UK: Chumbawamba's Tune Turns the Tables on US Car Giant
It is the world's biggest car-maker, boasting a turnover of 120 billion last year. Sales of Vauxhall and Pontiac cars have propelled General Motors to the top of the auto industry.
So when executives heard a song called 'Pass it Along', they immediately wanted to use it as the sort of 'youthful and hip' tune that perfectly suited the image their new adverts sought to reinforce.
But what they didn't know was that the British band in question - Chumbawamba - were lifelong anarchists opposed to big corporations like GM.
The band was embroiled in controversy in 1998 when member Danbert Nobacon poured a bucket of water over Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott at the Brit Awards.
GM thought nothing more after handing over a cheque for $70,000 to the band for the use of the song. But behind the scenes, Chumbawamba were negotiating with anti-corporate activists to see if they would take the fee and put it to use. The band contacted CorpWatch, a US campaign group aimed at 'holding corporations accountable', to see if it would 'put the money to good anti-capitalist use if we accepted the ad'.
CorpWatch had no trouble in agreeing. Chumbawamba vocalist Alice Nutter then sent an email 'in solidarity' to IndyMedia, a radical global network, to enquire if it would accept half of the money. 'We're offering this money to you because the work you do and information you supply is invaluable,' she wrote.
After much anguished internal debate, IndyMedia also agreed to accept. As a result, the two leading campaign groups are now spending GM's money to mount an aggressive information and environmental campaign - against GM.
'We're planning on using some of the money to document some of the social and environmental impacts of General Motors itself,' Joshua Karliner, executive director of CorpWatch, told The Observer .
'It's known for resisting the kinds of change in production that would assist in reducing climate change, and for helping debunk the science of global warming. If the company knew how its fee was being used, I'd imagine it would make executives squirm in their big comfortable leather chairs.'
The company last night said it was unaware of the work it was financing. Dayna Hart, publicist for Pontiac at GM, said: 'I didn't know that. I did know [the band] had quite a political background in England. That's very interesting.'
Perhaps GM should have seen the problem coming. Chumbawamba have a history of using advertising revenue to fund activist causes. They accepted a Renault commercial in Italy only after Italian pirate radio stations said they would use the money. The band also gave Ford's money for a South African ad to local anti-capitalists.
As guitarist Boff explained on the band's website: 'We pass the moral buck, let someone else justify the decision, and in turn know that some people will vilify us for it. We'd discovered through all the years of having no money just how powerful it can be if it's in the right hands.'
Some corporations, however, are apparently too risky for the band. 'When Nike offered us just short of a million dollars to use "Tubthumping" as the music for their World Cup ad in '98, we had to say no,' Nutter said.
The band also turned down 500,000 from General Electric to use 'Tubthumping', its biggest hit, to advertise an X-ray machine, after discovering that GE also makes engines for military aircraft.
IndyMedia said it would use some of the money for 'corporate-jamming actions', publicising the flaws of firms such as GM. At CorpWatch, the money is powering an internet campaign against GM and corporate globalisation.
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