As “Bohemian Rhapsody” approaches a landmark $800 million at the global box office, another Queen milestone quietly took place in 2018. With appearances in nationwide campaigns for Amazon, Ram Trucks, Google, Peloton, Silk Almondmilk and many more, Queen’s music was licensed by more blue-chip brands than any other calendar year.
And in the first few weeks of 2019, a moody take on the band’s “Under Pressure” (featuring vocals from singer-songwriter Cara Salimando) has been in heavy rotation on Fox as the soundtrack to promos for Season 2 of medical drama “The Resident,” suggesting that even more Queen songs and interpretations may still be on the horizon.
What’s behind the renewed reign of Queen? Brian Monaco, president/global chief marketing officer of Queen’s publisher Sony/ATV, says the synch boom is the strategic result of three years of pitching the band’s music to the commercial community in anticipation of capitalizing on the fall 2018 release of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” In fact, 2017 was also a record year for Queen activity in commercial synchs (led by a “Don’t Stop Me Now”-scored campaign for Toyota) before 2018’s double-digit revenue increases.
“The catalog’s always done very well, it’s done well in multiple territories and multi-year deals,” says Monaco. “Brands get attached to it, and they don’t want to give it up. You’ve seen it in every aspect of the world, from Israel to Russia to Latin America to Italy. The catalog has been completely global.”
The recent brand synchs have run the full gamut of Queen hits, outtakes and rarities, beginning with Ram’s Viking-themed Super Bowl commercial promoting the 2018 Ran 1500, which made notable use of the “fast” BBC live version of “We Will Rock You” in favor of the familiar stomp-and-clap version.
Other surprise synchs this year have included Google Pixel’s repurposing of “Flash,” the band’s 1980 theme song for the movie “Flash Gordon,” Silk Almondmilk’s newly released spots featuring “Don’t Stop Me Now,” and an Amazon Music commercial featuring a pair of animated lips bringing the lyrics of “Somebody To Love” and Alexa’s voice commands to life.
Even Michael Buble’s 2003 cover of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” found a second life when Hallmark featured it for its Valentine’s Day 2018 campaign.
The cumulative Queen blitz seems to have paid off at retail and streaming services, too – three of 2018’s top five most-consumed rock albums were Queen hits collections, out-selling new releases by Imagine Dragons, Twenty One Pilots and Greta Van Fleet.
As the world’s largest music publisher, with catalogs ranging from The Beatles, Michael Jackson and Bob Dylan to Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and Pink, could Sony/ATV exploit any of their other well-known songwriters to similar effect? Monaco says one unlikely artist has already started to embrace the approach.
“We’ve been doing a lot with John Mellencamp,” says Monaco, who has been pitching re-records and unexpected covers a la Salimando’s apocalyptic “Under Pressure” to advertisers in recent months. “With his songs, you put a female vocal on it and all of a sudden it’s, ‘Wait, what is that song? I know that song.’ We sent [John] some versions that he was blown away by. Now that the industry has changed and platforms have changed, it’s just another way to get your music out there.”
Songs For Screens is a Variety column sponsored by music experiential agency MAC Presents, based in NYC. It is written by Andrew Hampp, founder of music marketing consultancy 1803 LLC and former 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.