Memorable Super Bowl ads through the years
Remember the Budweiser Frogs? Now, remember who won the Super Bowl in 1995, the year they were introduced? When it comes to the Super Bowl and Super Bowl commercials, it would seem the former gets watched and discussed the next day, while the latter are talked about for years by fans and non-fans alike. Over the game’s history, the cost of a 30-second spot has soared from $42,000 to millions of dollars. To many, the commercials have become an event unto themselves, with big budgets, major stars and dazzling visual effects. Here are some of the most memorable from Super Bowl history.
MINI Clubman: “Defy Labels”
Serena Williams, Abby Wambach, Tony Hawk and others urge drivers to forget what they think they know about the cutest little car on the road. For the coup de grâce, they send in the Wolf — Harvey Keitel — to assure us that “this car doesn’t care what you call it.”
Snickers: “The Brady Bunch”
“Hangry” has a whole new meaning when Danny Trejo is involved. Especially Danny Trejo with an axe. The commercial revisits the classic “Brady Bunch” episode where Marcia’s nose is injured when Peter accidentally hits her with a football. Juxtaposing Trejo as Marcia is already comedic gold but the ad pushes it one step further by featuring Steve Buscemi as Jan who has a (possibly hunger induced) jealousy fit of her own.
No More: “Listen”
Things turned serious during No More’s public service ad addressing the continuing problem of domestic violence and sexual assault that Times TV critic Mary McNamara called “the single most important thing on television this year.” In this powerful ad, the camera pans over an empty home that starts off seeming completely normal and pleasant, but as the audio of an emergency call made by a woman unable to directly state her situation is heard, the images shown start to show signs that not all is right in this household. The ad explains to viewers that when those trapped in a cycle of violence are unable to explicitly state their situation, it’s up to us to notice the signs that are there for those looking and listening.
Nationwide: “Invisible Mindy Kaling”
In this ad, actress Mindy Kaling is shown trying to hail a cab that ignores her and drives on. “After years of being treated like she was invisible, it occured to Mindy she might actually be invisible,” says the narrator, before Kaling is shown doing all kinds of silly things as if she does have the power of invisibility, culminating in her attempt to kiss Matt Damon. In addition to being a funny insurance commercial that relies on Kaling’s comedic strengths, this ad also makes viewers think twice (whether intentional or not) about the status and visibilty of women, especially women of color, in society and entertainment.
Always reminds us of the power of language in this ad that points out that for some reason, when people are bad at sports (or any other physical activity) they are often told they’re doing something “like a girl,” which is insulting to girls and detrimental to their confidence. The ad instead inspires viewers to reclaim the phrase so that doing anything “like a girl,” and even being “like a girl,” is something amazing.
Microsoft pulled some heartstrings with its 2014 offering, showcasing how technology has affected and improved people’s quality of life. From a father being able to witness his child’s birth to a live video chat to a young child up at bat on two prosthetic legs. It’s hard not to get a little misty-eyed while watching these scenes unfold as former NFL player Steve Gleason, who lives with ALS, explains how technology “gives hope to the hopeless” then looks down at his young son.
Coca-Cola: “Big Game”
Coca-Cola caused an uproar with this understated ad celebrating America and embracing diversity. The commercial features various people and families in scenes from everyday life drinking Coca-Cola while “America the Beautiful” is sung in the background. Some people took offense at the patriotic tune’s being sung in nine languages throughout the course of the ad.
T-Mobile: “No Contract”
Looks like not having an NFL contract actually helped Tim Tebow make it to the Super Bowl. The former NFL player and two-time BCS championship winning quarterback made the most of his situation with this two-part commercial that highlighted all the things he was able to do because he was not tied down by any contracts.
Budweiser: “Puppy Love”
Ah, the unwavering love between a puppy and a Budweiser Clydesdale horse. Budweiser packs an emotional punch in this ad by not just featuring a cute puppy, but having that cute puppy care for his friend the Clydesdale horse so much that he keeps breaking out of his fenced in yard next door to play with the much larger animal. The Clydesdale makes use of his size and shows that the puppy’s affections are reciprocated when he chases after the car that is attempting to take the puppy away.
