“Songs for Screens” (formerly known as “Synch This”) is a Variety column written by Andrew Hampp, a VP at New York-based music sponsorship and experiential agency MAC Presents and former branding correspondent for Billboard. Each week, the column will highlight noteworthy use of music in advertising and marketing campaigns, as well as new and catalog songs that we deem ripe for synch use.
With a record $314 million currently spent on synchs globally, there was no shortage of commercials with great music in 2017. But the difference between a good synch and a great synch is a song that sticks with you long after the commercial has aired. And one that might even prompt you to take some sort of action, be it a Shazam tag, a Spotify stream, or even the purchase of a concert ticket.
These 10 synchs represent some of the most unique — and successful — integrations of music the ad world had to offer this year. From obscure crooner classics to active singles to overlooked gems, “Songs for Screens” selects the year’s 10 best synchs.
Samsung | Peggy Lee, “Similau”
Where Apple Watch tapped Beyonce’s recent Kendrick Lamar collab “Freedom” and Google Pixel utilized souped-up soul from Mr Jukes and Charles Bradley for device launches this year, Samsung took a 180 with this hidden gem from Peggy Lee. As a young couple uses Samsung’s “Live Message” technology to express their burgeoning affection in real time, Lee’s exuberant vocal chant swoops in at the end to express the visceral emotion of love way better than, say, the latest Selena Gomez single ever could. The spot aired more than 3,000 times this fall, and helped generate more than 300,000 streams of the track during the month of October alone, proving there’s still a lot of life left in the “Fever” singer’s catalog.
Apple | Marian Hill, “Down”
In the Steve Jobs era, Apple was the gold standard of how commercials could launch new artists or elevate careers, having sent tracks by Feist and Yael Naim to the Top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 and helping break acts like the Ting Tings, Chairlift and the Caesars. Though that track record slipped in recent years, Apple more than made up for lost time with “Stroll,” a groundbreaking spot featuring YouTube dancer Lil Buck that sent Marian Hill’s single jazzy pop single “Down” straight to No. 21 on the Hot 100 and the top 10 on the Digital Songs chart.
The North Face | The Avalanches, “Because I’m Me”
The Avalanches have been at the top of many a music supervisor’s list as a golden goose of the synch world. The Aussie electro hip-hop collective’s sample-heavy songs can be near-impossible to clear, and the band’s noted resistance to many aspects of music and branding has sent few requests past the finish line. The North Face’s short film “Imagination” succeeded where others may have failed by putting The Avalanches’ standout 2016 cut “Because I’m Me” front and center of a whimsical ode to childhood that could have easily doubled as a music video for the track (had the original not been so great already.)
Christian Dior | Sia, “Chandelier”
Dior’s last major ad campaign starring an Academy Award-winning actress, 2012’s “J’Adore Dior” with Charlize Theron, made such memorable use of the Gossip’s “Heavy Cross” that the spot aired for nearly two years after its original premiere. This year’s “Miss Dior,” with Natalie Portman and music courtesy of Sia’s “Chandelier,” deserves to have the same longevity. The lush, cinematic spot crams so much emotion and narrative into its 45 seconds that only Sia’s famously operatic chorus could do it justice.
Oreo Dippers | Penny & The Quarters, “You & Me”
After soul archivist label the Numero Group rescued this long-lost ‘70s recording by a group of Columbus, OH teenagers, 2010’s “Blue Valentine” gave it the big-screen treatment courtesy of a Ryan Gosling-Michelle Williams embrace. Oreo flips that previous use into a dreamy father-daughter ode to wonder and stargazing that recalls one of the all-time great synchs, Volkswagen’s late-90s spot with Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon.”
The Gap | Cher & Future, “Everyday People”
An entire generation has passed since The Gap turned Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough,” Donovan’s “Mellow Yellow” and Madonna’s “Dress You Up” into retro-fun sing-alongs, and later partnered with the Material Girl herself for a major campaign co-starring Missy Elliott. Cher and Future were the perfect choices to revive The Gap’s winning formula of yore with a modern twist, and with two of AutoTune’s most famous clients no less.
Coca-Cola | The Knocks, “Classic”
A sleeper hit in the making since its release in 2014, The Knocks’ “Classic” had “synch” written all over it. A chewy Nile Rodgers-esque funk guitar riff and blissed-out vocals from Powers singing about summertime love coupled with a no-brainer hook “And it feeeels so classic…” made it one of the most over-looked songs for years. This throwback Coca-Cola spot not only gives the song its long-overdue treatment, the creative seems practically woven around the whole narrative of the song. It also helped lay the groundwork for future synchwork for dance duo The Knocks, whose work on Sofi Tukker’s “Best Friend” currently stars in the trailer for Apple’s iPhoneX.
Nintendo Switch | Imagine Dragons, “Believer”
There’s no better testament to the power of synch’s ability to resuscitate a band’s career than Imagine Dragons in 2017. After 2013’s multi-platinum “Radioactive” enjoyed a historic shelf life on the Hot 100 (a record-breaking 87 weeks on the chart), the band’s follow-up album “Smoke + Mirrors” failed to produce a Top 20 hit, but leave it to Nintendo and a well-placed Super Bowl commercial to relaunch the band into the pop-culture stratosphere. “Believer” quickly became a crossover hit at Top 40 radio, peaked at No. 4 this summer and paved the way for follow-up hit “Thunder” to reach the top 5 as well.
Nespresso | Mel Torme, “Comin’ Home Baby”
Rare is the spot whose creative is so indebted to the song that the team licenses the song in advance of production. Rarer still is the spot that stars an A-lister like George Clooney recreating some of the most iconic road-trip scenes in cinematic history while singing along with this latter-period Mel Torme hit.
Target | Carly Rae Jepsen & Lil Yachty, “It Takes Two”
Target sets an impossibly high bar for itself every Grammys, having helped launch Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie” in a 2013 spot, going live with Imagine Dragons in 2015 and again with Gwen Stefani in 2016. But the retailer outdid itself with 2017’s super-sized campaign, a pop-art remake of Rob Bass & DJ EZ Rock’s “It Takes Two.” Not only did the spot make the unlikely pairing of pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen and rapper Lil Yachty (and producer Mike Will Made-It) work, the three-minute music video even matched Yachty’s signature red-beaded braids with the retailer’s iconic logo. I for one can’t wait to see what Target does during next month’s ceremony.
“Songs for Screens” will return Jan. 5. Happy Holidays!