There’s no more expensive ad space than a Super Bowl commercial. Major companies around the world pay millions of dollars for just a few seconds of air time and for good reason — no other televised event in the United States draws more eyes. Let’s take a look at five of the very best ones from years past, as we get ready to enjoy the next big hit this year.
1979: Mean Joe Greene for Coca Cola
We’ll start things off with an early bona-fide classic, and an inner-circle Hall of Fame player. This iconic commercial actually aired during the regular season, but was made famous at the Super Bowl, which featured the player in question; Mean Joe Greene.
The commercial starts with the legendary tackle staggering down the tunnel, seemingly very hurt. A young fan asks Greene if he needs any help, and tells him that he believes that the defensive tackle is the best ever. Greene shrugs off the compliment, after which the boy offers Greene his Coke.
Greene hesitates to accept the offer, but eventually chugs the whole thing. The kid walks away dejectedly, saying “see you around” to his hero, but Joe’s demeanor has completely changed — he calls out “hey kid” before tossing him a towel as a souvenir.
The delighted fan exclaims “wow, thanks Mean Joe!” before the iconic slogan “Have a Coke and a smile” appears on the screen, ending this unforgettable ad. This was a great branding opportunity for not just Coca Cola, but also Mean Joe, who despite his nickname really was a nice guy, as he was named the 1979 Man of the Year for his distinguished off-field service activities.
2010: You’re Not You When You’re Hungry
This ad is one of many from Mars Incorporated, one of the World’s largest food brands, and a perpetual producer of memorable, effective, and fun commercials. That being said, out of all of their solid Super Bowl ads, this one might be the greatest hit, as it unveiled an iconic catchphrase using an iconic spokesperson.
The setting is a pickup football game, where beloved and elderly actress Betty White is competing against much younger men, seemingly in their 20s and 30s. One of White’s teammates quips that she is, in fact,“playing like Betty White out there,” causing White to lash out.
Then, she’s called to the sideline by a woman who tells her to eat a Snickers. When the camera goes back to White’s character, having eaten a Snickers, she has transformed into a young man herself, revealing the character’s true identity all along. This introduced us to the catchphrase “you’re not you when you’re hungry,” and reminded us that the solution to that particular conundrum is always a Snickers bar.
2011: The Force
This adorable commercial features a young Star Wars fan, plodding around his house in a full Darth Vader costume, with Vader’s Imperial March playing in the background. He attempts to “use the force” as so many children have tried after watching the beloved sci-fi movies, with test subjects ranging from an exercise bike to a baby doll, and even the family dog.
When his father comes home from work, the boy rushes out to the driveway to try and use his “powers” on the car, to which his absolute disbelief, actually works! The camera cuts to the Dad in the kitchen holding his keys, showing that he started the car using a remote start function.
Volkswagen used this ad to sell the 2012 Passat, which was of course equipped with that remote start feature, a then-groundbreaking function. The game itself also featured history, as the Green Bay Packers thwarted the Pittsburgh Steelers’ attempt to become the first team to win seven Super Bowls; as of now, the Steelers are still waiting, and don’t look to be particularly close to getting there.
2015: Best Buds
Budweiser is another company that has produced a litany of great Super Bowl ads over the years, but we’re only going to pick one for our short list. Instead of the admittedly prolific but highly grating “Whassup” ad, which did not actually debut at a Super Bowl, we’re going to touch on one that is equal parts touching, adorable, and memorable, even if it has very little to do with beer.
This ad features the brand’s iconic and majestic Clydesdale horses. The start of the commercial introduces us to an adorable yellow lab puppy, who stumbles into a horse carrier and gets lost. The pup is shown having a tough time out in the wild, as the owner puts up lost dog signs. Near the end of the commercial, the puppy is almost home, but is confronted by a snarling wolf.
Hearing his yelping barks, the Clydesdales bust out of their stables, and go help their best bud. As daylight rises, the farmer sees his dog returning home, leading the horses back. Finally, all is well, and the farmer enjoys a beer in the stable with his puppy and a horse. This ad brought a tear to many an eye, and will not soon be forgotten by fans of football, beer, dogs, or horses- that’s quite the intersection.
2021: Tide’s Jason Alexander Hoodie
This one definitely grabs your attention from the viewpoints of nostalgia, shock value, and of course, a catchy soundtrack. At the beginning of the commercial, a teenage boy’s mother tells him that he needs to wash his bizarre Jason Alexander hoodie, the entirety of which is emblazoned with the beloved Seinfeld actor’s face. The boy remarks that it’s clean- a notion his mother challenges.
We’re then treated to a montage of everything the hoodie has been through, set to the tune of “Believe It or Not,” a song that was famously used by Alexander’s character in a memorable episode. The hoodie also changes its facial expression multiple times throughout the clips, seemingly reacting to the messes to which it is exposed.
At the end, the boy uses Tide pods to wash the hoodie, and while crossing the street, is accosted by none other than an exasperated Jason Alexander, who insists that the protagonist “gives him back his face.” This ad may not have been a cultural icon like some of the others on this list, but it was certainly a unique one, and has the star power to land on this list.
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