Songs for Screens: Super Bowl Synchs Hold Steady for Music Publishers Despite Ratings Dip

Michael Bublé, Bob Dylan, Frank Ocean, Queen, Cardi B and the Who were among those getting a piece of the action in Bowl commercials.

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Despite a tepid halftime performance and a 10-year low in ratings, Sunday night’s Super Bowl telecast was still a healthy one for top music publishers and record labels, many of whom saw overall volume and revenue on par with 2018’s record year of activity.

Among publishers, Sony/ATV and Universal Music Publishing Group each secured seven synch licenses in national brand commercials, followed by Kobalt with six, BMG and Warner/Chappell with five and one for indie publisher Spirit Music Group. The use of music grew even higher when extended to TV network promos andmovie trailers, though synch negotiations for those spots are typically shorter term and less high-price than those on behalf of brands.

The key to synch this year was the element of surprise, as marketers like Toyota, Burger King and Bud Light/HBO kept some of their ads close to the vest to create buzzy moments during the telecast. Other long-time advertisers like Chrysler and Coca-Cola decided at the last minute not to air their commercials during the big game at all, which stretched the negotiation period for many synchs later than ever as several licenses were confirmed late on Friday.

“This tells me that brands were very carefully figuring out how best to split their marketing plans between the live TV broadcast and what they were doing online,” says Brian Monaco, global chief marketing officer for Sony/ATV, whose Marvin Gaye-penned song “Too Busy Thinkin’ About My Baby” appeared in an online-only Super Bowl spot for Pampers that premiered on social media Sunday afternoon. “As a result, more time was spent than usual making sure they had picked the right song for their campaign.”

Adds Jeannette Perez, president of global synch and brand partnerships at Kobalt Music, “It’s less of a surprise when you can see the spot more than a week in advance with teasers and potentially the whole campaign.”

Genre-wise, hip-hop continued 2018’s trend as the night’s most visible genre, with on-camera appearances from Chance The Rapper, 2 Chainz, Ludacris and Cardi B appearing in musical spots for Doritos, Expensify, Mercedes and Pepsi, respectively, and Lil Jon bookending the Pepsi Halftime Show with callouts to his signature “OK!” catchphrase.

“A global audience spanning all demographics leads ad agencies to choose a tremendous variety of music for their commercials, and landing a song in a commercial during the game is incredible exposure for songs and artists,” says Tom Eaton, senior VP of music for advertising, film & TV at Universal Music Publishing Group. He helped secure J Balvin’s piece of Cardi B’s “I Like It” for Pepsi and got a big look for Fatman Scoop and Crooklyn Clan’s “It Takes Scoop” in the NFL’s all-star promo.

But classic rock, a Super Bowl mainstay, had a strong showing among big brands, too. Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit In The Sky” provided the backdrop for Audi’s spot, Motley Crue’s “Kickstart My Heart” rocked Planters Peanuts’ ad and Queen continued their lucrative synch streak with “Don’t Stop Me Now” in Amazon’s all-star series for Alexa.

Then there was the Who’s “Pinball Wizard,” which inspired an entire campaign for Toyota’s 2019 Supra vehicle, one of several campaigns to come in at the last minute after Fiat Chrysler announced Friday morning that it would sit out this year’s game in favor of online spots featuring celebs Jeremy Renner and Kathryn Hahn.

“‘Pinball Wizard’ brings both an instantly recognizable iconic riff and hook to the table, as well as … delivering a theme of one getting their just due and being the best,” Gary Miller, senior VP of creative services at the Who’s publisher Spirit Music Group, said in a statement. With the 50th anniversary of the Who’s “Tommy” album coming up in May, Miller added, the campaign “timed perfectly to set up what will otherwise be an amazing year for the band and catalog.”

The mix of catalog and frontline songs also helped publishers maintain last year’s pricing, which ranged from $100,000 for shorter uses to $750,000 for more iconic songs with longer terms. Some marketers even chose to do one-time airings of master recordings to save costs, such as Budweiser’s latest Clydesdale campaign featuring Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” which will be swapped out with a cover version in future broadcast airings (though the original is also featured online). “People are still looking for the impact of the Super Bowl and the platform that it’s on, but they’re not thinking as long-term as they used to,” says Sony/ATV’s Monaco, who secured the Dylan placement for Budweiser.

TV network promos, often part of the throwaway mix of time given to the broadcast network and its sister networks, stepped up their music game this year, too. Showtime scored a rare Frank Ocean synch (“Nikes”) for its network brand spot, Bud Light licensed Ramin Djawadi’s “Game Of Thrones” theme for its sneak-attack hybrid promo, and Amazon Prime Video commissioned Karen O for an unexpected cover of Smashing Pumpkins’ “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” to promote its new series “Hanna.”

“There are lots of catalog gems and older songs that haven’t seen much licensing action before that get unearthed for the Super Bowl,” says Charlie Davis, senior director of marketing and commercials for BMG, who also saw the London Symphony Orchestra’s lesser-known orchestral mix of “Gloria” get tapped for Amazon’s Super Bowl spot instead of the Laura Branigan original.

On the creative side, consumers and critics alike responded most favorably to Bubly’s comedic campaign with Michael Bublé, whose appearance was the result of a creative brief from PepsiCo and its agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. Much in the same way that the spot poked fun at Bublé’s mnemonic similarities to the brand, Lori Feldman, exec VP of strategic marketing at the singer’s label Warner Bros. Records, looked to Bubly’s “Crack A Smile” tagline for synch inspiration. “Michael Bublé’s latest album ‘Love’ features his incredible version of ‘When You’re Smiling,’” she says. “So it became obvious which song to suggest when the brand expressed interest in using a familiar song.”

Bumble’s 60-second campaign starring Serena Williams received similarly high notes for its all-female creative team, a first for a Super Bowl spot. The campaign features Rita Ora’s newly released “Soul Survivor,” which Bumble’s chief brand officer Alex Williamson said has become the company’s anthem.

“The lyrics embody the power of being a woman and the importance of making the first move — plus, it’s guaranteed that this song will get stuck in your head. Rita is an incredible woman who’s blazed her own path, and I couldn’t imagine this commercial without her voice in it.”

Williamson also notes that the exposure from the campaign helped Bumble reach 50 million worldwide users over the Super Bowl weekend, which she hopes will continue as the spot re-airs on CBS tonight and again on Feb. 16. “We’ve gotten so much great feedback on the music in the spot — people are saying that ‘Soul Survivor’ is their new anthem for 2019.”


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.