Marketing Musicology
The marriage of commerce and culture


June 5, 2014

Are you ready for some football ……ads?

A content analysis of popular music in Super Bowl commercials 2005-2014

David Allan, Ph.D.

Chair, Professor of Marketing
Erivan K. Haub School of Business
Saint Joseph’s University



Are you ready for some football? I mean commercials.  If it is the Super Bowl then the answer is probably yes! “Within just a few years after the first Super Bowl in 1967, the televised game became a national ritual [where] today, one viewer in ten tunes in just for the ads” (Kanner 2004, 1). Not surprisingly, the costs of the ads has grown with their popularity. In 1967 a thirty-second ad cost only $40,000. By 2002, that cost had grown to $2,300,000 and, by 2012, that price had risen to $3,500,000 (Edwards and Terbush 2012). In 2013 the cost of an ad was $3.8 million (Horovitz 2013), and had clmbed to $4.0 million in 2014 (Horowitz 2014). Why are advertisers lining up to pay that amount?  Simply put, they are paying for ads because the Super Bowl has the “power to make consumers sit up and watch commercials” (Bickle 2012). “Adding to the game’s appeal as ad revenue is the fact that, for many viewers, watching the ads is as important as the game , a bright spot in today’s media environment, where almost 50% of U.S. homes now have a digital recorder” (Vranica 2014). The Super Bowl has “become so ingrained inUSculture that, with rare exception, it is the most watchedUStelevision event each year.” (Tomkovick et al. 2001, 90).  Not only that, but the Super Bowl reaches a wide range of demographics making it even more appealing (McAllister 1999).

The Super Bowl is “the place for advertisers to be seen and to showcase their best” (Kanner 2004). It is also a very appropriate place to investigate trends in advertising because “marketers have seized this venue to introduce new campaigns or products or to take on new names or purposes, and the commercials have acquired lives of their own” (Kanner 2004). It has become the “prime time to kick off ads” (McCarthy 2001). It has “helped companies launch new products” (Tomkovick et al. 2001, 92). And they are doing it to music soundtracks.

“Music is taking center stage at the Super Bowl – and not just during the halftime show” (Anderson 2014). In both of the past two years (2013 and 2014), the most popular ad, according to theUSAToday Ad Meter was from Budweiser and contained popular music. The artists benefited as well. In 2013, “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac saw a 500% increase in download sales (Graney 2013, 13). In 2014, Passenger’s “Let Her Go” sales went up 51% (Williams 2014) and the ad received 44 million YouTube views (Ugwu 2014) the week after the Super Bowl (see Figure 1). Why are advertisers using popular music? “The focus on music comes as many advertisers look for ways to engage 108 million viewers” (Anderson 2014). Music “engages the attention” (Huron 1989). It “makes you watch or listen [to advertising] in a different way” (Dunbar1990).  The hope is that this “interaction of various marketing and communication activities come together to impact and influence consumers” (Schultz, 2005, p.6).   What better place to look at this interaction than popular music in advertising at the Super Bowl?

 Super Bowl advertising research

Super Bowl advertising research is also claiming the spotlight as well. Some have investigated information content (Kim, et al. 2011), while others have looked at  ad likeability and short-term stock price enhancement (Aloi 2008; Chang et al. 2009; Fehle, et al. 2005; Kim & Morris 2003).  It has been shown that Super Bowl promoted movies grossed nearly 40% more than non-Super Bowl promoted movies (Yelkur et al. 2004). Still others have looked at the Super Bowl as commercial celebration (social attention and legitimacy), or the celebration of advertising as a beloved form of mediated entertainment (McAllister 1999, 403). It has been shown that arousal more than pleasure influenced ad recall in Super Bowl advertising (Pavelchak et al. 1988). The practicality of Super Bowl advertising for new products and companies has been debated (Dotterweich and Collins 2005), possibly due to low visual attention levels of viewers of the

Figure 1. Billboard.

Copyrighted 2014. Prometheus Global Media. 108478:314AT

Super Bowl, especially in sports bars (Beasley et al. 1998) or  when “total message length and number of times a brand is advertised” (Newell and Henderson 1998, 243).

As for advertising cues, a content analysis of over 400 Super bowl ads aired from 2001-2009 showed that each ad contained on average two informational cues (Kim et al. 2010). The most compelling research for advertisers, competing for the all-important USA Today Ad Meter, involves the Super Bowl ad likeability model introduced in 2001 (Tomkovick et al. 2001), and updated to recognized the increase in music in Super Bowl ads in 2011 (Yelkur, et al. 2011). The most famous ad is arguably Coke’s “Teach the World to Sing” introduced in 1972. Although no trending is available, over 77% of Super Bowl ads in the 2000s employed music (Yelkur et al. 2011). It is here that this research begins and extends the analysis of Super Bowl advertising to popular music with a content analysis of Super Bowls from 2005 to 2014 investigating the popular music in the commercials.


