The Super Bowl ad champs

By Jane Weaver MSNBC

Why do we stay glued to the tube on Super Sunday? Duh! The commercials are coming

What many consider the Super Bowl’s greatest ad, Apple’s “1984.” The commercial ran only once, cost $1 million and was the creation of ad agency Chiat/Day and director Ridley Scott.

Jan. 24 The Super Bowl. It isn’t just a football game – it’s our guilt-free, mid-winter celebration of American consumerism, broken diets and unabashed male bonding. Since 1984, when Apple Computer introduced the Macintosh with a stunningly innovative minute-long commercial during the championship game, Super Sunday has been elevated into advertising’s most high holy day. Here’s a look at 10 of the most memorable, humorous or dramatic commercials from past Super Bowls. And remember, come back Sunday after the game for MSNBC’s review of this year’s commercial winners and losers and a chance to vote for your favorite ad.

SURE, there were commercials in the Super Bowl before the blond in red shorts hurled a sledgehammer through a giant TV screen in Apple’s legendary ‘1984’ promotion for its new personal computer. Some of them are even included in our look-back at the high points of Super Bowl advertising.

But it was the futuristic Apple ad, directed by Ridley Scott (‘Blade Runner,’ ‘Gladiator’) with a visual and narrative reference to George Orwell’s bleak post-World War II novel, that turned the Bowl game into an event where we put our channel surfing on hold and stay glued to the tube during the commercial breaks.

The stakes have become so high that advertisers are willing to spend millions of dollars buying commercial time during the game and then millions more producing the ads.

Choose your favorite

“Marksman” Master Lock

“Mean Joe Greene” Coca-Cola

Spuds MacKenzie


“Apt. 10G” Diet Pepsi

“Showdown” McDonald’s

“Security Camera” Pepsi

“Just Can’t Win” Visa

“When I grow up…”

Vote to see results

Bowl game advertisers often find themselves frantically re-testing and re-editing their promotional gems until virtually the last minute before kick-off. Some marketers even guard their creative efforts with a secrecy worthy of the CIA.

Not all the risks have paid off. There are plenty of weird commercial moments from past games like Dennis Hopper sniffing sneakers for Nike in 1994 or Coca-Cola’s 45 second 3-D spot in 1988, a gimmick that got a creative thumbs down from the majority of viewers who didn’t have a pair of the special 3-D glasses.

Then there are the ads which are remembered long after the last pass. The 30-second or 60-second breakthroughs that somehow tap the cultural zeitgeist with a snappy catchphrase (McDonald’s ‘Nothin’ but Net,’ Budweiser’s ‘Wassup’), an animal with attitude (Budweiser’s Spuds Mackenzie) or by tweaking the image of a public figure (Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole as loveable loser for Visa International). Years before his battle against Parkinson’s disease turned Michael J. Fox into a beloved, heroic family man, he was the Reagan era’s quintessential yuppie bachelor in a series of ads for Diet Pepsi in the 80s.

Based on research and our highly subjective memories, here’s MSNBC’s take on the standout ads from past games.

Master Lock (1974) ‘Marksman.’ Before visual trickery in commercials caused us to doubt our own eyes, the close-up of a padlock being shot by a high-powered rifle was compelling stuff.

Coca-Cola (1980). ‘Mean Joe Greene’ An irony-free, simple drama unfolds when a little kid offers his Coke to a limping -Mean Joe’ Greene, Pittsburgh Steeler’s defensive tackle. Greene then throws his jersey to the kid.

Budweiser (1987) Anheuser-Busch introduces cuddly Spuds MacKenzie and his semi-dressed bimbos to a national TV audience. Spuds lands in the dog house when critics charge that the randy pup (actually a female) appeals to kids.

Diet Pepsi (1987) ‘Apt. 10G’ Michael J. Fox climbs out of his apartment window into a downpour to buy a Diet Pepsi from a vending machine for his beautiful next-door neighbor.

McDonald’s (1993) ‘Showdown’ -Off the overpass, off the skyscraper, over the railing, off the clock, nothing but net.’ Michael Jordan and Larry Bird keep matching shot after mind-boggling shot for the chance to win a Mickey D meal.

Visa (1997) -Just Can’t Win.’ Failed Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole returns to his hometown, but can’t cash a check without proper ID. If he’d shown this much humor in his campaign, Dole might have defeated Clinton in 1996.

Pepsi (1996) In ‘Security Camera,’ a Coca-Cola delivery man is caught on camera as he sneaks a can of Pepsi out of a convenience store refrigerator and causes an avalanche of Pepsi cans. (1999) ‘When I grow up I want to file all day…I want a brown nose…I want to be forced into early retirement.’The black-and-white ad features small children fantasizing about their future careers.

Budweiser (2000) ‘Wassup?!’ becomes the catchphrase of the year. A group of guys in a bar call their buddy at home who tries to hide that he’s watching professional ice skating with his girlfriend.