[This story was originally published by Music Week the week after Super Bowl in February 2016]
By Emmanuel Legrand
With over 100 millions viewers watching live the Super Bowl in American alone, the event is the most coveted moment of the year for music placement in commercials. Here are seven things you ought to know about placing songs in commercials during Super Bowl.
1 – It's a BIG event!
The Super Bowl is all about superlatives: It is the biggest sporting event in the United States; it is the single biggest spending evening on American TV; and it has also grown into one of the biggest musical opportunities of the year.
This is not simply because of the bombastic performances recorded during the half-time break that have become essential to the career of top artists – think Michael Jackson, Black Eyed Peas, Madonna, Prince, Paul McCartney – but also because this is the most coveted moment of the year for music placement in commercials. Advertising spots and their music have become an integral part of the show itself.
Veteran media consultant Jeff Pollack, Chairman/CEO of Los Angeles-based Pollack Music & Media Group, describes the Super Bowl as “the biggest television event of the year from a ratings standpoint, by far, and it is also the most important entertainment event in America. As big as the Grammys and the Oscars are, they are dwarfed by the power of football. This is World Cup stuff we are talking about. Nothing gets bigger.”
With 100 million viewers on average, and peaks at 115-120 million viewers, the Super Bowl is the most viewed TV programme in the US. It is also, says Brian Monaco, EVP, worldwide head of advertising, film and television at Sony/ATV Music Publishing, the “biggest platform in the year that all advertisers use to catch the eyeballs of tens of million people.”
2 – It's about spending $$!
It is estimated that brands spend in excess of $400 million for the Super Bowl alone in advertising expenditures. Advertisers and brands use the Super Bowl to unveil new spots that will get the attention of millions of customers, and each marketing campaign designed for the Super Bowl is guaranteed to get create the buzz.
In this age of fragmented audiences, the Super Bowl is one of the very few shows that gathers all demographics, and advertising spots are as much part of the show as the competition, notes Pollack. “Any other day of the year people try to avoid commercials,” muses Pollack, “but with the Super Bowl it is different: with advertisers spending $5m for 30-second spot, people are anxious to see them. They want to see which stars are in the spots, what music is used. The next morning people talk about their favourite ad or about the song in an ad. Advertising has become an entertainment component of the Super Bowl.”
“People pay attention to the ads, it's all part of the Super Bowl culture,” adds Jeanette Perez, SVP, Head of Global Synch & Brand Partnerships at Kobalt.
3 – It's a best time of the year to place music.
One of the key components of these ads is music, of course. Music publishing companies and labels are eager to place their music in what is the biggest of all shows. And because it has become such a platform, competition is intense among publishers and master owners to place their music, says Sony/ATV's Monaco. “Everyone tries to get that spot,” he says. Dan Rosenbaum, VP Commercial Licensing at BMG, sums up the importance of the event in one sentence: “Super Bowl is the Holy Grail, for lack of other word.”
Natasha Baldwin, Group President, Creative and Marketing at Imagem, compares it with the Christmas season in the UK. “In the UK market, everything is judged around which Christmas commercial you have,” she explains. “In the US, you are judged on the Super Bowl ads that you manage to secure. It is the measure of how you perform in the industry in the US. Internally, this is always something people talk about.”
Aside from the licensing fee, that can fetch in the hundreds of thousand dollars for superstar material, what is much coveted by rights holders is the environment itself. A song placed on a buzzing ad spot will create reaction on social media, trigger Shazam searches, incite people to stream or buy the song. In addition, placing a song in a Super Bowl ad acts like a the best credential for the authors of the songs and the publisher.
“There's a real value added from the buzz,” says Kobalt's Perez. “There's value added for the songs, the companies [that place the song] and the artist/songwriters. For catalogue songs, it shines a fresh light onto a copyright that can serve as a marketing template, and for a new developing artist, it could serve as a really big marketing launch campaign, so we are all looking for those opportunities.”
For Ron Broitman, EVP, head of sync for Warner/Chappell and Warner Music Group, who predicts that this year will be one of Warner's most successful Super Bowl ever, the benefits of placing songs are multiple. “It can be financial, depending on stature of song but it can be more than that,” he says. “Some tracks have seen streaming spikes after Super Bowl ads, older songs can get another lease of life, lesser known songs can get major exposure, new artists can directly benefit by attracting more fans to their gigs. “It sort of bleeds on all areas,” says Broitman.
4 – It's about superstars, but not only.
Whereas a few years ago, advertisers were favouring well-known tracks over new music, Sony/ATV's Monaco says that the choices made by music supervisors are almost equally split between proven hits and new tracks. “Obviously there are a lot of catalogue artists, but we see more and more new and up-and-coming artists been chosen.”
Sony/ATV, for example has placed this year Drake's Hotline Bling in a T-Mobile ad and BMG has Battles's Atlas on a Quicken Loans ad. Last year, Sony/ATV, which administers the Beatles catalogue, placed All You Need Is Love on an ad for the Republic of Ecuador. Similarly, Van Halen's version of Roy Orbison's Pretty Woman was featured last year in a Nationwide Insurance ad.
Heinz is using this year a Badfinger song represented by Kobalt. Skittles is using Aerosmith's Dream On. “It's a combination of different things,” explains Alex Flores, VP Marketing, Commercials, Film & Television at BMG. “Sometimes the spot is created around a song, like Dream On, and Steven Tyler has a presence in the spot. Some other times we get an email which gives you some indications, but you do not always get the full picture from supervisors because they are not always capable of saying that it is for a Super Bowl ads. They could need a song that everybody knows or one that is about to break or something that is exciting and new.”
