Following his death at age 69 over the weekend, David Bowie was justly celebrated for his impact on music, fashion and overall gift for reinvention, but one achievement may have been overlooked: his ability to straddle the line between art and commerce as a TV spokesperson.
In fact, while some pop stars were once ridiculed for “selling out” to brands, Bowie managed to effectively create albums that earned critical praise while continuing to make money on the side with a range of brands (not to mention a deep dive into offering financial services). This didn’t happen at the height of his fame, either, but over the course of decades.
Most recently, for example, was Bowie’s work as a spokesperson of sorts for Luis Vuitton. In this 2014 short film, he performed “I’d Rather Be High” amid a dream-like 18th century-style salon.
The production values of that clip are a far cry from what may have been Bowie’s original introduction to the ad world, however. This blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance in the late 1960s was all about selling ice cream. Luv!
Of course, by the 1980s, the thing to do was pitch for Pepsi. Bowie participated in his own unique way: by playing a scientist who seems to use a lot of technology to design women’s shoes. Spilling some Pepsi on the equipment, however, somehow results in an appearance by Tina Turner to perform a duet of his hit “Modern Love.” This may have been a low point, but the same was probably true of Pepsi commercials featuring everyone from Michael Jackson to Robert Palmer.
Bowie’s involvement in this 2001 ad for XM Satellite Radio feels like a better fit, though even he seemed confused by the creative decision to have him catapult through the roof of someone’s motel room.
If Bowie had a “greatest hit,” from an advertising perspective, though, it was probably this 2006 spot for Vittel, which pokes fun at his various personae over the years with a rousing track where he declares “I’m never gonna get old.” At the time, it was all about selling bottled water. Today, it feels more like a tribute to a great performer.