While we all think we’re not “affected” by advertising, it’s simply not true. Ads work. You definitely shouted “waaaaaaazzzzzzzup” at somebody back in the day. That’s from a beer commercial. And during the 1984 presidential campaign, Walter Mondale asked Democratic VP rival Gary Hart “Where’s the beef?” in regards to his weaksauce social programs. Here are some beloved characters and songs that became such a part of the culture that most people have completely forgotten they were created for advertisements.
1. “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.”
This song came back into public consciousness after being featured on the series finale of Mad Men. It’s implied that Don Draper came up with the idea of a Coca-Cola commercial in which a bunch of hippies on a mountaintop sing about peace, love, togetherness, and bubbly brown diabetes water. This was all a real-life ad and jingle of course, and “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” was such a popular campaign that the jingle was re-recorded by the folk group the New Seekers. In 1971 it hit the top 10 in the US and #1 in the UK.
Before The Simpsons even became a regular series (spun off from The Tracey Ullman Show) Bart Simpson had already been enlisted in 1988 as a pitchman for Butterfinger candy bars. An ad called for Bart to have a friend at school who wanted to trade lunches, so Simpsons creator Matt Groening grabbed a nerdy little unnamed milquetoast he'd drawn for a failed Saturday morning cartoon. The character’s look and traits remained intact when The Simpsons went to series, but he needed a name befitting such a lame-o. According to a Simpsons DVD commentary, Groening named him Milhouse because it was the most “unfortunate” name possible for a child. (It’s based on Richard Nixon’s middle name, Milhous.)
3. “We’ve Only Just Begun.”
This song is a monster of soft rock, and was only the second single ever released by the Carpenters, the melancholy brother-sister duo were basically the Metallica/Beatles of easy listening. It was the group’s second hit single, and it’s a cover of a jingle from a ‘70s bank commercial. Roger Nichols and Paul Williams (who would later write “Rainbow Connection” for The Muppet Movie) composed it for a Crocker National Bank of California ad that depicts a wedding (and the financial needs that arise therein). It doesn’t reference the bank directly. While putting together the Carpenters’ album Close to You, Richard Carpenter saw the ad on TV, loved the song, and figured out that it was written by Williams, who like him was signed to A&M Records. Carpenter asked Williams if him and his sister could do the song, Williams agreed, and it went to #2 on the pop chart in 1970.
4. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Rudolph, the flying reindeer with a genetically defective glowing nose he worked to his advantage, is now an accepted part of the official Santa Claus mythology. He's inspired a song and a stop-motion animated special, but he began as a way to get people in the door at the now-defunct department store chain Montgomery Ward. The store always gave away coloring books to kids at Christmas, but in 1939 they decided to save money by publishing their own in-house storybook instead of buying them from somebody else. A guy in the company's advertising department named Robert L. May was tasked with coming up with an original character to star in Ward’s coloring book. During the holiday season of 1939, more than 2.5 million copies of May’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer book were handed out.
5. Calvin Harris's "Let's Go."
One of Taylor Swift’s ex-boyfriend’s first hits in the U.S., “Let’s Go," made it to the top 20 in 2012. But in his native UK it was a #2 smash, even though it was initially released as the music for a soccer-themed Pepsi Max commercial. The lyrics even feature Pepsi slogans used around the world, such as “Live for now,” and “It’s now or never.”
6. Chris Brown's "Forever."
Those lines "Double your pleasure, double your fun," in Chris Brown's huge hit (and tired wedding entrance dance choice) are not just some cultural reference to an old gum commercial. Wrigley's paid Brown to record a short, contemporary jingle featuring that famous tagline for its Doublemint Gum. Brown then made the song longer, called it "Forever," and released it as a single. (As soon as Brown plead guilty to assault charges for attacking Rihanna, the gum company dropped him.)