Super Bowl Synch Report: Universal Music Publishing Group Scores a Leading 18 Ads

At the end of BMW’s new Super Bowl ad, actor Christopher Walken sits down to dine at a restaurant and finds Usher at the next table. They (and a waiter) wind up saying “yeah!” to each other a few times, and for this, publishers for each of the six songwriters on Usher’s 2004 smash “Yeah!” get to split a huge sync payment — even though not another word or any melody from the song is performed during the one-minute spot.

“We, of course, smiled, and said, ‘You bet, we’ll license this to you guys,’” says Brian Monaco, president/global chief marketing officer for Sony Music Publishing (SMP), which represents James Phillips, one of six writers on “Yeah!” “It was a full fee, like they were using the entire song.” Pamela Lillig, vp of sync licensing for BMG, which represents co-writers J. Que, LaMarquis Jefferson and Sean Garrett, adds that BMW wouldn’t have had to pay the fee if random actors were saying “yeah” in an ad, but “because Usher’s in it, they felt they probably should.”


“Yeah!” — as well as Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band’s 1970 soul classic “Express Yourself,” which plays throughout the BMW spot — is one of many big, easily recognizable tracks used in Super Bowl advertisements this year. Dove soap licensed “It’s the Hard-Knock Life” (from the Annie soundtrack); Budweiser brought back its Clydesdales for a spot containing The Band‘s “The Weight”; Volkswagen celebrated its 75-year history in the United States set to Neil Diamond‘s “I Am . . . I Said”; and a Popeyes ad includes “Also Sprach Zarathustra” and DJ Snake and Lil Jon‘s “Turn Down for What.”

“The majority of songs used for us this year are catalog songs,” says Tom Eaton, senior vp of music for advertising for Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG), which represents the Band and Diamond catalogs. “They create an immediate impact.” Adds Patrick Joest, head of sync for Hipgnosis, which owns stakes in Heart‘s “Barracuda,” used in a Hyundai commercial, and “Turn Down for What”: “What you’re seeing this year is people are going for the sure shots.”

Super Bowl ads are one of the most lucrative showcases for publishers’ nearly $1.5 billion-per-year synch business each year. According to synch sources, 2024 fees have ranged anywhere from $150,000 to more than $1 million. Last fall, when Hollywood writers and actors were still striking and placing songs for TV and film was paused for the foreseeable future, the beginning of the Super Bowl song-licensing season came as a welcome relief. “It was looking a little shaky,” says Scott Cresto, executive vp of synchronization and marketing for publisher Reservoir, which has a stake in Coi Leray and David Guetta‘s “Make My Day,” used in an E-Trade spot for this year’s game. “In the last quarter, all of our top 20 synchs were ads. It definitely helped our numbers.”

UMPG (which landed the Diamond and Band syncs) has 18 synchs during this year’s Super Bowl. Sony (whose catalog includes The O’Jays‘ “Love Train,” used in a Coors Light spot, and Perry Como’s “Round and Round,” for Lindt Chocolate) landed 14 and Warner Chappell Music had 12 (including “Express Yourself”), while BMG had five, Kobalt four, Reservoir three and Hipgnosis two. (Billboard tallies in-game, national ads that appear during the CBS broadcast.)

For recent Super Bowls, according to Rich Robinson, Warner Chappell’s executive vp of global synchronization and media, multiple ads used original “sound-design” instrumentals, as opposed to traditional song synchs that generate robust licensing fees for publishers. This year, the pendulum has swung back to the familiar. “It feels like a return,” Robinson says. “Almost every one we’ve licensed is a version of a really well-known hit.”

Still, a minority of Super Bowl LVIII ads showcase newer songs and stars: Ice Spice‘s “Deli” (UMPG) soundtracks an ad for Starry soda and Maizie’s 2021 track “Dumb Dumb” (BMG and SMP) is in an Uber Eats spot. And prolific songwriter Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic received a request this past Monday (Feb. 5) from a T-Mobile contact and wrote a new song, “Try,” in an hour, then submitted it as a voice memo. The ad will broadcast during the Super Bowl. “He works fast,” says Sony’s Monaco.

“There’s a mad rush sometimes. It’s super last-minute,” adds Lisa Bergami, vp of creative sync for Kobalt, whose Super Bowl placements include Flo Rida‘s “Good Feeling,” used in a Veozah menopause medication spot. “Some [advertisers] have gone a million rounds and ended up going with the song they wanted at the beginning. There isn’t much of a rhyme or reason.”

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