Lombardi TrophyThe Super Bowl is not just the ultimate prize in football - its 110-million viewers also make it the most coveted event for corporate advertisers as well.  With advertising rates reaching an all-time high of $4 million per 30-second spot in 2013, only the best commercials from elite marketing agencies have what it takes to air on Super Bowl Sunday. 

Ever since the first Super Bowl in 1967, the ads have become a very important part of the overall experience.  In fact, in 2010, a Nielsen Company study concluded that 51% of Super Bowl viewers prefer watching the ads over the game itself.  The cynical side of me wonders if those same 51% were routing for the losing team, but that is beside the point.  Advertising rates over the past 47 years have grown alongside the popularity of the game itself.  A quick look at the rates paid for each 30-second spot from the first Super Bowl in 1967 until the 47th game in 2013:

NFL Super Bowl Prices

There are two things that really jump out of this graph:

  • the $500k/yr increase for each of the last 4 games.  At this price, advertising is less about a "return on investment" and more about the prestige of associating your brand with the NFL and the Super Bowl.
  • The drop in price in 2000, which coincides with a glut of "dot.com" commercials.   Although I can't confirm this, I suspect that shares were probably exchanged for advertising time...shares which imploded in value on March 2000 when the dot com bubble burst and the NASDAQ fell by 10%.

One final bit of trivia before getting to the list.  The companies with the most EVER Super Bowl commercials are:

  1. Budweiser (23 ads)
  2. Pepsi (15 ads)
  3. Bud Light (13 ads)
  4. Universal Pictures (11 ads)
  5. Doritos (10 ads)
  6. Paramount Pictures (7 ads)
  7. E*Trade (6 ads)
  8. Pizza Hut (5 ads)

3 Worst Ads

Before getting to the Top 10, here are the 3 Worst ad campaigns to have aired during the SuperBowl

Third Worst Ad

Advertiser Noxzema
Year 1973
Title Untitled
This was the first ever 'big' SuperBowl ad and it brought together football hero Joe Namath with bombshell actress Farah Fawcett.  By modern standards, this is a terrible ad as the acting is awful and the plot is non-existent.  I am putting it on the Worst Ever list based on how cheesy the ad is.

Second Worst Ad

Advertiser Go Daddy
Year 2005
Title Censorship
This is the ad that kicked it off for Go Daddy.  I find the ads super-annoying and wish that they would try something different.  There has to be a different way of reaching adolescent tech geeks aside from the suggestion of nudity.  This company is selling domain names for crying out loud.

Worst Ad Ever

Advertiser Groupon
Year 2011
Title Save the Money
This ad starts with what appears to be a humanitarian/political message about the people of Tibet, who have been chased from their country and are living in exile.  The ad shifts mid way through to promote Groupon as a way to save a few dollars at a Tibetan restaurant.  The ad fades out with images of Tibetan monks being beaten while a jingle plays over top.  Worst ad ever.

10 Best Ads

All of the following ads were first aired during a Super Bowl.  This condition disqualifies "Mean Joe" Green's Coke ad because it was being broadcast 5 months before the 1980 Super Bowl.

There are a number of ads that are solid (ie Budweiser's "Whazzup" series; Late Night with David Letterman ad with Dave, Oprah and Jay Leno watching the SuperBowl together; the 1 second ad from Miller High Life in 2009 as a spoof on high ad prices; the numerous banned ads; or 2009's "I always dreamed of being a mid level manager" spot by Monster.com), but in the end, there are only 10 spots on the list and here are my personal favorites.


Advertiser Acura
Year 2012
Title Transactions
I used to love Seinfeld back in the day.  This ad is nowhere near as good as his old show, but it is somewhat entertaining nonetheless.


Advertiser Apple Computers
Year 1984
Title 1984
This ad became an instant classic for having drawn heavy on George Orwell's novel 1984 (a book about the Government becoming "Big Brother" and people sacrificing their personal freedoms).  Apple only ran this ad once - and once was enough to establish Mac as their flagship computer product.


Advertiser Snickers
Year 2010
Title Betty White
This commercial was a fan favorite from the 2010 game.  Snickers was able to capitalize on the resurgence in Betty White's popularity (she was 88 at the time of filming).  Fellow 80-something Abe Vigoda is also featured at the end of this ad.


Advertiser Budweiser
Year 2006
Title Clydesdale Family
There are many great commercials from Budweiser, but I really liked this particular one.  It is a touching story - you need to watch til the end to understand what I mean.


Advertiser Bud Light
Year 2007
Title Mr. Mencia English Class/Class
Unlike the beer ad above, there is nothing touching nor sentimental about this ad.  Starring comedian Carlos Mencia, the end of this ad had me laughing out loud.


Advertiser Bud Light
Year 2008
Title Jackie Moon
This ad features Will Ferrell in the character of 1976 basketball player/owner/coach Jackie Moon from the movie Semi-Pro.  Ferrell is funniest when he allowed to riff, and this commercial lets him do exactly that.  The line "delicious alcohol" made me laugh. 


Advertiser Chrysler
Year 2011/2012
Title Imported from Detroit / Half Time
I love the way Chrysler draws on Detroit icon Eminem in 2011 and Dirty Harry actor/political activist/former mayor of Carmel, California Clint Eastwood in 2012 to deliver a message of guarded optimism for the US car industry. Chrysler did two excellent ads in back to back years, so here are both.


Advertiser McDonalds
Year 1993
Title The Showdown
In this ad, Michael Jordan is challenged by Larry Bird in a one of a kind game of “HORSE” with the winner watching the loser eat Jordan's Big Mac.  The phrase "Nothing but Net" still cracks me up.


Advertiser E-Trade
Year 2010 & 2011
Title Girlfriend & Enzo the Tailor
E-Trade's talking baby ads had their SuperBowl debut in 2008 and have been a regular feature ever since.  My favorite is the 2011 'tailor' spot, but I am including the 2010 commercial because it spawned a $100 million lawsuit.  Lindsay Lohan sued E-Trade after the airing of this commercial because the female character named Lindsay was called a "milk-aholic" invoked her "likeness, name, characterization, and personality without permission, violating her right of privacy."  The lawsuit was eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.


Advertiser Reebok
Year 2003
Title Terry Tate: Office Linebacker
I love absolutely everything about this campaign.  Maybe its because I have sat through one too many corporate meetings (see Roberts Rules of Order for my perspective take on meetings), but bringing a linebacker into the office as an enforcer is simply brilliant.  This ad spawned a number of subsequent spots by Reebok - most of which were released only on the internet. 

If you think I have overlooked something obvious, please use the comments box below to let me know about your favorite SuperBowl ad.