Radio Shack: “The ‘80s called”
It was out with the old, in with the new, with the help of the old in this Radio Shack ad that took the retailer’s dated image head on. Actual ‘80s icons including Hulk Hogan, Sgt. Slaughter, Mary Lou Retton, Dee Snider, Erik Estrada, Chucky and Alf raid a Radio Shack store clearing it of everything before speeding off in a DeLorean, leaving the store no choice but to embrace the future. Will there be a sequel one day?
Budweiser: “Clydesdale Brotherhood”
Budweiser’s Clydesdale horses made their traditional Super Bowl appearance in this commercial that depicts the unbreakable bond and affection between a horse and his trainer in one of Budweiser’s more touching offerings.
Taco Bell: “Viva Young”
Taco Bell entertains the age-old question of what happens after lights-out at retirement homes in this spot. Seniors are shown skinny-dipping, clubbing, joyriding and getting tattoos during the night, all set to a rendition of Fun.’s “We Are Young” in Spanish. The forever young delinquents end their evening with a trip to Taco Bell. Watch the commercial here.
Oreo: “Whisper Fight”
Oreo kicked off its “cookie vs. creme” campaign with this ad during the Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh Super Bowl in 2013. The library setting contrasted with the over-the-top execution of grown adults fighting over which part of the iconic cookie is best makes the ad a winner. This Oreo spot was also the first Super Bowl commercial to promote a brand’s Instagram account. Watch the commercial here.
Volkswagen: “Bark Side of the Moon”
This isn’t a commercial, but a teaser trailer for what will be a commercial. But it’s also a sequel, as Volkswagen here has promised viewers a follow-up to its boy Vader ad from last year. But what does it mean? Are there Jedi dog trainers instilling “The Imperial March” in puppies the world over? Are these dogs about to embark on an intergalactic war with cats? Does it have anything to do with cars? Such questions, in the era of the DVR, are the point. Just try, if you will, to skip over pets in “Stars Wars” costumes. Click here to view the ad.
Audi: “#soLong Vampires”
Audi’s on the vampire bandwagon. Yes, this seemingly “Twilight”-inspired ad where O-positive blood is to vampires as PBR is to hipsters proves that an Audi is the best car to drive to a netherworld bash … just remember to turn off your headlights.
Honda: “Matthew Broderick’s day off”
In a much-hyped 2012 Super Bowl spot that mimics the 1986 classic “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” actor Matthew Broderick dusts off his role as a genius prankster. Yes, it’s the old fake flu routine all over again, this time to con his agent into taking an epic sick day that crams roller coasters, horse races, history museums and Chinese parades into one afternoon. One standout difference: no Cameron. Oh, and no Porsche. This time his ride is a bit more economical — the new Honda CR-V.
The Soup Nazi is back, and this time there’s soup for you — well, if you’re first on the list for the new Acura NSX, that is. Jerry Seinfeld will do anything, really anything, for the first of Acura’s concept car. He pulls a ridiculous New York City zip line stunt, stirs up the last living munchkin, and does stand-up at a family dinner. Despite his best effort to keep this scattered ad afloat, Seinfeld loses it all to Leno.
Volkswagen: “Use the force”
It might be time to retire X-wings, TIE fighters and the Millennium Falcon. If the rash of Super Bowl commercials is to be believed, Jedi and Sith now commute in Volkswagens. In this precursor to 2012’s canine chorus in “The Bark Side” and the Mos Eisley cantina scene in “The Dog Strikes Back,” this first VW-Star Wars mashup features a pint-sized Darth Vader trying in vain to move various items in his suburban dwelling, using the Force. The adorable dark lord is in for a surprise when he tries to use the Force on his dad’s VW Passat. The ad — which you can view here — prompted several parodies, including Marvel’s “Little Thor.”
