It’s difficult to underestimate how deeply and completely the iPod revolutionized music listening. Introduced in 2001, the pocket-sized device escorted music consumers out of the CD era and into the gleaming digital age. (“I don’t know who your product’s designers are,” Moby said in a 2001 promotional video from Apple, “but boy, you’re not paying them enough.”)
Of course, iPod commercials quickly became as iconic as the products they sold. Launched in 2003, the classic iPod ad campaign featured silhouettes of people dancing like mad in front of brightly colored backgrounds, with the iPod and its headphones in stark white contrast. These clips are deeply embedded in the memories of most anyone who watched television in the 2000s.
With each commercial featuring a single song, the campaign was also a powerful tool for launching music by both indie and superstar artists. Songs used in iPod commercials during the device’s heyday got a massive boost in visibility and sales, with Steve Jobs himself often hand-picking and giving final approval on songs used in some of Apple’s best-known ads.
“In using a most discriminated and discerning ear and aligning great and significant music with rich imagery and simple messaging, Apple has taken what jingles had done in the past and created a new and masterful neojingle, which instead of literally singing about the product becomes inextricably connected to sound,” Josh Rabinowitzsenior vp/director of music for ad agency Gray Worldwide, told Billboard of iPod ad syncs in 2011. “It feels not as if they borrowed or even stole the music, but that the music belonged to the Apple brand.”
Indeed, for those of us who were there when these ads launched, the songs below are forever linked with those silhouettes shimmying and sashaying to music that spanned genres, but all had cutting edge appeal, even when the track being used was years old. After Apple’s announcement Tuesday (May 10) that it would be discontinuing the iPod Touch — the only remaining model of the portable MP3 players — after more than 20 years of the product that changed it all, these are the 10 iPod commercial music synchs that really stick with us.
U2, “Vertigo” (Ad Launched In 2004)
One, two, three, fourteen! In a splashy 2004 cross-promotion, U2 launched its new song “Vertigo” in an iPod ad to promote the band’s new album How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. This sync marked one of the few iPod ads that featured silhouettes of the actual band playing the song. (A limited edition U2 iPod would also land in 2006.)
Jet, “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” (Ad Launched In 2004)
Originally released in 2003, “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” by UK band Jet got such a massive popularity boost when it was used in a 2004 iPod ad that the song was re-released in the UK that same year.
Ozomatli, “Saturday Night” (Ad Launched In 2004)
The use of Ozomatli’s 2004 track “Saturday Night’ marked the first instance of Apple selecting a hip-hop track for the iPod campaign.
Caesars, “Jerk It Out” (Ad Launched In 2005)
While the 2002 track “Jerk It Out” from Swedish rock act Caesars was also used in international ads for Coca Cola, Nivea and the Bulgarian phone company Mobitel, it was its placement in a 2005 commercial for the first iPod Shuffle that gave the song global recognition, a major boost in digital sales and placement in the 2000s pop culture canon.
Daft Punk, “Technologic” (Ad Launched In 2005)
Daft Punk was already a Very Big Deal in 2005. But the French duo’s iPod ad featuring “Technologic” (from their 2005 LP Human After All) thrust the robots further into mainstream consciousness via the commercial featuring silhouetted dancers doing, naturally, the robot.
Gorillaz, “Feel Good Inc.” (Ad Launched In 2005)
While Gorillaz had already appeared on the Hot 100 with their 2001 hit “Clint Eastwood,” it was this iPod ad — featuring, in a stroke of genius, dancers on rollerskates! — that helped propel the UK act into the big time, with the song ultimately hitting No. 14 on the Hot 100 in August 2005.
Bob Dylan, “Someday Baby” (Ad Launched In 2006)
Two years after Bob Dylan’s first-ever commercial appearance in a 2004 Victoria’s Secret ad, he promoted his 2006 album Modern Times to the youths via this ad (from the same year) that featured the icon in the series’ standard silhouette form—along with a sole shimmying female dancer.
Feist, “1234” (Ad Launched In 2007)
Feist got a huge boost when her single “1234” — hand-selected for use in an iPod Nano commercial by Steve Jobs himself — hit 249,000 in digital sales the month the ad launched, up from 6,000 in sales the month prior. (Visibility from the ad also helped lift the song to No. 8 on the Hot 100 in October of 2007.)
Coldplay, “Viva La Vida” (Ad Launched In 2008)
An iTunes ad featuring Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” launched in tandem with the song’s June 2008 release, helping aggregate 240,000 in digital sales during the song’s first month.
Cake, “Short Skirt, Long Jacket” (Ad Launched In 2010)
Used in an iPod nano ad a full nine years after the song’s 2001 release, digital sales of Cake’s quirky “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” soared to 35,000 the month that 2010 commercial launched. (By comparison, the song had clocked 5,000 digital sales the month prior.)