Sure, it’s great to have a Super Bowl ad that conquers the night—an Apple “1984,” a Volkswagen “The Force” or a P&G “It’s a Tide Ad.” But in such a competitive environment, winning isn’t everything. Most advertisers would just love to finish in the top 10, delivering work that’s a pleasant surprise rather than a preordained champion.
17 underrated Super Bowl ads from the past 17 years
Below, we look back at some Super Bowl spots that were overachievers in past games. They didn’t sit atop many people’s lists, yet they provided welcome entertainment that maybe we weren’t expecting.
Let’s hope we get more of these types of ads this Sunday—not world-beaters but well-made gems that leave us with a smile and a better feeling about the brands behind them. And for a look back at decades of Super Bowl ads, check out our extensive Super Bowl Archive.
Expedia, ‘Stuff’ (2022)
What better venue than the Super Bowl, that circus of consumerism, to deliver a sly manifesto about the emptiness of stuff? Expedia and agency Anomaly enlisted the always-charming Ewan McGregor to urge people to spend their money on experiences rather than things. Well written and engaging, this was a quiet yet welcome post-COVID plea to get out there and see the world once again.
See all the 2022 Super Bowl commercials here.
M&M’s, ‘Come Together’ (2021)
Candy ads are often so loud on the Super Bowl; this one was admirably understated, with people apologizing to those they’ve offended by giving them packs of M&M’s. The vignettes—from BBDO New York and director Matt Aselton of Arts & Sciences—are nicely structured and paced. (“Sorry your name is Karen,” lol.) And the cameo by Dan Levy is the perfect kicker. Snickers often trumps M&M’s on the Big Game, but this was an nice exception.
See all the 2021 Super Bowl commercials here.
Snickers, ‘Snickers Fixes the World’ (2020)
After a couple of years away from the game, Snickers returned in 2020 with an amusing take on the world’s ills—everything from odd baby names to men riding scooters to oversharing online. The candy brand’s solution—feeding the world a Snickers via a giant hole in the ground—was dumb, but in a good way. Of course, this didn’t “fix the world” at all (in fact, the arrival of COVID a month later made everything much, much worse)—but the sweetly goofy sentiment, from agency BBDO New York, left viewers smiling.
See all the 2020 Super Bowl commercials here.
The Handmaid’s Tale, ‘Season 3 Teaser’ (2019)
Network promos aren’t typically a highlight of the Super Bowl. But Hulu’s reimagining of Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” campaign ad from 1984 was impressive in its skin-crawling insidiousness. The Handmaid’s Tale had gotten a Super Bowl ad in 2017 as well, but this one was much better—capped by Elisabeth Moss’s chilling line, “Wake up, America. Morning’s over.”
See all the 2019 Super Bowl commercials here.
NFL, ‘Touchdown Celebrations to Come’ (2018)
The 2018 Super Bowl spots were an extraordinary bunch. You had the wonderful “It’s a Tide Ad,” Amazon’s “Alexa Lost Her Voice” and “Doritos Blaze vs. Mtn Dew Ice,” to name three instant classics. But the NFL snuck in there, too, with a hilarious “Dirty Dancing” parody starring Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. When people complain there’s too much borrowed IP on the Super Bowl, you can point them to this work by Grey New York. When it works, it really works.
See all the 2018 Super Bowl commercials here.
It’s a 10 Haircare, ‘Four More Years’ (2017)
Talk about a spot no one saw coming. It’s a 10 Haircare made a stylish and amusing Super Bowl debut with a plea for better hair nationwide. The opening line, “America, we’re in for at least four years of awful hair,” was a clear dig at the just-elected President Trump—and the spot only got better from there, featuring a sundry array of hairstyles and a deadpan voiceover describing them. Great work from Havas Edge and director Bryan Buckley, who brought some of the same vibe from his classic Monster.com “When I Grow Up” spot to this one.
See all the 2017 Super Bowl commercials here.
T-Mobile, ‘Restricted Bling’ (2016)
Drake had the best celeb performance of Super Bowl 50 with this fun concept where a rival carrier uses his song “Hotline Bling” for an ad—but with endless asinine revisions to the lyrics. “Perfect!” veteran commercial actor Jerry Lambert tells Drake, who’s taping the spot. “Here are the changes.” T-Mobile is a perennial presence on the game, but this spot, by Publicis Seattle, was easily one of its best.
See all the 2016 Super Bowl commercials here.
Loctite, ‘Positive Feelings’ (2015)
Fallon put together this 30-second slice of weirdness—quite the gamble for the glue maker, which spent a year’s worth of marketing budget on it. But few spots on the Big Game have been as memorable. Loctite made a name for itself with its motley crew of dancers and pulsating music. Tim and Eric directed the piece (of course they did), and not only did it boost the brand’s sales by 8.6% in the following month, the whole glue catetgory saw a 6.5% bounce. Sticky stuff, indeed.
