Unforgettable adverts and the 80s songs that made them

Virgin Radio

16 Nov 2023, 13:02

(L-R) Madonna in the 1989 Pepsi ad, the 1991 Levi's Jeans advert

Credit: Pepsi / Levi's

Big budget adverts need equally big tunes, so there was no better era than the 80s to soundtrack some of the most memorable ads from across the decades. 

This week in 1988, Robin Beck landed at number one in the charts with the melodic ballad The First Time, which happened to be featured in the Coca-Cola advert.

The loved-up ad featured copious amounts of cuddling, embracing and the odd kiss or two between numerous couples, many of whom just happened to also be enjoying a bottle of Cola. 

The First Time reached stratospheric heights after being used in the advert, and went to number one in the UK charts, as well as Austria, Greece, Ireland and Switzerland.

All day today on Virgin Radio 80s Plus, we’ll be playing some of the biggest hits that soundtracked some pretty unforgettable ads from the 80s, 90s and beyond. Check out some the all-time greats below:

Like A Prayer - Madonna 

Probably one of the most infamous 80s ads and equally infamous artists, Madonna’s partnership with Pepsi in 1989 helped to propel her hit track Like A Prayer in 1989.

Called Make a Wish, the two-minute commercial portrayed Madonna going back in time to her childhood memories in school and in church. Around 250 million people around the world viewed the ad, and the song landed at the top spot of charts in the UK, US and across the globe. 

Like a Prayer and the partnership with Pepsi wasn't plain sailing though, as Pepsi pulled the advert following Madonna’s controversial music video for the lead single. 

Start Me Up - Rolling Stones

1981 classic Start Me Up, by the Rolling Stones, made it to the top 10 of the UK charts when it was first released, but it found a new life when Microsoft used it for their Windows 95 campaign 14 years later. 

It marked the first time the Rolling Stones allowed a company to use their songs in an advertising campaign, and they were paid generously too, with the computer company spending $3 million to use the upbeat track. 

In The Air Tonight - Phil Collins

Cadbury found somewhat of a niche when they started to make rather unique and attention-grabbing ads in the noughties (remember the eyebrow wiggling?) 

One particular feature in 2007 became a real talking piece for Cadbury, after they used Phil Collins’ anthemic track In The Air Tonight in their ad - which had a gorilla playing the drums like their life depended on it.

The original release of the song, in 1981, was actually Phil’s first solo track after leaving Genesis, and the Cadbury Dairy Milk short helped to return the song to the charts a full 26 years after its release. 

Should I Stay Or Should I Go - The Clash 

Punk extraordinaires The Clash released Should I Stay or Should I Go in 1981 and while the track soon became their signature, they had a help in continuing its legacy as part of the iconic 1991 Levi’s Jeans commercial.

The advert, featuring a pool bar and a very snug pair of trousers, won over fans and the fashion scene but also prompted a single reissue, and a decade after its original release, the punk rock anthem made it to number one in the UK charts. 

You can listen to Virgin Radio 80 Plus HERE. You can also listen on DAB+ in London and Central Scotland and on smart speakers across the UK, as well as via the Virgin Radio UK app.