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Super Bowl Synch Report: Sony Leads Music Publishers In Showdown of Older, Upbeat Tracks

Marketers went for more recognizable synchs this year, including classics by Ray Charles, the Staple Singers and Electric Light Orchestra.

The joke needed a musical punchline. Colin Jost of Saturday Night Live turns to his wife, Scarlett Johansson, and asks: “When you have to do those love scenes with hot guys, is that fun, or is that the worst?” ScarJo’s response: “It’s the worst.” Then, in this Super Bowl commercial for Amazon, Alexa automatically plays “Little Lies” by Fleetwood Mac.

“They looked at hundreds of songs searching for the one,” says Tom Eaton, svp, music for advertising for Universal Music Publishing Group, which placed the “Little Lies” synch and 12 others for Super Bowl ads this year. “They really scoured the landscape.”

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Amazon’s big-celebrity, broad-joke, familiar-song approach was common for synchs this year, in contrast to the more somber, pandemic-era 2021 Super Bowl advertising landscape emphasizing downbeat scores and sentimental ballads. Last year, Jo Stafford and Gordon MacRae’s “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday (I Love You)” was the synch behind Bud Light’s “Last Year’s Lemons” apocalyptic commercial full of people screaming and crying; this year, Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” soundtracked Eugene Levy flying through the air in a sporty yellow Nissan.

“It’s certainly more playful and humorous compared to last year,” says Julie Hurwitz, co-head of synch and brand partnerships for Kobalt, which placed eight synchs, including a Taco Bell spot in which Doja Cat covers Hole’s “Celebrity Skin.” Adds Rich Robinson, executive vp global synchronization and media original music for Warner Chappell Music, which had six synchs: “It’s more celebratory, and people feel more comfortable being upbeat with the grand message.”

Because of the upbeat nature of this year’s spots, brands sought relatively older, more recognizable synchs, such as the Electric Light Orchestra’s 1973 “Showdown” (for Michelob Light) and the George Baker Selection’s 1969 smash “Little Green Bag” (for Planet Fitness). Both were part of Sony Music Publishing’s 18 synchs, more than any other publisher.

“Fun, energetic, known copyrights, things that are 10 to 25 years old” is how Rob Christensen, another Kobalt co-head of synch and brand partnerships, describes this year’s Super Bowl sound.

Brands’ renewed emphasis on older tracks means publishers had to do more “digging, digging, digging for the right song,” says Dan Rosenbaum, vp synch licensing advertising for BMG, which placed three synchs during the game. When the agency for Lay’s approached Universal Music Publishing Group requesting the perfect track for Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen bro-ing out in tuxedos, the brief read, roughly: “Nostalgic song of friends from the ’90s singing along.” UMPG’s staff searched ’90s radio hits before delivering Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One.”

Publishers aren’t complaining about the tonal shift, as catalog synchs generally bring in more money than contemporary tracks. “Especially for the premier, classic stuff we’ve got, the fees have been quite strong,” says Marty Silverstone, partner and senior vp creative and head of synch for Primary Wave, whose sole Super Bowl synch was the Charles track in the Nissan spot. Of UMPG’s 13 Super Bowl synchs, just one was a contemporary track, while most of the rest were at least 30 years old — “and generally those songs will demand a fee that is commensurate with their recognizability,” Eaton says.

Although Super Bowl TV ratings sharply dropped in a pandemic-plagued 2021, drawing just 96.4 million viewers, the game’s lowest total since 2007, this year’s synch fees are as high as ever, publishers say. “It was probably one of the healthiest years financially for the deals that went through,” says Brian Monaco, Sony Music Publishing’s president and global chief marketing officer. Another publishing source estimates the range between $150,000 and $1 million, while a second describes it as “five to seven figures, [with] everything in between.”

Plus, the promotional value is priceless: For Concord Recorded Music, the Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There” synch in a Stella Artois commercial was perfect timing for the classic soul track’s 50th anniversary. The beer company’s agency initially tried out different versions of the track, but settled on the 1972 standard after a few weeks. “They just couldn’t replace the original Staple Singers recording,” says Tom Frank, the label’s senior director, synch marketing.

One commercial was a notable exception to the familiar-songs Super Bowl advertising trend this year. For T-Mobile’s “Do It for the Phones” spot co-starring Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton, Los Angeles duo Scott Effman and Cary Brothers placed what Brothers calls a “‘We Are the World’ ’80s song” as the underlying earworm. They recorded it with Cyrus and her band last month. “I was trying to channel the energy of ’80s beer commercials into this thing like Americana glory of a Sunday afternoon watching football,” Brothers says. “Just grows and grows and gains power.”

While “Do It for the Phones” is a rare contemporary synch for this year’s Super Bowl, it had help from a classic — Survivor’s 1982 “Rocky” anthem “Eye of the Tiger,” included in last week’s Parton-and-Cyrus teaser. “There’s certainly a continued need for big, iconic songs,” BMG’s Rosenbaum says. “The quest for normalcy, or for something you can hang onto, is very strong.”

 

Super Bowl 2022

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