The 10 Best (And 3 Worst) Super Bowl Commercials of All-Time

Everyone knows that the Super Bowl has the largest television audience each year; but the question remains, do more people watch it for the football, or for the commercials?

And the next day, which subject occupies more talk around the water cooler?

Either way, the Super Bowl has become, well, the Super Bowl of all advertising days. Brands can gain momentum or suffer major damage. And careers on Madison Avenue can soar or be reduced to writing screenplays, like George Costanza, off, off-broadway.

With stakes so high, it seems worthy to take a look back at some of the best, and a few of the worst, commercials that have ever paid those premium dollars for a coveted Super Bowl slot.

super-bowl-commercial-mcdonalds-the-showdown-larry-bird-michael-jordan

Clearly there are lots of great commercials to choose from. You can make an argument for lots of great spots’ inclusion on this list.  (But, in case you are wondering, if I left your favorite out, it was absolutely to spite you.)

Here’s my list of the 10 best (and three worst) Super Bowl commercials of all-time.

#10. McDonald’s, “The Showdown” (1993)

Great ad that leverages two of the NBA’s all-time biggest stars in Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, at a time when their popularity was at a peak after the original Dream Team won the gold in Barcelona in 1992.

This ad does a great job of building equity around the brand by showing a) the greatness it inspires, and b) the lengths to which people will go to fight for it.

I could not move this any higher on the list simply because I grew up a Sixers fan (when that was relevant), and I am a Duke grad, so a commercial featuring a Celtic and a Tar Heel has limited upside.

#9. Xerox, “Monks” (1977)

This spot is 35 years old, so it may not have the bells and whistles of some of the newer ads, but it does a great job of clearly communicating the product benefit.

It is scary how far technology has come in just a few decades.

#8. Bridgestone, “Carma” (2011)

Brisgestone does a great job at communicating the emotional benefit of an everyday product that we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about.

By today’s standards, the commercial does not have a lot of bells and whistles either, but it excels at lifting its brand with the audience.

#7. Pepsi, “Cindy Crawford/New Can” (1992)

Relax, I said can, singular.

Pepsi does a great job of taking a well-known, beautiful icon, and making it invisible next to their product. Many brands have copied this strategy over the last two decades with much success.

Kudos to this ad for setting a trend, all while making people across America thirsty for a Pepsi.

#6. Tide-to-Go, “My Talking Stain” (2008)

Look, Tide is not the type of sexy brand that is usually associated with big Super Bowl buys (think beer, cars, soft drinks, etc.), but this ad does an amazing job of communicating the product’s benefit in a humorous, break-through-the-clutter kind of way.

I bet if you watch this spot you will both laugh and take a second look at yourself next time you have an important meeting.

It is a really risky strategy for a household product like this to spend the big bucks on a Super Bowl spot, but Procter and Gamble pulled it off, big time.

#5. Budweiser, “Frogs” (1995)

This ad broke through the clutter in a wildly simple, yet spectacular way.

The purpose of the spot was simply to get attention, make Budweiser more relevant, and build on the brand’s equity.  Mission accomplished.

In fact, this ad was so successful that you have seen hundreds of commercials try to use animals to get this type of response from we humans.

#4. Coke, “Mean Joe” (1979)

This is a spot that transcends time. Coke even puts a smile onto Mean Joe Green’s face.

I would rank this higher except a) this commercial originally aired during the 1979 season so it was not brand new at the time of airing, and b) I can’t put my finger on it, but I read somewhere this week that this spot actually did not help Coke increase sales (although I would argue it was great for longer-term brand building).

#3. Pepsi, “Diner” (1995)

Pepsi says if Coke is #4, we are one better.

But this is absolutely classic competitive advertising in which the #2 category player takes on the #1 (for example, it is doubtful Coke would have approved a similar ad; why acknowledge the challenger??).

Heartwarming, and then the hammer falls.

And if you like that spot, take a look at this more recent “re-do”:

#2. Apple, “Sledgehammer” (1984)

The ad ran once. The 1984 Super Bowl. And Steve Jobs and crew were, as usual, ahead of their time in terms of how brilliantly they took on the competition and differentiated their brand in a meaningful and motivating way.

