In 1987, singer-songwriter Rick Astley didn’t know he was going to record a song that would define his music career and make him the face of a bait-and-switch prank on the internet. Nor did he fully realize he was preparing for a future in advertising.
Thanks to his biggest hit Never Gonna Give You Up, Astley worked with brands including Virgin Mobile, GoDaddy, Ancestry.com and now Frito-Lay in 2020.
We sat down virtually with Astley this week to talk about his latest campaign, what he’s learned about advertising and social media over the years – and the enduring appeal of Never Gonna Give You Up.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Adweek: What can you tell us about this new campaign?
Astley: I get the weird offer to do things like that, and I’m very, very aware of what things are. When I was probably 21 or 22 years old, I was doing an advertisement for soft drinks for a company in Japan. And I was very, very aware, “Is it super sugary?” Even then it became a thing, you know what I mean?
Personally, I’m becoming more and more aware of what I am eating, so it made a bit of sense that it will help people make potentially healthier choices. And I’m all for it, to be honest.
Featured in a new Frito Lay campaign, Never Gonna Give You Up was released 33 years ago. Why do you think this song lasts?
I really do not know it. If I knew that, I could probably predict the next one and I would write it. But I have no idea. It was an unusual record back when it came out in the sense that it was number one everywhere. And it just wasn’t going to go this summer and all year because it obviously came out a year later in America and in different places.
I think we just got lucky. Certain producers and songwriters will tell you that they know exactly what they are doing. I don’t think they will. I just think that magic dust pops up in the studio that day and it just works, you know?
Did you know what exactly you created back then?
It feels good. I remember having a tape demo and having it in my car and playing it to friends and other things and each of them saying, “Yeah. … “Even those who didn’t like it said it was pretty catchy. I think we knew we had a chance with that. But you don’t expect to be number one in America.
It has appeared in tons of ads now – what have you learned about marketing and advertising since then?
If you’re making a music video, even if you hire a director, at the end of the day it’s your thing while you’re jumping into someone else’s well with a commercial. And so much is said about it that there are no surprises that day and everyone is comfortable and everyone knows what they are doing. But the truth is, you actually fit into someone else’s world. I think you just need to make sure you are comfortable with this before doing it.
You mentioned an interest in healthy brands – are you still looking for something in the brands you work with?