All commercials aired during ten years of the Super Bowls from 2005 – 2014 were content analyzed for this study.  This sample consisted of a total of 599 commercials not including network or NFL promotional announcements. Of these commercials, 157 utilized some type of popular music (“popular music” broadly defined for the purposes of this study as music of all genres that was created for “ordinary people” [Shuker 2001, 5]).

A code sheet was adapted from an earlier study (Allan 2008) to specifically record both quantitative and qualitative information on the placement of music in the commercials. The extensive code included variables used in previous content analyses of television advertising (Alexander et al. 1998; Avery and Ferraro 2000; Callcott and Lee 1994; Elliott 1995; Roy and Harwood 1997; Unger et al. 1991;Wilkes and Valencia 1989), as well as variables appropriate to the analysis of music (Allan 2006, 2008; Alpert and Alpert, 1991; Brooker and Wheatley 1994; Kellaris et al. 1993; Kellaris and Kent 1991; MacInnis and Park 1991; Olsen 1995; Roehm 2001; Wallace 1991).

The coding instrument consisting of these fourteen variables was applied to each commercial. These variables were organized around two areas: commercial characteristics and music characteristics.  Product characteristics accounted for two standard variations: brands and category. Music characteristics consisted of twelve variations: artist, genre, prominence, version, artist gender, artist age, artist number, artist shown performing, choreographed, music edited, product relevance, and narrative relevance.

These variables were recorded by one trained coder. Reliability was established using the coefficient of reliability (also known as Cohen’s Kappa). To ascertain reliability, 10% of the one coder’s sample was reanalyzed by another trained coder (author) resulting in an overall reliability coefficient of 94.3%. F Coder agreement was greater than 80% for all variables above the minimal agreement level (Rifle, Lacy, and Fico 1998).

Results and Discussion

What follows is the presentation of data for these two variable areas and a discussion of their implications.

Commercial Characteristic Variables

Product Variables

Table 1 shows the unique ads with the presence of popular music (anywhere) in a commercial in terms of the product category variables: brands and product category. As can be seen, significant differences were observed in the use of music and product characteristics. Of the popular music ads, the most frequently observed product category involved “beverages” (n = 43). The next most observed ads for popular music were for “automobiles” which included cars, trucks and SUVs (n=39). It is not surprising that auto ads continue to use popular music. This product category has collectively fueled its advertising with popular music since at least 1970 when The Doors licensed “Light My Fire” to Buick (Patton 2002).

Table 1. Distribution of Unique Ads by Product Variable

Product Category

Popular Music ads



Autos, Trucks, SUVs, etc.




Beverages (Beer/Soda/Juice)


Cell Phones












Restaurants (Fast Food)


X2 value


*Significant at the .01 level

Music Variables

Table 2 shows the unique ads with the presence of popular music (anywhere) in a commercial in terms of version and prominence. As can be seen, significant differences were obtained in the use of music and these music characteristics. Of the 157 total ads with popular music, 102 were original vocals, 40 were original instrumentals, 13 were cover vocals, and 2 were altered vocal. Prior research shows that the vocal version has been shown to be more effective when unfamiliar, while instrumentals can be more effective in evoking advertising message recall if the song is already familiar (Roehm 2001). Still others have found that song vocals, either original or altered, are a more effective stimuli of advertising effects than instrumentals or no popular music especially when personally significant to the consumer (Allan 2006).  As for the prominence of the music itself in the ads with music, popular music was most often observed in the foreground and most likely the primary rather than secondary part of the ad. These results indicate that when advertisers use familiar music, it is usually original vocals in the foreground.

Table 2.  Distribution of Unique Ads by Music Characteristic Variables

Music Version (n)
Original Vocal 102
Original Instrumental 40
Cover Vocal 13
Altered Vocal 2
X2 value 26.02*
Music Prominence (n)
Background 31
Foreground-Primary 77
Foreground-Secondary 49
X2 value 37.49*

*Significant at the .01 level

Table 3 shows the unique ads with the presence of popular music anywhere in a commercial in terms of ten of the music characteristic variables: genre, artist, artist gender, artist age, artist number, artist shown performing, music video, choreographed, edited, product relevance, and narrative relevance. As can be seen, significant differences were obtained in the use of music and these commercial characteristics. For the ads with popular music, the most observed genre was rock (n = 44), followed by pop (n = 40). In both cases, the artist was most likely male (n=130), adult (n=146) and solo (n=82). Very few of these artists in the ads performed live. As for the production of these ads, most of the ads contained edited popular music that was at least partially choreographed. In regard to the relevance of the music to the product or service in the ad, about 13.4% had some type of relevance to the product while 54.1% had some type of relevance to the narrative in the ad.

Distribution of Unique Ads by Music Characteristic Variable.

