Variety reports today that Apple selected Vulfpeck, a band “best-known in industry circles for gaming Spotify to raise money for a tour,” to provide the music for a recent Apple Pay commercial — a feat that gave its song $22.5 million in paid TV exposure. The selection is said to be part of an Apple shift back towards licensing music for ads, a strategy that worked wonders for both musicians and the company during the iPod era.
Describing Apple’s process as “legendarily mercurial,” Variety explains that Apple approached Vulfpeck’s music licensing agency only a month before the commercial aired, hoping to use parts of the song “Back Pocket” for an unnamed project. But the company was quietly planning something big for the track: Rather than just running a snippet of the song quietly in the background, Apple tailored its entire minute-long ad around it. Apple Pay chimes and the song weave through each of a young man’s transactions as he shops for clothes and gifts in an outdoor market.
As the report notes, Apple has recently returned to featuring little-known music in its ads, a practice that in the early 2000s launched both songs and musicians’ careers. In the past 15 months, Apple ad buys have pushed Marian Hill, Sofi Tukker, and Anderson .Paak tracks into the spotlight, the latter in a well-received Spike Jonze-directed HomePod commercial.
Though Variety says that Vulfpeck didn’t know its song had been used until the ad debuted, the selection doesn’t seem purely coincidental. In 2014, the band famously exploited streaming music leader Spotify’s royalty system to finance a tour, asking fans to repeatedly play a completely silent 10-song album overnight as they slept. Apple — now Spotify’s largest competitor — subsequently reached out to the band, licensing its music for “a couple spots” before this one.
In addition to the song’s “prime” exposure during CBS’s March Madness basketball coverage and NBC’s live performance of Jesus Christ Superstar, the band says its social media chatter and Spotify streams have both picked up — somewhat ironically, just in time for a new tour planned for late April. “Back Pocket” is also available on Apple’s rival service, Apple Music, should you prefer to stream it there.