Best ever Super Bowl commercials: from 1979 to 2021

Including this year's contribution: John Travolta doing a TikTok dance in his back garden

Sabrina Barr
Monday 08 February 2021 13:25
Apple 1984 Super Bowl Commercial Introducing Macintosh Computer
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Aside from the American football match and the musical half-time show, one of the most highly anticipated elements of the annual Super Bowl championship is the commercials aired by various brands on the night of the sporting event.

In 1984, the release of Apple's cinematic Super Bowl advert demonstrated the power of advertising to other consumer brands.

Over the years, more companies began using the popular sporting fixture as a platform to show off their creativity and in turn, improve their appeal to customers.

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Super Bowl commercials have since become an advertising phenomenon, amassing millions of views online and sparking viral Internet trends. The adverts often feature massive stars, and the 2021 Super Bowl even saw acting legend John Travolta performing a TikTok dance in a commercial by lawn seed company ScottsMiracle-Gro.

Who can forget Budweiser's peculiar talking frogs, or the screaming Doritos-loving goat?

Here are 10 of the most unforgettable Super Bowl commercials of all time:

1. Apple, ‘1984’ (1984)

'1984' Super Bowl commercial

In 1984, Apple broke new ground with its commercial introducing the Apple Macintosh personal computer, depicting a dystopian world inspired by the one described in George Orwell's novel.

In the advert, scores of people can be seen marching silently in unison into a room with a large TV screen at the back, on which “Big Brother” is talking.

As they do so, a runner sprints through their ranks holding a hammer, while being pursued by security.

As she nears the screen, she swings the hammer in its direction, causing an explosion to occur.

“On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984',” the narrator states.

The cinematic commercial was directed by Ridley Scott, director of Oscar-nominated films including Thelma and Louise, Gladiator and The Martian.

2. Always, ‘Like A Girl’ (2015)

Always 'Like A Girl' Super Bowl commercial (2015)

While the male teams competing in the Super Bowl American football match may be the main focus of the event, in 2015 Always stole the show with its “Like A Girl” campaign.

In the advert, a group consisting of boys, women and men are asked what it means to do a variety of activities “like a girl”, such as running, throwing or fighting.

The majority of the participants proceed to act in a feable manner, insinuating that to do an activity like a girl is to do it weakly or ineffectively.

A group of young girls are then asked the same question, none of whom deprecate their abilities in any way.

“Let's make #LikeAGirl mean amazing things,” the commercial states.

3. Budweiser, ‘Whassup?’ (2000)

Budweiser 'wassup' commercial

With millions of people tuning in to watch the Super Bowl every year, the commercials that air have the potential to hugely impact popular culture.

That can definitely be said for Anheuser-Busch Budweiser's “Whassup?” campaign, which was shown at the Super Bowl in 2000.

The concept of the advert is a simple one - a group of friends call each other up one by one, all greeting one another in the same enthusiastic way by saying “Whassup?”

The campaign was received so positively that it was awarded a Cannes Grand Prix award and a Grand Clio award, both coveted accolades in the world of advertising.

4. Volkswagen, ‘The Force’ (2011)

Volkswagen 'The Force' Super Bowl commercial 2011

Who didn't once pretend as a child (and maybe also as an adult) that they had superpowers?

Following a 10-year hiatus from producing Super Bowl commercials, in 2011 Volkswagen created one of the most memorable adverts ever shown during the sporting event, depicting a child dressed as Star Wars villain Darth Vader discovering that he's finally learnt how to master “the Force”.

Unbeknownst to the child, what he thinks is a superhuman ability to start a car with his brainpower is actually his father controlling the vehicle with a remote.

Max Page, who starred in the advert as the child, hadn't seen any of the Star Wars films before taking on the role as he'd been too afraid, New York Daily News states.

In February 2011, Page met James Earl Jones, who voiced Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy.

5. Honda, ‘Matthew's Day Off’ (2012)

Matthew Broderick reprises Ferris Bueller role in 2012 Honda Superbowl commercial

In 1986, Matthew Broderick introduced the world to the mischievous character of Ferris Bueller, and imparted the message that people living life in the fast lane should “stop and look around once in a while”.

More than two decades later, the actor reprised his role from the John Hughes-directed Ferris Bueller's Day Off for a Honda Super Bowl campaign, aptly named “Matthew's Day Off”.

