10 Best Super Bowl Ads Ever

For advertisers, the Super Bowl is the equivalent of the summer movie season. It’s when brands bust out the big budgets, big stars, and big concepts for their big moment on advertising’s biggest stage. It’s an “all eyes on me” moment. Crunch time, as they say in sports. It’s betting big in the hopes of scoring a big return.

Many times those bets just don’t pay off (here are three great terrible examples). But sometimes they do. And those are the moments that keep advertisers—and audiences—coming back. Super Bowl advertising is high drama. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat transposed on the corporate world.

While there’s nothing more bitter than dropping a couple million on an ad that gets nationally derided, there’s also nothing sweeter than triumphing on the world’s biggest marketing stage. OK, maybe there’s one thing sweeter: Being considered among the best of all time.

What Makes a Legendary Super Bowl Commercial?

Let’s just get this out of the way at the top: All lists like this are subjective. This one is no different. But there is something of a loose methodology applied here. The criteria for identifying a great Super Bowl ad is based (at least partially) on the three Ms:

Memory – Is it memorable? Did it stand out and stick with people after the game?

Message – Does it make a statement about the brand? Does it have a purpose?

Moment – Does it in some tie in with the event it was conceived for, or is it just another commercial?

Best Super Bowl Commercials in the History of the Big Game

Looking back on decades of Super Bowl advertising, these are the brands that made the most of their minute or less…

10. Wassup (2000) – Budweiser

Easy to mock, but it was funny then and it’s still funny now. Go watch it and you’ll find yourself laughing by the end.

9. The Showdown (1993) – McDonald’s

It’s got Jordan and Bird trading increasingly difficult shots for the rights to a Big Mac. Sure, it’s focused on basketball. But it’s also about hyper-competitive athletes. And the idea of the greatest basketball player of all time eating a Big Mac for lunch appeals to us all, doesn’t it?

8. Betty White (2010) – Snickers

Snickers’ highly successful “you’re not you when you’re hungry” commercial series began with this gem. It speaks to everyones’ ability to seem like a different person when they’re hungry—which many people related to. It also features Betty White playing tackle football. Win-win.

7. Clydesdales (1986-?) – Budweiser

The Clydesdales have been a longstanding advertising tradition for Budweiser. The horses have become synonymous with the brand. They’ve also become synonymous with Bud’s Super Bowl commercials—from the 1986 ad talking about the role of the Clydesdale to the 1996 commercial where the Clydesdales play football to the 2014 ad chronicling the love between a Clydesdale and a puppy. The Clydesdales earn a spot on this list not for a single ad, but for their overall contribution to Super Bowl advertising.

6. Mean Joe Greene (1980) – Coca-Cola

The first ad to be remembered and identified as a “Super Bowl commercial”. This one hits all the three Ms. And it’s got that great Coke jingle too.

5. Terry Tate: Office Linebacker (2003) – Reebok

Easily, the most legitimately funny ad to ever air during the Super Bowl (check out the extended version for even more comedy). This one would’ve topped the list if it had any sort of brand messaging included.

4. Cindy Crawford (1992) – Pepsi

It’s got Cindy Crawford at her peak Cindy Crawford-ness. Which was really something. Yes, the ad ogles her. But it at least subverts that ogling with an ending that draws attention to the brand—and even calls us out a little for doing the ogling.

3. Like a Girl (2015) – Always

Super Bowl ads have a long (and continuing) history of objectifying women. Which is one of the reasons this ad from Always lands with such a gut punch. It hits home and really makes you think—even long after it’s over. How many Super Bowl ads can you say that about?

2. 1984 (1984) – Apple

There’s no denying this groundbreaking commercial‘s place in advertising history. It was something completely different. It didn’t look like other commercials. It was cinematic, helmed by a big-time movie director (Ridley Scott). It had a great premise, alluding to the classic book 1984. And it promised something big. That may be this ad’s greatest lasting impact—it turned Super Bowl commercials from mere ads into something more epic.

1. Bud Bowl (1989) – Budweiser

This may seem like a trivial pick for number one, but Bud Bowl exemplifies what Super Bowl advertising is all about. It’s creative, simple, and fun. It was one of the first ads to play out as a series throughout the Super Bowl. It’s got puns galore, along with Bob Costas and Spuds Mackenzie.The brand is all over this one too—and Budweiser got a strong uptick in sales after the ad aired as a result. It also became a phenomenon that was part of the Super Bowl for almost a decade. The Bud Bowl became “a thing” many people looked forward to as much as the real game (even betting on the winner). This is the Super-Bowliest of all Super Bowl ads. For that, it takes the title.