50 Marketers On The Most Memorable Super Bowl Ads Ever
Budweiser broadly – and Volkswagen’s The Force specifically – rank among marketers’ all-time favorites.
By Lisa Lacy, 5th of February 2016 at 14:55 PM
Some spots, like Coke’s Mean Joe Greene and Apple’s 1984, are enduring classics. Others, like Volkswagen’s The Force, Google’s Parisian Love and Always’ #LikeAGirl, are more recent inductees to the Super Bowl Ad Pantheon that have each cut through the proverbial noise in their own ways and established meaningful connections with viewers.
Then there’s Budweiser, which seems to be in a class by itself. (Over and over, marketers noted they don’t drink the beer, but they still love the commercials.)
If there is a formula for success, these experts say it’s a matter of striking the right balance between humor, drama, animals and kids. In addition, to make a memorable impact, a Super Bowl ad has to arrest attention in a visual or auditory way, tell a story and use emotion.
Here are the Super Bowl ads that have done just that.
Volkswagen’s The Force (2011)
Fred Schonenberg, Founder of VentureFuel
The ad was so warm, as it embraced family and the wonders of our childhood imaginations that we all yearn to maintain and revisit. It appealed to moms and techies, while still being hilarious enough to keep the football fan masses engaged. Brilliantly, it also showed off the technology of the car in a unique and subtle way. If I were Volkswagen, I’d replay the ad this year given all of the recent Star Wars love.
A theme that emerged from this ad was people walking around trying to start their cars using “the Force.” Too bad Volkswagen couldn’t measure that in someway. I know I mockingly tried to start everything with the Force – from my coffee maker to making the phone ring. Sadly, the Force is not strong with me.
Michael Bonfils, Managing Director of SEM International
It will probably always be the Star Wars boy who starts the car engine remotely.
His WTF moment…was classic.
Bruce Clark, Associate Professor of Marketing at Northeastern University
Featuring the shortest Darth Vader since Rick Moranis in Spaceballs: The Movie, this widely praised ad tells the story of a child who knows if he just tries hard enough, he can harness the Force.
Dressed in full Darth Vader costume, the increasingly frustrated boy attempts to coerce an exercise bike, his dog, a washing machine and a baby doll. The day is saved when, as the boy applies his final effort to the family Volkswagen Passat, his father surreptitiously uses his VW remote to start the car from inside their house, thus proving once and for all that the Force is real!
David Leitner, Managing Partner at Assembly
It plays off my love of Star Wars.
It plays off the ability to control the Force – which many people wish they had.
The ad shows off the feature of starting the car with the touch of a button – not quite the Force – but not an analog key either.
And, yeah, it’s funny.
The theme of family in the ad appealed to me – in this case, the linking of older and younger generations. The Super Bowl and Star Wars were both memorable moments of my childhood and passing that along to my kids helps to build a connection, while reliving old memories and making new ones for years to come.
Kate Garofalini, Director of Marketing at Dstillery
This is by far one of my favorite Super Bowl ads and not because I was a loyal Jetta owner at the time. This was the first time an advertiser released an ad before the big game and the reality far exceeded their viral expectations, changing how advertisers approach Super Bowl Sunday ever since.
With only a few days until it officially aired, it racked up more than 17 million YouTube views! It was a perfect combination: nostalgia and humor of a child dressed as a notorious villain, endearing moments between a father and son, the popularity of Star Wars and a conflict-to-resolution narrative.
One of the methodologies for evaluating video performance that has a lot of merit is the number of times the content has been shared on Facebook, Twitter and in the blogosphere. This avoids the whole debate over the definition of a “view.” (Facebook says you pay for a “view” when a video is displayed in a user’s news feed for 3 seconds or more, even if the person doesn’t actually click on the video to watch with the sound turned on. With TrueView in-stream ads, YouTube says you pay for a “view” when a viewer watches 30 seconds of your video – or the duration if it’s shorter than 30 seconds – or engages with your video, whichever comes first.)
And according to Unruly, the most-shared Super Bowl ad of all time is Volkswagen’s The Force – with 5.4 million shares – from the 2011 Super Bowl. It’s also worth nothing that this Super Bowl ad generated a 127 percent uplift in website traffic and drove the sale of 20,902 units.
