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Mercedes-Benz Dusts Off Janis Joplin Song for Commercial

March 9, 1995 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ More than a generation has passed since counterculture heroine Janis Joplin first prayed for a Mercedes-Benz in a satirical ditty that became a rock classic.

Now Mercedes marketers have revived the 25-year-old song for a commercial designed to help answer their prayers _ cultivating new customers for the German luxury cars.

The recording joins a chorus of classic rock songs that advertisers have pounced on to pitch sneakers, soda and beer. But Joplin’s song is different because it is a satire on materialism that makes its point by mentioning the car brand by name.

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Mercedes’ commercial dismayed some rock fans because it drafts a symbol of the ’60s counterculture into service for a car that has long symbolized wealth and social stature.

``Some people will say this is another example of commercialism usurping the icons dear to us,″ said Ross Goldstein, who heads the marketing consultancy Generation Insights in San Francisco.

But he suspects many more will like the commercial because they have grown up and learned to laugh at themselves. ``It almost makes the purchase of a Mercedes Benz a counterculture act,″ he said.

Songwriter Bob Neuwirth helped Joplin write ``Mercedes Benz,″ a takeoff on a poem by Michael McClure, in a tavern between shows in 1970.

``It was never meant to be taken seriously,″ he said. Unlike the character in the song, Joplin had no reason to pine for a fancy car, he said _ she owned a Porsche.

Neuwirth wasn’t consulted on licensing the song and offered no opinion about it. ``I wonder why it took them so long in a way,″ he said.

Joplin died of a drug overdose in 1970. Her younger sister Laura and brother Michael now manage her publishing company, Strong Arm Music. Laura Joplin wouldn’t say how much they were paid for selling Mercedes a one-year license to the song.

``It does honor to the song as well as to the car,″ Laura Joplin said in a telephone interview. ``It juxtaposed them and was very much in keeping with her image and humor ... It’s a hoot.″

The commercial, which has been running for about a month, shows two sedans moving into view in sequence _ the $41,000 E-class and $31,000 C-class _ as Joplin belts out her trademark rasp:

``Oh, Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

My friends all drive Porsches,

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I must make amends.

Worked hard all my lifetime,

No help from my friends.

So, Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz.″

The spot ends with the Mercedes logo and Joplin chuckling ``That’s it,″ just as she did on the album ``Pearl,″ released in 1971 after her death.

The ad is part of Mercedes’ recent courtship of younger drivers _ especially baby boomers who can now afford a luxury car _ with ads that make ``an immediate, emotional and visceral connection,″ said Andrew Goldberg, an executive at Mercedes-Benz North America.

He said the Joplin song stirs warm nostalgic feelings and left commercial viewers in a test feeling more favorably about Mercedes.

``You can attach any interpretation to what she meant 25 years ago, but when the customer views the ad, it is all about emotion and nothing about sociology,″ Goldberg said.

Lee Garfinkel, chairman and chief creative officer at Mercedes’ ad agency, Lowe & Partners-SMS, said the ad ``takes Mercedes off its pedestal.″

Laura Joplin declined to speculate on how her sister would feel about using her song in an advertisement. But she said she and her brother ``try to be consistent with actions that she took in how we make decisions.″

John Byrne Cooke, who was Joplin’s road manager, and Robert Gordon, who was her lawyer, said Joplin would get a kick out of the ad.

``She’d be cackling,″ Cooke said.