Music Genre                                                                                                              (n)
Rock 44
Pop 40
R&B/Hip Hop 29
Classical 12
Country 9
Folk 8
Movie/Broadway 5
Jazz/Blues 4
Techno/Dance 5
Latin 1
X2 value 12.65*
Artist: Gender
Male 130
FemaleMixed 1610
X2 value 26.27*
Artist: Age
Adult 146
Young Adult/Teen 9
ChildrenX2 value 242.49*
Artist: Number
Single 82
Duo 17
GroupX2 value 5424.76*
Artist: Performing 15
Edited 134
Entirely 26
Partially 73
Product Relevance
Direct 21
Indirect 30
NoneX2 value 10636.73*
Narrative Relevance
Direct 85
Indirect 39
None X2 value 3320.14*


























Table 4 shows the distribution of brands and Table 5 of artists in the ads with popular music. The most observed brand was Budweiser and the most observed artist was Led Zeppelin.

Table 4. Distribution of Unique Ads by Brands





Coca Cola




Bud Light








Diet Pepsi
















Fed Ex




Go Daddy




Mercedes Benz


Pepsi Max





Table 5. Distribution of Unique Ads by Artists



Led Zeppelin




Bill Withers


Chad & Jeremy


Cult & Flo rida






Gwen Stefani






Michael Jackson




Stevie Wonder


The Who


Bob Dylan


House of Pain


Quiet Riot




This study was designed to supplement and update the limited quantitative data analyzing popular music placement in prime-time television advertising. Based on the results, it appears that this executional cue has varied considerably in Super Bowl ads from 2005 to 2014 but risen consistently in the last three years. This is consistent with the growth of music in advertising outside of the Super Bowl, specifically 40% in 1986 (Stewart and Furse 1986), 75%  in 1989 (Huron, 1989), 89%  in 1993 (Appelbaum and Halliburton 1993) and 96% in 2008 (Allan 2008).  Additionally, this study was designed to provide a more robust qualitative analysis of popular music placement in television advertising. The results provide a glimpse of how advertisers are currently using popular music in Super Bowl commercials.

A very important observation from this study was that popular music was more likely to be relevant to the ad narrative than the brand in Super Bowl commercials. This is consistent with some research that suggests music was most effective when it “fit” the “central ad message”

(Macinnis and Park1991, 162), but seems to contradict other research that found that music was more impactful when the music, in some way, pertains to the product (Alpert and Alpert 1991; Brooker and Wheatley 1994). It does, however, suggest that advertisers are clearly using popular music to stimulate some type of emotion or personal relevance of the narrative to the consumer possibly triggering memories for significant life events or “episodic memories” (Tulving 1972); “flashbulb memories” (Brown and Kulik 1977);  leading to greater  involvement (Zaichkowsky 1994); all potentially resulting in a more central route to persuasion (Petty and Cacioppo 1986).

It should be noted that the cries of artist “sellout,” while diminished with the growth of popular music in advertising , have not been completely silenced. CNN reported that one tweet they received said that the Bob Dylan, Chrysler commercial was “disappointing and sad on so many levels, proof that there are very few not willing to sell out”(France 2014). Neil Young would certainly agree (see song “This Note’s For You”). But in Bob Dylan’s defense, if he is a ‘sellout,’ he has been at least been a consistent one, saying in 1965, when asked which ‘commercial interest’ he would sellout to Dylan replied, “Ladies’ garments” (Thompson 2014). Of course, he did eventually team up withVictoria’s Secret. So having a song in a Chobani Yogurt commercial (“I Want You”), and appearing in another with his song “Things Have Changed” (Chrysler) is not so surprising. What is surprising is that this is still considered ‘selling out.’ It is apparent that music in advertising is still the “most fretted-about music in history” (Huron 1989).  Whether you still think it is a “bankruptcy of culture” (McChesney 2001), or the “perfect marriage of art and commerce” (Allan 2006), it appears that popular music in Super Bowl advertising is here to stay. Maybe it’s a “Sign of the Times” as Prince might say. “In an iTunes era, big game-watchers may recognize more songs in Super Bowl ads than players on the field” (Horowitz 2014). Maybe the songs are better than the players.

Limitations and future research

While content analysis provides a thorough and objective report on how music is being used in Super Bowl advertising and how often, it is limited in its ability to provide any explanation for why it is used or its effectiveness. An understanding of the context in which music is being utilized, or confirmation of an  increased or decreased use of music in commercials by advertisers, does not necessarily mean that music has been determined by advertisers to be more or less effective than other executional cues. Additionally, although this study utilized a comparatively large sample of commercials, it is still just a snapshot of ten years of Super Bowl commercials. Additional studies and samples will allow more generalizations and conclusions. Despite its limitations, this study provides a foundation for the future research of music, especially popular music, in Super Bowl commercials.

Note: The author would like to personally thank Bill Daddi and Kantar Media for providing public access to the commercial logs from the past ten Super Bowls.



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