Rihanna ended her electrifying first live performance in seven years suspended high above the State Farm Stadium field, singing her hit “Diamonds,” as both the live audience and the internet screamed its approval.
Let’s flashback to last year. When the opportunity presented itself for Apple to consider sponsoring the Super Bowl halftime show, the decision on whether to do it was immediate. “We didn’t have any hesitation, the minute we talked about it,” says Apple’s vice president of marketing, Tor Myhren. “It was one conversation.”
Pepsi dropped its halftime show sponsorship last May after a decade-long run that had its ups (Beyoncé!) and downs (Maroon 5!). Does anyone remember who had the sponsorship before Pepsi? Don’t tread on me: It was Bridgestone, the tire company. So, this year marked the first time ever that a halftime music sponsor would be a brand that actually has products related to, ya know, music.
“It felt like a no brainer, to be honest,” says Oliver Schusser, vice president of Apple Music and Beats. “It felt really natural for us, and it felt like the right moment for us. There’s not much more science behind it than that.”
When it was first announced that Apple signed its $250 million, multi-year halftime show deal with the NFL, Myhren and Schusser knew the opportunity in front of them.
“The Super Bowl halftime show is probably the most valuable 12 minutes of media in the world,” says Myhren. “What we wanted to do is take that 12 minutes and stretch it out into many weeks in terms of the excitement around it. And clearly, in Rihanna, we had the perfect partner.”
Schusser says that if you make a list of the biggest music moments in the year, this is by far the biggest one. (Yes, I know the Grammys were a week earlier. I also know only 12.4 million people tuned in.) “We thought what we do as a music service, with the talent we have, the technology we have, the global reach, we thought we could make this a much richer experience.”
Over the past few weeks, Apple has rolled out content, marketing, and features tied to Rihanna’s Super Bowl star turn: a trio of stylish spots, all based on Rihanna songs. Shazam downloads of Rihanna-themed wallpaper and watch screens. (Did you remember that Apple owns Shazam?) Apple Music radio has produced new shows such as Halftime Hype Radio, a 10-part series reflecting on some of the most notable Super Bowl halftime performances of all time, and Rihanna Revisited Radio, an eight-episode roundtable exploring the star’s cultural impact. Apple Music also worked with Rihanna over the past year to remix and remaster her entire catalog in order to be available in 360-degree spatial audio.
“This felt like something we were already quite good at—we operate radio studios 24/7 producing great radio content—and Tor and his team do great marketing,” says Schusser. “If you think about what they do for Apple keynotes, we thought we could take something that’s already very good, and make it better, longer, more global, upgraded with technology and our style and taste. Just compare this year’s press conference to last year’s, and you can see the difference.”
All of the brand’s content and product features surrounding the Super Bowl halftime work also give the company an incredibly high-profile opportunity to attract new subscribers, retain existing ones, and woo people to its products. The marketing approach to the Super Bowl treated the halftime show like exactly that: a new Apple product.
“As a company, one thing we’ve been historically really good at is anticipation, mystery, and the unveil,” says Myhren. “If you look at the cadence of what we’ve done over the past few weeks, you’ve built this anticipation—the mysterious trailer, up to the final spot, to the press conference—the reveal is gradual and fun. We do that with our products, too. There’s anticipation and mystery behind what it’s going to be, and hopefully over the past several weeks we’ve helped to build even more anticipation for Rihanna’s first live performance in seven years.”
A few months ago, Myhren and his team presented their idea for the halftime show campaign to Rihanna over dinner. “She loved the overarching concept of taking individual songs and telling a story with them in the way only Apple could,” says Myhren.
“Stay” was first, featuring hardcore NFL fans singing the 2012 hit. Then came “Diamonds,” featuring jeweler to the stars A$AP Eva. Finally, there was “Run This Town,” depicting a young Rihanna and featuring some people who grew up on her same street in Barbados. The latter hit 42 million views in less than 24 hours, and all three garnered 120 million online views within a week.
Myhren says that first dinner led to many more. Rihanna was a constant collaborator, with Apple’s marketing team sending her dailies of the spots and getting notes from the artist. “She definitely had some really great input to make them even better,” he says. “For the first trailer, she loved the concept of taking sound clips from real radio shows and podcasts questioning whether she’s ever going to return. You see that piece, and it’s her hair and dress that stand out, and that was all Rihanna. She comes into these things with a very strong point of view, and I think you can see it in the work and the show.”
The biggest challenge for Apple Music in all of this, says Schusser, was time. “Had we had more time we would’ve done even more here, but this is a longer term relationship and we decided early on to focus on a few things and make them great,” says Schusser. “We’ve got Las Vegas next year, and New Orleans the year after, so there’s a lot more to do.”