How Portugal. The Man and Imagine Dragons Crossed Over (With a Commercial Boost) In 2017

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Aaron Paul in a commercial for vitaminwater.

The charts may have belonged to hip-hop in 2017, but the ad world still flocked to rock to score its commercials. Many of this year’s top-performing tracks on Billboard & Clio Music’s Top Commercials Chart came from rock/alternative artists, including Imagine Dragons and Portugal. The Man, whose latest singles all cracked the top 5 on the Hot 100 after scoring major synchs from big brands like Jeep, Microsoft and Vitaminwater.

As U.S. synch revenue soared 18.2 percent year-over-year to $118.7 million in the first half of 2017, per the RIAA, expect rock to continue to have a leg up on other genres. “Unfortunately for hip-hop, from a language standpoint it’s tough for a lot of brands,” says Brian Monaco, president and chief marketing officer at Sony/ATV. “I love what’s happening, but drums and guitars are making a comeback.”

Imagine Dragons: “Thunder” (Microsoft, Jeep) and “Believer (Nintendo)
Estimated ad spend: $24.9 million (combined)

Long a favorite of the synch world (the band even became the first to perform a live commercial during the Grammys, with Target, in 2015), Imagine Dragons’ “Believer” made a big debut as the soundtrack to Nintendo’s Super Bowl spot earlier this year, while follow-up “Thunder” also topped Hot Rock Songs on the strength of its use in recent campaigns for Microsoft and Jeep. Why so much synch staying power? “Their lyrics are generally positive and uplifting, and those are all things that brands key in on when trying to sell a product,” says Tom Eaton, SVP-music for advertising at Universal Music Publishing Group.

Portugal. The Man: “Feel It Still (Vitaminwater, Apple iPad)
Estimated ad spend: $13 million (combined)

Psych-rock vets Portugal. The Man became year’s most unlikely mainstream crossover after Vitaminwater selected their breakthrough single for its spring campaign starring Breaking Bad vet Aaron Paul, followed by Apple which selected the same track for its coveted iPad trailer at its 2017 Worldwide Developers Conference. The band’s manager credits the synch exposure for the song’s No. 1 peak on Radio Songs in October. “It helped open the door to other formats we eventually went to -- Hot AC and Top 40 in particular,” he says.

The White Stripes: “Seven Nation Army” (Beats)
Estimated ad spend: $10 million

One of the go-to stadium-rock anthems of the 2000s saw a resurgence this year when Beats licensed the track in a series of spots for the brand’s “Be Heard” campaign. The White Stripes song totaled 33,000 Shazam tags, 40,000 downloads and 9.6 million U.S. streams during its first use last December, according to Nielsen Music.

Electric Light Orchestra: “Livin Thing” (Volkswagen)
Estimated ad spend: $31.6 million

More than 40 years after its initial release, Jeff Lynne’s yacht-rock staple became one of the fall’s most-heard synch tracks after Volkswagen tapped it for a starring role in a collection of music-heavy spots. The commercial helped the song make its debut on the Hot Rock Digital Song Sales chart in August, and helped launch ticket sales for Lynne’s 2018 tour under the Electric Light Orchestra banner. “You’re really starting to see the power of synch these days to not just launch or relaunch careers -- you’re putting the song in people’s lap who might not otherwise be listening to it, and they’re running to the streaming services to play it,” says Sony/ATV’s Monaco.

Billboard Year in Music 2017

A version of this article originally appeared in the Dec. 30 issue of Billboard.

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