Excitement. Boredom. Nausea. Confusion.
Wherever you fall on the spectrum of feelings about the annual parade of Super Bowl commercials, you’ve probably seen at least one that’s captured your attention over the years. As marketers, we’ve watched as trends in sentiments have changed: from sex sells, to playing with emotions, to flat out confusion.
With the big game looming and this year’s theme still a mystery (Will comedy reign? Will humanitarian efforts rise to the top?), we decided to take a look back on some of the Super Bowl ads that changed our minds (and sometimes our hearts) about branding for big events.
Super Bowl Advertisements Hall of Fame
To enter our Super Bowl commercial hall of fame, an ad must do 1 of 3 things:
- Generate success through sales and brand awareness on a massive scale
- Help people remember the advertised brand or product rather than just the commercial
- Use humor or emotion that helps people recall the message
So, with that in mind, let’s see which commercials have scored a touchdown (sorry, not sorry for that).
1. Budweiser’s Puppy Love
Let’s start with the feels. Every year, Budweiser comes out with a Super Bowl commercial that inevitably tugs at our heartstrings. In 2014, Puppy Love stole the show and some hearts in the process.
Not only does this ad do a wonderful job playing off the iconic Budweiser Clydesdales—adding an adorable puppy to boot—they also created a custom hashtag (#BestBuds) that inevitably made the audience say, “Aww,” and brought them into the brand conversation. It brings just the right amount of sentiment to elicit a wonderful, emotional response.
2. The Showdown from McDonald’s
In 1993, just before Super Bowl XXVII, two basketball legends appeared in a now-classic commercial for McDonald’s. Larry Bird challenges Michael Jordan to play him for his Big Mac. The contest quickly escalates from regular court shots to trick shots that fly through windows, bounce off scoreboards, and cross expressways.
This commercial was an instant classic and helped align McDonald’s with two of the most popular sporting names of the time. Not to mention that dozens of parodies have been made since 1993, ensuring that brand awareness stays front and center for McDonald’s.
3. “Where’s the Beef?” from Wendy’s
Featuring three sprightly older ladies, this commercial’s now-famous line “Where’s the beef?” took direct aim at the Big Mac from McDonald’s and the Whopper from Burger King for having a lot of bun and very little beef. Aired in 1984, this commercial was part of an extremely successful campaign that led to a record $76.2 million in sales for Wendy’s during 1985.
4. Reebok’s Terry Tate: Official Linebacker
In 2003, Reebok aired this hilarious commercial that featured Lester Speight as a fictional linebacker—Terry Tate—who was brought in to boost workplace productivity. During the commercial Tate tackles, throws, chases, and yells at employees, all while a serene company CEO lauds the decision to bring him onto the team.
While the commercial became an instant hit, it didn’t quite rack up the sales numbers that Reebok was hoping for. Still, they’ve received incredible brand exposure for their efforts.
5. Volkswagen’s The Force
In 2011, Volkswagen scored a massive win when they combined their brand with the ultimate childhood duo: Star Wars and a child’s imagination. The commercial was a resounding success and set the precedent for modern-day Super Bowl commercials when Volkswagen released it 4 days before the big game—unheard of at the time.
By the time kickoff rolled around, The Force had racked up 17 million views on YouTube and continued to climb from there. Mike Sheldon, CEO of Deutsch North America, said that the commercial “paid for itself before it ever ran.”
6. Doritos’ Goat 4 Sale
Hands down one of the funniest Super Bowl commercials ever to air, Doritos hit it out of the park with their Goat 4 Sale commercial in 2013. In a public Nielson vote, it was even named the #1 Super Bowl ad of the year.
The 30-second commercial is one of the most memorable Super Bowl ads of all time and was the product of Doritos’ Crash the Super Bowl contest which had fans vote on five user-created commercials. The top two finalists’ commercials were both aired during game.
7. Snickers’ Betty White
You almost can’t go wrong with a Betty White commercial—seriously, who doesn’t love Betty White? As part of their You’re not you when you’re hungry campaign, Snickers aired this 2010 commercial featuring Betty White playing football with a bunch of young guys. After being tackled to the ground, Betty eats a Snickers bar and transforms into the title character’s true self, Mike.
The commercial was so popular that White herself credits it for some of her best professional opportunities.
8. Coca-Cola’s Mean Joe Greene
“Hey kid, catch!” Who hasn’t heard that line before? In 1979, Coca-Cola ran this iconic commercial during Super Bowl XIV. Featuring Mean Joe Greene, one of the NFL’s greatest defensemen, the ad cleverly created one of TV’s most heartwarming commercial moments by pairing a 9-year-old, starry-eyed boy with one of the NFL’s biggest tough guys.
The ad went on to win multiple awards and was recognized as “a pivotal moment in bringing black athletes to the national forum,” according to Greene himself.
9. Apple’s 1984 Commercial for Macintosh
Unexpected? Yes. Effective? Absolutely. In 1984, Apple created what is widely considered the best Super Bowl ad in history. The tagline—“Why 1984 won’t be like 1984”—played off George Orwell’s dystopian novel and earned rave reviews.
More importantly, the commercial was influential in driving $155 million in Macintosh sales during the 3 months after the Super Bowl.
The 2008 Super Bowl featured one of the funniest and most unexpected commercials in the history of the big game. E-Trade aired an ad featuring a talking baby who goes on a 30-second spiel about how everyone thinks he’s a baby because he looks like a baby.
The ad used the perfect amount of irony and humor to create a nearly flawless combination.
Tell Us Which Super Bowl Commercials You’re Looking Forward to Seeing
This year’s Super Bowl commercials look promising so far. Some of the ones we’re excited about are:
- Skittles—this could be one of the most unique releases of a Super Bowl commercial we’ve ever seen. Only one person will ever see the actual commercial, but the rest of us have already been treated to a variety of clever teasers, featuring David Schwimmer in a series of bizarre situations.
- Budweiser—they have a way of creating commercials with great emotional appeal, and it looks like this year’s ad will be no different. The big change here is that the famed Budweiser Clydesdales won’t be making an appearance. That’s probably because this commercial will be focused on Budweiser’s charitable efforts—namely, providing clean drinking water as disaster relief to areas affected by Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Maria, and the California wildfires.
- Doritos & Mountain Dew—because who doesn’t love Morgan Freeman and Peter Dinklage? The two mega-brands have been teasing this commercial for weeks now and we can’t wait to see what they’ve got in store.
Have fun this weekend, enjoy the big game, but, more importantly, watch the commercials!