Anyone that had the vision to see Jobs’ limitless potential and bought APPL as a result of this spot is, today, a very happy camper.

#1. Budwesier, “Respect” (2002)

Like Sledgehammer, this spot only ran once, during the 2002 Super Bowl, as a tribute to 9/11 and the unimaginable loss and heartbreak that our country endured. This spot perfectly captured the emotions of the moment, and was absolutely apropos of the moment.

I dare you to watch this spot, even 10 years later, and not get goose bumps.  There was simply no other commercial in the history of the Super Bowl that could rightfully go in this space.

As great as the above commercials were at the time they aired, there are a plethora of advertisements that did a great job of nothing…except wasting their brand’s valuable marketing budget.

Eliminating any OJ Simpson ads, which are just too easy of a target, I found three spots that I felt were historically bad.  “Enjoy.”

#3. Noxzema, “Joe Namath/Farrah Fawcett” (1973)

Now, in fairness, this commercial gets props for a) really being the beginning of attention being paid to Super Bowl ads, so it did pave the way for others, and b) it is unintentionally hilarious.

Imagine the FCC approving a Super Bowl ad today in which the catch phrase is “Let Noxzema Cream Your Face.”  Classic.

I think the only thing Joe Namath wishes in retrospect is that his co-star could have been Suzy Kolber.

#2. Holiday Inn, “Bob Johnson” (1997)

You have to give Holiday Inn credit.  They survived this spot.  I cannot imagine company executives approving this spot and not seeing the potential pitfalls, only 15 years ago.

From a consumer standpoint, it is hilarious; from a marketing standpoint, it is on the verge of brand suicide.

#1. Miller Lite, “Evil Beaver” (1998)

Worst. Commercial. Ever.

Not just worst ever to appear in a Super Bowl. Not just worst ever on a per dollar spent basis. Quite simply, this commercial is a minute of your life you will never get back should you choose to watch.

Not even funny by accident. Just bad. Again, “enjoy.”

**********

You can follow Brian Dilsheimer on Twitter @Dils_Ignite



Comments

  1. Excellent! Very enjoyable to watch these again!

  2. Actually, I always felt the best superbowl commercial ever was the Etrade Monkey – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbBLDBohgrY

  3. Uhhhh… What about Terrible Terry Tate? 'Triple T is in the House'

  4. the Budweiser frogs came out in 1995, not 1985

  5. um what about the doritos

  6. I found the Evil Beaver to be quite funny:)

  7. what about the wasssuuppp budweiser ones? classic

  8. APPL ? I think you mean aapl or did you mean APPLE.

  9. The Tabasco exploding mosquito was my favorite……

  10. Corvettekeith says:

    The Brett favre one from the 2009 Superbowl was the best.

  11. The commercial where Rosanne gets blasted by the swinging log made me smile !

  12. the apple ad did not just air once. it may have aired once *nationally*, but it was run a few times in December 1983 in, as I remember, 2 or so very small markets (i want to say idaho or montana, but i’m not sure) so that the add would be eligible for year 2003 awards/reviews from the industry publications

  13. We all remember the Doritos ad at the laundromat where I think it was Carmen Electra catching the Dorito in her mouth at the end!!

  14. I thought this was lame. Out of all the great superbowl commercials, 2 or 3 of these might make the list.

  15. krazzrydr says:

    all of'em were great…brought back ALOT of good memories.

  16. Jonathan Davis says:

    Thank you for this fun summary – but I disagree that the Pepsi theme is effective or that Diner was a good ad. The implication that the product can't stand on its own merits but only on how it compares to the standard, and the essential meanness of the whole proposition is also a big turn-off to a lot of potential customers. It also is basically deceptive advertising – Pepsi is undeniably not preferred by a majority of American consumers, based on sales. The Pepsi ad campaigns on this theme generally fail because they preach to the converted, and do not encourage Coke drinkers to try Pepsi – in fact quite the opposite.

    • Wow, talk about overthinking something. Do you bore everybody with your drivel?

