It's strange to see the Lexus TV ad that first aired during the Grammys and realize, suddenly, that this is indeed a Nick Waterhouse song, and that -- whoa -- there is Nick Waterhouse himself dancing and singing and looking dapper. Nick Waterhouse doesn't seem like a Lexus sort of guy. He's a soul-rocker from Southern California, the kind of R&B geek whose top five records are all from artists you've not remotely heard of and couldn't get your hands on anyway unless you're Nick Waterhouse, or, like, Dick Vivian. Could see him doing a Chrysler commercial. Could even see maybe a Lincoln ad -- his aesthetic is all vintage suits and horn-rimmed eyeglasses.
But Lexus? Lexuses ("Lexii"?) are for sensible software engineers and junior associates at large law firms. Waterhouse -- who performs at Great American Music Hall this Saturday, March 8 -- peddles a subtle, but palpable sense of danger. His music conjures a world of shadows and switchblades and back-alley confrontations. Just look at the video for "This Is a Game":
And of course, that sense of danger and thrill is exactly what Lexus wants us to associate with the CT, a car presumably aimed at whichever dapper, occasionally wild young thing can afford $32,050 for a base model hatchback. (And are you really telling me that isn't a burgeoning financier or lawyer or software engineer?)
Anyway. That's not why this ad is pretty smart, and why Waterhouse's win is bigger than any indie credibility he lost for doing it. (If "indie" artists even lose credibility for doing ads anymore.) Take a look at the ad again, and what do you notice? Waterhouse's song runs through the whole thing. His name appears prominently at least twice -- on the dashboard display of the car and on a wall of street posters. The spot actually climaxes with him onstage, looking smart in a suit and glasses, playing to a big, ecstatic crowd. The actors in the ad dance around, high above the show, but clearly entranced by Waterhouse.
This, then, is not just an an ad for Lexus. It's an ad for Nick Waterhouse. He's as much of a character as the car, or the other people in it. And that is crazy! Think about it: The dude is effectively running TV spots pimping his music on primetime television. What artist -- let alone what artist on a smaller label like Innovative Leisure -- does that? And Waterhouse is probably getting paid for the privilege, not the other way around.
Artists licensing music to ads can still seem icky, even if it's necessary for them to support themselves anymore. But this spot, I think, represents sort of a truce, a reasonable middle ground. Lexus benefits greatly by having this jumpy Nick Waterhouse song in its ad. Waterhouse benefits even more by being explicitly pitched to viewers -- and in a way that makes him seem like someone cool to know about, not a twee force bulldozing your ears like Pomplamoose was in those godawful Hyundai ads from Christmas 2010.
So here's offbeat music and corporate advertising, working together in a way that's beneficial for both. Still won't get us driving a Lexus, though.