Best Super Bowl Ads Ever

One thing the USA does brilliantly is over-the-top spectacle. The Super Bowl is the best of it. Spectacle explodes from every aspect of the game. The singing of the anthem. The half-time show. And yes, the advertising too. 

But in the world of advertising, spectacular doesn’t necessarily mean good. Super Bowl advertising history is stuffed with expensive flops just as much as some of the best advertising the industry produces every year. So, coming up to the 57th Super Bowl, we wanted to update the list of the best superbowl ads of all time. With ads that are still great today. Great ideas that made the most of the moment and, famous celebrity or not, captured the attention of the hundreds of millions people watching the game live.

Table of Contents

The best use of celebrities in Super Bowl advertising

Using a celebrity in a Super Bowl ad is the greatest cliche there is. I get it though. It instantly gets attention and, if nothing else, that celebrity’s instagram following is going to be highly engaged in the message. Clients love them, so it can be non-negotiable for a creative that’s been given a highly-prized Super Bowl advertising brief. 

It’s easy to forget that most celebrities are terrible actors. Particularly singers, models and instagram stars. The best Super Bowl ads using celebrities understand these limitations. They don’t ask too much of them. Rather than focus the creative idea on the attributes of the celebrity, they integrate them into a bigger, more potent idea.

Eminem featuring in Chrysler ‘Imported from Detroit’

For my money, this is the best Super Bowl ad using a manifesto styled voice-over. The writing is exceptional. The insight of combining the struggles of Eminem, Detroit and Chrysler into a singular powerful narrative was perfect for the moment. More than a decade later it stands up powerfully.

A lesser creative agency than Weiden and Kennedy might have been tempted to get Eminem to recite the entire voice over himself. Or to be on the screen throughout the epic two-minute run time. But they understood how to make this ad great. Just enough Eminem to make an impact.

Betty White in Snickers ‘You’re not you when you’re hungry’

This snickers campaign had such longevity that it’s easy to forget that it began it’s life as one of the best Super Bowl ads of all time. It was actually one of three ads in the campaign that ran during the game. But it was by far the best of the three.

They used Betty White extensively throughout the ad because she IS an actress. That’s a great lesson. Acting is hard. Not everyone can do it.

Michael Jordan and Larry Bird for McDonalds

Michael Jordan is so well known for Nike and Gatorade that we forget that he was a pitchman for McDonalds as well. (We have a YouTube Playlist with the complete history of Michael Jordan’s advertising work if you want to see more).

Honestly this wouldn’t have worked with anyone else but Michael Jordan. He is such a special case when it comes to using a celebrity in advertising. Perhaps because he’s done it so much that he has become so good at it. He has a brilliant voice and a compelling screen presence. Larry Bird is fine here. But only because he’s paired with Michael. And a great concept that was directed and edited perfectly.

The best use of emotion in Super Bowl advertising

Emotion is a potent tool in your creative kit. Brands desperately want viewers to develop an emotional attachment to their products. It takes a great deal of skill to wield emotion well though. Great scripts with an emotional hook so often fall flat, because so much depends on the execution. Direction, casting, editing. All of them feed in to the final result. If any of them are below par, the effect of the ad is completely lost.

However, some of the best superbowl ads ever made use emotion beautifully. Let’s take a look at them.

Google ‘Parisian Love’

I choke up just about every time I see this piece of work. It is so simple. There aren’t any fancy sets or dynamic camera moves. There isn’t even a voice-over. Google certainly could have afforded to make a much more expensive piece of film. But they didn’t need to. They had this beautiful script that showcased their product perfectly.

RAM Trucks ‘God made a farmer’

In parts of America, this piece of work is spoken about in reverential tones. By ordinary people. I’ve heard stories about bars in farming communities coming to a standstill when this ad played on the TV. Again, not an expensive ad. Still photos and a voice-over. But what a way to champion your target market. This is what Super Bowl ads are about. And this is definitely one of the very best Super Bowl ads of all time. ‘When I grow up’

Perhaps it is a stretch to place this in the ’emotional ads’ section, because it’s rather comedic as well. It hits home beautifully though. It gives the viewer compelling reason to visit their (at the time very new) website and have a look around. It still holds up beautifully today. A series of unexpected vignettes that create a much greater whole.

Apple ‘1984’

For a long time this ad was revered in the industry for it’s daring and incredible production. Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Aliens, Gladiator) directed it. It only ran once, ever. During the Super Bowl. And this was before the internet was able to share videos such as this. Honestly though, it has dated. It’s not the greatest ad ever made anymore, but it comfortably sits on this list of the best Super Bowl ads of all time. If only for the chutzpah of the team to spend this enormous amount of money for just one showing.

The best Super Bowl ads that messed with the format

These aren’t great scripts. They’re big ideas that toy with the audience’s expectations of what a superbowl ad should be. High risk. But if it pays off – very high reward.

