Editors’ picks: best Super Bowl commercials of all time

Apple is still smashing it 38 years later

Talking frogs, office linebackers, inquiries about a lack of beef… we’ve got it all. The Drum’s global staff share their favorite Super Bowl ads of all time.

Apple, ‘1984’ (1984)

The year was 1984 and while there were no thought police, there was a pervasive conformity that George Orwell warned of. You see, this thing called a computer was really gaining traction and IBM owned about 80% of the market. And there was this scrappy upstart called Apple that wanted us to think differently. To prove its point, it ran a spot during the Super Bowl that its board of directors hated. Directed by Blade Runner’s Ridley Scott, it simply looked, felt and sounded like no other advertisement. To this day it is widely considered one of (if not) the best ads of all time. And we all know how the Apple versus IBM story ended.

Kenneth Hein, US editor

*For a behind the behind-the-scenes story about how planner MT Rainey convinced Steve Jobs to run '1984', click here.

Budweiser, ‘Frogs’ (1995)

It’s been almost 30 years since three frogs appeared on screens and instantly gained a place in advertising history. It was created by ad agency D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, which had reportedly been asked to ‘contemporize’ the brand’s image. Until that point, ads had largely relied on product shots and its well-known Clydesdale horse mascots, which it had used in the last 10 Super Bowls.

The spot, which aired during the 1995 Super Bowl, sees three puppet frogs croak nothing more than “Bud”, “Weis” and “Er” for 30 seconds before the camera pans to show a Budweiser-branded bar. It was completely different to anything it had done before. It won awards, spawned multiple parodies (including a Simpsons episode where an alligator eats the three frogs before croaking “Cooooooors”) and spin-off merch, and inspired a bunch of future campaigns for Bud.

According to MTV, the commercial “left everyone repeating the brand name for weeks until the joke got so old and stale that you just wanted to run over those damn frogs with your car.” In the end, Budweiser stopped using the frogs after complaints that they were inadvertently targeting kids with the characters.

Jen Faull, senior editor

Reebok, ‘Terry Tate: office linebacker’ (2003)

This Reebok spot, first aired during Super Bowl XXXVII, kicked off a series of nine short TV ads created by Dodgeball writer and director Rawson Marshall Thurber. Based on a short film pilot developed by screenwriter Pete Chiarelli, the ad casts ex-NFLer Lester Speight as a corporate employee of the imagined Felcher & Sons, where he keeps other employees in line using some fairly unconventional tactics.

It’s my favorite Super Bowl spot for a couple reasons. For one, it’s genuinely hilarious. The mockumentary feel conveys frankness and realism à la The Office, which resonates with many viewers. There are few ads from the early 2000s where the humor translates so seamlessly almost two decades later. I also chose this spot because it really ingrained the series and character of Terry Tate into the cultural zeitgeist – growing up, I recall my parents referencing some of the series’ most memorable catchphrases, including “The pain train’s coming!”

Throughout the years, Tate has appeared in everything from PSAs urging Americans to vote to ESPN’s comedy series Mayne Street. This year, Terry Tate will make a comeback in a Super Bowl LVI ad for Hellmann’s that stars New England Patriots linebacker coach and former NFL star Jerod Mayo. I’m getting the popcorn ready.

Kendra Clark, reporter

Wendy’s, ‘Where’s the beef?’ (1984)

I didn’t manage to catch the Super Bowl in 1984 (or indeed any Super Bowl before or since). But the thing about great advertising is that it has a way of finding you, no matter if you’re halfway across the world, have never seen ‘American’ football and have no idea what a Wendy’s is. And that’s what ‘Where’s the Beef?’ did – even if it took a good decade from that half-time break for the catchphrase to make its way into my consciousness, and even longer until I saw the actual ad. You couldn’t keep up an unhealthy obsession with American TV in the 90s without hearing someone reference its refrain, and like all great pop culture moments it eventually popped up in The Simpsons.

Set in the Home of the Big Bun (a none-too-subtle reference to Burger King’s Whopper and McDonald’s Big Mac), the ad shows three octogenarian women examining its hamburger offering, commenting that “it certainly is a big bun” and “a big fluffy bun,” before a cantankerous Clara Peller demands to know: “Where’s the beef?” Those three words made an instant star of the 81-year-old and gave the world a punchline that’s spouted still today (although occasionally to Wendy’s detriment, such as when recently aimed at the fast-food chain as it struggled through supply chain issues).

Thomas O’Neill, managing editor

Old Spice, ‘The man your man can smell like’ (2010)

“Look at your man. Now back to me. Now back at your man. Now back to me.” Words we still remember clearly now. It might not be en vogue to shame men who use “lady-scented body wash,” but this ad catapulted Isaiah Mustafa into stardom and elevated the brand with thousands of memes created. The follow-up ad starring Mustafa and Terry Crews is also a must-watch.

Shawn Lim, reporter, Asia Pacific

Reddit, ‘Wow, that actually worked’ (2021)

Creatively, the Reddit Super Bowl LV spot was never going to win any awards, but in a whole five seconds the social media platform managed to capture the attention of many and subsequently overshadowed numerous bigger brands. It was calculated, yet simple, and left people wanting more. A straight-up PowerPoint slide with earnest copy joked, “Wow, this actually worked,” before going on to to explain the backstory of how the ad came to be and cementing Reddit as the underdog that toppled the ‘big guys.’ Overall it was a risky move, but by tapping into its community and speaking in a way that Reddit knows resonates with its core audience, the pay-off was huge.

Amy Houston, reporter

Xerox, ‘Monk’ (1976)

Forget Elon Musk and his obsession with tunnels – this Super Bowl commercial for Xerox proves that tech startups have been overestimating the importance of their inventions for decades. In an apparent effort to bring home the revolutionary potential of the photocopier to ordinary Americans (presumably the leaking of the Pentagon Papers wasn’t adequate product placement), this Needham, Harper & Steers spot dares to ask: what if Martin Luther could’ve nailed a few extra copies to that church door? Despite apparent concerns that the ad would rile up religious consumers at home, the agency had it signed off by an archbishop.

Sam Bradley, assistant editor

Coca-Cola, ‘Hey kid, catch’ (1980)

Simple ideas are best. Bringing its iconic ‘Have a Coke and a smile’ tagline to life, we see a young fan make Mean Joe Greene smile by offering him a Coke. After the spot aired, Greene reported that kids were no longer scared of him, and that random people would stop him on the street and give him bottles of Coke. Yes, McCann Erickson created a spot for the ages. The downside: all of the young fans who were disappointed that their favorite players didn’t throw them free jerseys.

Kenneth Hein, US editor

Nintendo Switch, ‘Believer’ (2017)

Coming into Super Bowl LI, Nintendo had a lot to prove. Its previous console, the WiiU, was a certified flop. While it had won back its core audience of gamers with a dedicated presentation of its new console the Switch, its ambitions went beyond simple rehabilitation. So when it needed to, it came out swinging with a Super Bowl ad that showcased the Switch to a mass-market audience.

With smart audio branding and a sizzle reel that showcased the utility and lifestyle features of the console in addition to a strong range of titles, the ad marked the start of Nintendo’s new approach to ads. Instead of focusing on any one core demographic, it used the opportunity to prove to the public as a whole that they were a gaming brand for everyone. It was a smart move in the face of the tech arms race between other companies including Sony and Microsoft, and arguably the entire success of the Switch range to date can be traced back to this Super Bowl ad.

Chris Sutcliffe, senior tech reporter, The Drum