If I asked you to tell me about your favorite Super Bowl ad, you probably would only need a few seconds to think of one. In fact, you might...
If I asked you to tell me about your favorite Super Bowl ad, you probably would only need a few seconds to think of one. In fact, you might need time to choose which of your favorites to talk about.
Video marketing has become an art form. And the most memorable ads tend to be things we saw during Super Bowl commercial breaks...but have you ever wondered why?
It comes down to a tale of two statistics.
Stat #1: Fox announced that 102 million people tuned in to watch Super Bowl LIV. (That number includes live TV as well as streaming services). In other words, more than 30% of the total population of the U.S. tuned in to watch the game.
Stat #2: A 30-second commercial slot during Super Bowl LIV cost companies $5.2 million. That is a huge investment, but it’s almost easy to justify because of the number of active viewers.
Marketing teams spend months constructing Super Bowl ads. From selecting talent, visualizing animations, and editing scripts, every single element is fine-tuned again and again and again. But in many cases, the biggest takeaways from those ads are the jokes and the music.
The Power Of Music In AdvertisingOne key element in any good ad is background music. Choosing the right song can make people laugh, cry, or — better yet — tune out everything else to focus on the commercial. Choose the wrong song, and that ad might be the next cringey Super Bowl meme.
Music plays an important role in how humans interact with visual media. For all our video obsessions, music is still a foundation of our cultural heritage. And in a commercial, sometimes the background music is just as valuable as what’s on the screen.
Rather than analyzing the best commercials of all time, I’m going to step back and start with Super Bowl LIV. Hopefully they’re still fresh in your memory.
Top Ads From Super Bowl LIV (2020)This year’s big game brought a lot of funny commercials. Most of them leaned into celebrity appearances, which makes sense given how star power works in our society. But when it comes to ads that used their background music best, these are the two that stood out.
Also, remember to pay attention to how the song influences your experience of the ad. If you haven’t seen these commercials before, it might help to watch them one time and then replay them to really focus on the music.
#1. Google’s “Loretta” AdIf any commercial “won” the Super Bowl, it was this one. No doubt about it.
Millions of people cried when they watched this, even live-tweeting their reactions. There was no hard sell of a product, or even a brand name — just a single narrator giving us a quiet, almost accidental look into the best part of his life.
Did you notice the music at work? The somber chords carried the commercial’s emotion. There’s no traditional build or musical climax. In fact, the song could almost be called “one-note” if not for the soft strings in the background.
There’s a touch of melancholy, a hint of optimism, and an underlying sense of joy about the memories we carry with us. It’s something all of us can connect with on some level.
And that is how a piece of music can influence a viral video.
#2. Mountain Dew’s “Zero Sugar” AdWhile it might be hard to follow the “Loretta” ad, here’s another example of how a clever song choice helps establish tone and character in no time at all:
Most of us have seen The Shining. At the very least, you probably recognize the infamous “Here’s Johnny!” scene. (It’s been spoofed online and featured in other ads for decades now.)
The Mountain Dew marketing team really leaned into the tropes of the horror movie soundtracks. You’ve got the discordant strings, the heightened sound effects, and the sudden cut to silence — it’s all there, and it all works.
Even if the commercial is meant to be silly, there’s still some semblance of tension. And that all comes down to the music’s ability to keep us on edge just like during The Shining.
Best Commercials From Past Super BowlsIt shouldn’t surprise you that most of the top ads from this year’s Super Bowl are still airing on TV or streaming services. A good showing in the Super Bowl can instantly launch a commercial to “viral video” status, which means those ads can ride that buzz for six months or more.
Of course, this doesn’t apply the same way to great ads from previous years. But many of those commercials have become legendary examples that are still worth watching in 2020.
Volkswagen's “The Force” AdI don’t think this one needs much introduction:
Okay, so this might seem like a cheap pick. Star Wars is a cultural icon, and “The Imperial March” is just as recognizable as any other piece of that franchise.
But try to imagine any other song here. If the commercial used an upbeat song (like any silly animal video on YouTube), we might have dismissed it or stopped paying attention completely.
Instead, Volkswagen gave us an easy way to connect with this kid and see things from his perspective. The song choice “clashes” with the humorous video, but that contrast makes us smile from start to finish.
Apple’s “1984” AdWas this the first viral marketing campaign? It’s hard to tell, but it’s certainly one that established Apple as a trendy, counter-cultural brand — an identity that Apple still leans into today.
This is perhaps the most frequently referenced ad in the history of TV commercials. And while the visuals are the key piece of the experience, the cinematic music drives home a specific emotion even before viewers realize what they’re watching.
The song relies exclusively on an oddly pitched horn. The sound feels like a slow heartbeat in some dystopian future; it also sounds like a siren — a warning that something big is happening, which supports the ad’s core message.
If there was an award for “Best Minimalist Song Choice in a Viral Super Bowl Commercial,” this ad is definitely taking that trophy home.
Budweiser’s “Puppy Love” AdFor the sequel to their beloved “Puppy Love” ad from 2014, Budweiser delivered another tear-jerking Super Bowl commercial in 2015:
(I’m not crying, you’re crying.)
The song choice takes us on the puppy’s journey. It starts with a wistful kind of loneliness, then resolves in a climactic return home. The visuals tell the story, but if you mute the audio, there wouldn’t really be any emotional connection with the story.
Sound impacts humans more strongly than our other senses, and that’s especially true with music. Budweiser’s Super Bowl commercials are almost always runaway hits, and 2015 is just one entry in a long line of successes.
Music’s Lasting Influence On AdvertisingNow, I only included five examples that show how top Super Bowl ads used music well. There are hundreds of other examples where a song choice drove home a message, made us reach for the tissue box, or left us laughing on our couches.
Song selection is a powerful tool in advertising. Companies pay millions of dollars to air commercials during major events like the Super Bowl, and that can include thousands of dollars for licensing a specific song
With that big of an investment, it’s easy to see why these ads tend to be memorable and emotional.
If you’re curious to see how this works, look up your favorite commercials and watch them twice — once with the sound on, and once with it off. Do the videos have the same impact without music? What about if you played a different music genre alongside the ad?
Music is one of humanity’s oldest and most common storytelling methods. And when it comes to creating an unforgettable Super Bowl ad, marketing teams have learned that a smart song choice can make all the difference.