Super Bowl LI (and all its glorious ads) are quickly approaching. We have high hopes for some of them, and some worries about others. With that in mind, it’s a great time to reflect all the Super Bowl commercials. Which have tugged at our heartstrings? Which have made us laugh? More importantly, which left us just plain confused?Take a look at the best (and worst) Super Bowl commercials of all time: Click To Tweet
It’s impossible to make a truly comprehensive list of all the best and worst ads since the Super Bowl’s inception in 1967, but we gave it our best shot. Here are our picks:
Best: Tiny Darth Vader (2011)
People like kids. People like Star Wars. Volkswagen’s 2011 ad, which was heavy on the cute and light on the sales, was a complete home run. It showed a child dressed as Darth Vader attempting to use the force on a variety of things, including his dad’s Volkswagen. The results were truly heart-warming.
In a then-controversial decision, Volkswagen decided to run this ad online before the premiere of the Super Bowl. Their risky move paid off big time: It’s one of the most-shared Super Bowl commercials of all time.
Worst: Panda Psychic, Help! (2008)
Ummm… what? Pandas speaking broken English, calling a psychic-genie Panda to get sales leads… woof. There’s a lot going on in this one. Viewers of SalesGenie.com’s 2008 ad weren’t only confused, they were offended.
However, those weren’t the only problems viewers found with the ad. They also perceived it as low-effort and hard-selling: not the kind of ad they want to see during the Super Bowl. It didn’t help that SalesGenie ads had also underperformed in past games. Audiences were just not having it.
Best: Hey Kid… (1979)
Most ads are forgotten about within a few months or a few years, but Coca-Cola’s ‘Mean’ Joe Greene ad has truly stood the test of time. Nearly 40 years later it’s still commonly known. The spot depicts Mean Joe hobbling in from a game, and a kid offers him a coke. Afterward, Mean Joe gives the kid is jersey.
It’s deceptively simple. The story isn’t complicated or showy, but it stays in people’s minds. Why? The ad showed genuine human connection. It broke down the stereotypes around ‘Mean’ Joe and centered on what really matters: kindness.
Worst: Just Plain Depressing (2015)
You know what just screams “Super Bowl Fun Time”? According to Nationwide, it’s a dead kid. Their 2015 ad features a little boy lamenting all the things he’ll never do: ride a bike, go on an adventure, get married… and why? Because he’s dead. Yikes. This ad is a great example of something most marketers know by heart: know your audience.
Despite an unfavorable response, Nationwide decided to stick by their commercial, saying “The sole purpose of this message was to start a conversation, not sell insurance.” In that, at least, they succeeded.
Best: I’m On A Horse (2010)
It was surreal, it had a shirtless guy, and it was funny. Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” ad became a cultural phenomenon overnight. It featured Isaiah Mustafa as the “ideal” man. He’s got a boat, he’s got tickets to that thing you love, he’s got diamonds… He’s on a horse!
In the months following the ad, their sales increased by 55%. Everyone was talking about it, and it was marketing genius. It spoke to young audiences and both men and women. They followed up the ad with related campaigns and were the best example of how marketing can make or break a brand—all thanks to the Super Bowl.