    • I have to agree, any of the pepsi driver / Coke driver ads just makes me less likely to drink pepsi. They are based on the idea that it is somehow correct to betray someone elses trust, and are only funny to the kind of people who laugh when someone is kneed in the groin by someone else they trusted.

      • I should also note that Pepsi has done some very funny commercials, the best one being the one where the delivery guy is surrounded by a bunch of old people in a nursing home break dancing, skate-boarding, etc, realizes that he was supposed to deliver the coke to this location, and the pepsi to the prior location, a frat house. Flash to the frat house and you see the frat boys playing shuffleboard, scrabble, bingo, etc….

  17. mrlongisland says:

    You know that's Farrah Fawcett in the Noxcema commercial. right? Made her a star.

  18. Thank gawd my Lord God got rid of the Satan Steve Jobs!

  19. Monster Jobs with the guy working under the backend of the moose

  20. You forgot the best and most moving commercial. The one where the US serviceman are returning home in the airport and one by one people start clapping and standing. That should be #1.

  21. I thought your list was excellent – so glad you had the Budweiser 9/11 Tribute one on there.
    My two all-time favorites are the Baby Darth Vader from last year and the Doritos w/the snow globe through the snack machine from 2008 –

  22. arizonawingnut says:

    What, nothing about the GoDaddy.com legacy ads. Certainly more of an eye catcher than pepsi

  23. Cartaphilus says:

    You can't ever win posting a top 10 list. Everyone's a critic. Never-the-less, my list would have included the EDS "Cat Herder" spot…

  24. VioletLee says:

    Enter text right here!Wha

  25. VioletLee says:

    What about cat herders one?
    People still laugh when they talk about it.!

  26. AverageJoe says:

    I guess it's hard to account for individual taste. Not a bad list but, personally, I like the "evil beaver" more than "respect".

  27. "Uhhhh… What about Terrible Terry Tate? 'Triple T is in the House' "

    I second this… Tripple T has had me laughing on the floor.

    I am sorry but this "iconic" apple commercial does not belong. I didn't read 1984, but I do know what it is about. I know people love the commercial and all, but.. I don't laugh when I watch that 1984 commercial. When I watch tripple T slam office workers around I can hardly contain my bladder.

    • You''re right; the Apple commercial isn't funny, nor was the Budweiser commercial (#1). But certainly the Apple ad is iconic, probably because it used political symbolism that wasn't present in other ads for commercial products. And maybe you want to take a crack at '1984'. It's still a good read.

    • UGACracker says:

      The Apple commercial didn't make sense then, and it still doesn't. What does it have to do with Apple? Terry Tate? I still look up those ads on YouTube. Absolute classics. And timelessly funny.

  28. The Volkswagon ad (Darth Vader) was perhaps a little subtle for everyones taste I guess.

  29. What about the Budweiser commercial where the donkey gets to pull the sleigh?

  30. Your number 1 "best pick" was worse then the 3 "worst" choices.

    • Are you f***ing kidding me? Are you a f***ing Jihadist? Those horses were honoring and paying respect to New York City. While I may not agree on being the best ever, how the hell is that even considered a bad commercial?

  31. what about the Doritos pug commercial? It was cute and funny.

  32. herb johnson says:

    Bird vs Jordan was best ever if you are a sports fan

    • If you sincerely believe that you are correct then I will advise you never to work in the entertainment industry!! I am doing you a very big favour, for you WILL bore me and many others to death!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • El Classico says:

      OMG Forgot that one!! Agree, it was the best LOL!!!!!!!!

  33. My favorite is the E-trade commercial set in the ER. Upon exam the Doctor reports " Oh my, he's got money coming out of the Wazoo"

  34. Office Linebacker (Terry Tate) was the best! "That's a long distance call, Doug!"

  35. Eager Beaver is the only one on this list that made me laugh. As far as worst, you forgot to include the one where Christopher Reeve gets up and walks to accept some kind of award in the future – man that one was way off.

