Are We Ever Going to Top the Greatest Super Bowl Ad of All Time?

Apple's '1984' Was a Game-Changer, There's No Excuse for Avoiding the Next One

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If we compare the most popular Super Bowl commercials from year to year, they all fall short of the one that got this magnificent obsession going in the first place: Apple's "1984." That iconic creation still leads everyone's list of the best ever. Why haven't we topped it?

Every year, the original Super Bowl commercial-rating website, polls America about which commercial was the best of the event. My choice always loses. My wife says I'm an ad snob who likes to think that the majority of people lack the refined insight that I possess as to what makes a great ad. There's something flattering to what she said, though it could also be that I'm just wrong. But I'm not here to plead the case for my vote as the correct one. Rather, I want to take a look back at why we can't seem to get over that MacIntosh bar.

Last year the No. 1 commercial on AdBowl was by Volkswagen. A little boy in a Darth Vader costume tries to use the Force everywhere inside his house, to no avail. His father arrives home in his Volkswagen and helps the kid by using his key fob to make the boy think that he has the power to lock the car. It's a charming spot. I liked it. But I wanted more. I've wanted more for a long time.

I want a Super Bowl ad with the power of "1984." That ad changed everything for our industry. I want an ad that isn't an ad. An ad that does more than sell wares, that treats us as if we have a brain. An ad that leaves a little gap for us to fill in and make the message our own. An ad that shows this industry that it's time to think in a new way, that to remain relevant we had better start breaking a few rules.

Game-changing of that order is what we in advertising should demand of a Super Bowl quality spot -- and of ourselves, all of the time. "1984" showed us that we could do better, and we did. We became more innovative with print, then the web and then with product experience.

Isn't it time we did it again?

We have no excuse, because there are a lot of new avenues to take. The Subservient Chicken for Burger King was a high-water mark for online. Droga5's Tap Project to raise awareness of the global water crisis redefined how public service could be created by our industry, not just advertised by it. But, compared to the vast impact of "1984" these are incremental advances. They have pushed us forward, but it's been too long since we leaped. That can't happen unless we yearn for it, and not only yearn, but obsess, demand and sacrifice.

Staying constantly fresh and relevant is vital in a business that produces disposable communications. But that goal is easily relegated to tomorrow, for a myriad of excuses: Today's project has too many obstacles. There isn't enough money. The weak economy is making clients less likely to gamble on something unprecedented. Our mother will be ashamed if we fail. Schoolmates will point at our children and mock. We can invent all kinds of reasons to remain on a collision course with mediocrity.

The world isn't going to end if don't take another leap. It'll just be a little more boring. So here's to hoping that this year's Super Bowl is the one where those fighting the good fight in our business will change the rules once again.

Bart Cleveland is partner, creative director, McKee Wallwork Cleveland, Albuquerque, N.M.
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