Some Super Bowl ads are instant classics. Others…not so much. But that doesn’t mean that they’re not worth the occasional revisit. Here are a few of our favorites.
The ad: SoBe 3D
To promote its Lifewater drink, SoBe decided to treat 2009 Super Bowl audiences to a magnificent ad with lizards, football players posing as ballerinas, and 3D imagery. Halfway through the commercial, various monsters show up, dancing in vibrant color.
The commercial came with a gimmick: if you had SoBe’s ColorCode 3D glasses to truly experience it. Oh, and you needed a fairly large high-definition television, too.
How did it do? Many viewers didn’t have the required accessory, so they were confused by the strange-looking colors and shapes. Also, the ad doesn’t really focus on the Lifewater brand, so some critics questioned its effectiveness. Perhaps most importantly, it was instantly dated, since SoBe couldn’t reuse the 3D gimmick when re-airing the ad after the big game.
Still, SoBe did something completely different, and if you’ve got 3D glasses, the commercial still looks amazing. While it didn’t quite garner a “Ad of the Year” nomination during its Super Bowl run, it’s well worth a look.
The ad: Upside Down Clown
In 2003, Budweiser promoted Bud Light with a bizarre spot featuring an upside-down clown walking into a bar. “You must be hot in that suit,” the bartender says, and the clown gulps down a beer through an opening in its pants.
Then, the ad just sort of ends; there was no punchline, other than the strange, flailing legs of the clown suit.
How did it do? “Upside Down Clown” is frequently named as one of the worst Super Bowl ads of all time. Critics ridiculed it for not making any sort of sense, and many viewers complained that it scared them. It certainly didn’t make people want to drink beer.
However, in the long term, the ad might have worked. It was just weird enough to get people thinking about the Budweiser brand, and the beer company decided to make stranger, more disgusting ads in subsequent years. Their next Super Bowl ad featured a flatulent horse.
The ad: Avocados in Space
The Denver Broncos may have taken home the rings from Super Bowl 50, but the real winners were the guacamole-chowing fans at home. They got treated to one of the event’s weirdest and most charming commercials in history, courtesy of produce company Avocados from Mexico.
The conceit is that a group of far-future space aliens is touring a museum of ancient humanity (read: us). The tour guide points out emojis as our alphabet. He shows off a living Scott Baio, played by…Scott Baio. And not every character gets out alive.
How did it do? Well, the USA Today ad meter placed it right in the middle of the bunch, with a rating of 5.52 out of 10. But there’s no question that this fun and goofy ad helped to spread the word that avocados from Mexico are always ripe and always in season.
Remember that when it’s time to make this year’s guacamole.
The ad: The Interview
Tide promoted its portable Tide-to-Go stain-removal stick with a commercial that’s as funny today as it was when it aired in 2008. The setting is simple; this commercial proves that you don’t need a Hollywood budget to film an effective ad.
A young man sits in a job interview, trying to make a case for himself as a model employee. But every time he opens his mouth, a conspicuous stain on his business shirt lets loose a stream of gibberish, drowning him out.
The tagline? “Silence the stain.”
How did it do? Critically, “The Interview” was a hit. It won a Creativity Award from AdvertisingAge and kicked off a string of ads featuring talking stains. We guess we should be grateful for that?
Anyway, Tide-to-Go sticks are still a top-seller, so we’d say that the ad did its job. If nothing else, it’s a good reminder that you probably shouldn’t wander into professional settings with colorful stains on your clothes.
The ad: Apple’s Lemmings
Apple Computer’s “1984” is probably the greatest Super Bowl ad of all time. Directed by Ridley Scott, it combined the worlds of art and advertising while establishing Apple’s brand. The next year, the company was dealing with high expectations for a similarly powerful follow-up.
That brings us to “Lemmings.” It shows blindfolded businessmen walking over a cliff, until one person stops to take off his blindfold. “You can look into it, or you can go on with business as usual,” an announcer says, while the camera reveals more “lemmings” headed for oblivion.
How did it do? Not well. Critics said that the ad was hostile to consumers, and Apple stopped running Super Bowl advertisements until 1999.
Still, while “Lemmings” wasn’t perfect, it suffered from high expectations; the concept is interesting. If the ad had ended on a slightly more hopeful note, we doubt that it would be considered a total failure.
The ad: Settle It
By 2015, consumers had come to expect a certain type of ad from Skittles. Colorful, lush, and full of magic, the Skittles “Taste the Rainbow” campaign carved out a unique place in the American imagination. Then came Super Bowl XLIX.
Ad designers took a different route this time. They depicted a small town in which every resident has an abnormally strong, bulky right arm. Babies and dogs are no exception.
When a pair of men realize there’s only one lemon Skittle left in town, they settle it in the town’s unique way—with an arm-wrestling competition. The tagline becomes “Settle the Rainbow.”
How did it do? Settle It suffered for its uniqueness. The website Super Bowl Commercials blasted the ad, calling it not “all that…sweet.”
Despite the public’s dismay at a new angle, our take is that this ad is hilarious. Besides, who wouldn’t fight over the last lemon Skittle?
The ad: Nature’s Gift
Most Super Bowl ads feature A-list celebrities, computer-generated animals, and massive budgets. Fiji Water is hoping to set itself apart by keeping things simple.
This ad will air in the 2017 Super Bowl, and it’s gorgeous. It shows a simple bottle of Fiji water, surrounded by scenes of densely populated urban areas. As helicopters and cars pass through the bottle, they turn into butterflies and rolling hills. It’s simple, but it sends an effective message: Fiji water is created by nature.
How did it do? It hasn’t actually aired yet, but this is the type of advertisement that doesn’t get too much attention on Monday morning. Still, we think it’s gorgeous.
If only the company had chosen a different narrator, it would be perfect—they’ve got a kid providing the voice of the brand, which might come off as a little cloying. That’s a minor complaint, however, and we’d be surprised if Fiji doesn’t see a moderate sales boost.
The ad: Cleaner of Your Dreams
It’s too soon to say how history will judge the ads from Super Bowl LI, but “Cleaner of Your Dreams,” from Mr. Clean, has all the hallmarks of an underrated gem.
The ad introduces a woman to an animated Mr. Clean. She’s clearly attracted to the bald icon, who dances as he cleans her home. The punchline is that the whole scene takes place in the woman’s imagination. The animated Mr. Clean proves to be none other than her schlubby husband, who asks, “Clean enough?”
The tagline appeals neatly to men and women both, with sensual undertones: “You gotta love a man who cleans,” the ad declares.
How did it do? All we can offer are our predictions. But through its clever use of domestic stereotypes, pure physical humor, and decent animation, we’re guessing “Cleaner of Your Dreams” will be a hit.
It just might not make the cut for all the “best-of” lists we’ll be reading the week after the Super Bowl.