In the advert, Broderick imitates his teenage tactics by pretending to be ill in order to get out of a work commitment.

“Sometimes you've got to live a little,” he says while on a fairground ride.

The commercial ends with a valet taking a Honda CR-V previously driven by Broderick for a joy-ride, just as two garage attendants did in the 1980s film.

6. Coca-Cola, ‘Hey Kid, Catch’ (1979)

Coca-Cola Superbowl commercial from 1979, starring 'mean' Joe Greene

While former Pittsburgh Steelers American footballer “Mean” Joe Greene may have acqiured his nickname due to his sturdy defensive play, in 1980 Coca-Cola showed his softer side in its Super Bowl commercial.

The advert begins with Greene limping down the tunnel during a game, having sustained an injury on the pitch.

A young boy passes the American footballer, asking whether he needs any assistance.

When Greene says that he doesn't, the boy then offers the athlete a bottle of Coke.

After initially being reluctant to accept the boy's offer, Greene takes the drink, before throwing his jersey at the boy as a gesture of gratitude.

7. Pepsi, ‘Cindy Crawford’ (1992)

Cindy Crawford appears in 1992 Pepsi Superbowl advert

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Cindy Crawford became a household name in the world of fashion, modelling for publications including Vogue, Cosmopolitan and Harper's Bazaar.

Pepsi took advantage of her fame in 1992, using the supermodel to advertise the new design for its soft drink can in its Super Bowl campaign.

The company recreated the commercial with Crawford in 2018, in an advert also featuring Britney Spears.

The model also parodied the original advert in 2016 with James Corden for a segment on his late night American talk show.

Corden and Crawford's parody has garnered more than three million views on YouTube.

8. Budweiser, ‘The Budweiser Frogs’ (1995)

Budweiser frogs Superbowl advert from 1995

One of the most unusual Super Bowl commercials to ever be released was that of “The Budweiser Frogs", featuring three animatronic frogs named “Bud”, “Weis” and “Er”.

After appearing in Budweiser's 1995 Super Bowl commercial, the beer company continued to feature the frogs in adverts for the following few years.

The advert is as strange as it sounds, with the frogs continually croaking their names so as to spell out “Budweiser”.

Some critics of the advert claimed the inclusion of the frogs made it appealing to a young audience, and accused Budweiser of encouraging people under the drinking age to buy the brand's beer. Budweiser denied these claims.

9. Reebok, ‘Terry Tate: Office Linebacker’ (2003)

Reebok 'Terry Tate' Super Bowl commercial (2003)

On some days, it can be difficult trying to find the motivation to work solidly in the office.

With a colleague like American football linebacker Terry Tate in the office, you'd never have to worry about your slipping motivation ever again.

In 2003, Reebok released its Super Bowl campaign featuring the character, dubbed the “office linebacker”.

In the advert, Tate can be seen tackling office workers to the ground who he thinks are slacking, shouting phrases at them like: “When it's game time, it's pain time.”

10. Doritos, ‘Goat 4 Sale’ (2013)

Doritos 'Goat 4 Sale' Super Bowl commercial (2013)

Who knew a goat and Doritos would go together like peas in a pod?

The genius behind the eccentric Doritos “Goat 4 Sale” 2013 Super Bowl advert wasn't actually conceived by the crisps company, but created by an external director who won a competition.

Ben Callner, a film director from Atlanta, submitted the commercial as part of the annual Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl” contest, a competition that offered consumers the opportunity to have their fan-made adverts aired during the Super Bowl.

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“Our commercial opened up how funny goat screams are,” Callner told Atlanta Magazine.

“Taylor Swift’s song ‘I Knew You Were Trouble‘ now has a goat scream in it, a Justin Bieber song has a goat scream in it. It’s started this craze. If we had the rights to that, wow.”

11. ScottsMiracle-Gro, ‘Keep Growing’ (2021)

This commercial by lawn seed brand ScottsMiracle-Gro, which played during the second advert break of this year's game, featured an array of stars showing off what they do in their gardens - including John Travolta, 66, and his 20-year-old daughter Ella practising a TikTok dance.

The advert also features Martha Stewart, The Office's Leslie David Baker and The Mandalorian's Carl Weathers. 

After the Travoltas are seen doing their dance, Martha Stewart can be heard saying: “He’s still got it.”

Baker adds: “Hey, Travoltas, don’t be Tik-ity Tok-ing on my grass.”  

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