“California Soul,” (1967, 1970), Reinterpreted for Dodge Ram

The recent Dodge Ram “California Soul,” advertisement is an excellent example of how glamour can be used to sell even a rough-tough pick-up truck. A woman croons, “Like a sound you hear/That lingers in your ear/But you can’t forget from sundown to sunset …” This is the voice of jazz artist

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But what makes a successful television advertising campaign? Polish, according to Barry (2008, 2012), and soul. The “California Soul,” commercial features the voice of classic jazz singer Marlena Shaw and she provides the backdrop for the ubiquitous, strong male voice over, also a Dodge classic. (Seriously, who is that Dodge Ram announcer, guy?) There are several versions of this commercial that feature the same song in the background. People may be compelled to watch, either on TV, or on YouTube, just to see the various versions. Also, the song, “California Soul,” piqued the curiosity of music fans as evidenced by fan comments in YouTube postings, and countless plays on Spotify, the music-sharing site.

Yet, should television commercials rely on old songs for success? Something Barry recommends for a successful television commercial, is for producers to stay away from the familiar (p. 172), but that must be one rule that is meant to be broken. In this case, the commercial would not be half as interesting without the soulful classic. I was surprised to learn, after reading the reviews of the original Shaw album on Amazon.com, that this song has been used in other commercials, including one for Target. I tried searching for the Target commercial, but instead, I just found more music videos featuring the tune, including this remix by Diplo.

From the first strains of the orchestra strings to the thumping bass, one has to refocus attention in order to understand that a black pickup truck is the subject of such a dramatic presentation. Indeed, close shots of a couple riding in the cab, barreling through a Redwood, heading for the coast, gives the sense that this vehicle is not just any pickup, but a luxury automobile.

“California Soul,” does more than sell trucks, it taps into the American fantasies about The West. The West is part of the national consciousness right now, in part due to the recent news story regarding the executive order signed by President Barack Obama declaring the San Gabriel Mountains a National Monument. One wonders whether the idea of The West will continue to capture the imagination of marketers.

A Motown classic, reinterpreted for the hip hop age, “California Soul,” (1967, 1970), was originally penned by the husband/wife duo Ashford and Simpson. Many artists have covered, and re-interpreted the tune, but today, thanks to a pickup truck, an old classic has found a new audience.

Reference

Barry, P. (2008, 2012). The advertising concept book: A complete guide to creative ideas, strategies and campaigns. New York: Thames & Hudson.

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9 Responses to “California Soul,” (1967, 1970), Reinterpreted for Dodge Ram

  1. Nick Kubik says:

    Great points, Gail! As you mentioned, breaking this particular rule may be of benefit to many brands. I think it is especially relevant to the automotive industry and advertisers who seem to break the rule more than most. As you may know, I work for a Nissan dealer and many of our advertisements utilize modern and classic tracks. I believe the songs are used as an emotional tool to make people “feel” the vehicle through music. You should check out the new series of commercials/music videos being released soon with the artist’s themselves playing their popular songs through the vehicles sound systems. Very interesting.

  2. Linda says:

    Hi Gail,

    More and more brands, especially car companies, are incorporating familiar music in their commercials to help target to specific audiences to sell their product. The song Safe and Sound by Capital Cities is currently playing in the background of Mazda commercials. A few years ago a Led Zepplin song was featured in a Cadillac commercial, which was very surprising for a band that pledged never to sell out. The power of song stays with you long after the commercial is over and the hopes is that it will remind consumers of the product.

  3. Linda says:

    Hi Gail,

    More and more brands, especially car companies, are incorporating familiar music in their commercials to help target to specific audiences to sell their product. The song Safe and Sound by Capital Cities is currently playing in the background of Mazda commercials. A few years ago a Led Zepplin song was featured in a Cadillac commercial, which was very surprising for a band that pledged never to sell out. The power of song stays with you long after the commercial is over and the hopes is that it will remind consumers of the product.

    Linda

    • Gail says:

      Hi, Linda ~ I remember being shocked to learn that a Led Zeppelin song was being used to promote a new car; here is a link to a 2002 Led Zeppelin commercial for Cadillac: http://youtu.be/bIOhgZswp8M. Wow. Times sure have changed, and now, I am getting used to the idea of car companies promoting their products with great music. Still, it is great to remember that time (long ago) when rock fans freaked out about their favorite bands joining the status quo by promoting products. I am amazed by these changes.

  4. Wayne says:

    Hi Gail,

    I enjoyed your blog post — a great and interesting example of music’s power to frame (and market) a product in ways and expressions seemingly at odds with an preconceived impression. The Dodge Ram’s ruggedness set against orchestration and a female jazz singer may appear inconsistent at first blush, but your description of the setting and scenery makes perfect sense. The ad does create an emotional, even visceral, image that assumes dimensions and dreams particular to individuals. Perhaps the song has a certain emotional resonance with one viewer; another viewer will interpret a broader meaning and attachment to the song and commercial. That is what music a perfect marketing conduit. I like your observation that the song connects with people’s imaginations of the Western frontier. Associating messages and products with people’s fantasies and imaginations creates a bond; one which marketers hope to extend to the product. By the way, Ashford and Simpson were superlative songwriters and performers. Their music is an excellent vehicle to drive the Dodge Ram to where the company wants to go in the marketplace. Great job with the blog post — informative and interesting!

    • Christopher says:

      The music bed for this commercial does seem to fit, doesn’t it? It wanted to convey physical adventure, which, in today’s world with all of our technology, can be difficult to find. It seems as though every image we see of outdoor activities these days are actually for mobile devices or iPads – as if to say, “look what technology you can use to capture this!” I liked the throwback feel of “California Soul” paired with vintage adventurism!

      • Gail says:

        Christopher, yes, I agree with you about the “California Soul” commercial’s appeal to get away from our screens and get outdoors! The Motown sound definitely screams pre-Apple technology, pre-Internet, really!

    • Gail says:

      Wayne, yes, I agree with your statement about the multi-dimensional aspect of this television commercial. In fact, one of the versions of this ad featured the same couple driving through the Redwood tree, but the commercial ended with a young woman (with flowing, curly hair) and a surf-board. I was amazed to see that this commercial transcended gender stereotypes that might otherwise be associated with a pick-up truck.