18 Super Bowl Ads That Inspired the Creative Industry to Step Up Its Game

A look back at work that moved marketing ahead

VW's "The Force," from agency Deutsch in 2011, set a new bar for Super Bowl storytelling—and showed the value of releasing ads early. Volkswagen
Headshot of Doug Zanger

An objective person could watch Super Bowl advertising and plausibly think: “Yeah, that’s a good ad.” Of course, in the ad agency world, creatives tend to be a little more critical, picking little things out that illustrate the difference between a good Super Bowl ad and a great one.

Adweek asked a wide range of industry veterans to share the Super Bowl ads they feel inspired them—and their industry—to do better work.

Below are some stellar ad picks—both older and new—that show the power of one of advertising’s most enduringly important days:

Chrysler: “Farmer”
Agency: The Richards Group
Year: 2013

The inspiring anthem set to Paul Harvey’s seminal “God Made a Farmer” speech motivated viewers to, as Nancy Hacohen, managing director of live-action at Tool of North America, said, “stop, listen, and appreciate the indomitable American spirit.”

“People often know the ‘formula’ for a great Super Bowl spot,” added Colle+McVoy ecd Laura Fegley. “It usually involves over-the-top comedy, a celebrity or huge production values. When this came on, my jaw was on the floor.”

“This spot so captures the brand but manages simultaneously to stir pride, and even in a time of genuine cynicism, patriotism,” noted Mike Nickerson, cmo of PriceWeber. “To share equity with the ‘idea’ of America in a two-minute spot (using still photography!) is an astonishing creative accomplishment.”

Apple: “1984”
Agency: Chiat\Day
Year: 1984

A few myths, including that the Ridley Scott-directed ad only ran once, were busted by former exec Steve Hayden, who worked on the ad. But the “one-and-done” story adds to the prodigious legend of what is arguably one of the most impactful ads in Super Bowl history.

“It changed our business,” said Keith Cartwright, ecd at 72andSunny. “From its single airing (in the Super Bowl) to the epic directing and the ballsy decision not to show the product—all new things at the time. Kudos yet again to (Lee) Clow and Hayden.”

Despite the praise, Cartwright didn’t think it was the best Super Bowl ad ever … or even the best that year.

“I remember distinctly sitting with my dad and brother watching a Wendy’s ad that we couldn’t stop talking about. When Clara Peller at 81 years of age said ‘Where’s the Beef?’ we lost it,” he recalled. “That ad transcended culture and was what everyone talked about the next day (on the playground at least). In retrospect, they took a focus-group insight and made it into a cultural phenomenon.”

ETrade: “Monkey”
Agency: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners
Year: 2000

As Gavin Lester, partner and cco of Zambezi put it, this lark of an ad was: “2 million dollars well spent.” This meta, memorable ad put context first—”wasting $2 million”—and has one hell of a back story.

“It’s just so simple and smart,” said Danny Gonzalez, ecd at Goodby Silverstein & Partners, giving props to the home team. “Every Super Bowl, my jealousy for that spot is renewed.”

“For me, it’s not only the most inspiring ad, but it’s also the most subversive and the most Dadaist ad of all time,” added Duncan Bird, ecd at Glow. “What they ended up with is not only hugely entertaining, but it has a ‘wtf is going on here’ feeling throughout. It’s engaging enough for even the most jaded viewers.

Budweiser: “Wassup – Girlfriend”
Agency: DDB Chicago
Year: 2000

An ad that sparked plenty of memes (even in 2000), it was a distinct departure from, as Cedric Devitt, cco at Big Spaceship put it, “Bud’s usual Clydesdale fare.” Inspired by a short film by Charles Stone III, Budweiser created “Wassup” in 1998 and then followed up its success with a sequel in the Super Bowl. (You can see the Super Bowl version below, followed by the more iconic original spot.) It was an example of advertising overtaking culture—even one that was yet to be introduced to smartphones and social media.


@zanger doug.zanger@adweek.com Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.
Publish date: January 11, 2019 https://dev.adweek.com/creativity/18-super-bowl-ads-that-inspired-the-creative-industry-to-step-up-its-game/ © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT
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