Earlier this week, I made a phone call I never thought I’d make: I called Hellmann’s Mayonnaise to ask if my sister-in-law’s song was used in their newest commercial.
First, a little backstory.
My love for my sister-in-law Jenn Cristy and her music is no secret. I’ve blogged before about her music and her work (and my work to help her music). And my husband (her brother) and I are just about the biggest fans we can be from three states away. Two years ago, I spent hours listening to the tracks for her then-unreleased CD, Hotel Confessions, while I worked on the album and merchandise design. Jenn’s song “Betty” quickly stood out as one of my favorite tracks.
On Tuesday morning while simultaneously half-listening to the Today Show and surfing the Internet, some familiar music came through the TV speakers. My oldest, who was sitting next to me on the couch, popped his head up from his work. “Is that Aunt Jenn?” he asked. It sure sounded like it to me, so I fired off an email to her:
OK there was a hellmann’s commercial on just now that had music that sounded just like the intro to “Betty.”
When I got in the car to go to work about an hour later, I noticed that I’d missed a call from Jenn. So, like any responsible adult, I waited until I got to work to return her call. Yeah, no. I called her from the car. (I did use the speakerphone, Honey. I promise.)
Jenn said a friend of hers had contacted her a couple of weeks ago about the same commercial so she’d looked it up online to take a listen for herself. “It’s the exact same chords from ‘Betty’,” she said. And, no, neither Hellmann’s (a Unilever brand) or Ogilvy & Mather (the agency who made the ad) had contacted her about using the song.
Here’s Jenn singing ‘Betty’ in Aug. 2010 on WTIU’s Weekly Special show — first seven seconds (via YouTube):
And here’s the Hellmann’s Mayonnaise commercial-first seven seconds (also via YouTube):
I’m not a trained musician but they sound awfully similar to me. Jenn, who is, thinks they do, too.
Jenn is an independent musician. That means she doesn’t have a label or a recording contract. The albums she’s made? Money came out of her pocket to pay for it. And I’ve got to be honest: I don’t think playing 100-some shows a year (some of which require travel and overnight stays for she and her band) is so lucrative that she and her elementary-school-teacher husband aren’t having to make some sacrifices for her to fund her business. Even the idea that someone is using her music for a commercial endeavor without compensating her makes me see red.
I called Unilever’s consumer contact line Tuesday afternoon to ask about the song used. The customer service agent I spoke to (Rose) said the commercial’s info was not in her system so she would have to pass on my information and someone would have to call me back. Because it was close to the end of business, she said, I likely could not expect a return call until Wednesday, at the earliest. (I explained to Rose that I was going to blog and tweet about the similarities in the music but wanted to give the company a chance to respond first. Newsroom habits die hard.) It’s now Friday and I’ve yet to receive a response to my call. Or, as we used to write at my previous employer, “a Unilever spokesperson did not respond to calls before press time.”
I’ll update this post if and when they respond.