The problem with success is that it attracts the attention of sneaks, cheats, and people bent on exploitation. It may be an old story, but this particular spin on it is one we haven’t heard before: the good guys are hometown heroes Beach House, and the baddies are Volkswagen. Yes, the car company.
A year or so ago, Volkswagen (via its ad agency DDB) started hassling Beach House about using the 2010 song “Take Care” in an ad. The duo declined the (generous) financial offer. DDB kept coming back and offering more money — and the band kept declining. Simple enough, right? Except that DDB apparently couldn’t take no for an answer. Instead, they hired a bunch of Beach House sound-alikes to make a close approximation of the song for the ad spot. The real song features Victoria LeGrand’s dreamy, soaring vocals promising “I’d take care of you”; the knock-off song in the ad has a suspiciously similar-sounding woman crooning “I’ll watch over you.” The songs are so close in sound that Beach House fans were tweeting about hearing the dream pop duo in the ad — which is apparently just what Volkswagon wanted. (Watch the ad and hear the original song below the jump.)
Clearly, this is nothing more than the knock-off designer handbag ethos applied to music in ads — and boy is it frustrating. Beach House didn’t want their music in this ad, pure and simple — but DDB co-opted the style (if not the substance) of their work, and used it to turn a healthy profit. The artists who created the sound in the first place come away feeling used — and uncompensated.
But just as with fake Coach bags, it’s tricky to get any redress from these sorts of commercial copycats; unfortunately, these things happen all the time. The band is musing taking action anyway, since DDB so clearly wanted the song they ended up copying — and because the sounds are so obviously reminiscent. “The fact there is such lyrical similarity, and the fact the snare drum comes in when this message comes in, just feels very invasive,” band member Alex Scally told the New York Times. “They are using not just textural things, which people take all the time, they are using an actual musical moment.” (There’s some precedent for success; in the 1990s, Tom Waits won a lawsuit against FritoLay, who ripped off his signature gravelly growl in ads for SalsaRio Doritos.)
Check out the Volkswagen ad, and then listen to the song that inspired it. What do you think?