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Songs for Screens: Harry Styles, the Killers, Bruno Mars Lead Early Olympics Brand Synchs

Songs for Screens” 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. 

Adam Rippon isn’t the Olympics’ only breakout. Between the songs used for the figure skating competition and the anthemic commercials, music may be the biggest star of NBC’s coverage.

Not only have standout songs by Coldplay, The Beatles, Jeff Buckley and Elvis Presley been highlights from Olympic figure skating’s first-ever use of songs with lyrics, several commercials have begun airing on NBC featuring synchs that rival the Super Bowl in terms of creative scope as well as pricing. As Variety previously reported, Super Bowl synch fees topped out in the $750,000 range, and songs brokered for U.S. and international usage by official Olympic sponsors like Samsung, Omega and Toyota can command similarly high pricing.

“One of the amazing benefits of songs in Olympics commercials as opposed to Grammys or Super Bowl is you have the potential to have a worldwide audience for the commercial,” says Tom Eaton, senior VP of music for advertising at UMPG, who helped secure synch licenses for UMPG writers in more than five major spots airing during the Olympics. “It’s also the one time that where a brand is not just beating you over the head trying to sell you a product. They’re trying to impart a brand philosophy.”

Notable synchs already airing include Omega watches’ victorious spot featuring Harry Styles’ “Sign Of The Times,” as well as Samsung’s emotional “Do What You Can’t” scored to The Killers’ “All These Things I’ve Done.” Though both spots feature well-known artists domestically and in many territories, the additional Olympic exposure could help further move the needle for both acts.

‘“Sign of The Times’ is a song that in some territories floated under the radar a little bit, but in others is quite a big song. Harry Styles is obviously a worldwide artist, but this is an incredible song that deserves to be heard by numerous amounts of people,” says Eaton, whose film & TV counterparts in UMPG’s German offices helped broker the deal with the brand team at Omega’s Swiss headquarters. “It’s airing throughout Europe, Asia, the U.S., parts of Africa – it’s really spanning the globe.”

Not all of this year’s synchs involved superstars. Little-known indie act Dirty Monster & Kaleena Zander’s “Stronger Than I’ve Ever Been” got a huge boost when Toyota tapped the song for inclusion in a spot that became the first to air during this year’s Super Bowl telecast as well as last week’s Olympics Opening Ceremony telecast.

“We were so inspired by this spot when [ad agency] Saatchi sent it our way,” says Jackie Shuman, music supervisor at Good Ear Music Supervision. “it gave me goosebumps even without any music or voiceover. We all put our ears together to search for songs with heart and a lyrical message that tied into the themes of the campaign – strength, overcoming adversity, accomplishing your dreams. Dirty Monster & Kaleena Zander’s ‘Stronger Than I’ve Ever Been’ was the perfect match – we felt lucky to find it.”

Other spots that weren’t created specifically for the Olympics have been making memorable appearances during NBC prime-time as of late for their creative tie-ins. Spots for Hershey’s new Gold chocolate bar feature Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic,” which has double the relevance for its medal imagery and Mars’ recent Grammy wins.

Even NBC’s own promos have given a resurgence to recent hits like Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire,” which soundtracks a popular promo starring Olympic ski racer Lindsay Vonn. The promos, which began airing during the Super Bowl, have already prompted a renewed interest in the song from the synch community. “We saw a lot of brands calling about it afterward, asking if it was available, how long it was tied up,” says Brian Monaco, president and chief marketing officer at Keys’ publisher Sony/ATV (NBC is paying for the song on a per-week basis). “It’s such a great platform that helps a song like that get out to even more people.”

And with two weeks’ worth of Olympics coverage still to come, many publishers are still in deal-making mode. Alex Flores, senior VP of marketing for commercials, film and TV at BMG, expects to be on call through Feb. 25. “The negotiation stages happen constantly. You’re gonna hear somebody say, ‘We’re airing in two hours, can we close this now?’” she says.

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