Friday, February 03, 2006

Super "Bowl"ing for Dollars

One of the things I do in my spare time (which I have plenty of you know, having twins, working full-time, being a blogger) is teach at the local college. I primarily teach business, management and computer classes with a few public speaking classes thrown in there for good measure.

I also teach marketing. (As does my brother, but on a slightly larger and grander scale as he is a professor – recently tenured – at DePaul University in Chicago)

Last year at this time I did a special lecture on Super Bowl ads. Where and when the craze started, the rising costs of airing a SB ad, etc. I also went through what I thought were the best SB ads ever (you can see where this post is going, can’t you?)

BTW, click HERE for a terrific link that shows most of the Super Bowl ads from this post.

This year, each 30-second spot costs $2,500,000 (up from $2,400,000 last year). Between 1967 and 1983 the price for an ad fluctuated with the economy. After 1984, the prices started to go up every year (with a 30-second spot going for $368,000 for the 1984 game to $525,000 for the 1985 contest.

Now, you’re all asking what happened in 1984 that caused the sudden price-spike? You asked, I shall tell as I recap some of the best-ever Super Bowl ads of all-time (that’s just a little redundant isn’t it?) To avoid arguments, this list is NOT in any order of best to worst, it’s purely arbitrary based on popular opinions. Mine. Hah!

(Of course I’m kidding… it’s complied from a list of viewer favorites from such sites as,, etc.)

The first one (which happens to be MY favorite as well as the one that started the SB Ad craze) is from Apple Computers.

