Super Bowl Synch Roundup: Lady Gaga & Justin Bieber Lead a Down Year -- Although Execs 'Are Closing Deals Until the Last Minute'

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Lexus's Man & Machine Super Bowl ad featuring Sia's "Move Your Body."

Lady Gaga glams for Tiffany, Justin Bieber breaks for T-Mobile and Justin Timberlake imbibes with Bai in some of the most highly anticipated music commercials set to air during Sunday's Super Bowl 51, which has fewer synch licenses than last year, but still sees music center stage.

Lady Gaga, of course, is the main event with her halftime show and its expected audience of more than 100 million, sponsored by Pepsi Zero Sugar.

Music publishers are still busy closing last-minute license deals as of Friday (Feb. 3), but the early tally of 26 marks a 23 percent decline over last year's final count of 34. Sony/ATV has nine, Kobalt has seven, Universal Music Publishing Group has "at least four that advertisers have made public," a rep says, and more to come, Warner/Chappell four and BMG two.

“We're closing deals right until the last minute," UMPG senior VP advertising Tom Eaton says.

"I had a client call last night for a spot that wasn't even created,” adds Sony/ATV chief marketing officer Brian Monaco. "They decided at the last minute to do something and are re-editing existing footage. We're trying to help them clear a song, but the artists want to know where the material is used and often ask to see the spot. It takes a minute.”

A higher incidence of name actors -- with Melissa McCarthy, Steve Carrell and John Malkovich among some 11 celebs making ad appearances -- as well as increased cost of inventory resulting in fewer sponsors overall could be the reason for the drop, speculates Monaco, rattling off a number of brands he worked with in 2016 who took a pass.

Sources tell Billboard that Fox is charging between $5 million and $5.5 million per 30-second spot, about a 10 percent increase over last year, with an even mix of catalog and new material.

Touting its 2018 GT Roadster, Mercedes-Benz set the first-ever commercial directed by the Coen Brothers to Steppenwolf's open-road epic "Born to Be Wild," which UMPG senior VP advertising Tom Eaton confirms is one of the company's most popular licenses. The spot, in which bikers face off against a Benz driver over parking, features actor Peter Fonda, who starred in the 1968 Easy Rider film that vaulted the song to fame.

Lexus went au courant with Sia's "Move Your Body" in a spot titled "Man and Machine," featuring Los Angeles jook dancer Lil Buck who slithers and slides around a 2017 LC 500 to the crooning of the 2016 tune, which is currently No. 1 on Billboard's Dance Club Songs chart.

Among the more tasteful executions, LIFEWTR tapped John Legend's "Love Me Now," complementing a little girl and her father's art walk in the rain for "Inspiration Drops." And perennially classy Nina Simone backs a Ford advert with "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free," featuring voice-over by Bryan Cranston.

"It can be tricky," says BMG's senior VP marketing for commercials, television and film Alex Flores, who handled the Legend deal. "The client will call and ask if we have a certain type of music by a certain kind of act, and we have to know who's a vegetarian and won't do fast food, or who doesn't want their work involved with alcohol. You have to be very knowledgeable."

Nintendo went with the Imagine Dragons song "Believer," which dropped this week, to promote its new Switch platform and the game Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Eaton, who characterizes Dragons as a top performer in the ad space with more than 800 synchs worldwide, says he's "excited to see next week how this song takes off as a result of this platform."

Despite the lower number of synchs this year, the competition is no less intense. Kobalt, for instance, has a staff of 18 marketing music to the ad world here in the U.S., and a like number in the rest of the world. Sony/ATV has 35.

Generally speaking, the entry-level synch fee for a 30-second Super Bowl spot this year is $75,000 to $100,000 for a lesser-known work -- and that's just the publishing fee for the songwriter. If it's for an existing recording, that fee is doubled and the label/recording artist gets a like amount.

Since lesser-known songs are rarely pursued for the Super Bowl, publisher fees are more typically in the $500,000 to $700,000 range, and for a superstar act, it can tip past $1 million.

While no newbies are on deck heading into Super Bowl weekend, one advertiser, Wix, had Human create a custom rock track, "Get Gone," for the "Chez Felix" spot starring Gal Gadot and Jason Statham. CNBC has tracked it as the "most socially engaging" of game day promos, with 4 million online views and roughly 65,000 social interactions. Human also did the music for Audi's "Daughter," which is getting great pre-game buzz. Although as with any music license, there are many variables, a high-end custom track with will generally run in the $50,000 to $150,000 range for up to a minute of music.

At the other extreme, you have top artists appearing in the commercials, which also use their music. A tuxedo-clad Justin Bieber vamps it up for T-Mobile's "#UnlimitedMoves" spot, while a version of his song "Children," sans lyrics, plays under his dialogue. At press time it was unclear which tunes will be featured in the Tiffany ad with Lady Gaga and the Bai spot starring Justin Timberlake, but they will definitely include the artists' tracks. It's a safe bet that the Gaga song "A-YO," used in a series of 12 "Countdown to Pepsi Zero Sugar Halftime Show" spots leading up the game, will be used during the game. 

Diverging from last year's hip-hop trend, rock is 2017's most popular Bowl category. Melissa McCarthy appears in a series of Kia spots, including a Greenpeace spoof, racing after whales on the high seas as Bonnie Tyler's "I Need a Hero" underscores the action.

Wendy's brings in Foreigner's "Cold as Ice," while GoDaddy goes straight to the source to parody internet memes with "Never Gonna Give You Up" by Rick Astley, who with that one tune triggered "Rickrolling" by an estimated 13 million Web users.

"Brands will often go with a classic song for their Super Bowl ad, so it is great that Lexus has put its faith in a current hit like Sia's 'Move Your Body,' or when a company like Nat Geo will try something adventurous, like Geoffrey Rush playing 'Bad Romance' on the violin," says Monaco, whose ATV handled both licenses.

"There is an intensity and an impact to a commercial in a live event that is much greater, because of the way people watch in real time. They're not taping it to watch later," Eaton says. "It's an amazing platform for the brand, and peripherally for us too."

Super Bowl 51

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