See all the 2015 Super Bowl commercials here.
Hyundai, ‘Dad’s Sixth Sense’ (2014)
Slapstick sight gags are nothing new in the Super Bowl. What was different here was they added up to a heartwarming message, not a comical one. Dad saving his kid from one injury after another—at one point suffering the requisite blow to the crotch—nicely sets up the Hyundai Genesis product feature at the end. Made by Innocean, this is some of the best unsung car advertising you’ll see.
See all the 2014 Super Bowl commercials here.
Samsung, ‘The Big Pitch’ (2013)
Samsung and 72andSunny took a break from mocking Apple to mock all the other Super Bowl ads in this highly entertaining two-minute spot, where Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd pitch Bob Odenkirk on commercial ideas for Samsung. The spot combines sharp writing and all-in performances to great effect, and the LeBron James cameo didn’t hurt either. It’s almost more branded entertainment than a traditional commercial. (Remember when some brands would spring for two minutes on the game?)
See all the 2013 Super Bowl commercials here.
Old Milwaukee, ‘Field Cut Off’ (2012)
OK, true, this wasn’t a national spot, but we’re including it because the whole campaign was delightful and had such an underdog spirit. It started months earlier when weird clips began showing up on YouTube—seemingly surreptitious home-video recordings of TV commercials starring Will Ferrell for Old Milwaukee. As it turned out, the ads were airing late at night in the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa—and the brand was seeding them online with the hope of curious media coverage (which they certainly got). This all culminated with the Super Bowl ad, which aired in just one market in Nebraska—and also went viral. As for the ad itself, it’s a classic of stupid humor—one of the best regional Super Bowl campaigns ever done.
See all the 2012 Super Bowl commercials here.
NFL, ‘American Family’ (2011)
We’ve seen lots of commercials that stitch together scenes from TV and movies (the first-ever iPhone ad, “Hello” from 2007, comes to mind), but few have done so quite as expertly as this. Created by Grey New York, the ad does a wonderful job of showing just how ingrained in pop culture American football is—popping up in clip after clip from classic shows and films. What brings it all home is it’s not just a salute to football—it’s a salute to the American family itself.
See all the 2011 Super Bowl commercials here.
Google, ‘Parisian Love’ (2010)
Google came out of nowhere in 2010 with this bit of storytelling brilliance, crafted by Google Creative Lab and 1stAveMachine. It tells a love story completely through prompts on a search bar. This shouldn’t be as emotionally powerful as it is, yet it was one of the big heartwarming spots on the game. (With its stark color palette, simple piano music and lack of dialogue, it’s also a good example of how quiet ads can break through on a noisy telecast.) It foreshadowed, too, the Google Chrome work that would arrive the following year, including the showcase “Dear Sophie” spot.
See all the 2010 Super Bowl commercials here.
Hulu, ‘Alec in Huluwood’ (2009)
This gleefully misanthropic spot was one of the pleasant surprises of the 2009 game, with Alec Baldwin playing an alien who wants to eat your brain—which is getting mushier and more digestible by the hour as you sit glued to Hulu. The weird back-and-forth laughting toward the end was a creepy touch, and on the whole, it was an otherworldly outing from agency Crispin, Porter & Bogusky.
See all the 2009 Super Bowl commercials here.
Tide to Go, ‘Talking Stain’ (2008)
Such a simple idea—an obnoxious stain that ruins your job interview—yet so unexpectedly hilarious in execution. The stain getting unhinged toward the end is, for us, one of the funniest Super Bowl moments ever—made even funnier by the deadpan actors, who are both, essentially, the straight men. This spot, by Saatchi & Saatchi New York, established Tide as a strong player on the game, and the P&G brand would show up big in subsequent years as well.
See all the 2008 Super Bowl commercials here.
Emerald Nuts, ‘Boogeyman’ (2007)
Robert Goulet is a bizarre office interloper who arrives mid-afternoon and “messes with your stuff” in this endearingly wacky spot for Emerald Nuts. The product, thankfully, offers an energy boost so you can stay alert toward the end of the workday—and ward off the oddly Spidey-like Mr. Goulet. Oddvertising works now and then in the Super Bowl, and this spot—from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners and directors The Perlorian Brothers—is a great example of that.
See all the 2007 Super Bowl commercials here.
FedEx, ‘Stick’ (2006)
FedEx has only been around since the mid-1970s, but that doesn’t matter to a crabby prehistoric boss, who fires his well-meaning employee for using a Pterodactyl to deliver a package instead of FedEx, in this comic gem from BBDO. The epic visuals are a great juxtaposition with the pointed stupidity of the joke—showing that spectacle and comedy are a great mix in the Big Game, if you get it right.