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If you're a fan of the Atlanta Falcons or New England Patriots, you're psyched your team made it to the Super Bowl and will lose your mind with joy if your side wins. But even if it doesn't, the Super Bowl is about the party, the trash-talking with friends and family, and — of course — the commercials.
Advertisers know there is no bigger spotlight for their product or service than the Super Bowl; it's frequently the most-watched television broadcast each year. Nearly $5 billion has been spent on advertising in the first 51 years of the game, according to Ad Age. Last year, more than 111 million people watched the game, and advertisers spent about $4.8 million per 30-second commercial.
Read on for 10 of the most successful Super Bowl commercials of all time, and a discussion of whether these ads actually get you to buy stuff.
"Where's the Beef?"
The Wendy's ad from the 1980s with the little old ladies inspired everybody to start asking that question — and not just when referring to fast food.
Who doesn't remember when Apple introduced the Macintosh computer at the Super Bowl in 1984. The theme of the commercial came straight out of the George Orwell novel 1984. Not only did it introduce a new concept for the home computer, the one minute mini-movie — directed by big-name director Ridley Scott — broke new ground for Super Bowl commercials.
Volkswagen's "The Force" commercial aired on YouTube days prior to the game in 2011. It featured the heartwarming story of a young boy, a would-be Darth Vader, who couldn't quite get the hang of using "the Force." But with persistence, the help of a Volkswagen, and his dad, the boy claims victory. The ad became the most-shared Super Bowl commercial ever.
"Hey Kid, Catch!"
Then there was this 1979 Clio-Award-winning Coca-Cola ad. "Hey Kid, Catch!" starred the Steelers' "Mean" Joe Greene and the adorable kid who gave him a Coke.
One ad that had everybody talking was the "The Showdown," with basketball legends Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. The 1993 ad showed the two having an epic basketball battle for a McDonald's lunch.
These 5 Long-Running Ad Campaigns
Then there have been the continuing commercials. For a time, it was the Budweiser Frogs, the Bud Bowl, the Clydesdales, Spuds MacKenzie (the dog you loved or hated), and Doritos' Crash the Super Bowl competition, among others.
The ads are a much-observed meter for what's hot at the moment, and sometimes achieve iconic status. But at nearly $5 million a pop (just to purchase the airtime, not counting production costs), are they actually worth the investment?
"When you consider the total benefit across a brand's paid, earned, and owned media, the numbers work," says Scott R. Hamula, associate professor, department chair, and director of the Integrated Marketing Communications Program at the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College.
Furthermore, he says the quality of the audience is exceptional — they are very attentive to the commercials. "One study shows that more than half of the audience watches the Super Bowl more for the ads than the game itself."
Hamula also notes that buying a Super Bowl ad means days of speculation and attention leading up to the event, and increased traffic as companies post the ads on their own websites and social media channels. But does all this translate to sales?
"Advertisers keep this type of information close to the vest, so we don't know how many Snickers candy bars or bags of Doritos were sold as a direct result of their Super Bowl advertising," Hamula says.
Robert Barrows, president of R.M. Barrows, Inc. Advertising & Public Relations, expresses concerns about some ads' effectiveness. "If you're going to spend $5 million the ads better sell something!" he says. "Yet, how many of those Super Bowl ads are so overproduced that they forget to actually sell something or tell you why you should buy it?"
But there are clearly many success stories. "Just look at Sonos," says Gene Keenan, a co-founder of Decibel Advertising. "They doubled their sales the year they did a single TV spot during the Super Bowl — proving that massive reach tools work very well.
"The Super Bowl is one of the last true mass reach media vehicles left in a buyer's toolbox," he adds.
Readers, what are your favorite Super Bowl ads of all time? Did any actually make you buy something? Let us know in the comments below!