Every February in the US, the widely anticipated American Football game of the year finishes the football season with a bang. And more importantly, it's one of the few events where people actually look forward to the commercial break.
So many of us are used to seeing video ads that cater to our interests, especially with RSS feeds, contextual and programmatic advertising, and personalized ads. But when you watch an event like the "Big Game," everyone is experiencing the same ad at the same time, no matter what you’re particularly drawn to.
Advertisements have been a staple of the Big Game since its creation in 1967. But now that we’re in 2023, how have these ads evolved? Let’s look at some of the most popular ads over the years, why they’re popular, and how much they’ve evolved.
Wendy’s: “Where’s the Beef?”
One of the most well-known ads is affectionately called “Where’s the beef?” In 1984, Wendy’s released an ad that called out other fast food chains that fail in areas they succeed. Here, three elderly women examine a burger with an excessively large bun and a shocking lack of beef. Wendy’s compares its single burger to McDonald’s Big Mac and Burger King’s Whopper, claiming that its burger has more beef than the other two.
The “Where’s the beef?” tagline was popularized shortly after the ad’s release, keeping Wendy’s and its burgers on consumers’ minds. Though it’s a fairly simple ad, Wendy’s showed you can do a lot with a little. More recent Wendy’s ads haven’t been as funny or memorable, but their marketing still focuses on rising above the competition.
Pepsi: “We Will Rock You”
It’s common to see your favorite celebrities in commercials, but Pepsi almost exclusively features musicians in its Big Game ads. It’s hard to pick just one Pepsi ad, but one of the most popular is “We Will Rock You.” The commercial stars Beyonce, Britney Spears, P!nk, and Enrique Iglesias. The three talented women clad in gladiator costumes refuse to fight each other. Instead, they begin to sing the famous Queen song. The ad is a bit objectifying depending on how you look at it, as are other prior Pepsi ads, but it’s iconic, nevertheless.
Over the years, Pepsi has experimented with different stories and musical numbers. In 1987, we saw David Bowie and Tina Turner act in a “mad scientist” story, and we watched Michael Jackson in 1984 as he danced with fans in the street. Not much has changed with Pepsi’s ads— save better production quality.
Budweiser: “Puppy Love”
Budweiser has been effectively using animals in its commercials for decades. Because honestly, who doesn’t love a cute puppy or a horse? The Clydesdale horse has been a symbol of Budweiser since 1933. The majestic breed appears in many of Budweiser’s commercials, many of which have premiered during the Big Game.
In 2014 and 2015, the company shifted its focus, though not totally, to a different species. Instead of making comical commercials involving the Clydesdale horses, Budweiser took a route that was more emotional than it was funny. A labrador puppy finds a home among a farmer and his Clydesdales, and in the following year, he temporarily gets lost before finding his way back home. Not only is the ad probably the most adorable to ever take up a time slot, but it also highlights that brands can cater to their audience in different ways, so long as it evokes some kind of emotional response.
Always: “Like a Girl”
Ads aren’t always something witty or cute. Sometimes commercials are used to address real problems in the world. In 2015, Always, a company that produces menstrual hygiene products used its time slot to make a statement against the casual misogyny so many girls experience at a young age. The ad campaign “Like a Girl” interviews several children and teenagers, asking them what they think when they hear phrases like “you run like a girl.” The boys and teenage girls interpret this phrase as an insult, but the little girls see things the opposite way.
In the end, Always reminds us of the damage misogyny can do to the confidence of girls and women. This change in perspective is especially prevalent in comparison to the Good Year: “When There’s No Man Around” ad that debuted in 1967. The ad was almost entirely targeted toward men and assumes that women are incapable of solving problems without a man present.
Hyundai: Smaht Pahk
Over the past few years, Hyundai has managed to connect celebrities and humor to promote its innovative products. In 2020, Hyundai focused on the Sonata and its “smart park” mechanic, a feature that parks your car for you. The concept is already captivating, but Hyundai still spiced it up with actors Chris Evans, John Krasinski, and actress and comedienne Rachel Dratch. The trio uses heavy Boston accents, pronouncing “smart park” as “smaht pahk.” They repeatedly say “smaht pahk” to emphasize what the car does while also showing the vehicle in action as it parks and unparks.
Just like a song, it’s hard to forget an ad when its catchphrase is stuck in your head. This approach contrasts with other car commercials, like Ford’s in 2017. Most of that ad focuses on metaphorical ways to address the benefits of driving a Ford, but the ad takes so long to show the product that you may easily forget you were watching a car commercial.
Amazon: Alexa Loses Her Voice
Similar to the Hyundai ad, Amazon’s Echo ad from 2018 strategically markets the product with humor. In the commercial, Alexa loses her voice, which forces Jeff Bezos to find her a replacement. And filling in for the Echo's Alexa is none other than Gordon Ramsay, Cardi B, Rebel Wilson, and Sir Anthony Hopkins.
Owners of Echos ask Alexa a wide range of questions to which she’d typically have a helpful response, but as expected, none of these celebrities offer the same great insight that Alexa does. While Amazon strives to make you laugh with the speakers’ funny responses to requests and questions, you still get to see how useful the Echo can be. The ad’s production quality is also top-notch, which shouldn’t be surprising for such a behemoth like Amazon. It already costs millions to secure a 30-second spot during the game, so you can only imagine the budget needed to develop the ad. Back in 2010, a time slot cost less than half of the average price we see today.
Mountain Dew Kickstart: Puppy Monkey Baby
Though the brands mentioned above make great use of their time slots by enticing their audience logically, some brands take a different approach. In 2016, Mountain Dew produced one of the most nonsensical ads featured in the history of the Big Game.
A hybrid between a puppy, a monkey, and a human baby serves Mountain Dew Kickstart to three men sitting on a couch. The ad is objectively weird as the creature repeatedly says its own name while dancing on a table. Surprisingly, the bizarre nature of the ad quickly engrained itself in many of the minds that tuned in, so much so that it’s still one of the most well-known ads from the Big Game.
For all sporting events, countless people consume different forms of content and ads on their mobile devices while they watch the game. So even if you’re not booking a time slot during the commercial break, you can still get eyes on your content and ads.
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