Best and Worst Super Bowl Commercials of All Time
In the past two decades, the cost of a 30-second commercial spot during the Super Bowl more than doubled. In 2021, the price was $5.6 million. Take a look:
For that kind of investment, brands are pulling all the stops to produce Super Bowl ads that make a huge impression. In the best case, people talk about “that incredible Super Bowl commercial” for years to come. In the worst case, well, the ad is a flop but hey – there’s no such thing as bad publicity!
Here’s our personal roundup of best and worst Super Bowl ads of all time, each unforgettable in their own way:
Best Super Bowl Commercials
Apple – 1984
Who can forget the shock and awe of possibly one of the most iconic Super Bowl commercials of all time? It was 1984, and Apple paid tribute to the George Orwell novel of the same name in a dark, dystopian and jarring ad introducing the Macintosh computer. It’s hard to imagine a world before the PC and internet were at the center of our lives, but nearly 40 years ago, this Super Bowl commercial was revolutionary, and we have to say, it remains so even now.
Air Nike 1992 – Michael Jordan & Bugs Bunny
Way back in the early 90s, the blend of animated and real-life action was novel and exciting, and even today, that excitement is palpable in the Super Bowl commercial for Nike Air sneakers, which aired in 1992. What could be better than a cartoon story featuring Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny, with all the classic Looney Tunes flavor and humor. Such fun, and incredible to see how the brand, the ad, and the stars have all stood the test of time. That’s all folks!
Volkswagen 2011 – Darth Vader
Cute boy dressed up as Darth Vader, trying to practice his superpowers. Nothing works. Father comes home in a sleek Volkswagen, and – unseen by his son – clicks the remote car lock so the little boy discovers his ‘real’ inner Darth Vader! What’s not to love? Perfect family meets Star Wars meets dream car. It’s Gen X Super Bowl ad sentimentality at its finest.
Chrysler 2012 – Halftime in America
The legend Clint Eastwood pays tribute to the Motor City and its struggles with this beautiful commercial that is seriously moving and meaningful. Nothing beats the gritty voice and soul of Eastwood, and this message to the people of Detroit and the entire United States for Super Bowl 2012, when the world was coming out from under the recession. Chrysler really hit it out of the park with this commercial, whose production value, sentiment and delivery were just perfect for the time, and still resonate many years later.
Google 2020 – Loretta
This ad is so simple and spot on, it was a huge hit among Super Bowl audiences. Google turned on the nostalgia and the tears with a tribute by a loving husband to his late wife Loretta. With photo snapshots, Google tech and the husband’s longing narration, the audience got to know this adorable couple and their long-standing love, and got to see how Google is so much more than a search engine – it’s the repository of a life well lived and loved. This commercial really hit us in the feels. Pass the tissues!
Worst Super Bowl Commercials
Apple 1985 – Lemmings
Following the revolutionary 1984 ad by Apple the previous year, the company continued its dystopian theme with a creepy dark scene of blindfolded business people, whistling to the classic “Hi ho, ho ho” work tune, as they walk themselves off a cliff and into an abyss. The only antidote to being a lemming? The new Macintosh computer. From a vantage point of thirty years later, the ad seems awfully preachy and dramatic, but even back then, Apple couldn’t quite recapture the power and originality of the 1984 version.
Go Daddy 2013 – Smart Meets Sexy
So Go Daddy, the web hosting company, got a little cringe-y with its “smart meets sexy”’ theme. Awkwardness abounded in households across America as families endured a noisy, passionate kiss between supermodel Bar Rafaeli (“sexy”), and geek Jesse Heiman (“smart”). Clearly, the awkwardness was the whole point of the ad, but we think it might have been a bridge too far into cringe land.
General Motors 2021 – Will Ferrell in Norway
It’s not necessarily a good idea to pit country against country, which is exactly what Will Ferrell did when he discovered that Norway has higher electric vehicle use than the US. So he puts his GM EV on a (fuel powered of course) ship to Norway to challenge them. Only to finally arrive and discover he’d landed in…Sweden. The ad was criticized for missing the “tongue in cheek” mark it was trying to hit, by a long shot, as evidenced by this sarcastic “response” from a Norwegian university.
Jeep 2021 – Bruce Springsteen Meet in the Middle
For an ad that sounded more like a preachy PSA for everyone to ‘come together’, Bruce Springsteen’s Jeep ad managed to irritate people left, right and center. The sentiment is noble, but during a stressful and fractured time, the commercial came off sounding more like nails on a blackboard. What’s more, around the time of the ad’s release, Springsteen was charged with a DUI and the ad was even pulled for a while. An example of a Super Bowl commercial with good intentions, but bad execution.
Squarespace 2021 – 5 to 9 by Dolly Parton
The 40th anniversary of the iconic “9 to 5” movie and Dolly Parton song was reason enough for Squarespace, the DIY website building platform, to sing it backwards as “5 to 9” for its Super Bowl commercial. The song is eternally catchy, to be sure, but there was something a bit off about the message. Working from 5pm to 9am on your “side hustle”, with the help of a Squarespace website to show off your business, may sound like a cool idea. But during a time of economic hardship for many people as a result of the pandemic, working all night on a side job while slogging the regular 9 to 5 day just doesn’t sound appealing.
Roaring success or flop and failure? That’s the (more than 5!) million dollar question when it comes to the Super Bowl Commercial season. With every passing year, the ad costs get steeper and the stakes get higher. What will this year’s games bring? For us marketers, watching the ads is the next best thing to watching the Super Bowl!