It’s been estimated that 18 percent of Super Bowl viewers mostly care about seeing the funny, splashy TV ads that occur during the commercial breaks. (And we’re not even counting those who mostly want to catch the halftime show.) That’s a lot of people, especially once you consider how few people really sit down and watch television actually on televisions anymore, let alone at the time that it’s originally airing.
Brands—and the NFL—are well aware of what they’ve got: In 2020, all but one 30-second Super Bowl spot cost advertisers between $5 million to $5.6 million, a price tag that has rocketed up almost every year since 1970, when it was a now-quaint, then-astronomic $78,200. Which begs the question: Is it really worth it?
Most brands think so. Elizabeth Lindsey, a managing partner with Wasserman, a company that strategizes with many of the brands that partner with the NFL, told Yahoo in 2017 that “it’s the last bastion of programming that people feel is must-see, in the moment, live,” and that the Super Bowl in general is “a cultural experience far more than it is an individual game. It’s a gathering. And regardless of how you watch, at the end of the day, it’s social.”
With that kind of pressure, not everybody lives up to the hype. Some spots, though, become iconic, remembered decades after they aired, far after the fates of the players in the game that surrounded them have faded from memory. Here are 22 of the most memorable Super Bowl ads of all time—from expertly orchestrated emotional arcs and click-bait-ready celebrity cameos to heritage companies making new moves, or just plain clever branding.
Timothée Chalamet for Cadillac, 2021
I would watch Chalamet do literally anything, but a kind of ur-Edward Scissorhands character in a Cadillac commercial is truly the role he was born to play. Time for a reboot of the original?
Jason Alexander for Tide, 2021
Thank God the kids still get Seinfeld references, or at least enough for Jason Alexander to be the focal point of this Tide commercial featuring the actor’s countenance on a kid’s beloved hoodie. Would you wear it?
Will Ferrell for GM, 2021
One of the great mysteries of Hollywood is how Will Ferrell has managed to stay so endearing for so long. In this General Motors spot, the comedian rounds up pals Kenan Thompson and Awkwafina for an overseas caper that’s worth seeing for yourself.
Lil Nas X and Sam Elliott for Doritos, 2020
Nobody had a bigger 2019 than Lil Nas X, but Sam Elliott was a close second for his scene-stealing role in A Star is Born. Naturally, when the two met for a dance-off at the “Cool Ranch,” magic happened, and we were lucky enough to witness it.
John Krasinski, Chris Evans, and Rachel Dratch for Hyundai Smart Park, 2020
If you’ve ever tried to “pahk the cah in Hahvahd Yahd,” or anywhere in Boston, you know fitting into a spot in the Massachusetts city can be a nightmare. Hyundai’s Smart Park feature attempts to combat that with celebrity endorsement from native Bostonites John Krasinski, Chris Evans, and Rachel Dratch, who let their Boston accents fly free.
Mountain Dew Kickstart: Puppymonkeybaby, 2016
It was bizarre. It was uncomfortable. It was also really, really difficult to ignore. In the world of TV advertisements, that’s a slam dunk. Mountain Dew’s chanting “Puppymonkeybaby” nearly broke the Internet when it premiered in 2016, for Super Bowl 50. Just try not to let it get stuck in your head.
Liam Neeson for Clash of Clans: Revenge, 2015
The most popular ad of 2015 features an ultra-intense Liam Neeson preparing his vengeance on an innocent Clash of Clans online gamer. The barista, who mispronounces his name, is also on his list.
Budweiser Puppy Love, 2014, and Lost Dog, 2015
It’s a tie between these two spots, which launched a million dog adoptions—and reliably push many Vogue team members to tears. (The puppies! The horses! They’re friends!)
Volkswagen’s The Force, 2011
Just try to resist smiling while watching this adorable Volkswagen commercial, which combines youthful ambition and some loving sleight of hand.
Betty White for Snickers, 2010
No matter how many times we’ve watched this commercial, it’s always shocking to see a then-88-year-old Betty White being tackled into a pile of mud during a rough game of football.
Old Spice, 2010
“Look at your man. Now back to me. Now back at your man. Now back to me.” Were more immortal words ever spoken? Sure, the shaming of men who use “lady-scented body wash” is a little retro, but it was a full decade ago, after all.
Parisian Love by Google, 2010
This Google ad tells the love story of a foreign exchange student in Paris, showing search queries typed on a computer screen. The commercial, while romantic, also kind of makes us want to delete our cache immediately.
Britney Spears for Pepsi, 2002
At the height of her popularity, Britney Spears starred in this ad by Pepsi, in which she played a pop star during the buttoned-up ’50s, a surfer girl in the ’60s, and an androgynous ’80s singer, among other characters.
Budweiser’s Frogs, 1995
It was impossible to drink a Budweiser in 1995 without thinking of these three monosyllabic frogs.
Larry Bird and Michael Jordan for McDonald’s, 1993
It’s hard to imagine anyone today dueling for a Big Mac as long as basketball stars Michael Jordan and Larry Bird did back in 1993. Meanwhile, the year this ad aired, Michael Jackson was the Super Bowl halftime act, while O.J. Simpson performed the game’s opening coin toss.
Cindy Crawford for Pepsi, 1992
This Pepsi ad featuring Cindy Crawford stepping out of a red Lamborghini in a white swimsuit was an instant classic. Ten years later, Crawford reenacted the spot, but this time, she was climbing out of an SUV with her two kids in the back seat.
Apple’s 1984, 1984
If you watched Steve Jobs, you caught a glimpse of this controversial Apple ad, which premiered during the 1984 Super Bowl. The post-apocalyptic ad was directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Ridley Scott (The Martian) and was revolutionary at the time for not showing the product it was advertising.
A classic in the truest sense of the word, this TV spot from 1967 shows just how far we’ve come in terms of technology in the last half-century (and, as a bonus, gets us all nostalgic for the golden era of baseball).
This article was originally published on Vogue.com.
- Betty White
- Britney Spears
- Chris Evans
- cindy crawford
- Clash Of Clans
- General Motors
- Hyundai Smart Park
- Jason Alexander
- John Krasinski
- Larry Bird
- Liam Neeson
- Lil Nas X
- Michael Jordan
- Mountain Dew Kickstart
- Old Spice
- Parisian Love Google
- Rachel Dratch
- Sam Elliott
- Super Bowl
- Timothée Chalamet
- Uber Eats
- Wayne's World
- Will Ferrell