-Karl Schweikart and Susan Hopp, 45 Degrees/Minneapolis

The other day I heard the song Lust For Life by Iggy Pop. I had to chuckle as I remembered that it was once used to sell cruise vacations. As someone who had listened to that song in college, it seemed like a real brand disconnect.

Royal Caribbean International used Lust For Life for a series of commercials featuring rhythmically-cut shots of beautiful families doing exciting activities on ship and shore. Starting in 2001, the ads ran for years as part of the RCI “Get Out There” campaign. For many people, “Lust For Life” and “Royal Caribbean” became synonymous – and a highly successful pairing.

But the song actually describes a world very different from the one depicted in the commercials. Written by Pop with David Bowie and released in 1977, it’s a song about an addict trying to kick his drug habit, and contains overt references to drugs, liquor and sex. The edited version in the TV spots wisely had none of that, relying heavily on the catchy “Lust For Life” refrain instead.

It got us wondering whether anyone at RCI had read all the lyrics. Did they think that being a bit “edgy” would appeal to the younger demographic they were courting? Did they think no one would know the song? What were they thinking?

Even after being called “The Worst Ad Song Ever” in a 2005 Slate article and inspiring a parody in The Onion , the campaign continued successfully another two years.

Obviously, something was going on.

When edited to fit the timeframe and messaging needs of a 30 second TV spot and paired with specific imagery, a song’s whole meaning can be changed, and our personal relationship with that song can be undermined. As John Fogarty, who had lost the rights to his music and couldn’t prevent it being used by advertisers, said about the use of his Fortunate Son in a Wrangler Jeans ad (another oft-cited inappropriate ad song), ”When you use a song for a TV commercial, it trivializes the meaning of the song. It almost turns it into nothing.” And it can be remade into whatever they want it to be.

Thus “Lust For Life” morphed from being an ironic musing by an addict to being an all-too-unironic mantra for middle-class families. Presto: It’s not about junkies, it’s about junkets. So maybe it wasn’t the worst ad song ever. The campaign accomplished the goal of attracting younger passengers and the RCI brand was strengthened. In the end, I guess, the song doesn’t remain the same.