  36. One of THE most effective commercials of all time was, in my opinion, the one where a little kid cannot reach the Pepsi button on the vending machine so he buys two Coke cans to step on them so he can get his Pepsi. Brilliant brand marketing, just brilliant. I don't think that was a Superbowl one, though. As far as your #1 and #2 – meh… #1 was plain in appropriate IMO, using 9/11 for marketing purposes under the guise of a tribute is just awful. As far as the Apple "1984" commercial, I still think it is terrible marketing because while attention grabbing it does absolutely nothing for the Apple brand. And buying AAPL at that time would have been a waste of time and money, buying AAPL 11 years later on the other hand would have been brilliant.

  37. First off, The Office Linebacker should of been on the list. Terrible Terry Tate was the all-time best commercial.

    Lastly, Evil Beaver was funny.

  38. This list sucked. the best one was "cindy Crawford" with the pepsi and the kid was all like," wow thats one cool pepsi can."

  39. The Budweiser commercial set in the airport with the servicemen returning from Iraq should definitely be on the list at #1 or #2. The first time I saw it I had tears in my eyes and I still get goosebumps thinking about it.

  40. Of coarse I aggree that the servicemen add was the best… but the funniest still has to be the Budwiser horse's pull the wagon with the man and woman, farting and peeling their hair back like a tornado!! Anyone remember that one?

  41. Im sooo disappointed with this list! the only commercial that was good to me was the bridgestone "carma". Im mad that they didnt include any of the hilarious dorito commercials that have come out over the more recent years or even the commercial about the car and the little boy as dark vader

  42. Hap McUne says:

    My favorite was the exploding mosquito on the Mcllhenney TABASCO sauce add. I don't remember the year of the ad. I don't remember there being any words spoken, but I about lost it when the mosquito exploded while trying to fly away, after sucking blood from the thigh of the man who had enhanced his pizza by sprinkling Mcllhenney TOBASCO sauce on it!

  43. Just Wondering says:

    Isn't that Eddie Murphy as the Evil Beaver? If not then it is an awesome look alike!

  44. rota ulave says:

    This is the Superbowl what better then

    The clydesdale horses playing football, kicking the extra point and the question do they do that all the time and the answer was they generally go for 2points.

  45. I cracked up with Evil Beaver. I'm sorry… but that was hilarious. ;)

  46. Funny yet most disturbing: The Doritos™ commerdial where the guy grabs his co-workers fingers and sucks the cheese dust off them. Still have nightmares over that one.

  47. I only saw this commercial once. I believe it was a beer commercial where I guy operating the human cannonball cannon is distracted and when the cannon is fired the guy ends up hitting into the rear end of an elephant. Couldn't stop laughing but never saw it again.

  48. What about the fed ex commercial with the dinosaurs?

  49. I am not the first to say it, but its a travesty that Terry Tate is left off the list….

  50. dave haskell says:

    hey what about louie the lizard

  51. The "Brama" beer commercial; supposedly voted the best beer commercial…

  52. I liked the commercial about the global communications company ) (I guess it didn't really help with product recognition because i don't remember the company, only the concept of Global Telecommunications!!where a guy in a boardroom starts a speech with the words of the Beatles' "Come Together" and it:s broadcast all over the world and people gradually start hearing words that are familiar but make no sense, and start to pay attention. I don't know, anything Beatles is just too cool for school as far as I'm concerned and gets my attention. But that's the ONE superbowl commercial that has stuck with me all these years, though i can't say i've really watched many superbowls…my husband always records it and then fast-forwards through the commercials.

  53. crashdummy35 says:

    Yeah, okay. That list is all over the place. And obviously you are an Apple fanboy… One of the "Greatest Adverts Ever" lolololololol!!!

  54. EDS cat herder Priceless

  55. really… no e-trade babys?…

  56. Here's the new Ferrie Bueller Super Bowl Ad
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhkDdayA4iA

  57. El Classico says:

    My favorite was the Bud ad where the young horse wasn't ready to pull the wagon & his buddy, the dog, helps him train, become stronger. Next Spring, the horse leads the team pulling the Bud wagon. Don't remember the year but loved the ad!

