Bob Dylan’s Controversial 2004 Victoria’s Secret Ad: His First & Last Appearance in a Commercial

Bob Dylan’s been pissing off his fans since he went electric at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, leaving scores of bitter folkies with feelings of betrayal. But he’s also taken many a principled stand, walking off The Ed Sullivan show early in his career in 1963, for example, when he learned that CBS wanted to censor his “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” for being potentially libelous to the far-right group. Then there are those episodes that have simply baffled his admirers, like his release of the almost universally panned Self Portrait and his conversion to evangelical Christianity. Whatever possessed him to appear in the 2004 Victoria’s Secret ad above, however, is anyone’s guess. While it may not have the same geopolitical juice as his controversial appearance in China in 2011, aside from the general weirdness of once countercultural figures selling products, it’s a move that especially troubled fans of Dylan, to say the least.

There were, of course, cries of “sell out.” Then there’s the troubling status of Victoria’s Secret, a company that has accumulated no small share of controversy since the ad aired, and which at the time was not especially known as a socially responsible entity.  Though Dylan had already licensed the song “Love Sick” from 1997’s Time Out of Mind to the company (and in 2000 licensed “Forever Young” to Apple), this is the first and only time he’s appeared on screen in a commercial, with the exception of a 2010 Google ad that recycled clips from the ’65 “Subterranean Homesick Blues” film.

While ad agencies may have replaced A&R for hungry young indie bands, the phenomenon of wealthy, aging rock stars shilling for major corporations seems to defy reason. Most people assume it’s always a cash grab. Dylan himself joked in 1965 that the only thing he’d sell out for would be “ladies undergarments.” In a perhaps unfortunately titled article for Slate, Seth Stevenson suggested that Dylan and those of his generation took the corporate bait in attempts to remain relevant and “remind the world that they still exist.” In the case of the Victoria’s Secret ad (see a “behind the scenes” video here), this is a little hard to swallow. Not even the balefully timed release of his Love and Theft in September of 2001 could overshadow the enormous success of that album, which, Allmusic writes, “stands proudly among his very best.” 2006’s platinum-selling Modern Times was not far behind. Unlike his online response to the China controversy, Dylan himself revealed nothing of his intentions, leaving fans with the unsettling image of one of the 20th century’s most iconoclastic artists (and one never especially known for his sex appeal) hawking lingerie on national television.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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Comments (11)
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  • frankie lee says:

    hi, nice entry but i’d like to make an addition; as far as i know dylan also appeared in a cadillac escalade commercial in 2007 (

  • Elijah_M says:

    As you pointed out, Dylan said in 1965 that he would sell out for ladies undergarments. 39 years later, an ad agency called his bluff. Iu2019m pretty sure thatu2019s the whole story right there.

  • scottwarmuth says:

    In the 1965 interview Dylan does not say “ladies undergarments” – he says “ladies garments.”

  • EDLIS Cafu00e9 says: this not another appearance in a commercial? nnnApple iPod+iTunes ad featuring Bob Dylan – Accoustic (2006)

  • EDLIS Cafu00e9 says:

    Why do you not consider the Pepsi Ad (Bob Dylan & Will I Am) to be an appearance in a commercial? nn

  • EDLIS Cafu00e9 says:

    nKaiser Permanente? nnCoopers & Lybrand?n n Bank of Montreal? n n The Co-operative Group? nnThe Turkey Chase Greek beer advertisement in 1979?nnetc., etc., etc.

  • jump61 says:

    Mr Jones doesn’t have his facts straight, but neither have several of the people reacting here. The key word here is ‘appearance’. So Kaiser Permanente, Bank of Montreal etc do not have an ‘appearance’ by Dylan. Nor does the Pepsi thing (the material is from archives). The Apple/iTunes add is an add with an appearance by Dylan of course, but bottom line it’s an add for himself and his own record, not for an ‘off topic’ product that has no relation whatsoever with what Dylan does himself. However, Mr Jones should have known about the Cadillac ad. As Dylan himself once said to a scholar he accidentally bumped into (not knowing previously what the person looked like): ‘You can write about me anything you want but make sure to check your sources. So many things are written about me where even the facts are wrong’.

    • Josh Jones says:

      Thanks. Yes, I did completely miss that Cadillac ad. And yes I did mean to refer only to personal appearances, not the licensing of music or old footage (or ads for Dylan’s own product).

  • m320753 says:

    Dylan appeared in a Cadilac ad around the same time, and rece ntly let Kohl/s department stores used the lyrics to Forever Young in a Christmas Ad. I’m sure other companies are standing in line with open checkbooks for Dylan to an ad for them. he does what appeals to him at any given time. you can do that when you are Bob Dylan.. Sell out ? NO ! people couldn’t or didn’t want to progress with Dylan in the ’60s, which is where those words should remain

  • Scott Clifford says:

    What the hell does ‘sell out’ mean? When did Bob Dylan insist his music only be given away for free to fans and worthy causes? Like every other music artist (and damn near every artist in history) he has sold his work for a variety of reasons. So what? It’s how a man can devote his entire life to music instead of working in a factory and playing his guitar on weekends. Only those who hold up musicians to some ridiculous standard (even though the artists frequently play up to these standards) are disappointed. To the rest of us it’s a bit weird, a bit funny, but hardly a tragedy.

  • Tam D says:

    Should have waited a couple of months before proclaiming it his last.

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