Power of Music and Branding at Grammys vs. Super Bowl: Guest Post by Eric Sheinkop

Eric Sheinkop, CEO of Music Dealers & co-author of 'Hit Brands: How Music Builds Value for the World's Smartest Brands'

Eric Sheinkop is the CEO of Music Dealers & co-author of 'Hit Brands: How Music Builds Value for the World’s Smartest Brands'. Follow him on Twitter at @Esheinkop.

With over 111 million viewers expected to watch the Super Bowl this Sunday and over $4 million spent on a 30-second spot, the Super Bowl is as much a culmination for advertisers as it is for the NFL. With the world’s most recognizable brands vying for attention, it’s a chance for agency creatives to showcase their very best work. Given the value brands gain from their use of music, the Super Bowl offers the largest stage to leverage the power of music to create intrigue and discussion for a brand after the whistle has blown.

Two hopeful reactions for any marketer: “That commercial was amazing,” and “That music was incredible. What was that song?” It’s a chance to set the social mediasphere ablaze with inquiries about songs, artists, and “where can I find that?!”  The advertisers that win in this game are the ones that know the type of music that best represents their brand, and that can create value beyond their commercials.

What interests me about the music choices in the Super Bowl is the correlation to Grammy winners announced one week prior. The Grammys and the Super Bowl are not just mega events close in airdate, there is a symbiotic relationship between Grammy winners, the Super Bowl halftime show, and music selected for commercials during the game. Is it a conspiracy or can we find a natural pattern? By analyzing the use of music in 2013’s Super Bowl ads, we can develop some pretty good predictions about the role music will play in 2014’s Super Bowl commercials. And, there are some interesting musical insights from what’s already been released this year.

The first is the rise of the independent. During Sunday’s Grammy Awards, triumphant independent artist Macklemore championed the indie music scene and called for its support. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ collaborative album, “The Heist”, is one of the most successful independent releases in the history of the music business (though it did get radio promotion and distribution from major labels). During his acceptance speech, Macklemore proclaimed, “We made this album without a record label, we made it independently and we appreciate all the support.” To boot, the American Association of Independent Labels reported that independent music won 50% of 2014 Grammys, an incredible feat for the flourishing indie music community.

The ad business is like any other, based on trends, and the trend of independent talent creating high-caliber music that resonates with fans will not be ignored. In 2013, 13% of Super Bowl ads utilized indie artists. While we can not claim that the 50% indie trend from the Grammys will be mirrored in Super Bowl ads, we certainly can count on a significant rise compared to last year.

The next interesting insight into the correlation between the Grammys and Super Bowl is the connection between the halftime show performer and Grammy Award winners. Pepsi, sponsor of the halftime show for the second consecutive year, strategically targets performers with mass appeal. As it turns out, those performers are coming off the heels of a Grammy victory a week prior, as is the case this year with Bruno Mars, winner in the “Best Pop Vocal” category. The same connection can be made to last year’s halftime show featuring Beyoncé, who had just won the Grammy for Best Traditional R&B Performance for “Love On Top”, and Cee-Lo Green, who performed with Madonna the year before that.

Smart marketers have long sought to leverage top artists for their campaigns, and we find Grammy winners often landing major spots throughout the year. What’s interesting and different about the Super Bowl is that brands don’t have time to react to the Grammy wins.  They’ve already placed their bet as to which artists will win. It’s a big bet and when a brand guesses right, the value to their consumers, and therefore their business, is tangible

For example, last year fun. took home Best New Artist and Song Of The Year for their mega hit, “We Are Young.” Then, only seven days later, Taco Bell released a clever cover of the song for their “Viva Young” campaign, “We Are Young” in Spanish. Taco Bell took their music licensing to the next level and made it an experience that entertained consumers and generated conversation while staying authentic to the brand’s Latin roots. Taco Bell bet on who would be the best of the year well before the Grammys and they got it right.

The trend of leveraging the best will surely continue. We speculate that before the last whistle of the game is blown, we’ll see a commercial containing a cut by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, or perhaps a licensed use of “Royals” by Lorde. Which brand will capitalize on Pharrell, arguably the most influential figure in music this year as a producer and collaborator in several top Grammy nominations? We’ll have to wait and see.

We’d be remiss to neglect Pepsi’s Grammy Halftime Show ad, further bonding together the relationship between the two major events. "You music artists, you're always giving football the best halftime shows, so tonight, football is paying music back,” announced Deion Sanders to a faux Grammy crowd, before launching into a choreographed auto-tuned number. Hilarity ensued, with a number of NFL stars performing and parodying popular artists of the day. The event displayed Pepsi’s commitment to music and acknowledged the powerful correlation between the two events, with humor at its core.

Having the foresight to pick a popular artist or good song is one thing, but one of the most powerful ways for a brand to create authentic, long-term consumer engagement is by leveraging music in such a way that it creates value for the brand way beyond the 30-second ad.

We saw two well-executed examples of this last year, both from the auto industry. Volkswagen offered consumers a free download of Jimmy Cliff’s cover of “C’mon Get Happy” and featured the song on their brand-curated SoundCloud page, while Hyundai and The Flaming Lips joined forces to release the song “Sun Blows Up Today” written for the ad and included as a bonus track on the bands new album. Hyundai also offered 100,000 free downloads of the custom track on their website.

We already know one major contender using this strategy this year. Bank of America, U2, and RED, a group co-founded by Bono to enlist brands in fighting HIV/AIDS in Africa, have collaborated to produce a 60-second spot to introduce their new partnership.

The commercial will feature U2 performing a new song called "Invisible," which will be available for free on iTunes during the game and over the next 24 hours. Bank of America will donate $1 for every download in that time, up to $2 million. In one stroke of genius, fans are introduced to a completely new song from one of the greatest rock groups of all time, offered a free download of the track, all while knowing that the partners behind the campaign are bringing true value to the world. This campaign represents the truest form of using music to bring value to the consumer, the artist and the brand.

Why is music such an important focus for brands? Why do they use it to create extra discussion for their elaborate, beautiful productions? Grammy host LL Cool J said it best: “The force of music is universal... Music has the power of bringing people together like nothing else in this world...”

On a personal note, the fact that 50% of Grammy winners were independent artists this year fills me with hope that we will see more indies than ever before taking the stage at the Super Bowl.  With so many great indie artists and songs brands can help the world discover, I can’t wait to hear what the Super Bowl has for us this year. I’ll probably even watch part of the game played in between the ads too.


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