Songs for Screens: Post Malone, Missy Elliott, Lil Nas X Lead Red-Hot Super Bowl Synch Market

With inventory beyond sold-out and the cost of 30-second spots soaring to as high as $5.6 million just to secure ad time, the demand for Super Bowl advertising continues to reach new peaks in an otherwise fractured media marketplace. And music licensing is following suit, with multiple synchs surpassing the $1 million threshold, and an all-star lineup of musicians taking leading on-camera roles in many of the most-anticipated spots.

Music publishers, who are involved in many of the Super Bowl synch negotiations on behalf of songwriters and music copyrights, are reporting healthy volume as of Friday afternoon. Universal Music Publishing Group has secured 12 synchs in national spots that will air post-kickoff, while Sony/ATV has 10, BMG has four and ABKCO has one major synch: Pepsi Zero Sugar’s hip-hop remake of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” with Missy Elliott and H.E.R. Meanwhile, Warner/Chappell, which didn’t provide specific breakouts upon request for comment, is expected to have several major synchs in Sunday’s game, too, while Kobalt had not yet confirmed as of Friday afternoon.

Several synch negotiations with blue-chip brands were expected to stretch through late Friday, if not Saturday, despite an earlier licensing window than previous years. “We started receiving inquires for Super Bowl commercials in early November, if not before, from the United States agencies,” says Tom Eaton, senior VP of music for advertising at Universal Music Publishing Group, whose Netherlands team also helped secure an integrated license for Audi’s Super Bowl commercial featuring “Frozen’s” “Let It Go” from UMPG writers Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. “Whereas last year I felt it was more mid-December and early January that things really picked up.”

Although more contemporary artists are getting a shot in front of the camera this year, most of the music heard this weekend will be catalog classics. “Brands understand the audience, so they take these iconic songs and put a new spin on it,” says Brian Monaco, president and global chief marketing officer at Sony/ATV. “It touches every audience that’s watching the game, so it’s a very smart idea.”

In the case of PepsiCo, which features both well-known songs and artists in three of its five commercials airing on Sunday, the creative planning for some of the key spots stretched back as far as August, including Pepsi’s Zero Sugar spot featuring “Paint It Black.”

“The one thing that everyone felt really great about, even though we knew there would be a lot of complexity to it, was ‘How do we take one of the most iconic songs of all time and have the ability to do a reimagined version of it whereby it’s not the karaoke version but it also can stand on its own?’” says Emma Quigley, PepsiCo’s head of music and entertainment. “Missy and H.E.R. completely crushed it, even better than we could have imagined. And then Missy got Timbaland to come in and sprinkle his magical fairy dust on it to a place where the spot is just this magical place of collaboration and self-expression and fun.”

Another unexpected reinterpretation of a well-known song is the Roots’ live-band take on 2 Unlimited’s ‘90s jock jam “Get Ready For This” in Michelob Ultra’s John Cena and Jimmy Fallon-starring commercial. For the sake of more simplistic licensing, the cover is actually based off 2 Unlimited’s 2013 re-record, “Get Ready,” to avoid a complex sample clearance from the original master.

At least one major artist will get a look in a campaign without a direct tie to his music. Post Malone is set to star in Bud Light Seltzer’s first Super Bowl campaign, which is currently being voted on by fans who have two commercials to choose from — neither of which includes a Post Malone song. However, since Posty just appeared in a new spot for Doritos Flamin’ Hot Limon that premiered during last weekend’s Grammys, featuring his song “Wow,” the double exposure helps cement the star’s place in the pop culture landscape.

“It shows the trajectory of how he’s grown not just as a performer but as an actor — he just announced he’s in an upcoming movie,” says Kerri Mackar, senior VP of brand partnerships at Post’s label Republic Records. “It helps establish that he’s not just an artist, he’s a multifaceted personality. He got to do stunts by himself, which he was so excited about. This is a great example of Emma and the Frito-Lay team and Shana Barry and Anheuser Busch understanding how to work with talent so it works for everyone across the board.”

PepsiCo’s other two major music spots will include songs and appearances from MC Hammer for Cheetos Popcorn, and Lil Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus for Doritos Cool Ranch, with the latter also featuring a master recording of Ennio Morricone’s iconic Western score for “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

The Cheetos spot also coincided with the 30th anniversary of MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This,” which quickly evolved from a standard music license to a lead role from Hammer himself. “Hammer is such an incredibly smart businessman, he makes all his own decisions and helped us steer the creative toward a narrative where he was more prominent in it,” says PepsiCo’s Quigley, who finalized the license with Hammer’s publisher BMG and the co-writers at Sony/ATV. “He though it told a much larger narrative about the ‘Cheetle’ finger dust, which it did.”

Dan Rosenbaum, VP of commercial licensing at BMG, says to expect a larger trend of music woven into many of this year’s Super Bowl spots to harness the larger ties between songs and storytelling. “In the commercial world, licensing is different from film and TV because the brand’s identity is at stake,” he says. “And with the Super Bowl, the stakes are so much higher because 100 million people are going to see it right off the bat. The pressure to have the right song and the right fit is crazy.”

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.

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