How the Super Bowl Works

Super Bowl Commercials

­Super Bowl Sunday isn't all about the football game for some viewers. A large segment of the audience tunes in to the game just to see the commercials. Often, the commercials are as hot a topic of water-cooler conversations the next day as the game itself.

If you create a large enough public spectacle, advertisers will line up to put their name (and their money down) on it. There's no bigger spectacle in the world than the Super Bowl. Advertising time during the Super Bowl is the most expensive in television. NBC charged an average of $3 million for a 30-second ad in the 2009 Super Bowl; by 2017, Fox was charging $5 million–$5.5 million for Super Bowl ad spots. Ads in 1967 cost a mere $42,000, according to Advertising Age magazine [source: BLS]. Ad prices reached $1 million in 1995 and went over $2 million for the first time in 2000. Just nine years later, they hit the $3 million mark.

With so much interest in the commercials, advertisers have pressure to live up to the hype of years past. Here are some of the most famous commercials debuted during Super Bowls:

  • 1984: 1984 (Apple). In perhaps what is now the most famous Super Bowl commercial ever, Apple launched the Macintosh computer with its Orwellian "Big Brother" ad in which a woman throws a hammer at a jumbo screen displaying Big Brother. Apple never ran the ad on television again.
  • 1987: Apartment 10G (Pepsi). This ad starred Michael J. Fox, who goes to great efforts to get an attractive new neighbor a Diet Pepsi, including jumping out his window and running through oncoming traffic to get to a vending machine. The neighbor delivers the punch line when she introduces her equally attractive roommate -- who immediately asks for another Diet Pepsi.
  • 1989: Bud Bowl I (Budweiser). Bud Light and Budweiser bottles face off on the gridiron to decide the king of beers.
  • 1992: Hare Jordan (Nike). This one starred Bugs Bunny as Hare Jordan and Michael Jordan in a one-on-one basketball game. The ad inspired the movie "Space Jam."
  • 1993: Showdown between Michael Jordan and Larry Bird (McDonalds). The two basketball legends play a game of "top this," shooting the basketball off of various objects and into the basket.
  • 1995: Budweiser Frogs. It was hard to get the "Bud - Weis - Er" frog chant out of your head after this campaign was launched.
  • 1999: When I grow up ( In this tongue-in-cheek ad, kids took turns saying what they wanted to be when they grew up. Some of the kids wanted to…"file all day," "claw my way up to middle management," "be replaced on a whim," and "have a brown nose."
  • 2000: Cat herders (Electronic Data Systems). This ad depicted cowboys riding across the range herding cats as if they were cattle.
  • 2002: Six degrees of Kevin Bacon (Visa Check Card). This poked fun at the popular party game in which people try to link an actor to Kevin Bacon through interconnected movies. In the commercial, Bacon writes a check and has to prove his identity by finding a way to link himself to someone the store clerk knows.
  • 2003: Terry Tate: Office Linebacker (Reebok). A football linebacker runs through the office of a fictional company tackling rule-breakers.
  • 2006: FedEx Caveman (FedEx). In this wonderfully pointless commercial, a luckless caveman tells his boss he's failed to send a stick via pterodactyl courier. Despite the caveman's protests that he couldn't use FedEx, as his boss suggests, because the company doesn't exist yet, he's fired. Depressed, he leaves the office cave, kicks a small dinosaur -- and is promptly squished under the foot of a much larger dinosaur.
  • 2008: Baby (E-Trade). A precocious infant talks trading and investing.
  • 2011: The Force (Volkswagen). A mini-Darth Vader struggles to use the force.
  • 2014: Up for Whatever (Budweiser). It involves Don Cheadle and a llama in an elevator. What more needs to be said?

­The Super Bowl is an event like no other sporting event in the world. No matter if it's the commercials or the game you find interesting, the Super Bowl is sure to get your attention in some way. Of course, for some people, it's all about the food.­