Psst, Super Bowl advertisers: Nice use of classical music, but mix it up some with these alternate masterpieces

Giuseppe Verdi no doubt always dreamed of his music being set to images of stupid men being outwitted by cute animals for the purpose of selling snack chips.

I only watched half the Super Bowl (unfortunately a half that included Black Eyed Peas), and I really only half-watched that portion. But my attention snapped back to the screen whenever I heard a piece of music I recognized, such as the use of “Lose Yourself” in Chrysler’s spiffy “Detroit will kick your Euro-luxury-car ass!” commercial that everyone is talking about today.

But you know what I noticed even more? The use of famous classical compositions to sell the Super Bowl audience beverages, snack food and automobiles.

This is not a new trend, of course, as this blog post from New York classical station WXQR makes clear. Nor did advertisers plumb very deep into the classical cannon; these are all fairly famous pieces, recognizable even to casual fans. Here are four compositions I noticed, along with some humble suggestions for advertisers to use in the future rather than recycling these masterpieces again and again.

What’s being shilled: Doritos
Classical masterpiece: “Dies Irae” from Verdi‘s Requiem
Short summary: Dude taunts his girlfriend’s pug, gets a face-full of door in return.
Real story behind the music:
The Italian opera composer wrote this setting of the Latin mass for the dead in memory of poet and novelist Alessandro Manzoni.
Alternate musical cue: Almost any other “Dies Irae.” Few are as full of fury and bombast as Verdi’s, I know, but how about some love for Dvorák once in a while?

What’s being shilled: Coca-Cola
Classical masterpiece: “1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky
Short summary: “Lord of the Rings”-esque siege is cut short after a dragon ingests some cola and starts belching fireworks.
Real story behind the music: Written to commemorate the defeat of Napoleon’s army by Russian forces at the Battle of Borodino in 1812.
Alternate musical cue:
OK, we get it. Everyone associates this piece with fireworks, which is Tchaikovsky’s fault for incorporating explosions into the score. Handel‘s “Music for the Royal Fireworks,” however, was actually written for a fireworks display.

What’s being shilled: Coca-Cola
Classical masterpiece: Second movement to Beethoven‘s “Symphony No. 7”
Short summary: Two super-serious border guards at some remote desert checkpoint declare a temporary truce to share some sody-pop.
Real story behind the music: An immediate success, the stately, minor-key melody remains the third most famous theme from the composer’s nine symphonies and is sometimes performed as a funeral march.
Alternate musical cue: This one isn’t terribly over-used in advertising (yet), but for argument’s sake, let’s go with Mahler‘s similar funeral march from the third movement of “Symphony No. 1,” a.k.a. minor-key “Frère Jacques.”

What’s being shilled: “The X Factor,” the American version of a British talent show, which will be pretty much indistinguishable from “American Idol.”
Classical masterpiece: “O Fortuna” from Orff’s Carmina Burana.
Short summary: Metal shards fly together to form Simon Cowell.
Real story behind the music: The cantata is a musical setting for 24 poems from a medieval manuscript discovered in a German monastery, full of odes to drinking, sex, fortune and other secular concerns.
Alternate musical cue: “O Fortuna” is so common in movie trailers that there are literally dozens of Internet discussion forums with people seeking”something that sounds like Carmina Burana” to use in some film project. My favorite answer: “The Battle on the Ice” from Prokofiev‘s score for the 1938 film Alexander Nevsky.


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