The Greatest Super Bowl Commercials of All Time: A Brief Retrospective
So it has happened that 2016’s historic Super Bowl 50 came and went. That’s also what happened with 2015’s Super Bowl. And 2004’s. And all the Super Bowls from the 90s. And 70s. In fact, they all come and go, don’t they? And while most of us won’t long remember which football team scored the most football points and won this year’s Super Bowl, many of us will long remember the great Super Bowl commercials.
Sure, you could sit back and watch every commercial from Super Bowl 50, or you could leave it to us to tell you that the best ad from the 2016 Super Bowl was created by Toyota. (Yes, this is subjective, so you can disagree, but you can’t actually prove yourself right… or us wrong.)
But frankly, if you watched Super Bowl 50 (during which the Denver Broncos scored the most football points, by the way) for the commercials, as it has become so chic to claim, you were largely wasting your time. There were some decent ads from the 2016 Super Bowl, and there were some profoundly disturbing (but oddly effective) spots…
…but there was nothing that, were this list being written in another year, we would have bothered to mention.
So to find the greatest Super Bowl commercials of all time, we’ll have to look back at Big Games past! Let’s start off with a magical time called… the Seventies!
Many people still consider this Coca-Cola commercial starring Mean Joe Greene and a charming youngster to be the best Super Bowl commercial of all time. Today’s audience doesn’t know Mean Joe’s reputation quite so well, but believe it when you hear it, this one struck a chord in 1979:
Now flash forward a scant five years. This commercial, released at a time when personal computers were still almost the stuff of fantasy, helped put Apple on the map in a way that lives up to the company’s current dominance of the tech world. The ad played off the year it was released and was inspired by the eponymous book and film, all of which were, of course, 1984:
Now, those commercials are both classics, sure. But they also both feel a bit dated, don’t they? There was something missing from a lot of the early Super Bowl commercials that was hit upon by Pepsi in the early 1990s. It was, in a word… sex. Or rather sex appeal:
And then look, the clever scamps did it again less than a decade later, turning to another young lady this time, the then wildly popular (and nineteen year old… we’re a weird society, right?) Brittany Spears:
Are either of those ads truly great? No, not really.
But they stuck in the larger American consciousness nonetheless, despite there being nothing clever, original, or all that interesting about them other than… sex appeal.
For a look at a brand that, until they started fabricating data on emissions, was very much on top of its game, we need to turn to Toyota. With a few exceptions, the last decade saw a string of Volkswagen Super Bowl commercials that were truly excellent. The company uses humor and charm in equal portions.
Let’s start with the absolute classic ad titled “The Force.”
And then move on to the 2013 VW commercial “Get Happy,” which is just hard to resist:
Now, the “Star Wars Kid” commercial, as it is usually called, does rank as one of the best of all time. But it’s not in the top three according to most polls. (What are the top two? Why, the first ones we mentioned above, of course.)
While this ad might seem blasé today, when it was released it was a true sensation. And it still ranks near the top among critics. Yep, it’s the Budweiser Frogs:
But you know what’s even more popular than frogs these days? Dogs. And puppies, to be specific. If there is one thing that has driven recent Super Bowl commercial ratings, it’s charming dogs. And it doesn’t really matter what these pooches are “selling,” but usually they’re selling beer:
Beyond the charming and beyond the “sex sells” there’s one other trend we have seen more and more advertisers turn to for their recent Super Bowl commercials: absurdist humor. All too often, it’s done terribly and comes off as a craven attempt at wit or comedy. Occasionally, though, it works perfectly. Case in point, the Super Bowl commercial that arguably launched the absurdist approach, the absolute classic “e-trade money” commercial from 2000: