Super Bowl

12 Ads That Changed Super Bowl Marketing

Love 'Em or Hate 'Em, These Spots Pushed the Envelope or Captured the Zeitgiest

Published on .

Save your complaints. We're not choosing the best or worst ads in Super Bowl history, just the ones that advanced the niche practice of Super Bowl marketing. Whether they pushed the pop-culture envelope, captured consumer attitudes for a moment or forced changes in how the big game's ads are run, the following represent the commercials we think spurred the most movement.
Advertising Age Player
WHAT: An athlete hurls a sledgehammer against a "Big Brother" figure in an Orwellian state. The ad suggested revolution was in the air, just as Apple introduced its Macintosh computer and prepared to take on the staid IBM.
WHY: Super Bowl ads have always made us laugh. This one made us think.

Advertising Age Player
Xerox, "Monks"
WHAT: Brother Dominic finishes the arduous task of duplicating an old manuscript when his supervisor tells him to come up with 500 more copies. He finds his way to a secret Xerox shop. Upon his return with a stack of copies, his superior proclaims, "It's a miracle!"
WHY: Making fun of a religious order? Irreverent. And a big step toward some of the more ribald humor of today.

Advertising Age Player
Anheuser-Busch, "Bud Bowl"

WHAT: Bottles of Bud Light square off against bottles of Budweiser in this stop-motion-animation football classic that lasted several more years.
WHY: Why run a single ad when you can run a commercial that lasts the whole game? While "Bud Bowl" is often satirized today, at the time it showed that an advertiser could devise something bigger around the Super Bowl than a couple of 30-second commercials.

Advertising Age Player

WHAT: MC Hammer and the late Ed McMahon hold forth for the practice of turning in jewelry to get much-needed dinero.
WHY: The Super Bowl was long thought of as an event reserved for blue-chip advertising. In the middle of a severe recession, however, the appearance of a marketer more traditionally associated with direct-response advertising shattered that convention forever.

Advertising Age Player
Monster, "When I Grow Up..."

WHAT: A series of kids stare at the camera and discuss the shattered dreams that await them in the workplace, including growing up to be a "brown nose," clawing one's way to middle management, or being forced into early retirement.
WHY: Humor tinged with cynicism suggested that Super Bowl audiences were more sophisticated than anyone had dreamed.

Advertising Age Player
Chrysler, "Imported From Detroit"

WHAT: An ad clocking in at a whopping two minutes (!!!) trumpets the return of the U.S. automotive industry (and Chrysler) by introducing the slogan "Imported from Detroit."
WHY: A bold maneuver—Fox had to rearrange its ad load for last year's Super Bowl broadcast because of the length of the spot—showed that , once again, anyone willing to spend big can shake up the typical Super Bowl marketing formula.

Advertising Age Player
Budweiser Clydesdales' 9/11 Tribute

WHAT: The brewer's iconic team of horses journeys to the Hudson River, where they bow in deference to a city that had been struck by the 9/11 terrorist attack just months earlier.
WHY: The spot offered proof that Super Bowl ads can do more than just sell or make us laugh.

Advertising Age Player
Nike , "Just For Feet"

WHAT: A bunch of white men drug a Kenyan runner and shove Nike shoes onto his feet while he lies unconscious. Upon waking, the runner is horrified and tries to shake the sneakers off.
WHY: Just For Feet was accused of being racist, but the ad appears to have given others leeway to marginalize other cultures during the Super Bowl. Just ask SalesGenie (2008) or Groupon (2011).

Advertising Age Player
Master Lock

WHAT: A marksman takes aim at a Master Lock, which is damaged by the shot but still holds fast.
WHY: Sometimes, the simplest image is the most effective. This one worked so well for the company that it ran the same spot for nine years..

Advertising Age Player
EDS, "Herding Cats"

WHAT: A group of cowpokes takes to the plains to herd hundreds of scattered felines.
WHY: This visually dazzling spot showed the increasing importance of special effects and digital manipulation to Super Bowl advertisers..

Advertising Age Player

WHAT: The marketers behind the cheesy Frito-Lay chip ask amateurs to create Doritos ads for the Super Bowl, and then run them with little gloss.
WHY: It proved a solid spot could come sans big-production values, special effects and big ad-agency geniuses. (In 2007, Chevy and NFL also bowed user-generated ads.).

Advertising Age Player
CBS, "David Letterman and Surprise Guests"
(2007, 2010)

WHAT: After an infamous gaffe involving Oprah Winfrey's name at the 1995 Oscars, Mr. Letterman got the talk-show diva to appear with him in a CBS promo during the 2007 game. Three years later, he topped himself, convincing rival Jay Leno to join Ms. Winfrey and him in another spot.
WHY: TV-network promos used to simply tell us what time a show was coming on. But CBS's masterful effort proved they can spur as much chatter as some branded Bowl ads..

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