(December 26, 2021). When all is said and done, 2021 may go down as the year with one of the best marriages of TV ads with popular music, particularly classics from the 20th century…if such a thing were being measured (and it probably is).
If it wasn’t among the best years for the collective use of old pop hits to push popular corporate products, it certainly was one of the more memorable ones.
Think about it: before 2021, when was the last time you thought about classics like Tag Team’s “Whoomp! (There It Is)” from 1993 or Pet Shop Boys’ 1986 hit “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money)”? This year you were reminded of their ubiquity on a daily basis after seeing their placements in ads for GEICO and Allstate insurance companies, respectively, particularly if you were watching sporting events (where the ads aired constantly).
GEICO brought “Whoomp! (There It Is)”—a No. 2 smash in 1993–to a whole new generation of fans this year in the form of “Scoop! There It Is!,” a song about cookie dough ice cream that somehow makes sense in the insurance company’s most-aired TV commercial of 2021.
The popular ad begins with a mom named “Tasha” preparing dinner and that familiar GEICO voiceover. Soon, Tag Team’s DC the Brain Supreme and Steve Rolln appear in Tasha’s kitchen and suggest “French vanilla, rocky road, chocolate, peanut butter, cookie dough” ice cream for dessert. The ad continues with lots of dancing by Tasha and Tag Team’s gray beards, and ends with sprinkles being tossed (a la LeBron James’ famous powder tosses at NBA games).
So popular was this ad that, when GEICO discontinued airing it in the spring, they were forced to bring it back by popular demand in July.
And now there’s actually a “Scoop! There It is!” ice cream flavor based on the song’s lyrics. Originating in September in New York scoop shop Mikey Likes It Ice Cream, proprietor Mikey Cole created the flavor. However, instead of selling it in his shop, Cole asked fans to share dance videos with GEICO on social media for a chance to win a pint of the stuff including those key ingredients, with winners picked at random.
Who knew that we had so much love left for “Whoomp! (There It Is),” a song that back in its day set the record for longest stay in the Billboard top ten (24 weeks, a mark that has been eclipsed by many songs since) and which has been in multiple movies and TV ads (including other GEICO ones) before its 2021 triumph?
The same could be asked about Pet Shop Boys’ “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money),” which rose from the ashes and graced an Allstate commercial called “Duet”in February 2021 (initially on Super Bowl Sunday) before airing in heavy rotation throughout the winter and spring.
You remember it well. Actor Devere Rogers played an Allstate customer who, while driving through the desert, gets a phone alert notifying him of how much money ($718) he saved on his auto insurance. Clearly happy about it and feeling inspired, he begins singing the chorus to the Pet Shop Boys’ 35-year-old hit (which is older than the driver himself) as the song plays on his radio. Then, in perfect harmony, the car’s metal hood ornament suddenly becomes animated and joins in on the singing.
At first, the “Duet” ad seemed innocuous enough. But after a while, it really caught on like wildfire, to the point where you might see it ten times in a two-hour window. The 30-second clip became a viral YouTube sensation and had people Googling both the actor’s name and that of the mysterious female vocalist behind the hood ornament (initially rumored to be Lesley McKinnell but later said to be Courtney Jeané). Some people were even clamoring for a full version of the “duet.” An article by yours truly about the rejuvenated chart fortunes of PSB’s “Opportunities” got tens of thousands of clicks (more than 60K since its February debut), making it the most-read djrobblog article of 2021.
But by late-Spring 2021, the ad had run its course. And, unlike “Scoop! There It Is!” there wasn’t a petition to keep it going. Still, it made Devere Rogers a pop culture sensation for a moment and returned the Pet Shop Boys’ 35-year-old, partner-in-crime tune to the top of one of Billboard’s dance charts, exposing it to a whole new audience in the process.
Never to be outdone by Allstate, GEICO got into the mix again with “Build Me Up, Buttercup,” a song first used in their “Motorcycle” ad where a woman gets carried away while daydreaming about riding her bike. She’s caught by her colleagues singing the old song—a hit for the Foundations in 1968–aloud, then she stops out of embarrassment before being joined by her friends in a memorable singalong.
So popular was the concept that GEICO used variations of the same theme in different commercials incorporating “Build Me Up, Buttercup” throughout the year.
“Maniac,” a No. 1 song from the 1983 film “Flashdance,” is another tune that was modified and repopularized in a TV ad this year. In a funny take on scenes from the old movie, a Gain clothing detergent user becomes a “Ganiac” after getting a whiff of how clean his clothes are while using the product at a laundromat. Played by comedic actor Craig Robinson, he hilariously sings “I’m a Gainiac, Gainiac, check my drawers!” while sniffing his shorts. There’s even a reenactment of the famous “Flashdance” scene where actress Jennifer Beal’s character was seated as water splashes over her, except in the “Ganiac” commercial, freshly washed clothes splash over a seated laundromat patron. You have to see it to get it.
Another popular ad airing this year was for the Type-2 diabetes weight-loss medication Ozempic (made by Novo Nordisk), which for the past three years has been using the very catchy chorus line (“oh, oh, oh, it’s Magic!”, modified as “oh, oh, oh, Ozempic!”) from a popular 1970s tune. The old hit is “Magic,” a 1975 top-five bop by the one-hit-wonder Scottish group named Pilot. The modified tune accompanies a 90-second clip that has helped make Ozempic one of the most popular new drugs on the market over the past three years (more than $2B in projected revenue). Hopefully, Pilot’s David Paton and the estate of the late Billy Lyall, who cowrote the song, are seeing some of that money.
There were many others throughout 2021 that helped make our TV-watching experience a more fun and nostalgic one. There was the tie-in between Rick Astley’s No. 1 1988 tune “Together Forever” and T-mobile. There was Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You” (sung by Hannah Grace) and Guinness Beer in an ad featuring NFL great Joe Montana.
And continuing with Gain detergent’s laundry washing theme, LG WashTower created a popular TV spot in which a multi-tasking dad with a baby strapped to his back dances to Grover Washington, Jr.’s “Just The Two Of Us” (featuring Bill Withers) while loading clothes in his modern single-unit, front-load washer/dryer.
Meanwhile, in an ad for Downy called “Generations,” a graying man removes freshly cleaned clothes from his dryer in present day and is immediately taken back in time to previous years when Downy has been there for him. All of this happens while Paul Anka’s “The Times Of Your Life” plays in the background.
If that’s a little too schmaltzy for you, then perhaps the Downy’s Unstoppables (scented beads) ad from two years ago featuring an older lady dancing to “Everybody Everybody”—a 1990 dance tune by the group Black Box—is more to your liking. That popular ad aired throughout 2021 as well.
Those are just some of the ways in which familiar companies took old pop hits and turned them into memorable commercials during 2021 (or kept popular ads from recent years airing this year). Many of us are at the precise right age where we remembered when the original songs were hits, and never imagined then that they would be immortalized in ads for commercial products decades later.
So which ones were your favorites? Send a comment below or on any of the social media feeds where the article is posted.
DJRob (he/him) is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.
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