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How the Super Bowl Works

By: Kevin Bonsor & John Donovan  | 

Super Bowl Commercials

Super Bowl
The Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales are often part of the brewing company's Super Bowl commercials. trdesignstudio.com/Anheuser-Busch

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.

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 to $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. In 2020, a 30-second spot cost about $5.6 million.

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With so much interest in the commercials, advertisers have to live up to the hype. Here are some of the most memorable commercials to air during a Super Bowl:

  • 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 (Monster.com). 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.
  • 2003: Terry Tate: Office Linebacker (Reebok). A football linebacker runs through the office of a fictional company tackling rule-breakers.
  • 2009: Crash the Super Bowl (Doritos). This crowd-sourced ad featured an office worker fulfilling a prediction that he would receive free Doritos by smashing open a vending machine with a crystal ball — he does by throwing the crystal ball through the vending machine.
  • 2011: The Force (Volkswagen). A mini-Darth Vader struggles to use the force.
  • 2015: Like a Girl (Always). This commercial made history as the first-ever feminine care ad to run during the Super Bowl. But it was the message of girl power that made it so memorable.
  • 2018: The Elevator (Hyundai). Jason Bateman takes car shoppers on a magical elevator ride that, well, compares car shopping to the worst of the worst — think root canals and jury duty.
  • 2019: Wind Never Felt Better (Anheuser-Busch). It's hard to pick the best of the Budweiser Clydesdales ads, but after skipping the 2018 Super Bowl, the majestic horses (and dogs!) returned in 2019 to promote the brewery's use of wind power.
  • 2020: Before Alexa (Amazon). Ellen Degeneres and her wife Portia de Rossi ponder what the world was like before Alexa.

The Super Bowl is an event like no other 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.