Critics round on BBH for BA ad’s London Calling

I don’t know what The Clash, punk heroes from the 1970s and ’80s made of British Airways, but it’s hard to see them as natural supporters of the flag-flying airline then helmed by (Lord) John King, a Thatcherite former car dealer who affected gentlemanly airs rather unconvincingly.

We know what they thought of the London of the day though, as in this from London Calling, the headline track from their third album, London Calling, released in 1979 and subsequently voted the best album of the ’80s (presumably it was released later in the US) by Rolling Stone.

The ice age is coming, the sun’s zooming in
Engines stop running, the wheat is growing thin
A nuclear error, but I have no fear
‘Cause London is drowning, and I live by the river

It’s not quite as dark as it seems as, you suspect, Joe Strummer and the lads actually quite liked the place but it’s hardly a feel-good anthem. But, as numerous bloggers have pointed out, its use in the clever BA ad from Bartle Bogle Hegarty heralding the Olympics is, is what exactly?

Music has played a huge part in BBH’s 30 years of success, all the way back to Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ for Levi’s.

But this, too, is a singular choice if you know the song or just listen to the lyrics. It’s about poor old Marv being chucked, not something that looks on model Nick Kamen’s agenda in the ad.

That’s the thing about pop songs of course, they may be about all sorts of doom and gloom but the music itself can be uplifting and exhilarating.

Even so, the critics may have a point about London Calling. Was it just a case of the agency looking at the song title and the fame of the record and saying: “Yeah, that’ll do,” or was there a slug of irony involved?

I suspect BBH will give any imminent music choices the third degree before coming to a decision.

Here’s The Clash (in Japan). Were they doing their bit for globalisation too?

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.