If you’re watching the Super Bowl, you’re likely interested in at least one of at least three different things. You might be watching for the game itself, which is often exciting and is the culmination of months of football. You might be watching for the halftime show, which also varies in quality but is always worth discussing. Or, you might be watching for the Super Bowl commercials (you could also just be hanging around for the food).
Indeed, major corporations shell out huge amounts of money to debut ads during the Super Bowl, and it’s typically where the most prominent ads of the year are produced. Over the years, we’ve seen some truly great Super Bowl ads, as well as some genuinely awful ones. Here are the five best Super Bowl commercials ever, along with the four worst.
Advertising has to be pretty excellent to have a lasting legacy 40 years after it was first released, and that’s definitely true for “1984.” This commercial, which was created to tease MacIntosh, was an ad for an unsuccessful product. Even so, its invocation of the novel 1984, alongside a massive budget and direction from Ridley Scott, made such an impact, partly because it wasn’t nearly as literal as most advertising of its era.
GoDaddy has a long and horrific history of creating ads that fuel the fantasy of the worst boy you know. In this particular low moment, they created a “sexy” ad in which two teenage boys find that they can control race car driver Danica Patrick through their computer. We truly have no idea what that has to do with purchasing domains for your websites.
This ad was so good that it single-handedly created Space Jam. In it, Bugs Bunny recruits Michael Jordan to help him get revenge on some basketball players who have been bullying him. The ad feels very much like the ’90s, but it had a major cultural impact and was part of Michael’s general expansion into areas outside the game. Michael was already one of the most dominant players in the history of basketball, but ads like this helped him become an even bigger icon.
Look, if FTX and the broader crypto movement had been a real thing, this ad could have been on the other side of this list. Instead, this ad, in which Larry David proclaims that he doesn’t understand various revolutionary technologies and culminates with him saying the same thing about crypto, feels like it was the final warning sign before the apocalypse. FTX collapsed about a year later, and we’re all still dealing with the fallout.
As if the movie Cast Away wasn’t enough of an advertisement for FedEx (and one of the best Tom Hanks movies), the company itself decided to take advantage of the movie a few years after it was released. This time, the man stranded on the island delivers his package after a five-year delay, only to discover that the package had everything he might have needed to survive on the island, including a satellite phone, a fishing rod, and some seeds for good measure. It’s a beautiful punchline.
You have to appreciate the big swing, but killing off Mr. Peanut, the bespectacled mascot behind Planters, was so deeply bizarre that it never had the intended effect. It may have gotten people talking, which you could argue means it was a success, but it’s unclear whether any of that success translated to sales, and people were so mad about the campaign that they ultimately had to resurrect a mascot they seemed to be planning on killing forever.
Typically, the most successful Super Bowl ads are memorable because they’re funny, but in the case of “Brotherhood,” Budweiser decided to go a more emotional route, and the results speak for themselves. Telling the story of the bond between a horse and his trainer, the ad manages to capture the feeling of the very best movies about a bond between animal and man. It also features a Clydesdale, Budweiser’s signature animal, meaning that it’s a weepy and hugely successful piece of advertising.
An ad so insane it feels like it didn’t really exist, this Pepsi ad, which was released amid Black Lives Matter protests during the Trump administration, seemed to suggest that the reason cops and protesters were at each other’s throats was because neither side had been offered a Pepsi by Kendall Jenner. The concept of the ad is so ludicrous on its face, and it’s the rare ad that manages to be offensive to pretty much anyone who has an opinion on racial justice in America, regardless of what that opinion actually is.
One of the more brilliant campaigns of recent years came when it felt like Tide had completely taken over the Super Bowl. It parodied every kind of ad under the sun before David Harbour would interject to tell the viewer that this was actually an ad for Tide. It was a brilliant campaign that gave a pretty unexciting product a new way to reach its audience. On top of all that, the clothes in every ad parody were always spotless, thanks to Tide’s cleaning power. It was a brilliant, hooky campaign, so smart it’s amazing someone hadn’t already thought of it.
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