It seems as though the hype around Super Bowl advertising has grown in inverse proportion to the quality of the commercials. This is because at some point, someone figured out a Super Bowl formula, and the formula, once a handy guideline, became an overused recipe for winning increasingly meaningless AdMeter status. The broad comedy, the set-up/payoff/kicker structure that advertisers like Budweiser used to such great effect through the years were copied too many times with too few, and too slight, ideas at the core. Spots started to look the same, which is not what you want when you’re spending $3.5 million for media time. Of course there are always exceptions—brands that make the most of the scope of the media venue and the nature of the audience, but don’t forget to be original and entertaining. And there will be this year too.
Here, in anticipation, a rundown of some of the best modern-day Super Bowl spots (i.e., spots from the last several years, so no “Mean Joe Green” here. Those were different times). Use them as a yardstick against which you can measure your disappointment with most of this year’s crop of ads, or as a promise of the inevitable, rare moments of excellence that await us in Super Bowl XLVI.
This 2007 spot from Saatchi & Saatchi New York and director Calle Astrand marked the first time P&G had sent Tide to the Super Bowl. And the brand came ready to play, with a spot that was accessibly hilarious without being vulgar.
Coca Cola “It’s Mine”
A big production number that retains charm, this 2008 spot from Wieden + Kennedy and director Nicolai Fuglsig (who is set to helm the upcoming feature Brass Monkey) is pure Coke.
Coca-Cola bonus entry: “Videogame”
Not as high profile as some of Coke’s other ad efforts, but a treat nonetheless.
Audi wasn’t afraid to go a little dark with its 2008 Super Bowl entry. The spot, from Venables Bell & Partners and director Noam Murro spoofed one of Hollywood’s most famous movie scenes to introduce the badass R8.
NFL “American Family”
The NFL salutes fans, and the TV families we wish we had in this 2011 spot from Grey New York.
Chrysler “Born of Fire”
This two minute epic from Wieden + Kennedy and director Sam Bayer was an audience favorite when it appeared in last year’s game and went on to win an Emmy for best commercial. The spot introduced the line “Imported From Detroit” and the idea of restored Detroit pride and maybe, possibly, factored in to Chrysler’s more upbeat sales results in 2011.
VW “The Force”
Agency Deutsch released this Lance Acord-directed spot online ahead of Super Bowl XLV, which didn’t deter it from becoming a game-day favorite and going on to 50 million views online. VW is back this year with Acord and with another Star Wars-themed spot. The agency recently launchedthis canine-driven teaser, directed by Keith Schofield.
Google “Parisian Love”
Google’s founders once said it would be a cold day in hell before they’d do TV advertising. Well, things got chilly in 2010 when the company debuted this simple spot (which was created and ran before Super Bowl XLIV) and the cold snap has only continued as Google has gone on to become a major online and TV advertiser.
Pepsi “Refresh Project”
Yes, it’s a trick answer. Because Pepsi didn’t advertise in the 2010 Super Bowl. Instead, it took its $20 million and, with agency TBWA\Chiat\Day L.A., started a campaign to fund grass roots social and environmental ventures. The brand took some heat from Monday morning quarterbacks, but this was a big moment in marketing and one that will continue to influence brands’ media and social priorities.
This spot can’t compete with some of the others here on laughs, but this 2009 spot, from Goodby Silverstein & Partners was one of the best in the game. Coming as it did in the teeth of a poop-your-pants scary recession, the spot offered an era- appropriate message. The Jeff Bridges voice-over told us that if you bought a Hyundai and the lost your job, you could return the car with no hard feelings or hurt credit.
And, oh hell, we can’t resist: Here are some favorites from further back, just because.
Agency: Goodby Silverstein & Partners; Director: Bryan Buckley
Agency: DDB, Chicago; Director: Charles Stone III
Monster “When I Grow Up”
Agency: Mullen; Director: Bryan Buckley
EDS “Cat Herders”
Agency: Fallon; Director: John O’Hagan
Agency: TBWA\Chiat\Day; Director: Ridley Scott