Have you seen this new Heineken commercial, "Let a Stranger Drive You Home?" Last week, it shot Biz Markie's 1990 hit "Just a Friend" onto the iTunes bestsellers list, where it outsold current singles by Lily Allen, Kings of Leon, and Kanye West.
The ad may have the year's most effective soundtrack---like, more effective than any film score we'll hear in 2009.
The impact begins with the genius of Biz Markie's song. It delivers an infectious chorus sung so poorly that you almost have to sing along. No matter your voice, you will never sound worse than the Biz, so you may as well belt it out.
If you think about it, there aren't many pop songs that invite such a universal singalong... that by their very nature absolve us of the need to "sound good" and so encourage us just to have a rocking good time.
Better still, "Just a Friend" provokes joy without irony. Biz Markie knows he's silly (you've seen the video, right?), but he doesn't have that curled-lip attitude that suggests his behavior is actually a comment on silliness. He seems like a genuinely wacky dude having a good time, and his sincerity helps us get over ourselves and holler with the chorus.
And that's why it's so brilliant that "Just a Friend" is the soundtrack to this commercial, which is trying to evoke a spirit of easy happiness.
Of course, it's no accident that most of the characters are drunk. Heineken is letting us know that its product can help us relax. But the spot also shows a taxi driver having fun. He's presumably sober, but even without beer, he's having a wicked time singing with the kids in his hack.
The driver's happiness is important. It suggests that although beer is enjoyable, you don't need it to have a good time. You can get high off music instead.
That's a clever way for Heineken to have its drunkenness and deflect it, too. By making sobriety seem just as enjoyable as tipsiness, it makes responsible choices look cool. Think about the difference between that message and the one in a Spuds McKenzie commercial.
Now, I'd wager that for most cab drivers, picking up a carload of drunkards is never this much fun. More likely, it's a prescription for vomity floorboards. It's nice to imagine this commercial's world, though. It's nice to imagine that Biz Markie unites the people.
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