The Music of Super Bowl 50: What Worked, and Why

February 12, 2016

When the clock hit zero in Super Bowl 50, the Denver Broncos had defeated the Carolina Panthers in a brutal defensive battle, sealing Peyton Manning's place in football history. A great day for football fans, and perhaps an even better one for advertisers. Who could have predicted that Peyton would cap off his storied career with a free ad for Budweiser?
But in the battle of the ads, it wasn't just Bud who walked away with a strong showing. As expected, the commercials throughout the game were hilarious, clever, sentimental, spectacular, and - for a select few – deeply memorable. And like every year, music played a leading role in all of the best pieces.
There was a variety of music strategies this year, each one succeeding for a different reason.
Background Music Moves to the Foreground
We saw three examples of classic songs sung by unlikely stars. Jeff Golblum sang "Movin' On Up"; (The Jeffersons Theme) in an ad, with a full gospel choir and surprise appearance by rapper Lil' Wayne . A chorus of “Super Bowl Babies” did an adorable rendition of "Kiss From a Rose" accompanied by Seal himself. And perhaps most memorably, a Honda ad featured a herd of talented sheep singing Queen's “Somebody to Love.” 
Things got more outlandish from there. Who could forget the stampede of wiener dogs set to Harry Nilsson's “Without You?” Or the Acura ad underscored by David Lee Roth's isolated vocal tracks from “Running with the Devil?”
In all of these ads, the music was woven into the fabric of the ad itself – without the song, there is no joke, no story, no ad at all. It's no wonder ad agencies will spend whatever it takes to get the piece they want; in these examples, music forms the core of the campaign. On the world's biggest stage, the stakes couldn't be higher.
Classical Music Never Fails
Classical was a popular background music choice this year, with a Mobile Strike ad featuring Verdi's Requiem (also featured in Mad Max: Fury Road), as well as a new custom remix of Beethoven's 5th in a stylish Intel ad. 
Classical music has always been a go-to strategy for advertisers. The music of Beethoven and Verdi have delighted audiences for hundreds of years. Classical music is high drama, and high emotion; exactly what supervisors look for when trying to make a deep connection with viewers.
Custom Music for Maximum Impact
Many ad agencies opted to create new custom music for their spots, yielding stunning results. For its 75th anniversary spot, Jeep commissioned a new song called "4x4ever"; written and performed by Morgan Dorr. Notably, Budweiser steered away from its usual sentimental spots and instead went with a brand-new track by trap artist Baauer (of Harlem Shake fame) for its 30 second spot.
Weird doesn't even begin to describe the most unique use of custom music (for better or worse) this year. There are simply no words for “Mountain Dew's nightmarish PuppyMonkeyBaby.” Far from being a traditional “song,” the eponymous chant may yet be the most memorable soundbite of the game.
Using never-before-heard music is a powerful way to grab an audience's attention. When we hear new music, our ears perk up - and when it's good, we make a positive association with the brand. Custom music gives advertisers complete control over the message as well as the viewer experience.
Looking Ahead
The Super Bowl provides an excellent snapshot of the state of the advertising world, and if these ads are any indication, we should be in for an interesting and surprising 2016. This year's spots weren't afraid to have fun – often through wild, unconventional music choices. While there was no clear winner, the common sentiment among ad agencies seemed to be “bolder is better.” With 200 football-free days ahead of us, let's hope the trend continues!

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