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“This Sunday, the best commercials are set to air…apparently there’s even a game happening in between” - a UK perspective from a US Marketer

Eric Sheinkop CEO of Music Dealers and Co-Author of Hit Brands: How Music Builds Value for the World’s Smartest Brands, offers his views on the music being used within the advertising around the Super Bowl.

When the greatest teams and brands are elevated to the world’s largest stage, music, the greatest universal passion point, goes beyond just supporting the emotion of the commercials. Super Bowl airtime, from whistle to whistle, is a marketer’s dream stage, with far more impressions than the biggest industry marketing award can garner, including Cannes Lions. Marketers look to music to bring the campaign beyond the living room and into the ears, hearts and social networks of the audience. They use it to make their work have a life beyond the ad and utilize Spotify, iTunes and other platforms to give the brand message entirely new life.

Whether you use music from a popular artist, create a custom track or break an indie band, some brands are getting it right and using music to create value for their brand by driving engagement outside of the television spot, while others miss a golden opportunity.

“Study the past, if you would define the future,” Confucius said. By analysing the use of music in 2013’s Super Bowl ads, we can develop some pretty good predictions about the role music will play in 2014’s Super Bowl commercials. And, there are some interesting musical insights from what’s already been released in 2014.

2013 presented audiences with an extremely diverse set of music uses, revealing a variety of strategies from a number of sources. Of the Super Bowl’s 46 advertisements: 13 Auto / 11 Snacks / beverage (non-alcohol) / 6 Alcohol / 4 Tech / 3 Restaurant / 3 Home Products / 3 Clothing / 1 Financial / 1 Real Estate / 1 Retail we’ve found roughly:

· 52 per cent of 2013’s Super Bowl ads used custom music

· 34 per cent used popular music (28 per cent classics vs. 6 [per cent current)

· 13 per cent featured indie artists

· 15 per cent used no music at all

*note: those commercials that check boxes in multiple categories i.e. a custom version of a popular song from an indie artist is accounted for in all three categories.

And, of all Super Bowl ads, fewer than 22 per cent used music as a form of engagement, discussion and sharing outside of the TVC. When you’re paying $4m for a 30-second spot competing with the world’s most recognized brands for consumer advocacy, you’d better be absolutely sure you remain in their minds and ears long after that 30 seconds is up.

Ranking high in Super Bowl ad syncs last year was the use of a classic record; nearly 30 per cent of last years ads featured music from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. An old school classic can reach a wide range of fans all at once, simultaneously evoking nostalgia for older fans while introducing musical treasures to the newer generation.

Amongst the classics we heard “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder, which appeared in not one but two Bud Light commercials. Superstition cleverly served as the identity around Bud Light’s NFL campaign, but offered no extension outside of the commercials and didn’t recall the brand when heard without the visuals.

Budweiser scored with Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” on their “The Clydesdales - Brotherhood” spot. Coke also leveraged the old-school, skillfully remaining on brand musically with the feel good vibe of Roger Hodgson’s “Give A Little Bit.” Mercedes deserves praise for their use of “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones in their star-studded “Soul” campaign. And Blackberry dug deep to capitalize off of the soulfulness of obscure artist Marion Black’s “Who Knows.” All were good choices to reinforce their brand identity but failed to capitalize on lending currency or engagement.

Whereas big wins in this category go to brands that not only have the foresight to pick a popular artist or great song to cover, one of the most powerful ways for a brand to create authentic, long-term consumer engagement is by leveraging music in such a way that it creates value for the brand way beyond the ad. An excellent marketing strategy for any campaign, but particularly during the Super Bowl when you have the attention of 111 million viewers. It seems the auto-industry is on to something. We saw two well-executed examples of this last year, from Volkswagen and Hyundai.

Volkswagen offered consumers a free download of Jimmy Cliff’s cover of “C’mon Get Happy”. In addition to a hilarious commercial execution with perfectly placed custom music, VW featured the song on their brand-curated SoundCloud page and helped Cliff revitalize his career by promoting his album “Rebirth”. Meanwhile, Hyundai and The Flaming Lips joined forces to release the song “Sun Blows Up Today” written specifically for the ad and included as a bonus track on the band’s newest album. Hyundai offered 100,000 free downloads of the custom track on their website. With each download and every listen of these songs, the consumer is reminded of the brands that gifted them that unique experience.

We already know one major contender using this strategy this in 2014. Bank of America, U2, and RED - a group co-founded by Bono to enlist brands in fighting HIV/AIDS in Africa - have collaborated to produce a 60-second spot to introduce their new partnership. The commercial will feature U2 performing a new song called "Invisible", which will be available for free on iTunes during the game and over the next 24 hours. Bank of America will donate $1 for every download in that time, up to $2 million. In one stroke of genius, fans are introduced to a completely new song from one of the greatest rock groups of all time, offered a free download of the track, all while knowing that the partners behind the campaign are bringing true value to the world. This campaign represents the truest form of using music to bring value to the consumer, the artist and the brand. Leave it to the UK band to get it right on American turf.

Why is music such an important focus for brands? Why do they use it to create extra discussion for their elaborate, beautiful productions? LL Cool J, said it best during Sunday’s Grammy Awards: “The force of music is universal…Music has the power of bringing people together like nothing else in this world...” So, while I am not suggesting that every successful campaign offer a free download, the music you select can still enable you to remain at the forefront of conversation. Look at Taco Bell's Spanish version of Grammy winning Song Of The Year, "We Are Young", by Best New Artist Fun., for their 2013 Super Bowl campaign “Viva Young”. Taco Bell, taking their music licensing to the next level, made the commercial an experience that entertained consumers, generated conversation whilst staying authentic to the brand’s Latin roots.

Just days away from the big game and all bets are on. Will Chrysler or Chobani be able revitalize Bob Dylan’s career? Which brand will break an indie band into superstardom? But the bigger question remains: who, through their music use, will be successful in creating engagement with their consumers outside of the commercial? With the highest price per spot and the largest anticipated audience of all time, brands have an obligation to make the most of that opportunity and not just pacify mass audiences, but convert active ambassadors for their brands. We’ll just have to wait and see. Oh, and maybe I’ll even catch a little bit of this “football” game.

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