The price range for a new Passat five years ago was $19,995 to $32,950, so “The Force” drove from $417,935,490 to $688,720,900 in incremental sales. That makes it my favorite Super Bowl ad of all time.
Budweiser, Budweiser, Budweiser
Duane Forrester, Vice President of Organic Search Operations at Bruce Clay
Damn it — I’m sitting here crying rewatching my fave videos!
What is doing this to me? Budweiser ads…and I don’t even drink!
See, the Budweiser ads with their draft horses, and especially last year’s ad with the puppy that gets lost, are very powerful, emotionally attaching moments in advertising.
Let’s look at the 2015 ad here.
Cute puppy. Tough world out there. Danger. Courage. Loyalty. Family. Support. All concepts that shine clearly throughout the advertisement. Yeah, everyone knows the horses haul the famous trailer full of suds. But this ad isn’t about beer. It’s about us, the watchers, and what matters to us. The ad attaches the brand to concepts we hold dear, would lay down our lives for.
It’s a classic story of what’s possible when YOU don’t give up, and get a little help from your friends.
It helps more than a little bit that as we watch the puppy, we anthropomorphize human feelings on the dog. It’s raining, it’s cold — how miserable! The wolf threatens from behind the tree, the puppy stands tall and barks — how brave! Truth is, the dog isn’t likely as cold as we think it is and the puppy doesn’t understand the danger the way we do. This is normal, though, as American consumers spent just over $60 billion on pets in 2015. We love ’em, we lavish them. Last I checked, that’s almost double what we spend on children in the nation.
So, yeah, Budweiser gets my nod for hitting so many home runs, and for so cleverly attaching their brand to our hearts.
Jennifer Hoffman, Global Head of Partnerships at Linkdex
They’ve had several EPIC Super Bowl commercials that have gone on to spur entire campaigns for months if not years to come. Like the Budweiser frogs – who doesn’t remember laughing at that one?
They sell beer, however not a single one of their commercials talks about their product — it’s all about the brand and you will always remember their brand and commercials because of the creativity behind them. And they tap into people’s emotions. If that puppy commercial doesn’t tug at your heartstrings, then, well, let’s just say you probably don’t have a pulse!
Budweiser’s Iconic Clydesdales
Alan Bleiweiss, Forensic SEO Consultant
Just about every Budweiser Clydesdale ad ever made. And I don’t even drink alcohol.
Jessica Hoenes, Regional Vice President – Central at Dstillery
Before we had “The Greatest Show on Turf,” St. Louisans had Budweiser, creator of some of the most nostalgic and iconic Super Bowl ads of the late ‘90s.
The frogs were funny, but the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales are the stars of my favorite moments in Super Bowl advertising. No models, no flashy imagery, just pure Americana with a focus on hard-working Midwestern farmers. When these ads played, people were silent.
The Clydesdales were beautiful, they played football, and in perhaps their most memorable moment of all time, they brought tears to eyes as they paid tribute to 9/11 victims and responders. I was happy to see them make their triumphant return in last year’s Super Bowl and I know I’ll still feel a tinge of that St. Louis pride when I see their much anticipated sequel to “Lost Dog” this year.
Ashley Orndorff, Market Research Analyst and Copywriter for Visual Impact Group
My favorite Super Bowl spot (in this case, spots) of all time are the Budweiser commercials featuring the Clydesdales and the series in recent years adding in puppies.
I don’t drink beer and I still love these commercials. For one, you can’t go wrong with horses, at least not for me.
As for wide appeal, they’re fun and entertaining (like horses playing football), they’re poignant and incite emotion (like the 9/11 tribute, tearful reunions and epic adventures for friends). These commercials make you laugh, they make you cry, they make you appreciate your friends – this is what makes them so powerful and so memorable.
Budweiser’s Whassup (2000)
Steve Jukes, Chief Innovation Officer at Jumbleberry
The first time I saw the Budweiser Whassup commercial was during Super Bowl XXXIV in January of 2000. I was a university student at the time and “whassssuppppppp” became the de facto greeting amongst my group of friends for many months afterwards.
Perhaps it was because it was during a time in my life when I drank a lot more beer than usual, but I can’t recall any other commercial having such an immediate and widespread impact on my social group.
