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10 Legendary Super Bowl Commercials (and Do These Ads Actually Work?)

From "1984" to "The Force," these ultra-successful spots had a big viewer impact. But do the benefits of Super Bowl ads make up for their giant price tag?
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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.

10 Legendary Super Bowl Commercials

"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.

"1984"
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 became the most-shared Super Bowl ad ever.

"The Force"
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.

SEE ALSO: The 10 Coolest Super Bowl Bets of All Time

"The Showdown"
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.

Do Super Bowl Ads Actually Get You to Buy Things?

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.

'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?'

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.

SEE ALSO: Super Bowl LI Survival Guide: 9 Ways to Save on Your Party

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!


Contributing Writer

Sheryl Nance-Nash is a New York City-based freelance writer specializing in personal finance, small business, general business, and travel. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Money, DailyFinance.com, Forbes.com, and many more.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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7 comments
Allyson
Hi Lindsey,Thank you for reaching out to me about my comment accidentally being deleted.I guess I should be more careful where I comment. I feel angry and disgusted when I see all of the "cute", "sweet", "fun", "hilarious" commercials. Yes, they are good, and yes, they are memorable. However, when it comes to important issues, money always matters more. Maybe I don't understand because I don't own my own business, but it still angers and frustrates me. The NFL would rather look good by creating the "obligatory" commercial or donating money to a domestic violence charity then try to step in and help out.In my opinion, the only person who was able to come close enough to speaking up was Dick Wolf. I guess it worked out for him because he created the television show Law & Order, Special Victims Unit. While his television show might have a little bit of facts or some similarities to what may or may not be reported in some form of the media, it's still fiction. Who actually believes fiction? (Okay, so some of my comments have a touch of tinge of sarcasm)
Lindsay Sakraida (DealNews)
@Allyson @ProfessorTK

I figured out what happened here... we republished this feature on Saturday to resurface it on our homepage, and when we did that, it set the comments to zero. That's why the comment shows up as "approved" in our system, but isn't showing up here. And that might be what you've experienced, ProfessorTK. I'll be sure to let someone know that's happening.
Lindsay Sakraida (DealNews)
@Allyson

Hi there, I looked into this, because no one on the Blog staff recalls deleting your comment. And we remember you leaving it, because it was a thoughtful addition to the feature. I looked at our internal log of comments, and it's there and marked as approved so I'm not sure why it's no longer here. (Here's the proof! https://cdlnws.a.ssl.fastly.net/...2017-02-06_at_9.45.09_AM.png)

I'm asking our staff to look into what happened. For what it's worth, we ONLY moderate comments if they're SPAM or wildly inappropriate. This would not fall into that category. We prefer to encourage conversations when we can, and liberally deleting things certainly doesn't do that.

@ProfessorTK If you've experienced deleted comments frequently, it might be that our system has been slow to post the comment. That sometimes makes it look like it was deleted.
omarsdeals
I am reporting get an error... in my last post... In addition tk the 5 individual paragraphs, each describing a commercial, I see you mentioned five others under 1 heading... So there are 10 mentioned...

I still feel cheated though..
omarsdeals
I demand a refund....

Title says "10 Legendary Super Bowl Commercials..."....

Yet I only see 5 that were described!

Never felt so cheated in my entire life!
ProfessorTK
They like to do that Allyson, if it doesn't fit their narrow standards they delete. Why have a comment button if that is the case?
Allyson
Wow, you took down my previous post? Shameful. Just because it's not a "perfect" commercial you should let your audience express it's thoughts. Nothing I said was inflammatory.