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World Beat: Daily Music Briefs from Around the World
Chumbawamba Passes Its Song Along to General Motors, Money Earned from Deal Passes Along to Anti-corporate Activist Groups to Monitor GM

January 30, 2002 — Chumbawamba sold their music-file swapping anthem, "Pass It Along" to Pontiac, a division of General Motors. The band then turned the money they made over to CorpWatch, a U.S. group whose motto is "Holding Corporations Accountable" and UK's IndyMedia, a network of media activists.

"Pass It Along" comes from the band's "nearly invisible" Tubthumper follow-up CD, WYSIWYG. When the band was recording its new album, Ready Made, due this summer, the cut attracted the attention of John Van Osdol, Senior Vice President, Director of Broadcast Services, at D'Arcy Advertising, the company that handles Pontiac. "The song fit in well with the idea of the campaign that is based on 'passing on' keys of Pontiacs to various people across the country in order for them to try out a Pontiac vehicle for a week," Van Osdol explains. "The song is also of an off-beat nature that appeals to the grass roots aspect of the campaign: a very non-advertising approach to marketing."

Chumbawamba guitarist Boff responded: "After much discussion and worry, we okayed it in the same manner we had okayed quite a few other uses of our music in the past few years. By acknowledging that the amount of money we were being offered could fund anti-corporate activists literally for years. We're talking about tens of thousands of dollars."

"We asked CorpWatch and IndyMedia if they wanted the money from that source," Boff continued. "They said, 'Yes.' If they'd said 'No,' we wouldn't have allowed 'Pass It Along' to be used on the advert. So we pass the moral buck, let someone else justify the decision."

In yesterday's issue of the English newspaper, The Guardian, IndyMedia said it would use some of the money for "corporate-jamming actions." And CorpWatch's Executive Director stated: "We're planning on using some of the money to document some of the social and environmental impacts of General Motors itself. It's (GM) known for resisting the kinds of change in production that would assist in reducing climate change and for helping debunk the science of global warming."

Chumbawamba are selective about whom they go through this take and give with in the corporate world. According to Boff, the band has a list of companies they refuse to have any dealings with. As a matter of fact, Chumbawamba turned down nearly a million dollars offered by Nike who wanted to use "Tubthumping" as the music for their 1998 World Cup ad. Another equally large sum was refused when General Electric asked to use the song to advertise an X-ray machine. The band has sold the song's usage before: One example was for an Italian Renault commercial, then Chumbawamba gave the money to an Italian pirate radio station.

And did Pontiac know they were getting into bed with the group who:

  • advocates stealing if one needs to on international television
  • found a male band member in jail after wearing a skirt on the streets of Florence, Italy
  • dumps water on the likes of Great Britain's Deputy Minister John Prescott for his handling of the dock-workers strike
  • chants "Free Mumia-Abu Jamal" on the "Late Show With David Letterman"
  • participates in riots opposing the World Trade Organization's proposals about world debt

"Pontiac was aware of the group's political views," Van Osdol confirmed. "And the commercials are doing extremely well. There is a lot of recognition for Pontiac based on the strength of the spots and the web involvement."

Concludes Boff: "We'd discovered through all the years of having no money just how powerful it can be if it's in the right hands."

More Chumbawamba

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