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