Rob Gregory, President of Sales and Marketing for WhoSay
This campaign is a favorite because it resonated with a new youthful audience and also had total cultural penetration both nationally and internationally. After the campaign aired, it was impossible to hear male friends everywhere greet one another without saying the phrase.
The campaign became an industry award winner and ran through 2001. It was later then developed into a larger campaign titled, “True.”
Andrew Beckman, Chairman of Location3 Media
My favorite commercial is Budweiser with Whassup and friends connecting via the phone. I started doing the whassup with my friends.
Budweiser’s Frogs (1995)
Ben Johnson, Digital Marketing Manager at HA Digital Marketing
My favorite Super Bowl commercial of all time has to be the Budweiser Frogs ads.
This is one of the first commercials I remember growing up that really took on a life of its own and outside of the television commercials spawned merchandise, clothing and even commercial reboots later on.
Rob McCarty, COO of PopShorts
Upon the original success of the first ad, Budweiser did a great job progressing the storyline to include new characters and situations that kept audiences engaged. I still remember most of those commercials to this day even though they were created in 1995.
Like the Budweiser ad, thematic repetition seems to be the name of the game for advertisers — why change something that already works? By keeping the storyline simple and creating minor variations to the original content along the way and throughout the years, Budweiser was able to keep their branding in the forefront of all spectators.
I see this relevant to the snackable content marketers are creating on social networks such as Vine and Instagram today. Oftentimes, when marketers on these platforms find a theme that works, they keep building the plot to introduce new characters and scenarios that keep audiences engaged. They may be able to thank Budweiser for a small yet profound sampling of that.
Budweiser’s 9/11 Tribute (2002)
Max Cron, Creative Strategy Director at Online Optimism
My favorite Super Bowl spot of all time is the Budweiser’s tribute to those that died on September 11. This commercial aired only once in 2002, but remains the most watched Super Bowl commercial of all time.
Perhaps I am somewhat biased because I am from New York, but this commercial really hits the spot. Budweiser, a company whose commercials always have class, style and emotional attachment, did a great job showing respect to all New Yorkers.
In advertising, having commercials that people emotionally connect to is key to having them connect to the product. This advert certainly hits that note and therefore was very effective.
Budweiser’s Puppy Love (2014)
Kristin Babcock, Vice President and Director of Paid Search at Cramer-Krasselt
I know I am not alone when I say this but, I would have to pick Budweiser’s Puppy Love from 2014. It pulled on your heartstrings and was just trademark Budweiser. Plus, you can see the impact of it very dramatically in Google Trends.
Since it’s been reported that they won’t use the puppy this year, it will be interesting to see how people react to their ad.
Budweiser’s Lost Dog (2015)
Colette Trudeau, Search Director at Spark SMG
My favorite Super Bowl spot of all time is Budweiser’s Lost Dog ad. Who doesn’t love that moment when the Clydesdales come running up the hill to save the puppy from the wolves? It taps all of the right feelings and for any brand advertising during the game, why not incorporate puppies? Instant audience gratification, guaranteed.
Budweiser’s Brewed The Hard Way (2015)
Gary J. Nix, Chief Strategy Officer at bdot
In recent history, Budweiser has been known for Super Bowl commercials with cute and cuddly creatures. While they did have a puppy in some of their Super Bowl XLIX spots, the one that stood out to me was Brewed the Hard Way.
This was the commercial where they made bold claims on what their beer was and what it was not. They stuck their flag in the sand and staked their claim.
Granted, some people had a strong negative reaction in real time, but I noticed that most, if not all, of those people were unhappy because Budweiser was talking about craft and flavored beers in a less than good light. However, that’s exactly what I liked. They were clear and concise regarding how they say they make their beer. They spoke to their audience and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Google’s Parisian Love (2010)
Purna Virji, Senior Bing Ads Client Development and Training Manager at Microsoft
I like Google’s ad about the different searches. It told the story of someone’s life journey through their searches. Very poignant.
Jon Goldberg, Executive Creative Director at KBS
They were able to introduce an entirely new way to tell a compelling, emotional story through a product demo.
Quan Hoang, Creative Director of Interactive at HZDG
Google’s Parisian Love, which told a love story through the use of Google that still delights me to this day. The ad did a few things very well.
First and foremost, it stood out from the clutter. Super Bowl spots are usually known for their high production value or star appeal. Parisian Love had neither but still crushed it.
