Publishing

Super Bowl Synch Report: Sony/ATV Walking on Air After Placing Most Ad Music

The Jason Alexander Hoodie Tide Super Bowl 55 Commercial
Courtesy Photo

The Jason Alexander Hoodie Tide Super Bowl 55 Commercial

Sony/ATV landed a dozen synchs, followed by Warner Chappell and UMPG, during a game in which some major brands sat out.

If any Super Bowl ad summed up the past year for synch placements, it was the ScottsMiracle-Gro spot starring John Travolta and his daughter, Ella, recreating his iconic dance steps from Grease in the backyard. It was Scotts' first-ever ad for the big game, largely because the company gained 20 million customers during the pandemic, and it was an homage to TikTok, on which the underlying track, Surface's "Sunday Best," went viral last summer.

"A lot of brands were sitting out, but they were replaced by interesting and new brands," says Tom Eaton, senior vp music for advertising at Universal Music Publishing Group, which placed the synch. "It's a natural connection to make, to run an ad for a brand that supports being out in your backyard."

UMPG totaled seven synchs, or songs licensed to TV ads, during Super Bowl LV; advertisers reportedly paid $5.5 million for 30 seconds to reach what analysts predicted would be more than 100 million viewers. And while UMPG's synchs were down from last year's 12, Sony/ATV Music Publishing's numbers went up, from nine to 12, including "Theme from The Greatest American Hero (Believe It or Not)" for the Tide commercial portraying Jason Alexander as a T-shirt (watch the ad here) and Michelob’s spot with A Tribe Called Quest's "Can I Kick It?" Warner Chappell scored eight, including a version of the Kinks' Dave Davies-penned "Strangers," performed by Black Pumas and Lucius, for the upcoming YouTube documentary "Life In a Day." Primary Wave placed four, and BMG and Kobalt nabbed three each.

Synchs generate between $100,000 and $1 million, according to publishing sources, plus the same amount for record labels if the songs are original master recordings.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on this year's Super Bowl synchs. Most noticeably, the biggest brands sat out the biggest game: Coca-Cola, which announced layoffs in December due to lower stadium and movie-theatre sales, said it would instead invest "in the right resources during these unprecedented times."

That gave opportunity for newer brands, such as take-out specialists DoorDash and Grubhub.

"We've seen businesses that have thrived during lockdown pick up spots during the game," says Keith D'Arcy, Warner Chappell Music's senior vp of sync and creative services. One of those was Andra Day's "Rise Up," performed by 19-year-old TikTok discovery Christian Shelton, for a hopeful Indeed spot about job-seeking.

Thematically, some advertisers responded to the pandemic by emphasizing "social justice, inclusivity and human connection," D'Arcy says, such as the Bruce Springsteen spoken-word spot for Jeep (the Boss wrote an original score for that one). Others employed "not very specific cultural nostalgia," as D'Arcy calls it, such as DoorDash's commercial starring Big Bird and other beloved Sesame Street characters and UberEats' Wayne's World spot in which Wayne, Garth and Cardi B. encourage viewers to eat local. (Wilder Zoby, a Kobalt songwriter who collaborates with Run the Jewels, wrote the spoofy "On the Corner'' for the spot.)

Some publishers reported the pandemic cut into their business for Super Bowl LV.

"It's a lighter Super Bowl year for us in terms of the number of pure placements," says Charlie Davis, vp of creative synch, advertising, for BMG, which dropped from five in 2020 to three this year. "A lot of brands want to put that money towards charitable causes and not do the big, flashy Super Bowl spot.

"In years past, we've done really well with big automotive copyrights," he adds. "Definitely a lower count on the automotive side for the Super Bowl."

Advertisers, agencies, music supervisors and publishers responded with more creativity. "2020 was pretty brutal," says Julie Hurwitz, Kobalt's co-head of synch and brand partnerships. "A team of creatives' ability to come up with a message that is accessible, humorous and poignant, without banging you over the head and being tacky, is very difficult in 30 seconds."

Agencies fell back on funny spots -- which required funny songs -- to pull off the trick. Doritos went back and forth over music for its Matthew McConaughey spot, at one point considering a somber track before landing on Queen's 1984 hit "I Want to Break Free." "I went from having Doritos to losing Doritos to having Doritos again," says Brian Monaco, president and global chief marketing officer for Sony/ATV Music Publishing. "Brands were conflicted on how they were going to message. I think humor won out."

The Cheetos spot, in which Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis sing parody snippets of Shaggy's 2000 hit "It Wasn't Me," was not only humorous, it spread the wealth among publishers since 14 writers are listed on the track. The sample is "Smile Happy," by '70s funk band War, whose catalog Primary Wave represents.

"That's one of the things that has been exciting for us as a company -- getting a lot of the classic recordings covered and reinterpreted," says Marty Silverstone, head of sync and senior VP creative for the independent publisher, which also placed an instrumental version of Ray Charles' classic "What'd I Say" at the end of the T-Mobile spot co-starring Gwen Stefani, Blake Shelton and Adam Levine.

Perhaps this year's most memorable spot was Dolly Parton's first-ever Super Bowl synch (or so Danny Nozell, her manager of more than 16 years, recalls): a modified version of her 1980 classic "9 to 5," reimagined as an anthem for workers launching all-night pandemic side hustles. The "5 to 9" spot earned criticism for changing the song's meaning from a working woman's empowerment anthem to an ode to working all night due to pandemic-era layoff fears and lower wages.

"It's not so much that we're encouraging working from 5 to 9, it's just there are a lot of people doing that, and we want to support them," Nozell says.

Plus, slyly, the ad contains a side hustle of Parton's own -- a back-of-a-magazine reference to the country star's new fragrance, which sold 10,000 bottles in its first hour last week, even before the big game.

"The exposure in the Super Bowl is unbelievable," Nozell says.