This Sunday, hundreds of millions of people around the world will gather together with friends and family, surrounded by a bevy of cold beverages and hot treats, glued to televisions large and small, HD and whatever came before HD (and probably one guy who’s still watching his 3D TV), to participate in an American tradition that is perhaps the MOST American tradition … the celebration of the glorious Super Bowl commercial.
The art of a capital “G” Great Super Bowl commercial is elusive. Some brands have taken big risks and seen big rewards, while others have bombed so completely that they shake the brand’s core image. Remember that Go Daddy spot? We hope, for your sake, you do not.
There are no rules or formulas for creating a successful Super Bowl commercial. Most brands go for funny, but some of the most memorable ads have been sentimental and even moving. When it comes to the funny stuff, there’s not even a right kind of “funny.” Absurdist humor tends to play, but a well-crafted slow reveal can bring the house down.
One thing’s for sure – if you’re spending millions of dollars for thirty seconds of airtime, you better be sure it works.
The following brands created Super Bowl commercials that not only worked, but were so popular they soaked into our culture like warm beer on your new couch (dammit, Larry!).
Here are our “Pita Picks” awards for the real MVPs of America – the brands that crushed their Super Bowl spots.
And then Steve Jobs said, “Let there be amusing Super Bowl advertisements.”
Before Apple’s “1984” ad ran during Super Bowl XVII in 1984, most of the big game’s commercials were like any other night. This spot, with its story line, subtext and cinematic look, ushered in a new era of ads that could be entertaining, not just promotional.
Most Cultural Infiltration
Budweiser’s ads became a Super Bowl staple during the 1990s, and since then they’ve served up catch phrases that have become part of the American lexicon. It should be noted, though, that their non-comedic spots dominate the water cooler conversation just as often. Many beer companies have tried to take the marketing mantle from the King, but all have fallen to its golden touch.
Best Use of Celebrity Cameos
The Cindy Crawford commercial is a top-fiver for sure, but Pepsi has an impressive portfolio of celebrity cameos in their Super Bowl spots, and they almost always rule the night. There was Shaq’s showdown with a youngster; Ray Charles’ Diet Pepsi extravaganza; Britney Spears’ joy of Pepsi; Justin Timberlake’s magnetic appearance and others. We might have advised against a Bob Dylan/Will.i.am. mash-up though.
Coke, “Here kid, catch!”
Coke’s famous “Mean Joe Green” spot, originally aired in 1979 and then again during Super Bowl XIV, left a large footprint in the advertising world. Voted the best Super Bowl commercial of all-time in 2011 by readers of Advertising Age, the commercial even spawned an hour-long NBC movie special and a few international copycats.
Best Use of Millennial Humor
Old Spice, “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”
This Old Spice ad is an instant classic – a rare example of a brand that went for absurdist “meme” humor and actually stuck the landing. The fact that “I’m on a horse” became a recognizable phrase is a testament to it’s weird and wonderful success.
CareerBuilder, “Monkey Business”
Let’s just get this out of the way – monkeys are always funny. Still, CareerBuilder didn’t just trot out some chimps and start filming. This 2006 commercial is laugh-out-loud funny, while also establishing a brand identity that aligns itself with a target audience of frustrated middle management and young professional types. Extra points for a monkey lighting a cigar with a hundred-dollar bill.