Audi: “Release the hounds”
This 2011 ad proves that a novelty celebrity appearance can be the X-factor in a winning commercial. Kenny G, whose music is apparently kryptonite to snobby rich folk, makes a surprise cameo to symbolize how conventional high-class car brands like Mercedes are about as old and un-hip as his music.
Old Spice: “Your man could smell like me”
This Old Spice commercial launched the phenomenon of “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.” Former football player Isaiah Mustafa and his deep voice coupled with his Adonis body targeted the ladies watching the big game with promises of diamonds, “two tickets to that thing you like,” and directives to “Look at me, the man your man could smell like.” And if the hilarity and absurdity of it all wasn’t enough, Mustafa revealed to viewers that not only did he smell good, but he could deliver his oration while riding a cleverly concealed horse.
Snickers: “Betty White”
We might be able to trace the origins of America’s recent Betty White fetish to this Snickers commercial. It sounds bad to say that the highlight of this commercial is watching an old lady getting tackled on the football field, but it is. But more importantly, when someone tells you you’re playing ball like a former Golden Girl, this ad proves it’s time to step up your game and get some nougat, peanuts and caramel in your system.
No one really likes to share, especially when it comes to the things they really love. One guy finds this out the hard way when the son of a girl he’s dating employs his pimp hand to remind him of two things: “Keep your hands off my mama and keep your hands off my Doritos.”
Google: “Parisian love”
In the 2010 commercial “Parisian Love,” Google managed to compress an entire romantic movie into less than a minute and without showing a single face. If you’re the kind of person who gets weepy in the greeting card aisle, you might want to have a tissue box handy as a series of Google searches reveal a transatlantic love story.
E*Trade: “Singing babies”
Today, the E*Trade baby is a commercial staple as much as Tony the Tiger. In 2009, however, it was still young days for the adult-voiced, finance-savvy tykes. In this clip, one of the kids gets scolded for singing a refrain from Mr. Mister’s “Broken Wings.” “It’s not the venue,” he’s told. The question left unanswered, however, is whether there’s ever a proper venue.
Coca-Cola: “It’s Mine”
Here’s something that would make the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade more interesting: if the giant inflatable cartoon characters soaring through Times Square decided to have a high-altitude throw down. That’s exactly what happens when Under Dog and Stewie from “Family Guy” go to war over a giant soaring Coke bottle while bashing each other against New York skyscrapers. That is, until Charlie Brown gets the best of both of them.
Budweiser: “Hank the horse”
This commercial may have induced a rare Super Bowl ad “aw!” When Hank, a Budweiser Clydesdale horse, is overlooked for the Hits team, a tenacious Dalmatian dog on his farm changes all that. Cue the “Rocky” theme song! The prodigal horse jogs, works out in the rain and snow and is shown pulling a train (a train!). And when he becomes the steed of choice one year later, there’s even a hoof-paw high-five. Cute overload.
Bridgestone Tires: “Screaming animals”
Adorable creatures have long been a trademark of Super Bowl ads. This one takes a darker look at Snow White’s forest family after an unassuming squirrel sounds the alarm it’s about to be crushed. Luckily, Bridgestone saves the day.
Emerald Nuts: “Robert Goulet”
When it came to tackling the songs and roles of Broadway, Robert Goulet could move with stealth between such diverse shows as “Camelot” and “Man of La Mancha.” This Super Bowl ad was one of the singer/actor’s final roles, as he died in October 2007. Here, he shows that it wasn’t just his pop hits such as “My Love, Forgive Me” that could get into one’s head. Sometimes, Goulet himself could play with one’s unconscious.
Heineken: ‘Brad Pitt beer run’
Brad Pitt and “Fight Club” director David Fincher teamed again for this ad that turns an ordinary beer run into a chase. Set to the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” Pitt evades swarms of paparazzi all in pursuit of a cold one.
