Why Do Super Bowl Commercials Use So Many Classic Rock Songs?
Every year, the Super Bowl features some of the flashiest – and costliest – advertising on television. An abundance of these spots uses classic rock songs as their soundtracks.
The use of classic songs is more than just a trend. Studies have shown that the genre resonates with viewers more than any other music.
"Classic rock is commonly used in Super Bowl commercials because the genre lends itself to the competitive nature of the game, and the audience demographic of watchers skews towards the 35-to-64-year-olds who grew up with this music,” Steve Karpowicz, SVP of Group Licensing at global music licensing platform Songtradr, explains to UCR.
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Another factor is classic rock’s ability to span generations of fans, much like the Super Bowl itself.
“Classic rock tracks are also favored due to their iconic status and familiarity with the general population,” Karpowicz notes.
“These tracks are enjoyed by multiple generations, which further their applicability to Super Bowl commercials, which are often an ‘American holiday’ where family and friends of different ages participate."
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While advertisers reap the benefits of classic rock’s mass appeal, these commercials are also a boon to the artists themselves. Aside from the obvious licensing fees involved, artists see significant increases in their streaming numbers when their song gets used in a Super Bowl spot.
For example, Electric Light Orchestra’s 1973 hit “Showdown” was featured in a 2022 commercial for Michelob Ultra. According to data from Songtradr, the track saw a massive spike of 50,000 Shazams around the big game. Similar increases were evident for Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love,” used in a commercial for Peacock TV, and Wreckless Eric’s “Whole Wide World,” featured in a spot for Expedia.
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But what about those advertisers who want to appear new? While using a modern hit may seem like the smarter move, in reality, it is less impactful.
Songtradr’s data shows that new songs used in Super Bowl commercials see much smaller spikes in Shazam and streaming numbers compared to classic tracks.
“Yes, new music is hot and gets a lot of radio play and Spotify streams. But new music is also, well … new. Meaning fewer people have heard it. That makes it less recognizable,” noted the company’s report. Conversely, a decades-old classic rock song can provide a greater impact. “Used correctly, a classic song in a TV commercial can be just as effective as a celebrity endorsement, where the 'star' is the song.”