The second thing it did well was use the brand’s product in a relevant and believable way. Product placement is usually a story killer, but not in this case. If anything, it made the story.
The third thing it did well was tap into the romantic in all of us. The story was well written and universal. I’m pretty sure the moment after that ad played was an all-time record for humans to be collectively daydreaming about love in Paris.
Apple’s 1984 (1984)
John Gross, Director of Marketing at Struck
It was so epic in its concept and production — practically ushered in the era of the Super Bowl TV spot all by itself.
Mike Grehan, CMO and Managing Director at Acronym Media
It represents the dawning of a new age in computing and it used “fear messaging” to huge advantage, which has made it one of the few classic ads that still gets discussed now.
Not only that, it was directed by Hollywood giant Ridley Scott, who is from my part of the world in the north of England, and his brother used to teach media classes in the marketing department at my college.
Brian Hersholt, Regional Vice President of Sales – East at Dstillery
I think it’s gotta be the Apple ad from 1984. Maybe the most famous Super Bowl ad ever?
It was clearly early days for today’s most valuable brand and was a launching pad for Macintosh computer. Plus the ad’s impact is still felt today.
Dirk Schwarz, CRO – US at Linkdex
It broke new ground and was epic.
Always’ #LikeAGirl (2015)
Claudia Page, VP and Head of Creator Partnerships at Crowdtap
P&G really nailed it with this campaign and showed the industry that large, established brands can adapt to the times and strike a cultural chord in a genuine way. What I like most about this is the insight that Super Bowl viewing is truly a family event and that includes parents and their young daughters.
The campaign used a combination of realistic portrayal of their target consumer and an empowering message to make a difference and ignite a social conversation around the #LikeAGirl hashtag, which, more than a call-to-action, was a call-to-arms. The “Like a Girl” campaign helped pioneer a wave of female empowerment campaigns, which together have transformed the media landscape and helped brands (finally!) catch up to shifts that were already well underway in culture.
Brent Csutoras, CEO of Pixel Road Designs
As we all know, Super Bowl commercials are some of the best commercials we see all year long, so to pick a single one as my favorite is very tough, but this is the one that is on my mind right now and is amazing to me.
When I see this commercial it makes me happy, because I see an example of something that a lot of brands are doing these days, which is using their power and money to improve the social standards that are holding us back from evolving into the progressive future we all hope for. It is also a very vivid reminder of the power we have to shape the future views of our children.
Coca-Cola’s Mean Joe Greene (1980)
Tom Lyons, Managing Director at HYFN
My favorite ad was the 1980 Mean Joe Greene Coke ad. I was old enough to already be dreaming of playing football and young enough to not yet understand how bad of an athlete I would grow to be and how much I don’t love being pummeled.
But, come on, it’s a kid and the guy’s name is Mean. That spells magic.
Even today as a grown man, if Mean Joe Greene said hello to me, I’d be so fired up. At the time, every seven-year-old in America wanted to be that kid. Wanted to befriend Mean Joe Greene (again, his first name is Mean) with a Coke. In school, the social media of 1980, I remember everyone talking about it and then, well, I remember Mean Jim Cratty beating me up for not giving him my Coke, but it was worth it.
But really isn’t that ad what all of advertising — regardless of medium or event — is about? Having a viewer put his or herself in that car, in that hotel, eating that chip. And one more time it was a kid with a man whose name was Mean. Magic.
Scott Davis, Chief Growth Officer at Prophet
The ad blended humor, emotion and Americana into the story and the spirit of it resonated universally. It is still a standard bearer of great Super Bowl ads that many others measure themselves against.
Chris Hart, Head of Client Development – US at Linkdex
This ad was so powerful, it even became part of folklore — that he gave away his jersey and lost his powers.
Monster.com’s When I Grow Up (1999)
Hilary McCarthy, Vice President of Zenzi Communications
You can’t help but laugh at Monster.com’s When I Grow Up. Though targeted at people who are focused on achievement, most anyone can relate to the 30-second spot.
Who hasn’t aspired to become something “great”? It’s not until we get older that we’re jaded by career prospects.
But not for the Monster.com kids; they tell like it is, “When I grow up. I want to file all day…Claw my way up to middle management,” or “be replaced on a whim” — just a few of the “aspirations” spoken with sincerity by the kids, with the American Boychoir playing in the background.