Kobalt's Perez placed last year Show Me Love by newcomers Hundred Waters in a Coca-Cola ad, which she sees as the sign that major brands are interested in taking risks. “It really depends on the brand and their sonic aesthetics, and who is the audience they are targeting,” she explains, adding that for 2016, she has two major placements, one with a deep catalogue track and one with a track less than a year old.
5 – It's about timing (and secrecy).
Usually, brands and advertisers start working on Super Bowl ads several months in advance and briefs are sent around to rights holders. Imagem's Baldwin considers that brands are “taking the Super Bowl seriously more than ever before,” and tend to invest what it takes to make an ad that people will remember. “Placing the right music is part of the creative process,” says Kobalt's Perez.
For BMG's Rosenbaum, a lot has to do with the relationship established over the years with music supervisors, following the pitches, informing about the catalogue, answering briefs and be ready when a request comes around. “When we get a request in, the first thing we need to do is to determine what is the creative project especially when deal with famous artists,” says Rosenbaum. “The creative has to be approved by the clients. Then when get to the negotiation where it is all about about assigning the right fee that, from our perspective, is respective of the artist's stature, as well as of the client’s budget is. When the two can meet, that’s when things happen.”
“It starts with a normal pitching process,” says Warner's Broitman, “but in the two months leading up to the Super Bowl, you feel a sense of urgency and a spike in volume. And because it is such a bigger stage, you get the sense of a bigger impact, so you sometimes pitch bigger songs that can connect.”
The requests from brands depend on the type of campaign they are planning. In some cases, the spot will be a one-off, broadcast only on Super Bowl day. Sony/ATV's Monaco says he's even done a one-day license for the use of a song, just for Super Bowl. But what all publisher relish are the long-term campaigns that can last months or a full year, which will give a longer visibility to their songs.
The whole process is shrouded with secrecy from the outset, as brands try to out-do their competitors, and keeping the secret until the time the ad is aired is part of the process. All the publishers Music Week talked to before the event said they were tied by non-disclosure agreements. “I have some half-time action but I am not allowed to talk about it,” said Baldwin two days before the show.
6 – It's about the buzz
More and more brands chose to leak the spots online a few days before the event to create the buzz, generate traction on social networks. Shazam is used extensively during the Super Bowl broadcast, especially when new music is used.. A successful ads get Shazamed, consumers go to streaming services to check the songs, which generates additional action on social media.
“After the Super Bowl, we are always talking to brands and advertisers to follow what happens to the song, if it's buzzing,” says BMG's Flores. “They check Instagram, FaceBook, follow the traffic. It can change the value of the copyright or can impact the value of that song in another ad.”
“Buzz is good,” adds BMG's Rosenbaum. “Before, nothing was released [prior to the Super Bowl] and what they [advertisers] found in past few years that releasing spots earlier creates a buzz and interest in the product.”
Warner's Broitman appreciates when brands chose to use Youtube to raise awareness. “It gives momentum to the songs,” he says. “Sometimes we even see the benefits [of such visibility] before the commercials are aired.”
Sony/ATV's Monaco says the novelty in the past few years has also been the way in which brands have been using social media to build awareness for their commercials. Some brands, he explains, have a strategy focusing on the Super Bowl based on analytics, trying to find the best way to reach the audience and keep it interested. “For us, it gives a lot of life to song if all goes well,” says Monaco. “It is not just a one-off. This is excellent because it gives us a platform to introduce new music and it is a win-win for everyone.”
Adds Monaco: “It is always interesting to see what happens after [Super Bowl] in terms of sales or with touring if the creative is done well. We work closely with brands – more and more are willing to share data – and we then try to work with artists to piggyback on what is happening. That is something we did not have before. It's good that they want to share that with us.”
In the end, a successful Super Bowl is about managing expectations, providing the right song that will fit the brand and the creative side of the commercial and negotiating the right license fees. “All these opportunities are great and open doors for other brands the rest of the year,” says Imagem's Baldwin. “That's why pressure has intensified for publishers and writers to get on these spots. Everybody knows that you've got your credentials if you have an ad in the Super Bowl.”
7 – And it's lucrative!
Fees paid by brands for the licensing of songs placed in commercials during Super Bowl are the most closed-guarded secrets. All the licensing executives from music publishers interviewed by Music Week declined to comment on fees. A ballpark range of a licensing fee for a song in a Super Bowl ad can go from $100,000 to over a million dollars (like Eminem's Lose Yourself in the 2014 Chrysler ad, which also included a cameo from the artist), depending on the notoriety of the artist, the status of the song, the way the song will be used and if it is a one-off or a full campaign. As BMG's Rosenbaum puts it, it depends on the stature of the artist and the client's budget.
For music publishers and owners of sound recordings, this is the most important part of the year. Some companies like Sony/ATV can have up to 12 or 15 placements in Super Bowl ads, but, adds Kobalt's Perez, achieving high targets is “more difficult now than ever because the visibility is huge and there is much more competition.”
The positive about this year is that advertisers are spending significant sums of money for Super Bowl ads, unlike a few years ago when, in the wake of the economic recession affecting America, brands were cash strapped and it had an effect on music licensing fees. “I can remember that six-seven years ago, after the economic meltdown, there were hardly any licensed songs,” recalls BMG's Rosenbaum. “So it’s changed quite and it's a good things.”
When it comes to fees, Sony/ATV's Monaco claims that 2016 “is still a very healthy year.” Catalogue tracks “come with a big cheque” but what makes this year special, according to him, is that “in past years terms were short and now terms are longer, they can be up to a year, so that is a new trend, and a positive one.”
So is it financially rewarding? “Of course,” says Imagem's Baldwin, “you get a big sync fee and millions of eyeballs on your composer or your artist. It is a phenomenal platform.”