The Best Super Bowl Commercials Ever?

The Big Game.

For many, the Super Bowl is the sporting event of the year – a chance to crack open a cold one and watch the top Football players battle it out on the big screen.

But now, over 50 years since the first kick-off, there’s another skirmish happening: the battle of the brands. Every year companies spend millions to secure just a few seconds of airtime during the event, which attracts the attention of over a third of the population.

These days the halftime commercials are arguably as important as the game itself. The cost of a 30-second spot at halftime is around $5 million (and that’s just to buy the air time). Seem expensive? Maybe, but the rewards are substantial – due to the ongoing fragmentation of media, the Super Bowl is one of the last remaining bastions of advertising a single product to a mass audience. Big exposure.

Lucky for us, the fight for attention has spawned some of the most innovative commercials to date – and some of the most controversial. In anticipation of this year’s event, The Moon Unit has compiled a list of our favorite halftime commercials. 

There’s no particular order, rank or reason. Some are old, some new. We like them. You might too?

Reebok – Terry Tate

What happens when you introduce a brick shithouse of a linebacker to a white collar office environment? Timeless comedy, of course. First featured in 2003, Terry Tate: Office Linebacker was a hit for Reebok, which resulted in spin-offs reaching as far as the UK. And productivity since is up 46%!

Doritos – Time Machine

This spot might be the black sheep here – it’s fan-made and was aired as the winner of the ‘Crash the Super Bowl’ competition in 2014. What’s more: it was made on a budget of $300. And it doesn’t skimp on quality because of it; it’s both heart-warming and hilarious, and proves you don’t need a huge CGI budget to make something memorable.

EDS – Cat Herders

Ever heard the age-old idiom “It’s like herding cats”? Well this ad from 2000 took it one step further by being… very literal about it. They won several awards along the way, and apparently Bill Clinton likes it too. Who knew?

FedEx – Fast Paced World

If advertising tends to reflect culture, then this is a good example of the 1980’s in America. Or at least on Wall Street. Either way, Joe Sedelmaier really outdid himself with this spot – it’s not often that comedy stands the test of time so thoroughly.

Budweiser – Whassup?

What came first: the ad or the catchphrase? No, seriously: this commercial totally took over pop culture, with parodies and references so numerous you could fill a ring binder with them (remember, it’s 2000 we’re talking about). Fast forward to now and it’s hard to tell whether it’s ironic or not anymore. It just is.

Chrysler – Halftime in America

A few decades after Reagan declared it “Morning in America", we reached halftime. Equal parts grim and hopeful, this spot is an allegorical tale of America’s automobile industry rebounding, narrated by Clint Eastwood in his trademark gravely intonation. And it’s strangely moving, empowering, even.

NO MORE – Listen

This ad campaign against domestic violence is one of the most chilling things we’ve come across in advertising. Featuring an audio clip of a victim of domestic abuse pretending to order a pizza while on the phone to 911, cut to visuals of an empty and ransacked house, this commercial is as effective as it is heart-breaking.

Apple – 1984

Yes, we did put this on our recent list of our Top Ten Ads of All Time. But you couldn’t talk about halftime at the Super Bowl without mentioning this legendary spot. It changed the paradigm: it encouraged cinematic, narrative driven advertising; it helped kick start what is now one of America’s leading industries; it used a female lead in a time where people were only beginning to consider gender roles in advertising. The ripples are still being felt to this day. 

Snickers – Betty White

This spot from 2010 got the ball rolling on the globally successful ‘You’re Not You When You’re Hungry’ campaign and revitalized Betty White’s career in one fell swoop. Taking an age old idiom and approaching it literally… Sound familiar? Also, there’s just not a lot more as entertaining as watching an old lady insult a football player’s girlfriend. 

Volkswagen – The Force

Featuring a kid walking around the house dressed as Darth Vader, attempting to use the force on everything from the exercise bike to the family dog, this spot was a hit at the 2011 Super Bowl. Actually, it was a hit before the Super Bowl – the agency decided to do something unheard of at the time and release it on YouTube three days early. But what could have been a risky move ended up making the spot one of the most shared Super Bowl ads ever, and it's changed the standard practice since.

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