We can’t help but chuckle at the sarcasm and realize we can aspire to be so much more.
Mark Alves, Digital Marketing Consultant
My favorite Super Bowl spot of all time? Monster.com’s “When I Grow Up…” commercial from the 1999 Super Bowl. This was the deadpan montage of kids explaining how they want to grow up to be mere cogs in the work machine.
The ad was funny, memorable, completely on-message, captured the attention of everyone at the Super Bowl party I attended and, most importantly, it worked. This spot put Monster on the map for job sites as traffic skyrocketed.
Tide’s Miracle Stain (2013)
Jon Bailey, Chief Relationships Officer at the i.d.e.a. Brand
Brilliant work by Saatchi & Saatchi three years ago.
What I love about this spot, aside from the incredible entertainment value, is the strategy and planning that went into pulling it off. The team at Saatchi had to plan for several potential outcomes to the playoff games, and line up the star players associated with those teams that might ultimately make it to the Super Bowl in advance. They didn’t know this information in order to shoot the spot until a couple of weeks before the big game and were able to pull the trigger with the right talent in place – what a feat of production in a very short amount of time.
Even better, the spot aired in the third quarter directly after the Ravens scored. And to top it off, the Ravens won! Brilliant opportunity played brilliantly. Tide wins the Ad Super Bowl, followed by awards at Cannes, Clios and more.
Vassilis Dalakas, Professor of Marketing at Cal State San Marcos
It was great because:
1. It specifically incorporated the two teams playing in the Super Bowl, making it easier to pay attention to it and remember it.
2. It cleverly and creatively leveraged Tide’s NFL sponsorship, which allows them to use NFL trademarks. These trademarks were essential for the storyline to come to life.
3. It was funny but not just for the sake of being funny; the humor related to the brand and helped the brand message (no stain is sacred) and benefit (Tide can remove all stains) get communicated.
EDS’ Herding Cats (2000)
James Fox, CEO of Red Peak Branding
Cat Herders ran in January 2000, during Super Bowl XXXIV, a game often referred to as the Dot-Com Super Bowl, due to the large number of dot-com companies who advertised during the Big Game. It features grizzled cowboys herding (newly) digital animated cats. It’s a giant Western metaphor to describe an incredibly boring IT services company.
It’s all in the details though: from the cowboy using his lint roller on his jacket to the sublime rationale line, “In a sense this is what we do.” It’s the best of what ad agency Fallon was producing — funny, poignant and outsmarting the competition.
The spot was a huge success both creatively and commercially. Then-President Bill Clinton cited Cat Herders as his favorite Big Game commercial and EDS executives praised the commercial for meeting business objectives.
Visits to eds.com quadrupled to nearly 2 million the Monday after the game and reached nearly 7 million in the week after the event, per a news release. The company estimated that for every dollar spent on Super Bowl advertising, it garnered a $5 to $7 return in media value.
Dodge’s Farmer (2013)
Erin Everhart, Lead Manager of Digital Marketing – SEO at The Home Depot
I was a huge fan of the God Made A Farmer spot. It was such a compelling story that really stuck out through other overly sales pitches.
Kathy Delaney, Global Chief Creative Officer of Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness
One of my recent favorites is Ram Truck’s God Made a Farmer. It’s such a simple, understated ad, but, at the same time, so arresting and beautiful. It was able to cut through the noise on what might be the loudest night of the year by just being quiet and focusing on making an emotional connection.
Snickers’ You’re Not You with Betty White (2010)
Simon Heseltine, Independent Consultant
Back in 2010 I was working on a sports site — Fanhouse.com — at AOL. Fanhouse held the #1 spot in the SERPs for “Super Bowl ads” and “Super Bowl commercials” and #2 for “Superbowl ads” and “Superbowl commercials.” Which meant that the Monday after the Super Bowl was a huge traffic day for us.
That said, we also wanted to compete on each individual ad (this was before the ads were placed on YouTube before the game, as they are now). So we had a team of people, watching the commercials, trying to determine what the right keywords were for each ad…what should go in the title of the post along with the video of the ad.
