique’, ‘Romance In Durango’, ‘Black Diamond Bay’ and perhaps ‘Hurricane’ for that all important holiday insurance.

‘We Better Talk This Over’ would get the message across for a mobile communications company. ‘Blind Willie McTell’ could be co-opted for an optician. ‘One More Cup Of Coffee’ would go down nicely with Starbucks. ‘Just Like A Woman’ could be discreetly used for a tampon advertisement. And ‘What Was It You Wanted?’ is made to measure for the Yellow pages.

Indeed, in the light of the Co-Op’s comments, Dylanologists probably need to start examining the relationship between the great singer-songwriter and the advertising industry. He may have been ahead of the curve when it came to product placement. For what is ‘All Along The Watchtower’ but a subtle ad for Jehovah’s witness?


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February 6, 2009 - Posted by | _ARTICLE, _BOB DYLAN, _MUSIC

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