  58. # 1 should definately have been the TERRY TATE, OfficeLinbacker commericals, thosae were damn funny……If you never seen it, Google it or uTube it, you'll laugh your butt off.

  59. David Powell says:

    I always liked the Bud Bowl! That said I was about 17 when I saw the Cindy one and will never forget it ;)

  60. sorry everybody, but the FedX ad with the munchkins and helium was so good
    they pulled it after the Super bowl… apparently it offended too many people…
    that's a sign of a good commercial!

  61. all of'm… excellent! I don't know if the following was a superbowl add, but what about the car add with the little kid acting as darth vader and he tries to start the car with using the "force" and dad starts the car remotely….. ha!

  62. Mickleludicriss says:

    a few more that could have / should have made it
    1. office linebacker Terry Tate ( again )
    2. Kevin Federline as the daydreaming Taco Bell frycook
    3. Beer commercial , outside a bar , no dogs sign , guy puts dog on his head , dog has dread like hair , guy goes into bar and his hairdo growls at someone . Maybe bud or bud lite

  63. I'm kinda curious, how would anyone know what Kevin Federline looks like?
    Do you also have an album of Britny's bet hit?

    • mickleludicrass says:

      During the commercial his boss yells "Federline " while he is dreaming of his rap career while he is falling behind on the fries . What is a " Britny's bet hit " ? if you mean do I own a copy of Britney's best hits , no , but I do have a version of Type O Negative grinding out Hit me one more time . Classic , but not as cool as Danzig and Shakira doing " Hips don't Lie " You tube it , it is ludicrass

  64. "Evil Beaver". ROTFLMAO!!!! #1 worst commercial ever? Really? Get a clue. It was fcuking HILARIOUS!

    • amazingly funny!! I AGREE!! evil beaver, destroy your home, take a leg, and then drink your beer… sounds like an evil beaver to me

  65. SomeLikeItHot says:

    All are great. But my favorite is the Tobasco commercial with the exploding mosquito after biting a fellow who put Tobasco on his pizza

  66. Check this Bud-lite commercial out, i thought it was hilarious: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqtxzgFpP6U

  67. Where is the Donkey, its the best add ever!!

  68. WAZZZZUP!!!!

  69. Commercials have gone way down in the past few years

  70. What about IBM suit clad lemmings falling off the cliff..?

  71. Evil beaver is so freaking funny. Brian Dilsheimer you have no sense of humor. The biggest waste of my time was reading this article by you.

    • Brian Dilsheimer says:

      Biggest waste of time? Come on. It couldn't have been that bad….I will say in your defense, several people are sticking up for th Evil Beaver. Let's agree that it is polarizing.

  72. MisterFrontRow says:

    Reebok's Terry Tate – Office Linebacker commercials still make me laugh. ("The pain train is coming — Wnoo-Whoo! Whoo-Whoo!)

    For stand-alone ads, A&W Root Beer's Mr. Dumass job interview commercial ("It's Du-MA") ranks as the funniest:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMe3WDmxBEI

  73. P T Barnum says:

    All of the superbowl commercials *blow*. How do you like them apples ?
    You've got to have a pretty feeble mind to be genuinely entertained or impressed by these, let alone actually go out and buy the product based on these commercials. The commercials are all pretty predictable and I rarely if ever remember what it was they were tyring to sell.

    Shut off the idiot box and try and do something useful with your life …

    • Thanks. Seems your life is focussed on posting on silly discussion boards. Congratulations!

      • P T Barnum says:

        That would be incorrect. I stumbled across this article while looking for something else.
        I believe that for a majority of people in this country life has become an endless cycle of work-eat-watchTV-sleep which is sad in itself but I beleive that most of these folks just do what the television tells them to do. i.e. buy this and think that, laugh at this and cry at that, this is acceptable and that is not acceptable, and thats why I say …

        Shut off the idiot box and try and do something useful with your life …

        :-)

        • you are a grouch. and dumb too.

