SPREADING COMMERCIALISM UNDERGROUND

Corporate ads and logos are everywhere – in taxicabs, movies, and parks, as well as on gas pumps, airplane folddown trays, and school buses. So why not on Luke Ryan's guitar case?

Corporate ads and logos are everywhere – in taxicabs, movies, and parks, as well as on gas pumps, airplane folddown trays, and school buses. So why not on Luke Ryan’s guitar case?

For 30 years, Ryan has been a busker, singing tunes in New York City’s subways. He keeps his old, beat-up guitar case – held together by duct tape – open in front of him in hopes that passers-by will drop in some coins or dollar bills. That decrepit case itself is a part of Ryan’s money pitch, for he sticks a cardboard sign in it that pleads, “Pimp My Case.”

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And, now, someone has! Not a sympathetic commuter on the way to a train, but the Dutch-based multibillion-dollar conglomerate, Unilever. The giant didn’t add any flashy styling to Ryan’s guitar case – it simply got him to put a printed sign in it that reads: “Axe Instinct.” Axe is a deodorant maker owned by Unilever, and Instinct is a new leather-scented product that it’s marketing. So the veteran busker has been hired for four months to be a huckster, paid about $1,000 to display the Axe sign, offer samples if anyone inquires, and sing a song a few times a day titled, “Look Good In Leather.”

Interviewed by the New York Times, Ryan says he had sworn never to sell out. But today’s economy is tough even on subway singers, so when Unilever asked him, he said, “Well, why not?” Besides, he says, commercial branding is plastered all over the subway, so no one seems to notice his subtle Axe ad. In addition, Ryan thinks more deodorant sales would be a social plus. “If there was more of that stuff going on in the subway,” he notes “It’d be a better place.”

The vast clutter of corporate commercialism in our society doesn’t do any good for anyone, while being intrusive to everyone. But at least this gimmick by Unilever is helping Luke Ryan – and I’m all for that.

“A Street Musician With a Corporate Sponsor,” The New York Times,” October 30, 2009.

“Battling the bastards is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.”

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