Super Bowl Ads: Why You'll Hear New Music by Passenger, U2, One Republic and Zedd

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The confirmed lineup for 2014’s game on Sunday appears to be packed with current hits.

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Ever since fun. skyrocketed to stardom from the use of “We Are Young” in a 2012 Super Bowl commercial for Chevrolet, brands, bands, publishers and music supervisors at top ad agencies alike have all been scrambling to re-create the lightning in-a-bottle effect that can only come from pairing the right, active single with the right Super Bowl spot.

After a mostly catalog affair for 2013 (“Landslide,” “Give A Little Bit” and “Sympathy For The Devil” got arguably the biggest looks, the confirmed lineup for 2014’s game on Sunday appears to be packed with current hits.

Leading the Game Day buzz already is Passenger’s “Let Her Go,” which scored the coveted spot as the song featured in Budweisers’ Clydesdale commercial -- made all the more emotional this year by the addition of an adorable puppy. In just two days, the spot has racked up more than 25 million views on YouTube, and boosted the song back into the top 10 on the iTunes chart.

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Much more so than “We Are Young,” which was on the fringes of the Hot 100 before its Super Bowl debut, “Let Her Go” is already a hit -- it drops one spot to No. 7 on this week’s Hot 100 as sales slide to No. 11 on Digital Songs (ironically, Idina Menzel’s “Let It Go” is No. 10). But the sales resurgence coupled with streams from the Budweiser spot should easily help the song soar into the top 5 next week, if not higher.

Budweiser typically relies on well-known catalog songs to anchor its Clydesdale commercials, and indeed at least two other well-known tracks were in the running until Anheuser-Busch made its final selection around Monday morning as executives traveled back from the Grammys, Billboard has learned. Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody” was in contention, as was an updated take on the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” according to multiple executives familiar with the vetting process.

In addition to “Let Her Go,” Anheuser-Busch InBev will feature three more new and active songs in four of its five Super Bowl commercials. There’s One Republic’s “Counting Stars,” which will be played by the band itself toward the end of a 90-second Bud Light spot called “Epic Night” that will also feature cameos from Arnold Schwarzenegger, Don Cheadle, Reggie Watts and Minka Kelly.

Also for Bud Light, Afrojack will debut a new song “Ten Feet Tall” in a separate commercial that will offer free downloads to the first 500,000 fans who Shazam the song. And Zedd’s “Find You,” which debuted last weekend during a 15-second commercial during the Grammys, will get a longer 30-second treatment in a showcase spot for Bud Light Platinum. A fifth song, Skylar Grey’s “Coming Home Part II” from her 2011 EP The Buried Sessions, will provide the emotional score to a military-themed spot for Budweiser.

With the exception of Passenger, four of Anheuser-Busch’s five spots all happen to feature artists from the Universal Music Group.

“One thing we’ve been able to reinforce this year is that when we’re able to work with artists who are as interested in working with us as we are, we can get to truly great ideas,” says Rob McCarthy, vp of Bud Light Brands. “When that happens, there are many things we can do to get a mutual value -- whether it’s launching new tracks with Zedd and Afrojack or having fun with a band like One Republic.”

Daniel Sena, VP of partnership marketing for UMG Distribution, similarly jumped at the multiplying effect the Super Bowl can have on new music.

“It’s literally the biggest platform that exists, and you’re able to get your song ort artist in front of the largest amount of people in a singular airing literally in history,” Sena says. “In a lot of artists, these are artists with tremendous careers ahead of them and the Super Bowl can take them one step further.”

Other new songs confirmed for Sunday night include U2’s “Invisible,” which will premiere in partnership with (RED) and Bank of America, and be made available for a free download on iTunes in the 24 hours immediately following its airtime during the Super Bowl.

Aloe Blacc’s “Can You Do This” will appear as the “just right” solution to Ellen Degeneres’ Goldilocks-themed spot for Beats Music, following a hit streak with Beats headphones on current single “The Man.” And N.A.S.A.’s “Hide” will be the closing star of a 60-second spot from Sonos that has previously aired since October and get a big showing during the game on Sunday.

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Why the increased demand for timely songs? Some brands are looking to cut costs (30-second spots were sold for a record $4 million this year, which means 60-second ads set marketers back $8 million) by shortening the “flight” windows for the ads’ airtime. Some commercials will be either one-time airings or six-to-12-week TV campaigns, vs. the usual one-year flights, with the standard one-year licenses for online included in many synch-fee negotiations.

“With so much emphasis on having your spot seen online, the TV broadcast part has helped a lot of brands minimize what they think they actually needed,” says Brian Monaco, exec vp of commercial music for Sony/ATV. “There’s options in all these deals to renew for longer terms, which is fine for us as long as you can put the song right back in the market afterward.”