The Soundtrack of the Super Bowl: The Role of Music in Big Game Ads
- The Top Songs of Super Bowl LVII
- Appealing to the Right Brain
The Super Bowl is undoubtedly the biggest US advertising event of the year. And while the halftime performance is peak entertainment, so too are the commercials, especially when they leverage music. Music is the key to our hearts and can dramatically increase emotional intensity, change a story arc and impact which emotions are felt altogether.
Using well-known songs can have dramatic long- and short-term effectiveness effects. However, the more acclaimed, the more expensive it becomes for brands to obtain the license to use a hit song. Investing in the right soundtrack can be a big risk. So, how can brands use music effectively?
The Top Songs of Super Bowl LVII
On average, Super Bowl ads tend to score only modestly better than the average US ad according to our analysis of four years of Super Bowl data. In 2022, big game ads averaged 2.6-Stars compared to 2.3-Stars for all US ads. In 2023, Super Bowl ads increased slightly to 2.9-Stars.
The 2023 big game ads that featured music and scored above average include:
“Summer Nights” from Grease
Marcia Griffiths’ “Electric Boogie (The Electric Slide)” and Shaggy’s “Ready Fi Di Ride”
Kenny Loggins’ “I'm Alright” from Caddyshack
Tim Carleton’s “Opus No. 1”, the infamous hold music
Snoop Dogg’s “Who Am I? (What’s My Name?)”
Missy Elliott’s “We Run This”
“Gonna Fly Now” from Rocky
Joan Jett & the Blackhearts’ “Real Wild Child”
Tina Turner’s “The Best”
A medley of 1990 and 2000s hits
Appealing to the Right Brain
In Orlando Wood’s books Lemon and Look out, he highlights the impact that music has on ad effectiveness. Music with discernible melody appeals to the right brain and is more likely to enhance long-term brand building than rhythmic music that appeals more to the narrow attention of the left brain. Unfortunately, there has been a decline in the number of ads featuring music with a discernible melody.
Of the Top 10 ads above, eight featured melodic music, and the two that included more rhythmic, instrumental music either borrowed from a nostalgic source, like the movie Rocky, or popular culture, like TikTok’s viral ‘hold music’ trend. Advertisers also leaned heavily into the classics. Hits of the 80s, 90s and 00s reined supreme.
While the classics are powerful, today’s songs can also be effective. Doritos’ 2020 Super Bowl ad featured the record-breaking “Old Town Road” from Lil Nas X and some of the 2022 Christmas ads opted for billboard chart-toppers, like M&S with Harry Styles’ “Treat People with Kindness” and Lego with Katy Perry’s “Firework”.
With music having a noticeable influence on viewers’ emotional responses, there’s pressure on brands and creative teams to choose the right soundtrack. Get it wrong and an ad may not strike an emotional chord or be memorable enough. Get it really wrong and your soundtrack may even annoy audiences, causing them to put your ad on mute or change the channel.
Thankfully, music is an easy element to change before the big debut. Pre-testing the same ad with different tracks can showcase which will be more successful at brand building. System1 has worked with brands to identify the best song for the story arc. In one example with a leading pain relief brand, our guidance around music helped raise the Star Rating from 3.4 to 5.3-Stars. It’s proof that music can truly make an ad.