Songs for Screens: Synchs, Artist Cameos Help Super Bowl Music Market Finish Strong

Last-minute ad surprises ranged from "I Got You Babe" popping up again in a "Groundhog Day" sequel spot to a tease of new Pearl Jam music and cameo by rapper YBN Cordae alongside Martin Scorsese.

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Beyond the Kansas City Chiefs’ comeback, Super Bowl LIV offered few surprises in the way of ads — the vast majority of which premiered online days prior to the game to maximize the impact and brands’ multi-million dollar spend, which this year soared to as high as a record $5.6 million for 30 seconds of airtime on Fox.

Among the spots that premiered during or hours prior to the game, Jeep’s “Groundhog Day”-themed spot starring Bill Murray featured Warner Music’s “I Got You Babe” in a starring role, as had the movie, while Verizon premiered a teaser of a new Pearl Jam single,“River Cross,” in a subdued spot featuring voiceover from Harrison Ford. Perhaps most unexpectedly, rising rapper YBN Cordae shared screentime with Martin Scorsese and Jonah Hill in Coke’s 60-second spot for Coca-Cola Energy, which also featured Cordae’s song “RNP.”

In total, the Super Bowl was an especially strong night for music publishers, who helped secure many of the biggest music licenses on behalf of songwriters and copyrights. Universal Music Publishing Group finished the game with 12 national spots for brands that aired post-kickoff, Sony/ATV accumulated 10, BMG secured 4, and Warner Chappell, Kobalt and ABKCO each had one standout synch. As previously reported, at least two synchs soared past the $1 million milestone, while many others achieved high six-figure revenue for up to a year of online and broadcast usage post-Super Bowl.

And in front of the camera, artists both A-list and on the rise fared just as well. In addition to YBN Cordae’s Coke cameo, John Legend (Genesis), Post Malone (Bud Light Seltzer), Chance the Rapper (Quibi), Jennifer Lopez & DJ Khaled (Hard Rock Hotel) and a boatload of stars including Megan Thee Stallion, T-Pain and Spice Girl Mel B (Sabra Hummus) all made non-musical cameos, cementing musicians’ status as go-to pitchpeople alongside actors, athletes and supermodels.

“I think it shows that artists are much more than just a voice on the radio in today’s world,” says Tom Eaton, senior VP of music for advertising at UMPG. “Most artists have such a strong presence on social media that including them in a commercial automatically helps brands reach an avid and potentially new fan base.”

On the masters side, Sony Music had a particularly strong showing, with standout synchs for Columbia Records’ Lil Nas X (“Old Town Road,” for Doritos Cool Ranch) and RCA’s Usher (“Yeah!” for Amazon Alexa).

“The Super Bowl continues to be a big focus of synch activity annually and the market in 2020 is on par with previous years, if not stronger,” says Jessica Shaw, VP of music for brands & advertising/licensing at Sony Music Entertainment. “From our vantage point, demand for frontline artists to participate in unique creative remains high, while on the catalog side we’ve seen increased trending towards what we consider ‘young catalog’ — music released post-1990, particularly post-2000 songs.”

Music’s sturdy showing was not a foregone conclusion heading into negotiations for this year’s game, following last year’s lowest Super Bowl ratings in 10-plus years. But as brands clamor for mass audiences (2019’s 98.7 million viewers is still more than five times the 18.7 million who tuned into last week’s Grammys, for example), the need to break through the noise with recognizable songs and personalities seems to have resonated stronger than ever.

“It’s a great way to bridge the gap between old and young, which in a Super Bowl spot is the idea goal — to get as wide an audience as you can,” says Julie Hurwitz, senior VP of synch and brand partnerships at Kobalt, which helped secure Billy Ray Cyrus, Jocelyn Adriene Donald and Trent Reznor’s pieces of “Old Town Road” for Doritos Cool Ranch as well as synchs for spots that aired pre-kickoff and during Fox’s online live-stream. “It breathes new life into a song that came out decades ago. You just can’t beat 100 million pairs of ears listening to your song,”

As for this year’s Super Bowl music MVP? That might just be Emma Quigley, head of music and entertainment at PepsiCo, who not only secured talent deals and mega music licenses with H.E.R. and Missy Elliott (Pepsi Zero Sugar, featuring a reinterpretation of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black”), Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus (Doritos Cool Ranch) and MC Hammer (Cheetos Popcorn), she also led Pepsi’s presenting sponsorship of the Pepsi Halftime show starring Jennifer Lopez, Shakira and a litany of surprise guests from the Latin pop spectrum.

“It’s really wonderful seeing those two ladies together in Miami,” Quigley told Songs For Screens days prior to the performance. “Even just seeing them [Thursday] makes me want to step up my game in every way. They work so hard, and they give it 110%. I mean, we all work hard, but sometimes we could give a little bit more. They’re kind of like Gaga and Beyonce as well, where they just give it everything they’ve got and it’s just awe-inspiring.”

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 highlights noteworthy use of music in advertising and marketing campaigns, as well as film and TV. Follow Andrew on Twitter at @ahampp.