The Best Super Bowl Commercials of All Time
The evolution of the Super Bowl commercial has been one of the most interesting things to watch in pop culture since the mid-1980s.
Yes, movie stars and cultural references have always been around. But since a certain ad debuted in 1984, Super Bowl commercials have trended in the direction of Hollywood storytelling—with the budgets to match. Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch reported the cost of a 30-second spot in the 2018 Super Bowl will be north of $5 million.
In recent years, akin to how the prevalence of game film and information about football has made it more accessible, ad companies have pulled back the secretive veil and started doing something unthinkable even 10 years ago: releasing commercials early or allocating a budget on a trailer for a commercial that will air during the game.
The following chronicles the journey we've traveled thus far in the world of Super Bowl commercials, as these are the best of all time—so far.
Honorable Mention—Budweiser: Whassup? (1999)
Budweiser has had some blockbuster offerings during the Super Bowl, to say the least. The first Budweiser campaign on this list—an honorable mention because the initial offering in the series didn't technically air during a Super Bowl—has its own Wikipedia page, which should tell readers all they need to know about its popularity and staying power.
The first Whassup ad blessed televisions everywhere during a Monday Night Football game. But seeing the storm approach on the horizon, the ad team smartly produced this comical Super Bowl follow-up that helped propel the campaign for a total of three years.
The campaign itself ended up winning awards in the advertising, which seems silly, yet that's the point—the product itself was hardly in your face as a focal point of the ad.
Genius, and something ad companies everywhere learned from moving forward—as well as something we couldn't ignore on an all-time list.
9. Budweiser: Singing Frogs (1995)
This is the second ad that became a cultural force that created a bevy of spinoffs and left competitors smacking their foreheads because they were so simple.
The famous Frogs ad was a play on simplistic syllables that created an advertising-campaign monster for years to come, giving Budweiser some breathing room before it too started going the Hollywood route. Other epics like the 9/11 tribute and Puppy Love, among many others, were made possible down the road thanks to the staying power of something like singing frogs.
Plus, it had singing frogs. Easy.
8. E-Trade: Talking Baby (2008)
"A, don't worry about it, ya know, I just look young, you don't know how old I am, and B, I use E-Trade."
There's something special about being talked down to by a baby who's pitching you a product, which is what made E-Trade's juggernaut of an ad campaign such a success.
So much so, in fact, that the E-Trade baby made an appearance in ads during six consecutive Super Bowls.
Babies, puppies and cute stuff like that tend to help a campaign along. A talking baby is a step up from a frog, though.
7. Old Spice: The Man Your Man Could Smell Like (2010)
"I'm on a horse."
Welcome to the dawn of Super Bowl ads that resembled internet memes.
This Old Spice body wash offering looked like it was shot with YouTube-level production, which isn't a bad thing considering the ad's young target audience.
Those funny, unique Old Spice spots, which are still running, had to start somewhere. The juggernaut of a campaign found its footing here. The brand elbowed into a niche in a way many have tried to emulate in the years since, though the original remains atop the hill.
6. Snickers: Betty White (2010)
Watching Betty White seemingly get leveled on a football field before she proclaims, "Come on man, you've been riding me all day," and throws down a girlfriend joke made for must-see television.
Snickers hit on a ton of quality ideas for the "You're not you when you're hungry" tagline that dominated television sets for years. White's cameo is the most memorable, as the 88-year-old football participant started a snowballing trend of celebrities who appeared in the spots.
All of the top Super Bowl commercials have immense staying power, though something about seeing White get clobbered sticks out to this day and won't get bumped off an all-time list for decades, if ever.
5. Pepsi: Your Cheatin' Heart (1996)
"Your Cheatin' Heart" by Hank Williams and a rival delivery guy who gets busted cheating on the drink he delivers to stores?
Perfection in commercial form.
The action itself in this one is a comedy: disastrous for the guy involved, hilarious for the rest of us.
Perhaps more importantly, remember things like the Mac vs. PC ads? This was a risky play by Pepsi, but it paid off in a big way and started a trend of competitors that mentioned each other directly in high-stakes ads.
Everybody won with the development, with an assist from one disloyal delivery guy and a country music legend.
4. Coca-Cola: "Mean" Joe Greene (1980)
Pepsi isn't the only soda (or pop, for those of us who prefer a different term) that has thrown down heavyweight ads in prime Super Bowl slots.
Coca-Cola has plenty of offerings we could list, but the one that sticks out the most is arguably the most simplistic. "Mean" Joe Greene's "hey kid, catch" is iconic to this day.
This ad was so powerful that NBC later produced a movie called The Steeler and the Pittsburgh Kid, though the lasting image of the ad itself and the storytelling element broke barriers for the industry, spurring an advancement.
Nowadays a strong emotional story in an ad isn't uncommon, but like Greene himself in the trenches, this one was a trailblazer.
3. Volkswagen: The Force (2011)
A commercial with Star Wars elements, if done properly, is bound to end up on all-time lists.
Volkswagen was smart enough to trot out a mini Darth Vader for a display of the Force. The concept is simple enough; someone who saw the new remote start technology in action probably quipped that it was like the Force, and here we are.
But the story goes even deeper. This was Volkswagen's big return to the Super Bowl advertising scene, a booming re-debut of a new era for the company. It also helped start the trend of the early release.
Star Wars, a good story, a superb return and the beginning of the biggest trend in modern Super Bowl ads. What's not to like?
2. McDonald's: Larry Bird vs. Michael Jordan Showdown (1993)
Even today, it's hard for a Super Bowl commercial to come up with this much star power in an ad.
Granted, it's a bit silly for Michael Jordan and Larry Bird to fight it out over a Big Mac, but when two of the most beloved sporting figures of all time do anything together, it's bound to turn heads.
Not only is this a fun ad, but there's important context we could easily overlook: Two basketball players stole the show during football's biggest event of the year.
Most commercials aren't bold enough to do something like this these days, though we'd have to wonder if MJ and Bird would want to give it another go.
1. Apple: 1984 (1984)
Apple. The introduction of the Macintosh computer. A promise of innovation and individuality. Ridley Scott at the controls of a movie-like commercial decades before it became a thing. All wrapped in overtones of George Orwell's 1984.
Epic, to say the least.
Hindsight works wonders on most anything and certainly works overtime here given Apple's status now, though this one made waves even at the time for its vibes during the Cold War. Combine it with redefining the modern jingle ad into something so much more, and the majority of today's top ads have this one to thank for shattering the known ceiling at the time.
This one received all of one national play, during the Super Bowl in 1984. It's since been solidified as the best ever and a blueprint for others to follow.