"They'll stone you when you're riding in your car," Bob Dylan once sang. His star turn in a new TV commercial for the Cadillac Escalade suggests he has overcome that fear.
Once considered a leading counterculture figure, Dylan has made himself an advertiser's friend. His commercial touts both Cadillac and XM Satellite Radio, where he does a music show. He even lends his rough-hewn voice to narration.
But the singer is so iconic, and his presence in the commercial so striking, that some advertising executives warn that consumers will recall Dylan, not the automotive products.
Dylan is not the only musician upstaging auto advertisers' vehicles these days. Singers John Legend, Diana Krall and Elvis Costello got more of the on-screen spotlight in a recent series of commercials for Lexus than the cars did.
Dylan's appearance in the Escalade commercial "definitely dwarfs the product," says Josh Rabinowitz, senior vice president of the Grey Worldwide advertising agency.
Cadillac concedes Dylan could be a distraction, although brand executives say they feel the Escalade holds its own.
Modernista, the ad agency that created the commercial, says it took pains to keep Dylan from overwhelming the luxury SUV.
For example, the commercial does not show the singer talking about the Escalade's horsepower or navigation system, notes David Weist, a creative director at Modernista. He says Dylan didn't want his songs used in the commercial, fearing that might be seen as self-indulgent.
A new ad campaign for Volkswagen uses music by the alternative country-rock group Wilco as its soundtrack. Wilco's music publisher offered songs from the group's new album, "Sky Blue Sky," to VW's ad agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky.
Lyrics from Wilco songs explain or emphasize the action in the VW TV commercials. In one commercial, a driver grows anxious when valets try to park his car. He assumes a fighting stance. "I have no idea how this happens," Wilco sings.
Musicians who appear in car commercials are "definitely in it for the exposure," says Mike Boris, executive music producer at the McCann Erickson ad agency.
He says they "are thinking about their brand" — not necessarily the advertiser's.