The payola scandals of the Fifties were a black-eye on commercial radio, where record labels would pay radio stations to play certain albums.

Now with corporate and satellite radio controlling the airwaves, and internet radio still in the nascent stages- the best way to get your songs played to mass audiences is to sell your song to a major advertising campaign. When Wieden + Kennedy bought the Beetles “Revolution” for Nike there was a major outcry of selling out. (Personally, this commercial still makes me love advertising- and what I do)

After the warning shot- it was a free-for-all, with every major advertiser buying top hits. Then Arnold changed the game again- by putting arcane, but catchy tunes into VW commercials- da, da, da, Dr. Roboto and the songs of Nick Drake- all turning forgotten tunes into hits.

But, besides bringing new exposure to old hits- or even hits in the making- there is also an area of concern for artists- will they be seen as selling out? Some artists have sworn off commercialization of their art- Bob Dylan taking a hit for selling music through Starbucks for instance.

So, when Crispin Porter + Bogusky follows in the footsteps of Arnold by putting Wilco’s “Sky Blue Sky” into a campaign, Wilco fights back- and in the tradition of David Ogilvy who believed you should use the products you shill, admits to driving V-dubs.

Pitchfork: Wilco Explain Volkswagen Ads
After millions of infuriated Wilco fans around the globe set fire to their copies of Sky Blue Sky and drove their Jettas off cliffs yesterday, Wilco took it upon themselves to explain their recent involvement in a Volkswagen ad campaign.

“With the commercial radio airplay route getting more difficult for many bands,” wrote the Chicago sextet on its official website, “we see this as another way to get the music out there.”

They continued: “And we feel okay about VWs. Several of us even drive them.”

Securing rights to popular music isn’t always easy- we once traded building a website for Buckwheat Zydeco in exchange for using his music as the background for a local neighborhood non-profit marketing piece- which cost us a bunch- but gave the neighborhood new life. Besides the website- (which has been sadly and badly basterdized over the years) Buckwheat gained a whole new bevy of fans- who would not have been exposed to his great music any other way.

With viral videos like Jud Laipply’s “Evolution of Dance” using a bunch of copyrighted music- the question is- is it better marketing for the music than the old school pay-to-play? If I was the copyright holder, I’d be thrilled to have “tastes” of my music given that much exposure.

It’s a whole new world out there in marketing, what you learned in school doesn’t apply anymore. Sharing is the new currency and attention is the new jackpot.