Reebok: ‘Terry Tate: Office linebacker”
Terry Tate brings it … in the office. There are body slams by the water cooler and tackles over T.P.S. reports. Tate, played by Lester Speight, formerly a real-life linebacker for the USFL’s Baltimore Stars, kicked off a series of testosterone-laced shorts where Reebok sends him in to boost productivity. His message: “When it’s game time, it’s pain time, baby!”
FedEx: ‘Cast away’
What could possibly be in the package the long-marooned FedEx worker spent five years of his life swearing he’d deliver? Oh, just a satellite phone, some seeds, a GPS locator and water purifier. So is the tragic tale of this FedEx worker fashioned after Tom Hanks in “Cast Away.” Wilson!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Only months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Budweiser used this somber Super Bowl spot to pay tribute to those who were lost. The giant equines travel cross country to pay their respects to a mourning nation, and take a bow before the Statue of Liberty. Budweiser aired a remake of this commercial on the 10th anniversary of the attacks.
Electronic Data Systems: ‘Running with the squirrels’
It’s not quite running with the bulls, but this epic melee filled with dramatic trombones and red bandannas is all about respect and speed. To follow “Herding Cats,” EDS focused on another wily animal, the small but nimble squirrel. EDS reminds companies that size doesn’t always matter: “To beat the squirrel you must think like a squirrel.”
Electronic Data Systems: “Herding cats”
Rough riding cowboys climb trees and wind yarn in this classic Electronic Data Systems commercial. Yes, they’re herding cats — and don’t let anyone tell you it’s easy. There are battle scars (cat scratches), rivers to cross and half-wild short hairs to herd. Still, there’s a proud history to all this wrangling, whether it be unwieldy data or fluffy.
E* Trade: “Dancing monkey”
Whether this 2000 ad was a way to show viewers that E*Trade had $2 million to burn or that Super Bowl commercials are exorbitantly priced — we’re not really sure. What we do know is that a chimpanzee clapping along to the catchy “La Cucaracha” flanked by two elderly men in a garage will definitely get you to wonder what it is that E*Trade does and what in the world it has to do with any of the aforementioned items.
Monster.com: ‘When I grow up”
The grim reality of the modern workplace is contrasted with the choral music and nostalgic black-and-white images of children in Monster.com’s ad. The online resume site aired its ad one year before the height of the dotcom Super Bowl ad glut, where 19 companies peddled their wares. The expensive bet paid off big-time for the site, which saw a huge surge in traffic after the ad’s first airing.
Nissan: “Top Gun pigeons”
There’s nothing that sells more cars than an ad designed around bird poop. Eleven years after Tom Cruise hopped in a jet for “Top Gun,” Nissan resurrected the Kenny Loggins “Danger Zone” theme for its commercial about a squadron of militaristic pigeons with no higher mission than to poop on a Maxima. John Ratzenberger provided the voice of the lead pigeon for the ad, which was a hit the year it aired but didn’t continue on like the Budweiser frogs.
Budweiser Clydesdales have been a Super Bowl ad tradition for years. Sometimes they’re in touching commercials, other times they’re in silly commercials, and in their commercial for the Super Bowl in 1996, they played football. Anheuser-Busch, Budweiser’s parent company, sought to retire the horse commercials in 2010, but relented after fans expressed their love for the animals on Facebook.
Before he was directing animated desert varmints in “Rango,” blockbuster director Gore Verbinski was making his name in the commercial world with swamp varmints. The Budweiser Frogs ad campaign kicked off during Super Bowl XXIX with a 30-second ad featuring the amphibians croaking out the name of the beer company. Eventually, the frogs were joined by two chameleons, as well as a ferret hit man. Parents groups complained that the cute frogs were designed to make beer appealing to children, so by 2000, Anheuser-Busch had dropped the frogs in favor of the lizards. Not nearly as cute.
McDonalds: “Showdown: Jordan vs. Bird”
Basketball legends Larry Bird and Michael Jordan engaged in a friendly shooting contest with increasingly outlandish shots in this multi-part McDonald’s commercial notable for Jordan’s incredibly loud early ‘90s style sweater.
