This week — specifically, the first week of February — is a big one in the context of modern-day advertising and marketing. The Super Bowl has taken place on the first Sunday in February every year since 2004. Traditionally this event is when deep-pocket brands roll out their most ambitious, attention-grabbing broadcast spots in hopes of capturing the game’s enormous domestic audience. And audiences respond with a level of engagement normally reserved for movies and sports. Whereas during other commercial times people get up or change the channel, during the Super Bowl they’re watching and taking note.
It’s impossible to choose the best commercials of the past generation of Super Bowls, so we’ve compiled a list of 10, from 2004 to 2017, that stand the test of time due to celeb casting, clever humor or timeless storytelling.
1. Pepsi rocks ancient Rome
In 2004, Pepsi enlisted Beyonce, Pink and Britney Spears for a Roman-inspired Queen cover that some pop culture critics still call the best thing ever to happen to the Super Bowl. Enrique Iglesias appeared in the role of eye-candy/Emperor.
2. Heineken shells out for Brad Pitt
In 2005, Brad Pitt appeared in a Heineken commercial, which aired once, and for which he was reportedly paid more than $4 million. Quite a payday, even considering that thanks to the Internet, the spot will continue to get seen by YouTube-browsing Brad Pitt fans without the brand having anything to do with it.
3. Budweiser pulls at heart strings
Budweiser + animals + tearjerker music = a formula for winning the collective heart of Super Bowl audiences. In 2006, magnificent Clydesdales just couldn’t wait to get to work pulling a Budweiser wagon.
4. Sprint takes on “connecticle dysfunction”
In 2007, Sprint mocked Viagra-style sexual performance enhancers and slammed then-competitor Cingular with a snarky pharma-ad parody touting the cure for “connectile dysfunction.” Cleverrr.
5. Bridgestone screams, “Squirrel!”
In 2008, Bridgestone employed an animatronic squirrel to wake viewers right up and tout the road-gripping qualities of its product. What a scream!
6. Snickers tackles Betty White
In 2010, Betty White got tackled in the mud on a random football field to promote Snickers’ “You’re not you when you’re hungry” campaign.
7. Chrysler pays homage to Detroit
Chrysler still features this 2011 commercial, with music and a guest appearance by Eminem, on its official YouTube channel, which tells us everything about how successful the partnership was. Not only did it reposition Chrysler, but it was a moving testament to Detroit (the Motor City) – its significance to American manufacturing and its resilience.
8. Doritos leverages screaming goats
In 2013, Doritos decided to leverage the viral video potential of screaming goats. Pro opinion: There was too much plot and not enough goats in this video. The no-frills YouTube sensation did it much better.
9. Budweiser goes for #BestBuds
In 2014, it was Budweiser for the win again, with Puppy Love. Actually, this universally adored story of animal friendship, happy families and Americana may just be the most popular Super Bowl commercial of all time. The brand leveraged its viral video potential ahead of the big game, using the hashtag #BestBuds.
10. 84 Lumber hits the heart with a 2-by-4
With politics far outweighing every other topic on public consciousness in 2017, many brands tried to introduce a political or social commentary note into their campaigns. The most-talked-about was a brand few had heard of, a building supply store 84 Lumber — with a short film decreed too controversial for broadcast. The brand used its airtime to drive people to the full piece on its website, which followed a mother and young girl on a quest to cross the border. At the end, they’re confronted with a wall that looks exactly like Trump’s #MAGA promise — and just as you start to sob along with the mother, the door to freedom opens. This commercial got both liberals and conservatives twisted up, as it showed the closed border as people hope or dread it will eventually be.
Looking back on all these greats and many more, it’s fun to see how ad agencies and brands have played on Super Bowl’s high-stakes platform. They’ve gone big, been silly, tried for sentimental, bet on celeb power, spent mega-millions, and taken their shot to win new consumers. Of course, the Internet has vastly undercut Super Bowl’s platform, but also added new ways for smart marketers to engage with audiences before and after the game, as well as on small screens during it.