          • P T Barnum says:

            That would be incorrect as well. I'm a happy and productive person and I attribute part of that to the fact that I watch very little television. On the other hand the average American watches somewhere between 4-5 hours a night I believe according to Nielsen and others. If you have a job that pretty much confirms the endless cycle of work-eat-watchTV-sleep for most people and thats pretty sad.

            But back to the superbowl ads. They really are very predictable and not funny unless you're easily amused (maybe too easily) and they are often driven by some herky-jerky editing to make something try and appear exciting when its not really. Enjoy the game but seriously …

            Shut off the idiot box and try and do something useful with your life.

            Its later than you think! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XH3QNSsWoeg

            :-)

  74. the writer of this article is obviously lacking little brain matter to think that was the best commercial. i love this country, but really that ad stunk. there were far better ads over the years than that one

  75. WAZZUP CLIPS ARE ALL BY FAR THE BEST OF ANY THAT IS ON HERE

  76. The Scorpio says:

    Behind the Bud commercial honoring those we lost on 9/11 which, I agree is #1 of all time, Terry Tate – Office Linebacker should head the list. After him the little guy dressed as Darth Vader using "The Force" and the classic commercial with Mean Joe Green and the little boy.
    But the worst are the GoDaddy commercials. There are small children watching the Super Bowl with their family and while these commercials may be fine for a local bar get-together or someplace else where there are no children in attendance, they are inappropriate in prime time where so many of the viewers are children. Hold off showing them until after at least 10pm and then let the off color comments about Danica and Jillian's morals and equipment flow freely!

  77. It's not "Evil Beaver", it's "Evel Beaver"! Like in Evel Kneivel!! See how he rides and jumps that bike! LOL!

  78. The Budweiser Horses are the best. Smile

    • this is somehow, the first time I saw the Budweiser horse tribute, it brought tears to my eyes

      • I have seen this a few times online. Each time I get goosebumps and emotional. I still do today. There are actually a couple of the bud commercials that are quite impressive.

  79. I have to agree with some on this list. The obvious omission here is Terry Tate – Office Linebacker. If you haven't seen them all – they're on youtube. Classic. "You kill the Jo, you make some mo!"

  80. marshall weintrobe says:

    without a doubt, "mean Joe Green" was # 1!!!! The farrah fawsett commericial (only her, not wiith namath) was #2. Then there are the others

  81. Nothing wrong with the Holiday Inn commercial. Quite funny and effective, actually.

  82. It is a shame people were so offened by the Holiday Inn ad- I have always thought it clever and funny….

  83. Apple is the best, I remember seeing it at a superbowl party and it was the first time ever, and since, everyone in the room stopped, shut up watched and said wow after it was over. Ran once, still on the list 28 years later??? Has to be #1

  84. I think another funny commercial was the 2008 Planters peanut commercial where the totally ugly chick is being drooled over by a variety of good looking guys. At the end of the commercial you see her eating the peanuts as well as using them like perfume.

  85. It's AAPL not APPL. I would have expected better research for such a hard hitting news report.

  86. The absolute best: The Clydesdales getting in shape for the 'pull-' competition with the help of their friend, the dog.

  87. P T Barnum says:

    Well another superbowl and each and every commercial was a complete waste of time as usual.
    Nothing inventive or even remotely interesting. :-)

  88. WhoreofSpamylon says:

    Sooooooo…an ad that commercially exploits the tragedy of 9/11 in a shameless fashion to further its brand name is ranked as the best while one that pores its heart and soul into being original is ranked the worst?

  89.      I agree.  Best commercial ever? A little exploitive if you ask me.   Also to note, The Budweiser frog commercial is a direct rip of of a Rainier Beer commercial that Heckler and Associates did nearly 20 years prior.  Shame on you and your crappy beer, Budweiser.   And really? That Miller beer evil beaver ad is pretty amazing. Way ahead of it’s time.

  90. Very small thing, but Apple’s Stock symbol is AAPL, not APPL.

    • Didnt read all comments. Somebody caught it already. People need to understand this stuff is written for entertainment purposes. If you don’t like it, do read it. Just like TV or radio, if you don’t like it, change the station. Otherwise, have fun with it. Thanks for the compilation.

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