Pepsi: “Cindy Crawford”
Cindy Crawford was already well known when she starred in this ad designed to introduce Pepsi and Diet Pepsi’s new can designs. At the time she was host of MTV’s “House of Style” and married to Richard Gere. The ad recalled the overt sexuality of the Joe Namath-Farrah Fawcett Noxzema commercial nearly 20 years earlier.
Diet Pepsi: “Ray Charles”
Genius + Soul = Soda? Perhaps not quite, but when Ray Charles does a commercial, people listen. Pepsi’s slogan throughout the early ‘90s became “You got the Right One, Baby, Uh Huh,” although it’s doubtful few who said it possessed the weathered classicism of Charles, and it’s also all but guaranteed that they lacked his cadre of models.
Diet Coke: “Elton John and Abdul”
Elton John was struggling through the middle part of his career (he would enter rehab later in 1990) and Paula Abdul was a hot singer-dancer just reaching the height of her fame when the pair collaborated for this Super Bowl ad to sell Diet Coke.
Apple attempted to repeat its success the next year with an ad for Macintosh Office that featured blindfolded office drones blithely marching off a cliff while whistling “Heigh-Ho.” The nightmarish ad was seen as creepy and insulting rather than inspiring and was deemed a failure. It put Apple off of Super Bowl ads for over a decade. It finally returned in 1999.
Ridley Scott directed what’s probably the most famous Super Bowl commercial of all time, designed to introduce Apple’s Macintosh computer to the masses. What’s unique about the opulent and stylish ad is that it aired just once, during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII and never again. The visual take on George Orwell’s classic novel has cast a long shadow over the way commercials have been directed ever since.
Atari: “Little Boy”
Atari didn’t realize just how true to life it was being with its whimsical “Little Boy” ad, which featured a grown man playing a video game on his own, ignoring his family. Two decades later, we know that excessive video game playing has actually caused marriages to end (ever hear of “Warcraft Widows”?). Is this Atari “Little Boy” the Marlboro Man of the digital era? Watch the commercial here.
Paul Masson Wine: “We will sell no wine before its time”
The great Orson Welles had seen his fortunes fall to that of common commercial pitchman by the time this ad for Paul Masson Wine aired during Super Bowl XIV. Though Welles had a surge of notoriety for his signature phrase, “We will sell no wine before its time,” the ads are more notorious now for the outtakes online featuring a drunken Welles in his final years.
Coca-Cola: “Mean Joe Green”
One of the most famous Coke commercials of all time featured Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle “Mean” Joe Greene hobbling off the field, only to have a chance encounter with a smitten fan offering him a soda. Though it didn’t debut during the Super Bowl (it first aired in late 1979), it’s forever associated with Super Bowl commercials. In fact, Joe Greene re-created the commercial with Amy Sedaris for Downy laundry scent boosters to air during the 2012 Super Bowl.
The first Xerox Monks commercial premiered during Super Bowl X. It starred Borscht belt comedian Jack Eagle as “Brother Dominic,” a clever monk with the secret power of the Buick-sized Xerox 9200 copier on his side. The commercial won every award given by the advertising industry at the time and is in the CLIO Hall of Fame. Five more monks commercials were shot over the next five years.
Ah, the ‘70s. The days of free love, Marilyn Chambers, John Holmes and popular skin cleansers. Former Super Bowl hero Joe Namath and pre-“Charlie’s Angels” Farrah Fawcett teamed to sell skin cream Noxzema with a healthy helping of sex appeal. The New York Jets quarterback seems inappropriately giddy when he says, “I’m so excited; I’m gonna get creamed!” Cue Farrah smearing old “Joe Willie’s” face.
Credits: By Patrick Kevin Day, Nathan Jackson, Nolene Clark, Lily Mihalik, David Lewis, Todd Martens, Nardine Saad, Agnus Dei Farrant and Tracy Brown