Tom Waits's dog food commercial

Matt sez, "Tom Waits, well-known for his litigation against advertisers who imitate his sound for commercials, apparently recorded one commercial of his own. And it's for dog food." Link (Thanks, Matt!)


  1. Well, that’s the whole point of litigating, isn’t it? His sound is part of his product, and he wants them to _buy_ the product (or at least license it) rather than swiping it.

    Much as I hate look-and-feel lawsuits, and much as I hate the overextension of copyright/trademark, I do think that respect for living artists requires paying them when you use their work for commercial purposes. (I’d argue noncommercial too, but encourage the artists to waive the fee or make it minimal.)

    My issues with copyright are more in the range of “If you aren’t going to keep it in print, don’t stand in the way of someone else who wants to do so.”

  2. Yeah, he apparently was really broke when he made this commercial, it even won a big award but he wouldn’t accept it in person.

  3. When was it made? The last ad related awards (apart from CA) was the Cleo – and that was a long time ago so that jives with all the testimonials on the net that place this in the early 80s.

    Well, at least it was for a benign product. Not beer or cigs – although given his tunes that wouldn’t exactly be out of character.

    Curious what ad agency decided to go with his tone for the spot tho. I mean apart from the song “Nighthawk Postcards” which includes a reference to Purina Checkerboards and it was done in 1975 so it still works with the time period of the commercial (as does the color palate of the spot – tre’s 80s). Think he did one for Foster Grants?

    Must have been the spillover from the whole Chiat-Day is artier than us movement. That didn’t wane until 1995 near as I can tell. And for credibility’s sake – I worked for those goobs (TBWA Chiat-Day) so I get to heckle them in public forums.

    I’m not too surprised tho. After he did “Fernwood Tonight” anything goes with Mr Waits:

  4. He doesn’t just litigate vs. soundalike commercials, he does it when they ask him to use a song, he says no, and then they basically copy it.

  5. How does one get on Boing Boing anyway. I sent a link to this video awhile ago on a post about foreign celebrity commercials (well known celebrities doing commercials they wouldn’t do here in countries like Japan). I think it was before they updated the comments section, so I had to “suggest a link.” To no avail, no credit from the internets. Of course I couldn’t tell you who directed me to it…

    As a long time Waits fan, it is a most peculiar offering from T.W., being his staunch opposition to using his work for commercials. I can only assume since this is voice work, it falls under acting for him.

  6. Thank you for the link. It’s pretty comprehensive on the people and the animation and post-production houses but unless I’m overlooking it – I still didn’t see the Agency on record. Doubly strange since most title-cards would have that at the top of the list. The assorted Canadian references don’t really indicate clues either because the office I worked at vendored-out all over North America – IE: just because we post-produced a tape in Portland OR, didn’t mean we were 800 miles near them.

    Good background info tho. Wonder if it aired in the US or if it was for other markets (as Tyler mentioned).

  7. “He doesn’t just litigate vs. soundalike commercials, he does it when they ask him to use a song, he says no, and then they basically copy it.”

    Which happens to all musicians. You have the choice of ‘selling out’ and having your song in a commercial or saying no and having them just copy it anyways. And of course sometimes you aren’t even given the choice, they just copy it because it is cheaper.

  8. Tom Waits on Opel’s use of his sound in an ad:

    “Commercials are an unnatural use of my work… it’s like having a cow’s udder sewn to the side of my face. Painful and humiliating.”

  9. I’m a big Waits fan, but had never seen the Fernwood bit. Hilarious. Especially the laugh track over the song.

    While it’s commendable that Waits never devolved into a commercial pitch-man (*cough* Orson Welles *cough*), it’s not so hard to understand why he did it at the time. He was broke and at the crossroads of his career. National spots like this paid a lot of money back in the day (I had a childhood friend-of-a-friend who was in a Chuck Wagon dog food commercial and it went national for years and set him up for life.)

    Anyway, I love listening to Waits read the ingredients list of meats.

  10. I get the impression from how he reads the ad-copy, that he is getting a snarky kick out of it.

    I always love how they try to convince us that “dogs love this new flavor”– really? How do you know? Because they EAT it? Dude– dogs will eat their own feces if you don’t stop them!!

    Maybe Tom was thinking along those lines as he read the ad-copy.

    mmmmmmm. . . delicious dog food. Sure beats the feces I was eating earlier.

  11. #11 and #13: Waits’s is the style preferred by the Chicago Manual of Style (15th edition), one of the major U.S. style manuals, as well as by Words Into Type (3rd edition). (If you don’t recognize either of those sources, you are not an editor.) You say the possessive as “Waitsis,” so by their rules you write it Waits’s. If you just said “Waits,” it would be Waits’.

  12. tom rules. that appearance on fernwood was GOLD. they must have had a ton of fun setting that one up. martin mull is hilarious as the straight man in that.

  13. I agree that he can copyright his works, but how can he copyright his voice? Lots of people sound like he does(that raspy kind of voice. The movie trailer guy, LaFontaine, I think, get’s thousands of dollars a word, and he sounds very much like him). That fact that other people exist to make a commercial with a guy who has a voice similar to his, sort of disproves his whole argument. He can’t copyright MY voice aswell, is my point(that is if I sounded like him), and if I want to license my voice9which happens to sound like his) to an ad company, or provide MY time and serices to record a commercial, it’s my choice, regardless anything else, really. I still like Tom Waits’s stuff, I just think that’s a little ridiculus to copy right something other people are born with(or obtain as a result of heavy smoking, and such. Whichever one). If anything, he would then be sued for having a monopoly on raspy voices, not letting other raspy voiced fellows profit off of their voice. Also, I suppose you can maybe bring parody in it, somehow, but I don’t really think it belongs.

  14. “how can he copyright his voice? Lots of people sound like he does….That fact that other people exist to make a commercial with a guy who has a voice similar to his, sort of disproves his whole argument.”

    It’s not as black and white as you indicate. Tom sued Frito Lay for creating a work so similar to his own “Step Right Up” in both form and sonic texture that an average listener might reasonably assume that the work was by Tom and that Tom was thus tacitly endorsing Frito Lay. And the issue is trademark/”right to publicity”, not copyright.

    That said, I’m not sure how I feel about sound-alike lawsuits and “stylistic trademarks,” because they can end up stiffling speech and creativity. Everyone, including Waits, steals from/”pays tribute” to those who came before.

    I wonder if Frito Lay had shown onscreen, say, a fat black man delivering the lines, and thus clearly disassociated the pitchman from Waits, if it would have allowed Frito Lay to win the lawsuit? These things are hard to draw lines around.

  15. As a huge TW fan, I can forgive him for “sneaking through the dog door,” after all. even Frank Zappa did a commercial early in his career.

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