The Beatles broke the hearts of thousands of indie-minded fans 30 years ago when it allowed the Ford Motor Company to use the track "Help!" as part of one of it's commercials. That was a controversial move as the biggest band in history hadn't allowed its music to be used in advertising for the the past two decades, so why break that streak? The members certainly didn't need the money.
The Beatles have eased up quite a bit in allowing its music to be licensed since then, showing up in rather tasteful advertisements and even allowing Apple to sell the Apple Records catalogue on iTunes. Some commercials involving Beatles contributions still generate controversy however. Here's a few that really rubbed people the wrong way:
Nike and "Revolution" (1987)
You can tell that Nike's target audience has changed over the years. Back when it launched this Nike Air campaign, it was using tennis pro John McEnroe and, less prominently, Michael Jordan as the main points of attention in a minute-long ad featuring The Beatles' "Revolution" as its soundtrack. Granted, if any rock band is going to be recognizable to all demographics, it's The Beatles. That doesn't mean the band wants you to us its music in the commercials however. So how did Nike get away with it if the Fab Four weren't on board? Well, The Beatles didn't exactly control its own music catalogue at that point: Sony/ATV did. Still, a clause in that holding required the company to contact the Beatles out of consideration for their wishes before granting corporations the rights to use the music. That apparently didn't happen. George Harrison was one of the most vocal in his disapproval.
"Every Beatles song ever recorded is going to be advertising women's underwear and sausages," he fumed. "We've got to put a stop to it in order to set a precedent. Otherwise it's going to be a free-for-all. It's one thing when you're dead, but we're still around! They don't have any respect for the fact that we wrote and recorded those songs, and it was our lives."
Luvs and "All You Need Is Love" (2008)
Some might argue that at least in the case of Nike, the use of "Revolution" was a somewhat respectful take on the original meaning of the song (somewhat). It's a whole other matter when a Beatles classic is used as a play-on-words...for a diapers commercial. The single "All You Need Is Love" was used, replacing the word "love" with the brand name "Luvs" for a 2008 commercial (The Beatles actual recording wasn't used, employing a cover instead). It was a cute commercial otherwise, featuring a toddler wrestling a stuffed animal, but we doubt anyone wants to have their songs associated with products designed for holding baby waste.
Citroen and John Lennon (2010)
It's not just The Beatles music catalogue that can come under fire for use in commercials...it's every moment of the band members' respective lives. One interesting example was a recent campaign for Citroën, a French car manufacturer. The opening of the commercial features what appears to be archival footage of an interview with John Lennon. He discusses a common theme: copycats in rock 'n' roll and how true artists should do their own thing, with the connection obviously being that Citroën's vehicles defy convention. Beatles fans took up arms however when it came to light that Lennon may not have spoken those exact words, and regardless of what he said, the voice on the commercial was that of a voiceover actor. Who would be indecent enough to suggest replacing the voice of John Lennon in a commercial? Turned out his wife, Yoko Ono, gave her approval for the move.
Allstate and Julian Lennon (2002)
Part of the controversy behind respecting a performer's wishes when considering music for commercials is whether using newly recorded versions of old songs constitutes the same violation of the performer's wishes, as seen in the Luvs example. This idea first came to light when Julian Lennon, the son of the deceased Beatles songwriter, performed his father's "When I'm Sixty Four" for an Allstate advertisement centered on retirement investments. Our immediate concern was that 2002 was the year that Lennon would have turned 64 himself, which would have made for the ultimate tasteless move. Fortunately however he would have reached that age during 2004, leaving this ad still inadvisable but not totally appalling.
Commercials and Ringo Starr
Ringo has taken an undue number of shots from cynical Beatles fans over the last 50 years, accused of being the least competent member of the world's greatest band. That may or may not be true, but he certainly had the worst sensibility when it came to lending his talents to advertising campaigns. The most notable was the Pizza Hut campaign where he spent the first 2/3 of the commercial hinting to fans that he was on the brink of a monumental announcement (we all knew the Beatles wouldn't actually reunite)...which turned out to be that people should start eating pizza crust-first. And, just for the heck of making things more ridiculous, he's joined by The Monkees at the end of the clip.
Even better, his commercial campaign for the Japanese clothing brand Simple Life. One commercial features Ringo landing in a flying saucer and declaring "Hello to all Japanese people." Another involves him building a robot with his very Anglo friends while singing "he loves his suit" in the background.
Clearly he was worried those Beatles royalty payments weren't going to come through during the '70s.