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Songs for Screens: Cardi B, Chance the Rapper Lead Music-Starring Super Bowl Spots

Cardi B, Ludacris and Chance the Rapper are three of the confirmed stars of this weekend’s Super Bowl commercials, all of whom will be accompanied by a soundtrack of their own music (or in Chance’s case, a “hot” cover of Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” inspired by Flaming Hot Doritos.)

And off-camera, the music of Rita Ora, Queen and Bob Dylan will be heard in some of the weekend’s most high-profile campaigns, among others, as music’s leading publishers and record labels are still scrambling to finalize synch deals just four days before kickoff at Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta on Sunday.

Leading the pack among publishers so far is Sony/ATV, with eight synchs by its songwriters currently confirmed to air during the game, and more pending. Universal Music Publishing Group on track to match if not surpass the eight synchs it secured in 2018. Kobalt helped tee up Max Martin’s piece of the Doritos “I Want It That Way” commercial, while BMG and Warner/Chappell were still working to confirm a few deals at press time.

On the label side, Warner Bros. Records helped engineer two of the weekend’s biggest music moments, as Rita Ora’s “Soul Survivor” will be featured as the anthem for Bumble’s Super Bowl debut starring Serena Williams, and WBR artist Michael Buble will appear as the new face of Pepsico’s Bubly, along with a cover of “When You’re Smiling” from Buble’s November release “Love” that will air during Sunday’s telecast.

As the cost just to air a 30-second spot during the CBS telecast balloons to an estimated $5.1 million – $5.3 million this year, music execs say the cost of synchs so far is still on par with 2018’s range of $100,000-$750,000 as brands and agencies explore creative deal-making tactics to stabilize costs. Many of this year’s synchs will be heard for a few seconds as an end-credit, for example, while certain master recordings will only air during the Super Bowl before being swapped out for a cover version on future airings.

“If [a brand is] paying over $5 million for 30 seconds, and you don’t have to $1 million to pay for a master, it’s easier to go, ‘We’re gonna do a cover, and we’re gonna pay $50,000,’” says Sony/ATV president and chief marketing officer Brian Monaco, who notes that the average usage term has shortened from 1 year to 6 months to even 2 or 3 months in some cases. “But you’re also getting over 100 million people tuning in, so we’re trying to make sure that even the cover versions go to the streaming services and that all the labels are pushing it. Once these catalog songs or covers get playlisted, it’s gold and at that point it just moves in the right direction.”

Of course, not all brands are cutting corners with name talent. PepsiCo is prepping what could be its biggest portfolio play with A-list stars to date, with Lil Jon and Cardi B co-starring in a 30-second spot for Pepsi (featuring Cardi’s “I Like It”), Chance The Rapper & Backstreet Boys teaming up for Doritos and Buble’s Bubly campaign.

Emma Quigley, PepsiCo’s head of music and entertainment, says the Pepsi commercial in particular was designed to be a culmination of the Super Bowl’s many cultural elements this year. “We really wanted to make sure Atlanta was represented, so this magic combination with the right creative of having Lil Jon being represented with his iconic catch phrase, and Cardi, who we’ve worked with for quite some time, really made sense,” she says. “Pepsi is about being unapologetically yourself and having fun doing that, and no one encapsulates that more than Cardi B.”

Finding the right mix of talent and music was equally important for Bumble’s historic commercial, which marks the first Super Bowl spot to feature an all-female creative team behind the camera. Laura Hutfless, who oversaw the campaign (co-created with VMLY&R) on behalf of Bumble at her agency FlyteVu, said the decision to license Rita Ora’s “Soul Survivor” (in a spot debuting Sunday) came late in the campaign’s development but moved swiftly to make the broadcast deadlines.

“Clearing music isn’t usually a quick process, and we had three or four days over the holiday break trying to get hold of six publishers,” says Hutfless. “It’s a true miracle that we cleared this with everyone, who all understood the mission and the greatest impact this is going to have. Rita is a great ambassador for the brand, and the song was such a perfect fit for this program.”

Liz Lewis, VP-creative sync licensing for advertising & gaming at Warner Bros. Records, adds, “From director to producer to Laura at the agency to Teresa [Notartomaso] on the music side [at VMLY&R] and soup to nuts every single person working on this was a woman, and there was a conscious effort to do so. It’s one thing to have creative about female empowerment, but to empower females and back it up with that process themselves is really significant.”

As for the songs that have yet to be finalized, publishing execs like UMPG’s Tom Eaton, senior VP of music for advertising, will be on alert as a number of brands lock in their plans.

“You have a lot of brands creating a number of different commercials so they can pick amongst those to see which one or two will air during the game,” he says, “while there’s others who haven’t picked up a Super Bowl option yet in their licensing negotiations and may just pursue digital-only rights. There’s a bit less exposure if it’s not on TV for a longer period of time, but digital is becoming one of the most-watched avenues for commercials these days.

“The Super Bowl is not a property that has waned in popularity,” he concludes, “so it’s still an amazing opportunity for music.”

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.

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