The Greatest Super Bowl Commercials of All Time
For nearly as long as there's been a Super Bowl, the commercials that air during the monumental event's ad breaks have been some of the biggest, most star-studded and influential commercials to ever be broadcast.
Because of the sheer number of viewers tuning in to watch the big game, networks airing the Super Bowl have been able to charge advertisers exorbitant rates. In 2019, the cost of a 30-second ad slot ranged from $5.1 million to $5.3 million, and that's not including the cost of making the ad itself.
So, to make sure their millions don't go to waste, companies go all-out trying to make the funniest, most emotional or most outrageous ads to generate buzz, and over the years, some companies have been remarkably more successful than others.
In celebration of the slew of high-profile, celebrity-filled ads headed our way at this year's big game, we're taking a look back at the greatest Super Bowl ads of all time -- many of which went on to leave indelible marks in pop culture and are fondly remembered decades later.
Old Spice: "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like"
Old Spice changed the advertising game with this brilliant, kinetic and hilarious campaign that aired during Super Bowl XLIV in 2010. Starring Isaiah Mustafa as The Man Your Man Could Smell Like, the commercial begins with the suave, shirtless hero standing in a bathroom, before the room falls away to reveal he's actually on a beach, and before you know it, "I'm on a horse." The ad cemented itself in popular culture and not only led to dozens of follow-up ads, but innumerable parodies.
Coca-Cola: "Hey Kid, Catch!"
As part of the soda titan's wholesome, Americana-packed late 1970s ad campaign, "Have a Coke and a Smile," this iconic ad -- which famously aired during Super Bowl XIV in 1980, despite debuting in late 1979 -- starred the Pittsburgh Steelers' "Mean" Joe Greene who is offered a bottle of Coke by a young fan after sustaining an injury during a big game. After drinking the soda, Greene makes the kid's day by throwing him his game jersey. It's simple, it's iconic and is ingrained in TV history.
Volkswagen: "The Force"
By mixing an adorable child, a loving dad and Star Wars, Volkswagen hit all the right notes with this sweet and funny commercial for their new Passat. The ad, which premiered during Super Bowl XLV in 2011, features a young child in full Darth Vader costume trying to use his Force powers on different objects around his house. He eventually ends up in the driveway and is stunned when it seems like he successfully used the Force to magically start his dad's car -- while in reality, his parents were watching through the kitchen window and his father had clicked a remote key button, leaving his little boy stunned.
Bud Light & HBO: "Joust"
While this ad hasn't had to stand the test of time like many other iconic Super Bowl commercials, its tonal blend of comedy and gritty darkness makes it unlike anything viewers had seen before. Airing during Super Bowl LIII in 2019, the commercial begins as an ad for Bud Light and features the Bug Knight -- a knight in blue-and-silver armor adorned with the beer's logo, competing in a jousting tournament. The goofiness of the ad takes a hard left turn into terror, however, when he's defeated by a towering opponent implied to be The Mountain from Game of Thrones, who proceeds to crush his skull before dragons descend on the tournament and rain fire on everyone. Halfway through, the goofy Bud Light ad became a startling GoT ad, and no one was ready for it.
McDonald's: "The Showdown"
It's hard to imagine two bigger sports stars of their day appearing together in a commercial, but McDonald's managed to get Michael Jordan and Larry Bird to face off in this beloved commercial spot that first aired, in two parts, during Super Bowl XXVII in 1993. The simple set-up sees Bird challenging Jordan to a shoot-off for his Big Mac, and the loser has to watch the winner eat. After neither manages to one-up the other, Jordan turns to the camera and jokes, "I think we're gonna be here a while, I suggest you go get a Big Mac."
If you really want your Super Bowl commercial to stand out, one way to help make that happen is to hire Ridley Scott to direct it. This flat-out legendary ad -- which aired nationally only once during Super Bowl XVIII in 1984 -- was inspired by the dystopian world of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and features a Big Brother-esque character speaking to a room full of gray-clad seemingly brainwashed minions. Then, a woman dressed in bright white and orange runs into the dour, gray, industrial room and hurls a sledgehammer through the giant screen. The message: Apple Computers are coming to save the world from homogenized conformity. Irony aside, the ad has gone on to become one of the most acclaimed commercials of all time.
Snickers: "Betty White"
This ad launched Snickers' "You're not you when you're hungry" campaign and is credited with revitalizing the brand's entire image. The ad aired during Super Bowl XLIV in 2010, and it featured a group of people playing flag football on a muddy field. One player named Mike, played by Betty White, gets tackled hard. After getting up, White's character is chided for "playing like Betty White," to which she shoots back, "That's not what your girlfriend says!" As it turns out, all Mike needed to regain his energy was a Snickers bar. The ad was a huge hit, and it's almost entirely because White is a comedic national treasure.
Budweiser: "Puppy Love"
This one commercial made millions of Super Bowl fans yell at no one in particular, "No, I'm not crying! You're the one who's crying! Don't look at me!" This deeply touching ad pulled at the heartstrings of everyone watching Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014, and it tells the story of the bond of friendship between a puppy and a Clydesdale horse that knows no bounds. Whether the goal was to take people on an emotional journey or simply get people to drink away their feelings, it's an undeniably effective commercial.
Wendy's: "Where's the Beef?"
During Super Bowl XVIII in 1984, advertising history was made when three octogenarians standing around a hamburger asked a question that would live on in the collective American consciousness for decades: "Where's the beef?" The Wendy's ad was meant to imply that, while the "Whopper" and "Big Mac" might look bigger, it's all because of the bun, whereas Wendy's square patties meant more meat, even in the "hamburger we modestly call our 'Single.'" It went on to be a game-changer for Wendy's and left an indelible mark on the advertising landscape.
Chrysler: "It's Halftime in America"
While many companies opt for humor or heartfelt schmaltz or just sex appeal, Chrysler took a bold risk by making an ad that featured a grizzled Clint Eastwood rasping at viewers about how America is on the precipice of total collapse. It's a harrowing and downright depressing ad that ends with a message of hope, but also fear. And somehow it's supposed to make us want to buy American-made cars. Either way, the ad was effective, and earned pop culture's true stamp of approval: It was parodied by SNL almost immediately, with Bill Hader doing his best impression of Eastwood to date.
Pepsi: "Just One Look"
For their Super Bowl XXVI ad back in 1992, Pepsi made viewers aware of two things: Cindy Crawford is absolutely drop-dead gorgeous, and so were their newly redesigned Pepsi cans. The ad, set to Doris Troy's "Just One Look," features Crawford getting out of her car at a rural gas station and buying a can of soda from a machine, while two young boys ogle her from the bushes. However, it turns out they are really staring at the Pepsi can, which is somehow weirder. Either way, Crawford later revealed that even two decades after the ad, people still routinely tell her how much they love the iconic commercial.
Super Bowl LIV kicks off at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, on Sunday, Feb. 2 at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT, and airs on Fox.
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