Top 10 Super Bowl Ads That Reshaped Marketing

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Top 10 Super Bowl Ads That Reshaped Marketing


The Gist

  • Ads beyond marketing. Super Bowl ads transcend traditional marketing, viewed as entertainment by most U.S. adults.
  • Cultural impact counts. Iconic ads like Budweiser’s “Whassup?” create lasting cultural moments and drive significant sales.
  • Storytelling wins. Effective Super Bowl ads weave creativity, emotional connection, and humor into memorable stories.

The Super Bowl is more than a showdown on the field. It’s the apex of creative marketing, where brands duke it out in the arena of public opinion with campaigns and commercials that many talk about long after they’ve forgotten the game’s final score. 

What makes ads during the Super Bowl so special (beyond their $7 million price tag)? It might be that the majority of adults surveyed in the US say they see the ads as entertainment — not a marketing ploy. In fact, back in 2019, consumers spent 641,000 hours watching Super Bowl ads on YouTube during game day — a 58% increase from the previous year.

Statista graph showing opinions on Super Bowl commercials

Let’s dissect some of the most iconic marketing campaigns the Super Bowl has to offer to see what made them resonate — and how you can include a little bit of that magic in your own marketing efforts. 

1. Budweiser — Whassup? 

Let’s go back to the year 2000, when Budweiser first aired its “Whassup?” commercial during Super Bowl XXXIV. 

 

This ad stayed on top, said Jason Hanson, national and local sales director at Wrapify, because of the cultural impact it made — not just during the big game, but throughout the years to follow. 

“Not only did it have us all saying ‘wassssssup’ for the next few years — it grew their sales by 2.4 million barrels and generated an estimated $20 million in free publicity,” he explained. “Basically, every time you said ‘wasssssup,’ Anheuser-Busch would sell a beer.”

Aaron Goldman, chief marketing officer at Mediaocean, also named this spot as one of the most iconic Super Bowl ads of all time. “It’s just so darn catchy. My friends and I repeated that line ad nauseam for years after the spots first aired.”

Even though the “Whassup” phrase has nothing to do with beer, said Goldman, it perfectly portrays a bond among friends and associates fuzzy and funny feelings with the brand. And that, he said, is what his company is trying to go for with their first Super Bowl ad for Flashtalking, where its CEO says at the end, “This ad could have been an email!” — something that should ring true for its audience of marketing execs who suffer through endless Zoom calls.  

Related Article: Think Pink: Lessons Learned From the Barbie Marketing Team

2. Doritos — Free Doritos  

Ever wanted some free Doritos? One office worker makes that happen with the help of his “crystal ball” — AKA snow globe. 

 

This ad was made in 2009 by two unemployed brothers from Batesville, Indiana, who created the spot for an online contest for amateurs — and ended up winning $1 million (and the hearts of Super Bowl watchers). 

The ad captures the essence of what makes many Super Bowl ads memorable and impactful: humor, surprise and relatability. By incorporating elements of comedy with a touch of the absurd, the two brothers create a moment that audiences wanted to discuss and share — extending the campaign’s reach far beyond game day. 

3. Snickers — You’re Not You When You’re Hungry

In 2009, Betty White unexpectedly entered the football field — though not as a player for the Super Bowl. Instead, in this Snickers ad, she takes one for the team as we hear this iconic line: “You’re not you when you’re hungry.”  

 

Humor, surprising twists, a catchy tagline — this ad spot has common traits we’ve seen in other noteworthy Super Bowl commercials. And beyond this first ad, Snickers has had more than a decade of success with its spinoff “You’re Not You..” marketing campaigns. To this day, people still associate the phrase with the chocolate brand. 

The Betty White ad was so successful and beloved, it resulted in nearly a million people signing a petition on Facebook for Betty White to become the oldest host of “SNL” at age 88. The result? She got the gig. 

4. Tide — It’s a Tide Ad 

Ever seen an ad that made you wonder, “What’s this for?’ That’s exactly what Tide was going for in the series of Super Bowl ads they ran in 2018. 

 

According to Alexa McGriff, group strategy director at Chemistry, Tide was the first brand to really “hack” Super Bowl advertising in a way that left people on the edge of their seats. 

“With every ad, it left people wondering if it would be a regular ad for whatever product or if it would be a Tide ad. I think that an element of surprise is what goes into making an effective Super Bowl ad that resonates.”

If an ad is expected, doesn’t have a twist or is boring, she added, people won’t pay attention. “But when you surprise them AND THEN give them something to watch for the rest of the game, they’re hooked. It was SO smart and we’ve seen other brands follow suit in recent years.”

5. Apple — 1984

Have you read “1984” by George Orwell? If so, then you know exactly the type of atmosphere Ridley Scott was going for when he directed this Super Bowl commercial. 

 

This ad, said Hanson, was one of the greatest ads to ever air and is considered by many to be the most powerful and effective commercial of all time. 

“That ad captured and created an Apple fanbase that has carried the brand to now being one of the most valuable companies on earth. Even from a monetary standpoint, the 1984 commercial sold 72,000 computers in 100 days, soaring past their optimistic sales projections.”

One reason this ad is iconic, Hanson added, is because it didn’t settle for a low-brow joke or being controversial for the sake of being controversial. Instead, it created a movement and “inspired a group of rebels to break away from the norm and join forces with a challenger brand.”



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