One that sticks out is the Snickers commercial that was released that year, the one that launched the “You’re not you when you’re hungry” tagline. The next day I looked at our competitors to see what they’d gone with. Some went with “Snickers commercial,” one even went with “Abe Vigoda commercial,” but we had the #1 ranking and a bunch of traffic for the right term — “Betty White Snickers commercial.”
John Gallegos, Founder and CEO of Grupo Gallegos
It had the right amount of what makes a great Super Bowl ad: single-minded message, a celebrity, humor and a surprise twist. The product was the hero and it led to other work for the brand.
Doritos’ Ultrasound (2016)
Matt McGowan, Head of Strategy at Google
Have you seen it? The childbirth one…Timely for me, too.
Doritos’ Live the Flavor (2007)
Aaron Levy, Manager of Client Strategy at Elite SEM
Favorite of mine is definitely Doritos “Live The Flavor” from 2007 — it was the first (and probably best) consumer-generated ad to air ever.
As an aspiring marketing student at the time, it gave me a ton of hope for the “little guy” in all of us.
Pepsi’s Just One Look (1991)
Tobey Van Santvoord, Regional Vice President — West Coast at Dstillery
Perhaps Pepsi’s most iconic Super Bowl ad of all time, this spot used one of the most recognizable supermodels in the world, Cindy Crawford, to promote their newly redesigned soda can.
As a middle school boy myself, seeing a supermodel in a tank top and daisy dukes step out of a red Lamborghini was enough to switch me from Coke to Pepsi.
Most memorably, however, was the impact on the brand’s new design. While this commercial leveraged sex appeal, it was able to introduce a new can design that became arguably the most iconic Pepsi can design of all time.
Pepsi’s Cheatin’ Heart (1996)
Dana DiTomaso, Partner at Kick Point
I’ve got to say that I really love this spot from 1996.
It’s just so sweet and funny and doesn’t have to say much.
Microsoft’s Braylon (2015)
Mel Carson, Founder, CEO and Principal Strategist at Delightful Communications
My favorite (bear in mind I’ve only lived here for 3 Super Bowls) is Microsoft’s Braylon spot – I love how this is less about a product but more about a movement to empower and help people overcome adversity and do amazing things. It was a great stage for Microsoft to show the power of technology and keep the wheels turning on its resurgence.
Chrysler’s Imported From Detroit (2011)
Carolyn Hadlock, Principal and Executive Creative Director at Young & Laramore
Besides 1984, of course, the ad that made me want to go into advertising, the ad that gave me that same stop-me-in-my-tracks moment was the first Imported from Detroit spot by Chrysler in 2011. Everything about it — the gritty film, the writing, the spare use of Eminem, the sleekness of the car and the final punctuation of the tagline at the end — was Super Bowl worthy.
Plus, I adored the fact that they didn’t hype it before the game. They had enough confidence in it to know it only had to play one time and people would remember it as one of the greatest Super Bowl ads of all time.
Reebok’s Terry Tate: Office Linebacker (2003)
Nicholas Papagiannis, Vice President and Search Director at Cramer-Krasselt
Reebok’s Terry Tate ads are something my friends and I still talk about. At the time, I remember laughing, but it was also sort of shocking.
The quotes from the ads are classic — “When it’s game time, it’s pain time” — and it drove a lot of people to Reebok’s site to download it.
Emerald Nuts’ They’re Kind Of Hard To Share (2004)
Derek Gleason, SEO Analyst at Workshop Digital
Not many commercials are ambitious enough to try to unite unicorns, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, but the absurdist comedy makes this Emerald Nuts spot funny and memorable. (After all, these are the same folks that brought us Egomaniacal Normans and a bevy of other “E-N” non sequiturs during previous ad campaigns.)
Wendy’s Where’s The Beef? (1984)
Ken Harlan, CEO of MobileFuse
This spot really put Wendy’s on the map and helped differentiate the brand from competitors such as McDonald’s and Burger King.
Another memorable moment was the Super Bowl in 2014 — that’s because it was the first time that we started to really see mobile buys accompany TV buys to further amplify the spots, and provide additional context and engagement opportunities. Super Bowl commercials provide the best opportunity for exposure/branding in all of advertising, but they lack the ability to accomplish any lower funnel activities. We’re seeing more and more brands think about adding mobile into their Super Bowl marketing plans to make their budget go further, and I think this signifies a major shift in how we think about Super Bowl advertising.