Super Bowl Synch Report: UMPG Leads All Publishers With Halftime Show Assist

Lil nas X doritos
Courtesy of Doritos

Lil Nas X in a commercial for Doritos Cool Ranch.

Sony/ATV also scored big with Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" for Doritos and Etta James' "Tell Mama" for T-Mobile.

For publishing giant Sony/ATV, the annual last-minute scramble for Super Bowl synchs peaked Friday, when T-Mobile's agency finally called to settle on Etta James' blues classic "Tell Mama" as the punchline for its spot that showed Anthony Anderson's real-life mother testing 5G reception.

"They'd been looking for a lot of different songs with the theme of Mama -- and we had 'Tell Mama,'" says Brian Monaco, the publisher's president and global chief marketing officer. "It's not like we hear about it for the first time on Friday. We go back and forth. There might be five different songs, and they go, 'This one,' and we go, 'Yay!' Each year, we see it come down to the wire."

Super Bowl synch-placement pressure always intensifies a couple of days before the Super Bowl for "searching, pitching and quoting," as Tom Eaton, Universal Music Publishing Group's (UMPG) senior vp music for advertising, calls it. Which make sense: Synchs generate between $100,000 and $1 million for publishers, according to publishing-industry sources, plus the same amount for record labels if the songs are original master recordings. Advertisers reportedly paid up to $5.6 million for 30 seconds during Super Bowl LIV, which reached 102 million total viewers, and music synchs commanded a significant chunk of that, especially for costly songs like the ABKCO-repped Rolling Stones classic "Paint It Black" that was covered by H.E.R., Timbaland and Missy Elliott in the ad for Pepsi Zero Sugar. 

"With a Super Bowl, you have such a short time to convey this entire message and worldview," says Charlie Davis, BMG's vp creative synch. "One way is finding that big, recognizable song."

UMPG led all publishers with 12 synchs (including Twisted Sister's "I Wanna Rock" for Facebook and Maisie Williams singing Frozen's "Let It Go" for Audi), while Sony/ATV scored nine (Lil Nas X's ubiquitous "Old Town Road" in a cartoonish Old West face-off for Doritos), BMG had five (such as the "Let's Go!" snippet from? Talib Kweli's "Aymo" for Porsche) and Kobalt had one (Billy Ray Cyrus and Jocelyn Adriene Donald earned pieces of "Old Town Road"). Warner/Chappell didn't release a total, but scored perhaps the most memorable synch: Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe" in Jeep's recreation of Groundhog Day featuring Bill Murray. APM, a production house that provides lesser-known music at more affordable prices, landed seven synchs, including choral snippets in two NFL promos.

The number of commercials spiked from 60 to 85 this year, according to iSpot TV, giving exposure to more songs than usual. One surprise before kick-off came from the Foo Fighters, who authorized a rare advertising synch, "Walk," for a T-Mobile spot. "It's a large audience, it's high stakes, so you want that recognizability factor," says Davis, whose company represents band members and co-songwriters Nate Mendel and Pat Smear. (Kobalt handles frontman Dave Grohl.) "Just having the Foo Fighters was meaningful and it worked for the spot."

Although many of the synchs were humorous -- like MC Hammer's head popping up on a baby's body in Cheetos' "Can't Touch This" spot and Usher's "Yeah" serving as a punchline for Ellen DeGeneres in Amazon's #BeforeAlexa (both BMG) -- music in Super Bowl commercials carried more gravitas than usual this year. Google's "Loretta," built on A Great Big World's "Say Something” (UMPG), poignantly showed an elderly man searching the Internet for facts about his departed wife; Verizon's "The Amazing Things 5G Won't Do” (UMPG) included an instrumental portion of Pearl Jam's "River Cross" underneath Harrison Ford's narration and images of firefighters; and both President Trump and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg appeared in political advertisements with weighty backing scores.

"There were a lot of emotional spots this year, perhaps because of the state of the world. It's kind of a different tone," says Julie Hurwitz, Kobalt's senior vp commercial synch and brand partnerships. "Often those commercials are scored by a music-production company, and a publisher takes no part in that."

Adds UMPG's Eaton: "My overall feeling, watching the game, was there did seem to be more commercials with original music than previous years."

UMPG also profited from a large piece of the halftime show starring Jennifer Lopez, Shakira and guests such as J. Balvin and Bad Bunny, with synchs including Cardi B, Bad Bunny and J. Balvin's version of "I Like It," Lopez's "Jenny From the Block," Balvin's "Mi Gente" and Gloria Estefan?'s "Let's Get Loud."

"It shows how strong our Latin catalog is," says Eaton, who adds that overall, agencies were more willing to tip into newer tracks like "Old Town Road" and YBN Cordae?'s "RNP," which appeared in a Coke Energy spot starring Martin Scorsese and Jonah Hill. "They're still using classic music," he adds, "but now it's more of a balance between the two."

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