Working Hard for the Money

My desire to sit through four hours of professional football to see Super Bowl ads as they first air, faded somewhere in the mid 2000s. Super Bowl commercial breaks started leaving me disappointed. I was seeing commercials and movie trailers that had already been out for a couple weeks. I missed the successive, over the top, often humorous and entertaining ads. I don’t know if Super Bowl commercials stopped cutting the mustard because commercials in general started setting the bar higher or if I just came to expect too much.

I do love advertising, so I can’t totally ignore the largest ad spending event of the year. Luckily with the popularity of YouTube and corporate utilization of social media, I no longer have to sit through four hours of football. In fact, I don’t even need to wait for the big game. According to Time magazine,

roughly 50 of last year’s Super Bowl ads could be watched, in some format, before kick-off.”

Online teasers and early releases help amortize the expense of a commercial with free publicity. But does this type of publicity come with other costs? Volkswagon’s release of their ‘Get Happy’ ad is already provoking criticism, being referred to as ‘blackface with voices.” Arab-American groups are calling Coca-Cola’s ‘Coke Chase’ commercial racist, saying it portrays Arabs as “backward and foolish Camel Jockeys, and they have no chance to win in the world.”  Taco Bell decided to pull an ad that the Center for Science in the Public Interest called “an attack on vegetables.”

The days when Super Bowl ads were a surprise are waning. The stand-out commercials are no longer the first thing you want to talk about at work on Monday morning because you’ve been talking about them for weeks leading up to the game. One of 2012’s most popular Super Bowl commercial’s was Clint Eastwood’s ‘It’s Halftime in America.’ In addition to being uncommonly long, it was two minutes in length, it was seen by the public for the first time during the Super Bowl broadcast. No one got a sneak peek on YouTube, Twitter or Facebook.

Is the element of anticipation and surprise part of what makes a Super Bowl ad great? I think so. So I compiled a list of some Super Bowl commercial legends—ads that aired pre-social media, pre-crowdingsourcing and when people had the ability to take a joke. Sports fan, I am not. Factor in my age, and my personal recollection for Super Bowl ads is somewhat limited. I knew my list had to consist of Apple’s ‘1984,’ Coke’s ‘Mean Joe Green,’ the Budweiser frogs, the ‘Wassup’ guys and the football-playing Clydesdales. And who can forget the E*trade baby? Seeing as I can’t recall any chip commercials, I’m pretty sure I’ve overlooked several others.

Here’s my Top 15 Super Bowl commercials. Selections were made based on a super-scientific method. It included Google and comparisons of others’ lists. You’ll notice a few newbies made the list—they were popular enough to make several ‘Top 10’ lists, so I didn’t feel right leaving them off. Surprisingly, no chip commercials made the cut (although Dorito’s 3D (1998) was a contender on some lists).

15. Xerox, Monks (1977)

14. Pepsi, Security Camera (1996)

13. Snickers, Betty White (2010)

12. Volkswagon, The Force (2011)

11. E*trade, Out the Wazoo (2000)

10. E*Trade, Baby Trading (2008)

9. Budweiser, Clydesdale Football (2003)

8. McDonalds, The Showdown (1993)

7. Budweiser, Wassup? (2000)

6. EDS, Herding Cats (2000)

5. Reebok, Terry Tate Office Linebacker (2003)

4. Budweiser, Frogs (1995)

3. Monster, When I Grow Up (1999)

2. Coca Cola, Mean Joe Green (1980)

1. Apple, 1984 (1984)

Are there any memorable Super Bowl ads you recall that are missing from the list? Who do you think will be this year’s top contenders?