“Let’s Get It On,” Marvin Gaye’s hit single from 1973, is a song that’s pretty unambiguously about one particular thing. Yet for some reason, the song has continued to be used in advertising for things that aren’t that one thing — most notably, food.
The latest brand to use the sexually explicit tune to sell culinary items is restaurant chain Applebee’s, which debuted a new commercial this week that places the song over images of the chain’s shrimp, riblets, and chicken tenders. The occasion is an all-you-can-eat promotion by the chain.
Applebee’s is far from the first brand to use this incongruously sexy song in its advertising. The song was used in a 2012 commercial for Levi’s — featuring, strangely, an invisible woman — and a 2011 ad for Reese’s, which implied that a chocolate Easter bunny had copulated with a jar of peanut butter to produce a chocolate egg. The song was also featured in a 2012 ad for coffee.
In 2012, the condom brand Durex used “Let’s Get it On” in an ad, featuring “male” and “female” record players, stating that the product “speeds her up” and “slows him down.” The premium cable channel Starz, in 2017, produced another ad with the song, featuring love scenes from various Starz series, while CBS the year before had used the song in a Super Bowl promotion for its upcoming new shows.
These commercials nearly always begin with the song’s recognizable opening riff, while cutting off before getting to some of the tune’s more explicit lyrics, such as “giving yourself to me can never be wrong” and “If the spirit moves you/Let me groove you good/Let your love come down.”
Other notably racy songs have been used in food commercials as well. In 2014, Romano’s Macaroni Grill launched an advertisement for a product called “fatbreads” that parodied the lyrics of Sir Mix-a-lot’s “Baby Got Back,” in a rhyme that began with “I like big crusts and I cannot lie.”
“Let’s Get It On” made the news again last week when a judge ruled that a lawsuit against singer Ed Sheeran by the estate of the song’s co-writer, Ed Townsend, may go forward to trial. The suit, first filed last June, claimed that Sheeran’s hit 2014 single “Thinking Out Loud” plagiarized the song. Gaye’s estate is not a party to the suit, although they did recently successfully sue Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams, and related parties, claiming that their hit “Blurred Lines” copied Gaye’s song “Got to Give It Up.”