Super Bowl Commercials: Sony/ATV Leads Synchs, But It's a Big Year for Indie Publishers

Hana Besirevic
Lady Gaga in a behind the scenes look at her Super Bowl LI ad for Tiffany & Co.

With the final count in, Sony/ATV retained its lead with 10-plus Super Bowl synch licenses, followed by Kobalt and Universal Music Publishing Group, tied with seven, Warner/Chappell with four, and BMG three. The figures are for consumer products only, and do not include promos for TV shows or movie trailers, a sector to which most of the above had at least 2 additional songs, and in the case of Warner/Chappell, 5. 

In all, there were more than 30 commercials featured during Super Bowl LI that used music, of which 26 appear to be synch licenses and four of custom songs. The tally represents a huge uptick in independently published music.

"That's why artists will choose an independent publisher -- we work hard to get them these opportunities," Jeannette Perez, svp and head of global synch and brand partnerships for Kobalt said.

Not including licenses by Kobalt, which is the largest of the indies, there were 12 commercials that acquired music licenses in one-off deals, either directly from self-published artists or boutique firms like Mute, which had two.

"The band and I have a very hands on approach to synchs," said Kevin Patrick, manager for Matt and Kim, whose song "It's Alright," appeared in a Buick spot. "The extensive exposure we get from synch licensing through commercials has an intensively greater reach than we've gotten elsewhere. So synch has been a big focus for us." (Spirit Music licensed the Buick song, and Patrick says the group also has songs through Kobalt.)

Among the surprises of the night was Justin Timberlake's appearance in the Bai beverage commercial wth actor Christopher Walken, who spoke the words to 'N Sync's "Bye Bye Bye." The world was also watching to see what song Tiffany & Co. would use in its commercial featuring Lady Gaga. She wound up playing a snippet of "A Million Reasons" on the harmonica. Sony/ATV chief marketing officer Brian Monaco said the single will get a renewed push as a result of the exposure. 

"Not only did we have one of the most exciting finishes ever to a game, but this year will also be remembered as the Lady Gaga Super Bowl. Besides her stunning half-time performance," said Monaco, whose company got an additional seven synchs from the halftime performance, not to mention Gaga synchs for Nat Geo and promos for halftime sponsor Pepsi, in addition to the Tiffany commercial. 

"All in all it was a memorable viewing event with countless celebrity appearances and great uses of music across the board," he said, noting particular satisfaction at the use of the Motown classic "My Girl" in a spot for Amazon.

In a Super blooper, Twentieth Century Fox found itself scrambling to replace the Johnny Cash cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" from the X-Men spinoff Logan after learning that Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Men Tell No Tales would be using Cash's "Ain't No Grave." 

Meanwhile, the backing track on the "Born the Hard Way" spot for Budweiser, featuring the story of the company's founder, was "Proposal," from the score to the film Loving. According to iSpot.tv metrics, the commercial received 6.4 million online views, far more than any other Super Bowl contender -- Justin Bieber's T-Mobile spot, was second, at 2.5 million. "Proposal" was composed by David Wingo and licensed through Kobalt, and Bieber's "Children" through UMPG.

Kid Cudi, Langhorne Slim and Vampire Weekend were among the bands who synched music in the Super Bowl commercials through independents.

Overall, it was a good mix of newcomers and superstars. "The Super Bowl is an incredible opportunity for an artist, whether elevating interest in a brand new song or breathing life into a catalog hit," said UMPG senior vp advertising Tom Eaton, who had one of the cheekiest placements of the game with Chicago's "You're the Inspiration" backing the NFL's "Baby Legends" spot. "The ability of being able to put a song into a platform that will reach millions of people instantly, you're unable to calculate the value of that."

Super Bowl 51