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Inside NBC's Super Fun, Music-Packed Ad Strategy for 'The Voice' & Olympics

The Voice Super Bowl
Courtesy Photo

The Voice Super Bowl Commercial

That calf Carson Daly was holding in the Super Bowl ad? It peed on him.

It premiered at half time during Super Bowl LII and was the second-most popular country song of the show, according to Shazam. Okay, so NBC's The Voice Super Commercial, with vocals by Blake SheltonAdam Levine, Kelly Clarkson  and Alicia Keys, was the only other country song of game 52, (along with Jon Pardi's rendition of "I Like Beer"). But "The Voice Song" has powered more than 8 million views online and the spot may be fighting for a trophy of its own in the future -- best musical comedy! The original track, produced entirely in-house by NBC Entertainment Marketing, is a send-up of sentimental Bowl memes -- from puppies to porches laden with apple pies, motorcycles and Americana.

The cast really sells it. Shelton looks at home sharing the spotlight with a Clydesdale horse, while Levine preens, inviting viewers to admire his hair and cheekbones, Keys belting out her lines from atop a bale of hay and Clarkson sweeps through a meadow trailing an hallucinogenic infinity train.

"Michael Loprete, one of our in-house producers, just sat down with an acoustic guitar and came up with a silly idea, and everyone liked it," says Matt Mugford, a music supervisor with NBC Entertainment Marketing. It's not the first staged set-piece for The Voice. The promo crew did a fairly elaborate entry themed around a "1970s cop TV show" that aired last summer.

Both tunes were produced by Elements Music & Sound, with offices in Los Angeles and London, but The Voice Super Commercial featured the coaches singing. Recorded at Henson Recording Studios on La Brea, "which interestingly, Adam told us was the first place he ever recorded, when he was around 18. He grew up in Los Angeles," says NBC Entertainment Marketing director Ryan Sage. Yessian supplied the mix and sound design.

Sage says the most challenging part about the project, was selling the idea -- first to executives at NBC then the four coaches and their teams. "It was definitely challenging to mix four different musical personalities into one spot, so we felt we had to do something of send-up so it wouldn't be mistaken for any one artist's brand."

The four coaches -- joined by host Carson Daly -- were filmed at Disney's Golden Oaks Ranch in Santa Clarita last fall. "It was about 100 degrees, but they were all really good sports," Sage says. None more so than The Voice host Carson Daly, who experienced a bovine malfunction. "He had to hold a baby calf, and it peed on him. But he was like 'let's do another take!' and just worked through it."

Also workin' it are Shelton and Levine -- who might be emerging as music's new Rat Pack. "Adam and Blake really have been the backbone of this show, as the two who have been there since the beginning," the director notes, adding that Clarkson and Keys, while not regularly tapped for comedy skills "seemed to get it instinctively."

The Voice Super Commercial was one of about a dozen high-profile Super Bowl promo moments for the NBC marketing team. The "Let's Go Crazy Super Bowl Commercial" that aired during the pre-game features the cast of Will & GraceThis Is UsLaw & Order SVU and The Good Place bustin' moves as they belt out the Prince tune (with the Purple performer spliced in briefly at the end). Spike Lee directed the "Crazy" spot, with NBC's The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon house band The Roots doing "the big music, and Questlove doing the mix," says Sage, who assembled the initial edits.

In all, a family affair. "Sunday night was an amazing culmination of where NBC has evolved with sports programming and music," says Alicen Schneider, SVP, music creative, NBCUniversal Television. "From Pink, who used to open our Sunday Night Football, and Justin [Timberlake, the half-time performer], who has had such a roll across NBC, showing up on Saturday Night Live and working so closely with Jimmy Fallon."

The network made a musical splash with a series of Super Bowl LII Olympics promos featuring athletes backed by tracks from Black Sabbath ("Iron Man"), Chuck Berry ("Johnny B. Goode"), Keys ("Girl On Fire"), James Brown ("The Boss") and Ray Charles ("America The Beautiful"). Created by the East Coast-based NBC Sports, which tapped the Anomaly agency. Schneider, who helms the marketing music team, says there are more killer promos waiting to drop, including one featuring David Bowie.

While music may be front and center in NBC's promos, Schneider says volume is not up. "I actually think this past year we've licensed less, but we're using music more prominently as opposed to having many more but smaller, cues. We've never used this many large songs that I recall."

Schneider recounts one Olympic cycle where "we used so much music we cut a blanket deal with Warner so we could afford it all." (While Universal Music Publishing Group handles the Prince catalog, and administers NBCUniversal-owned music, it was spun off along with the label in 2004.)

A 24 year veteran of the music department at Universal Television, Schneider speculates that melody is more integral to the marketing narrative due in part to the ubiquity of streaming. "Producers are getting younger and music is at their fingertips in a way that it wasn't before, so they are able to be very creative. When I started as a music supervisor, nobody was getting their hands on early material unless I leveraged my relationships. Today, everything is out there quickly, and it's part of what these people breathe."

The Voice season 14 premieres on NBC February 26. On Friday the network begins its telecast of the Winter Olympics with opening ceremonies live from the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium in South Korea at 6 a.m. ET, with an 8 p.m. rebroadcast.

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