Tide ‘It’s a Tide ad’

In a decades time, we might look back at this campaign and consider it one of the greatest pieces of advertising of all time. I personally rate it that highly. The idea that any ad showcasing clean clothes could be an ad for Tide is so rich. And Proctor and Gamble played along, allowing Tide to invade advertising for their other products throughout the game. Perfectly cast, perfect tone of voice. An in-joke that an entire Super Bowl audience joined in and loved.

E*Trade ‘Monkey’

This ad was produced when the level of pizazz, excess and spectacle in Super Bowl advertising was at its peak. Ad spots were notoriously expensive (just as they are today). A brave client went with this lo-fi, but incredibly intelligent idea. Bravo.

Newcastle Brown ‘The Super Bowl Ad we couldn’t afford’

Okay, so it wasn’t actually a superbowl ad. But it is one of the greatest Super Bowl campaigns of all time. Hands Down. Droga5 and their client Newcastle Brown hijacked the big game impeccably with a hilarious storyboard, a website, and Anna Kendrick complaining about the ad not going ahead because they never had the money to do it.

The best Super Bowl ads with special effects

Considering how many Super Bowl ads use incredibly impressive effects, there’s not that many of them that make the list of the best Super Bowl ads of all time. But these are pretty great. The effects aren’t the concept. Rather, they add to it so well that you can’t imagine the ad without them.

Old Spice ‘Smell Like a Man, Man’

This didn’t run during the superbowl, but it was released online the day before the Super Bowl – so the intention was clear. So much has been said about this ad before, that there’s not much I can add. If you never need evidence that bravery and creativity can work miracles with a dying brand – this is it.

EDS / Hewlett Packard ‘Cat Herders’

Perfect direction and casting. And effects that are so seamless you hardly believe they’re there. It speaks for itself.

E*Trade ‘Talking Baby’

This ad spawned a campaign that was enormously successful. At the time, online broking was in its infancy and the competition for customers was intense. E*Trade was one of the early winners, and this campaign certainly played it’s part. So easy a baby can become an expert. A simple idea with execution before it’s time.

Budweiser ‘Usually they go for two’

The Budweiser clydesdales were regulars on Super Bowl sunday for a long time. Of them all, this one stands apart. The effects are seamless. The deadpan delivery is spot on. And the concept is perfect for the Super Bowl. For my money, it’s the best of the Clydesdales. And one of the best Super Bowl ads of all time.

Budweiser ‘Frogs’

Beer and Super Bowl go together perfectly. So, you’d expect a few beer ads to make it into the list of the best Super Bowl ads of all time. Budweiser have a brilliant record of making truly special work for Super Bowl. Frogs. Unexpected, intriguing and just a bunch of fun. The sequels with the lizards are even better, but they didn’t belong to the Super Bowl. You can find them here on our YouTube channel.

Gatorade ’23 v 39′

The ultimate battle of youth and experience. Michael Jordan plays one-on-one against his younger self in this classic ad. The effects are seamless. It’s one of the best uses of Michael Jordan ever in advertising.

Super Bowl ads that are simply damn good scripts

Simple ideas directed perfectly. These ads didn’t necessarily have to be made for the Super Bowl. They’re just damn good ads that work perfectly.

Pepsi ‘Truckstop’ and ‘Security Camera’

These two ads were part of the same campaign featuring the drivers of a Pepsi truck and a Coca-Cola truck. If you haven’t seen these before (they’re from the 90’s), treat yourself to a watch. They’re still great.

Volkswagen ‘The Force’

Incredibly charming. It says nothing about the product beside that you can open it remotely – just like any other car on the market. But it doesn’t matter. Because what it really says is that this car becomes part of the family. A viral sensation after the Super Bowl, this ad did wonders for the Volkswagen brand in the USA.

Tide ‘Talking Stain

Pitch perfect. This ad is going to still be great in a hundred years. Truths like this never age.

Super Bowl ads that created iconic characters

Characters are very difficult to create and make loveable in a minute of less. But it can be done. Some of the best Super Bowl ads of all time have proven it.

Reebok ‘Terry Tate, Office Linebacker’

A simply crazy idea that works. Reebok made the deliberate decision to entertain, rather than to sell. Terry Tate is what they came up with. Thank god they did. The actor playing Terry Tate nailed it. Sock Puppet is one of the most spectacular silicon valley flameouts of all time. But before they imploded spectacularly, they introduced themselves with this incredibly charming series of ads featuring an irrepressable sock puppet. They even made a giant inflatable of this character and put him in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. These ads work great. Even if the business behind it didn’t.

Budweiser ‘Wassup’

And so Budweiser make their third entry on the list here. This campaign also won Grand Prix at Cannes. It was truly a cultural phenomenon that had the world quite literally saying ‘Wassup’ over and over. The funny thing is, a creative didn’t come up with this idea. The director (who is the first guy sitting on the couch in the launch ad) made it as a spec spot with his friends. ‘Wassup’ is just what they said to each other. I hope he made millions and millions of dollars from it. The world would be a greyer, duller place without the ‘Wassup’ campaign.

Not all of these ran during the Super Bowl, but I don’t care. They’re great together as a unit.

That's our list of the best Super Bowl ads of all time

Any glaring omissions? Let us know in the comments. 

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