The Best Ads From the Last 50 Years of the Big Game

Some watch it for the game, others for the halftime show, but here in adland, we get hyped for one thing and one thing alone. 

The commercials.

(Did you think it wasn’t going to be the commercials?)

Viewers hope to laugh, cry, or be surprised during the legendary ad breaks for the game. For advertisers themselves, the Big Game acts as the goldmine of ad opportunity, with tens of millions of fans tuning in to watch every year. 

Even for marketers who can’t afford the millions it costs for a prime ad spot, the event provides a perfect chance to learn what’s working right now in video marketing

Not every ad needs to be “Big Game Quality”: Learn 5 common misconceptions inspired by one of adland’s biggest nights.

After all, it’s important to be in the know when it comes time to make your own ad. We’ve narrowed a list of ads that left a lasting impression on audiences. You can use this list to get inspired for your own campaign!

Learn More: Social Media Video Ad Specs & Placements Guide

11. Electronic Data Systems, “Cat Herders”

Premiering during the first Big Game of the new millennium, this spot from Electronic Data Systems uses Americana iconography—in this case, rustic cowboys on an open range—and spins it on its head with a modern (and dare we say) millennial twist. Well over a decade before internet culture became dominated by Cheezeburgers and Grumpy Cats, EDS smartly used the web’s favorite pet to grab attention for a B2B company in a way that still feels wildly inventive–and forever entertaining.

10. Apple, “1984” 

Apple’s “1984” ad introducing the Macintosh computer is still talked about nearly 40 years later—and it’s easy to see why. Directed by famed director Ridley Scott, this ad uses George Orwell’s classic novel “1984” as an analogy to the computer market at the time being dominated by IBM. The woman in the commercial represents innovation by Apple in a one-company market, shattering standards of what personal computers represented. Breaking the mold inspires awe in any ad campaign. 

9. McDonald’s, “Larry Bird vs. Michael Jordan” 

Fast-forward a decade, and you’ve got this classic Mcdonald’s ad. It features everything people loved about the ‘90s — the spunky music, the colorful fashion, and icons Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. Both legendary players get to show off their stuff (even if it’s exaggerated for viewing pleasure), and viewers get psyched up to buy a Big Mac. 

8. Squarespace, “5 to 9 by Dolly Parton” 

Using a well-loved superstar in a prime commercial spot is never a bad idea. That’s what Squarespace did with Dolly Parton in their “5 to 9” ad series. Dolly gifts fans with a new take on her “9 to 5” hit and speaks to the millions of individuals out there who live for their side hustle. While you may not be able to snag a superstar for your ad, you can certainly focus on providing inspirational messages in creative ways. 

7. Budweiser, “Lost Dog”

Of course, no ad list would be complete without Budweiser. Renowned for its marketing as much as its product, Budweiser’s dog ad series has everyone reaching for a tissue, particularly with this one about a lost dog finding his way back home. Pulling at the heartstrings in your campaign is a surefire way to create an impact. Throw in a cute animal, and you have an unforgettable ad experience. 

6. Volkswagen, “The Force”

What’s even better than a touching ad? One that adds some humor, too. Volkswagen hit it out of the park with their “Star Wars”-inspired ad that features a kid dressed as Darth Vader attempting to use the Force. After many failed attempts, his dad gives him a hand, leading to pure happiness for little Vader. This ad is sweet and references a beloved movie series, which is a fantastic way to grab watchers’ attention. 

5. Doritos, “Swipe for Doritos”

Some of the best ads work because they use a powerful formula: speak to relevant pains. Doritos perfected that in this ad where a man finds himself on a slew of bad online dates—that is, until he meets a woman with a bag of Doritos. Millions of viewers have likely experienced a bad online date or two. They’ll feel this man’s pain and probably crave some Doritos afterward. 

4. Cheetos, “It Wasn’t Me”

This commercial wins because of its music. Incorporating the big hit “It Wasn’t Me” by Shaggy, viewers follow actors Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher on a humorous journey to find out who’s been eating the Cheetos. It’s a fun twist on the catchy song’s message. You don’t always need to reinvent the wheel for your ad campaigns. Sometimes, using what already works is enough to create an effective ad.

3. Amazon, “Alexa Loses Her Voice”

Amazon’s Alexa ad manages to do a lot here. We get a unique story about Amazon’s Alexa losing her voice with cameos from actors and musicians filling in for her. The ad shows what Amazon can do, including calling friends, showing recipes, playing music, and answering questions. The takeaway here? You can use your ad to show off the best that your product or service has to offer without text or voiceovers. Have fun with it! 

2. Always, “Run Like a Girl”

In their ad, Always showed us the influence of addressing emotional topics. Here, we have a moving message about how girls often lose their confidence as they hit adolescence. To encourage discussion about this matter, Always created the hashtag #likeagirl for others to share what being a girl means to them. Including this hashtag lets everyone be part of the story. A hashtag is also a great idea to establish branding, helping keep your company at the forefront of viewers’ minds. 

1. Coca-Cola, “Hilltop” 

Then we’ve got Coca-Cola’s “Hilltop” ad. There’s a lot of historical significance to this 1971 TV spot. The ad’s message of hope, sung beautifully by a diverse group, was in deep contrast to the conflict that plagued the news around that time. It also proves that an ad doesn’t always need high-tech equipment or imagery. A beautiful and sincere message is enough to keep viewers talking about your ad for a long time. 

Best Ads from the Big Game: The Takeaway

And there you have it—some of the best advertising to have hit TV screens over the years. With the Big Game coming up soon, this year will present another opportunity for advertisers to leave a mark on fans. 

At QuickFrame, we’re passionate about all things advertising. Get in touch to learn how we can help make your ad campaign one as worthy as those that play during the big game. 

Insights, White Papers, Trend Reports, and so much more: Boost your marketing with creative intelligence.

Do More with Video

Learn how we can help you produce more quality videos affordably and at scale.