  • Released in 1984 (ah-ha!) the ad is simply titled “1984” and it turned the Super Bowl commercial into an event that sometimes exceeded the game being played as the first-ever Macintosh was introduced in this 60-second spot done by “Blade Runner” and “Gladiator” director Ridley Scott. In an homage to George Orwell’s novel of the same name, an auditorium full of mindless and spiritless drones watches as “Big Brother” (symbolism people! IBM) goes on and on about the anniversary of the “Information Purification Directives” on a gigantic television screen. All of a sudden, from the back of the hall, a blonde woman in shorts comes racing toward the screen, stops, and hurls a slow-motion sledgehammer (symbolism again people! the new Mac) and shatters the image. Then the voice-over: “On Jan. 24, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh, and you'll see why 1984 won't be like ‘1984’.” Beautiful in its complex simplicity and visual artistry.
  • In 1995, the way people looked at frogs was forever altered with the first appearance of the famous (or infamous?) “Budweiser Frogs.” This one can prove to you that sometimes the most basic idea is the most successful one. The synopsis is easy, three frogs sitting on lily pads in a dimly-lit swamp (as opposed to a bright swamp?), crickets chirping in the background. Then, the amphibians croak out the product name, “Budddd,” “Weissss,” “Errrrrr”. Did the ad work, go up to any person who watches the Super Bowl, say “Budddd” and find out for yourself. During the 1997 NBA play-offs, Anheuser-Busch (AB) premiered a series of spin-off ads starring a pair of wise-cracking Lizards. They, like the frogs, helped propel Budweiser and AB to new heights in their advertising.
  • 2000 we saw the airing of E-Trade’s “Monkey” ad. As was simple enough, two old men clapping off-beat to La Cucaracha while a monkey in an E-Trade t-shirt dances on top of a garbage can. Then comes the punchline: “We just wasted two million dollars. What are you doing with your money?” Funny and alarmingly simple.
  • Ok, this next one aired WAY to long before Budweiser finally decided to stick a fork in it, but the first 2 years were a sight to see. I am talking, of course, of “Bud Bowl.” The ads were shown every year from 1989 to 1996 (and they REALLY should have stopped after 1991) I will openly agree that the ads are not even the best Budweiser Super Bowl ads, but in that first year, many people rooted just as hard for Bud as they did for the teams in the actual Super Bowl. My bet, is that Bud will rollout this campaign again some day.
  • Anyone who has EVER worked in Corporate America can relate to this next one:’s “When I Grow Up.” Released during the 1999 Super Bowl, this ad got you thinking one way, and then quickly leads you in the opposite direction. How? First, Monster paraded out a gaggle of cute kids to tell us all their hopes and dreams and aspirations. Cute right… until they start speaking their lines such as: “I want to have a brown nose.” “I want to claw my way up into middle management.” “I want to be forced into early retirement.” (Hey! I resemble those remarks.)
  • Electronic Data Systems (EDS) and their “Herding Cats.” Quick, what does EDS do/sell? Yeah, I thought so. EDS is a specialized product that serves a specialized group (IT/IS gee— my bad, people), but this ad brought them to the attention of the masses…though if you asked the masses what EDS does, many couldn’t tell ya anything about them other than they do excellent Super Bowl commercials. The premise, take some guys who look like they stepped down off a Marlboro billboard (or off a screening of Brokeback Mountain… maybe not) and show them riding the range while trying to corral a couple hundred digitally rendered felines and brushing cat hair from their chaps. Utter genius. EDS had another Super Bowl hit that featured the running of the squirrels at Pamplona, Spain. That one was brilliant as well.
  • Before they fell into the pit that is Britney Spears, the folks at Pepsi could always be counted on for one of the best commercials of any Super Bowl Sunday. In 1995 they aired “Diner”, which showed a scene of a Pepsi deliveryman and a Coke deliverymen experiencing a moment of diner-counter detente and each taking a sip of the others wares. Nice, polite, unifying… until of course, the Coca-Cola employee won't return the Pepsi to the Pepsi employee and all hell breaks loose. The next year Pepsi released “Security Camera”, a follow-up of sorts where a security camera detects a Coke deliveryman trying to steal a can of Pepsi. He fails and proceeds to spill Pepsi cans all over the floor. This is funny stuff… even though I can’t stand Pepsi.
  • McDonald's “Showdown” which premiered in 1993. This ad shows Larry Bird, who almost always seems to be completely devoid of personality, became charming-esque in a series of ads with Michael Jordan. The best of which was their game of “Horse”. “Off the expressway, over the river, off the billboard, through the window, off the wall, nothin' but net.” You have to ask yourself, with these two, did they even have to digitally enhance the ad?
  • In 1995, Nike put Dennis Hopper into an ad that some say signaled the onset of political correctness in American pop culture. In the ad, entitled “Patton” Hopper (in perfect Easy Rider mode) spoke, scarcely coherently, an ode to “the ballet of bulldozers, the moments of grace in a sea of fury.” The ad generated controversy as it was thought to have been mocking the mentally ill. Never mind that Hopper had been acting in that manner for years. “Bad things, man.”
  • Cedric the Entertainer is romancing a very hot date in Bud’s 2001 ad simply titled, “Cedric.” When it's time to cool off just a little, he eases into the kitchen to grab two bottles of Bud Light from the fridge. Cedric's, um, shall we say, ‘excited’ at the prospect of what the evening might hold, so he does a little happy dance in the kitchen, accidentally shaking up the bottles in the process. The end of the evening comes too soon when he opens the bottles and the shaken beer explodes all over his date. Funny as hell, but also poignant as we all feel for Cedric… having probably done something similar to a date way back when… me? No, not me. No, no, a little bit. Long story that I won’t bore you with today.
  • Budweiser’s 1996 classic “Clydesdales Play Ball”. A snowy game of pick-up football between two teams of horses with a couple of ranch hands (Jake & Ennis?) showing surprise that they went for a field goal instead of trying for a touchdown. In 2004 Bud updated the ad, in conjunction with the video-replay arguments of that season, showing: the same teams, but with a Zebra acting as referee and viewing a replay under the infamous ‘Ref-Tarp”
  • A few years back, unleashed “Chimps” on us. Each ad poked fun at a guy whose career is flagging because he — literally — works with a bunch of “no-good stinkin’ apes” (sorry, couldn’t resist) with a bunch of chimpanzees. In one ad, the chimps place a “whoopee cushion” on his chair. In another, the guy watches in dismay as one chimp kisses the ass of his boss. All I can say about this ad is been there, seen that. Ads with animals are big in the Super Bowl, but this one proves its popularity again and again because so many people can relate to the imagery and intent. (Show of hands, who here has worked with “chimps” before? Come on, MD, Dubya, I know you guys probably have…)
  • Another one that is one of my favorites (mainly because I LOVE Tabasco sauce), is the ad that shows a calmly gent sitting on a front porch in the bayou, eating pizza that he keeps throwing Tabasco sauce onto. Then we see an image of a mosquito drinking his blood, the mosquito flies off and promptly explodes due to the heat of the Tabasco sauce… brilliant and simple at the same time.
  • Picture below. ‘Nuff said.

That’s it, my list of some of the all-time favorite Super Bowl ads.

Agree? Disagree? Leave me a comment and let me know some of YOUR favorite ads from past Super Bowls… you’ll be glad you did.

And if you want to get a sense of what Super Bowl viewers will be seeing this year, click HERE for a handy SB Ad Chart.