When it comes to Super Bowl ads brands and their ad agencies want everything in them to be bigger, brighter and better than their normal ads, especially the music. The music heard in Super Bowl ads, whether its licensed or created, plays an integral part in their effectiveness. Billboard called on two veteran music supervisors, who have both crafted Super Bowl spots in the past, to unlock the process behind using music to deliver a brand's a message.


Gabe McDonough is working on five possible spots for this Super Bowl. The senior producer of music and integration for Chicago ad agency DDB Worldwide, part of the Omnicom holding company, has worked on spots for McDonald's and Budweiser in the past. Anheuser Busch, maker of Budweiser, tends to buy the largest amount of time in the Super Bowl and tops the audience poll conducted by USA Today.

For McDonough, the song has to be able to do more than animate the spot. "Once you find the perfect song I ask 'Outside of what makes it work well, what's happening around this song or band that can blow it up?'" That often means teaming with an artist who has diversified in different areas. Pepsi tapped Justin Timberlake – who has his hand in clothing lines and restaurants, among other things – for the company's 2008 spot for Pepsi Stuff. Timberlake was featured as an actor and his song "Lovestoned" in the background.

Bigger can be better

Additionally, McDonough points out that the right track isn't always subtle, but sometimes is meant to hammer home an emotion. "You're going for epic bigness, especially on those beer spots. If it's trying to dig the emotions you dig that much deeper," he says. "You don't want people to kind of feel like they're going to cry, you want them bawling." McDonough's work includes Budweiser's 2002 Super Bowl spot "Clydesdales Respect." In it an orchestra plays quietly while a team of Clydesdales bow their heads in the direction of where the Twin Towers used to stand.

Imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery

Things to avoid? Sometimes you'll come across an ad with a piece of music that sounds a little too familiar. Maybe the team couldn't clear the original but wanted to use something reminiscent of it anyway. "In the licensing world, it's easy to tell someone wanted to license something but didn't want pay for it because you end up with a bad version of the song," says Ira Antelis, music consultant and former music director Chicago ad agency Leo Burnett, part of the Publicis holding company. When that happens, "You end up with a corny imitation."