The Edit


A collage of stills from advertising campaigns which showcase classical music

Classical music in ads has led to many people only knowing some pieces of classical music through adverts. Dvorak’s New World Symphony may draw a blank, but say, ‘the Hovis ad’ and you’re humming it. Ditto Hamlet cigars’ Air on the G string by Bach, which the brand used from 1966-1997, while British Airways created an enduring identity based on Delibes’ suitably soaring Flower Duet from the opera Lakmé.

Classical Music in Ads

Classical Music in Commercials List

  • BMW - Plug into Something Bold
  • Carlton Draught Pale Lager
  • Natwest - We Are What We Do
  • Paco Rabane - Pure XS For Her
  • Alton Towers

1. BMW – Plug into Something Bold

The BMW i3 is 100% electric, maximising efficiency, dynamics and range and features 85% recyclable materials. The music is a jazz-funk piece from 1973, based on Strauss’s ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’, by Brazilian musician Eumir Deodato; the track won the 1974 Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. Film fans will recognise the original music as the soundtrack to the opening sequence of Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. Is the ad’s gradual ‘sunrise’ effect over the car’s curves a nod to Kubrick’s iconic opener?

2. Carlton Draught Pale Lager

Carl Orff’s boomingly dramatic ‘O Fortuna’ from Carmina Burana was most memorably used in the Old Spice adverts, from the 1960s to the 1990s. However, in 2005, Young & Rubicam in Australia decided to repurpose the tune for Carlton Draught Pale lager. Two choirs, one in maroon uniforms and the other in yellow, charge each other, whilst singing brilliantly basic lyrics:

‘It's a big ad. Very big ad. It's a big ad we're in. It's a big ad. My God it's big! Can't believe how big it is! It's a big ad! For Carlton Draught! It's just so freaking HUGE! It's a big ad! Expensive ad! This ad better sell some bloo-oo-oo-oody beer!’

Parodying battle sequences such as those in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ Trilogy, and taking inspiration from the iconic British Airways ad from 1989, which featured aerial shots of a face being created by thousands of people, the overhead view sees the two choirs create a Carlton Draught beer glass and the shape of a human body, which then ‘drinks’ the beer.

Y&R streamed the ad two weeks before its TV debut, resulting in more than a million viewers in 132 countries. The ad received over 30 awards internationally, including a Gold Lion award at Cannes.

3. Natwest – We Are What We Do

The trials and tribulations of house-buying (over-eager agents; nightmarish viewings; awful neighbours; garden the size of a postage stamp, etc) are presented by NatWest as part of their ‘We Are What We Do’ campaign. They can’t make these aspects any easier or better, they confess, but at least the application process for your longed-for mortgage is now more straightforward. So that’s something. The prospective home owners’ travails are scored by Bach’s jaunty prelude and Fugue No. 1 in C Major.

4. Paco Rabanne – PURE XS for Her

Emily Ratajkowski slinks her way through an enormous mansion, dispensing with unwanted suitors en route before dousing herself liberally with the Spanish fashion house’s PURE XS perfume. The unfortunate men disappear through trap doors and revolving bookcases, whilst unfeeling Emily sees fit to crush another under a massive crystal chandelier. Emily perhaps needs to take some time out from Tinder.

All this female empowerment is soundtracked by a cover version – with added beats - of Habanera (aka ‘Love is a rebellious bird’) from Bizet’s Carmen.

5. Alton Towers

Theme park Alton Towers have adopted Grieg’s ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ from Peer Gynt as their theme tune and have used it in a variety of ways in their ads; it’s also used around the park itself. The piece starts off relatively slow and low, with a sinister edge, mirroring the feel of a rollercoaster’s upward trajectory. The building speed, with its hectic pizzicato, bringing parts of the orchestra with it like a tornado, including what sounds like the percussionists throwing all their instruments down a massive staircase, is particularly suited to rollercoasters’ highs, lows and loops. Plus, it ends with a satisfying bang which is great for punctuating an ad.

Alton Towers’ ‘Smiler’, showcasing the world’s first 14-loop rollercoaster, uses the track at the forefront; their most recent ‘WickerMan’ ad has it as a much more subtle, and brooding backdrop.


romantic classical collection
nostalgic classical collection

This page was updated 21/04/2021

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