No one knows the exact number of Super Bowl commercials that have played during the big game since its inception in 1967.
We do know there have been thousands of expensive ads created to air on this special day. There were 86 commercials during Super Bowl LII alone, making up almost one solid hour of our Super Bowl watch time.
Like a carnival game, these commercials are a very expensive shot at a moving target. And just like the teams that make it to the Super Bowl, there are winners and losers.
Below, you’ll find our list of the winners, as we’ve ranked the best Super Bowl ads of all time.
#5 – It’s a 10 Haircare Super Bowl Commercial, 2017
Aired During: Super Bowl LI
#5 on Our Best Super Bowl Ads List For: Subtle political commentary and entertaining visuals
This commercial aired 12 weeks after Donald Trump was sworn into office. The nation was holding its breath. What would the administration be like? Would our currency rise or fall? What about foreign relations? Could we maintain neutrality in tough situations? Would we keep our cool?
It was a time of great uncertainty. But one thing was certain, and It’s a 10 Haircare focused on that one thing we knew for sure.
The commercial begins with a voice intoning, “America, we’re in for at least four years…of awful hair.”
Our collective attention was caught.
The ad suggests that we can “do our part” and make up for it by having great hair.
The first model in the ad with great hair is an older cowboy on a horse. He sits in this classic Western pose, shaking out his long gray locks.
The commercial goes on to showcase stylish folk of varying colors, styles, and social attitudes. Again, a win with cross-demographic appeal.
The ad then becomes more humorous, showing chest hair, back hair, dog hair, and mohair. And it celebrates them all.
There was potential for the hairdos to overshadow the product itself, but apparently, this didn’t happen. According to Adweek, It’s a 10 posted its best sales day in their history after this Superbowl commercial aired.
#4 – Amazon Alexa Super Bowl Commercial, 2018
Aired During: Super Bowl LII
#4 on Our Best Super Bowl Ads List For: Creative use of celebrities
Who doesn’t love Rebel Wilson being kooky and Anthony Hopkins being creepy?
This Alexa ad shows how Amazon could handle the issue if Alexa were to ever lose her voice. It’s intended to show how reliant people are (or should be) on the virtual assistant.
The commercial doesn’t actually showcase Alexa’s talents. It tries to, as a young man asks for a recipe for a grilled cheese sandwich, a student wants to know the distance to Mars, a man hosting a wine-and-cheese party asks Alexa to set the mood, and a woman asks Alexa to call her boyfriend.
But the celebrity answers by Gordon Ramsay, Cardi B, Rebel Wilson, and Anthony Hopkins steal the show. We remember the humor, and it’s a popular re-watched ad. However, the intended point, that Alexa can answer almost any question, is forgotten.
But it does keep the viewers from getting up from the sofa, which is one of the goals of any good Super Bowl ad.
#3 – E-Trade Super Bowl Commercial, 2008
Aired During: Super Bowl XLII
#3 on Our Best Super Bowl Ads List For: Juxtaposition of funny baby with boring investment information
As a nation of TV watchers, we’re tired of seeing 55-year-old men wearing blazers and pointing out the benefits of various investment and retirement products. Except for when we do actually meet with our investment advisors.
At those moments, we would be uncomfortable with anything less than the “I know what I’m doing” blazer and perma-press khakis.
We would not, in real life, take investment advice from a baby. At least, we shouldn’t.
But when E-Trade uses a baby to push its brand, we can’t look away! Voiceovers are always fun, and this blasé yuppie voice is a perfect mash-up with the innocent face.
Unlike other Super Bowl ads with babies, the cuteness of this commercial doesn’t overshadow the product itself. The baby is not doing any cutesy baby stuff but is instead talking about his retirement plan. It’s something we all know we have to do but often put off.
When the baby buys a stock with the push of one button and then tells us, “You just watched me buy stock. It’s no big deal,” we believe him. And we go to E-Trade the day after the Super Bowl and set up new accounts.
E-Trade garnered enough new clients after this ad aired to stick with the theme. Fortune Magazine points out that “E-Trade then stuck with the creative idea for six years.”
The fact that this one was such a clever hit makes it one of the best Super Bowl commercials ever and earns it a spot on our list.
Ranked #2 – Tabasco Super Bowl Commercial, 1998
Aired During: Super Bowl XXXII
#2 on Our Best Super Bowl Ads List For: Impact without resorting to celebrities, babies, or dogs
For a Super Bowl commercial to be truly successful, it must be funny without being offensive, entertaining without “trying too hard,” and actually help to sell the product. Rarely do commercials hit all three targets.
This Tabasco ad is a standout one because it didn’t go the celebrity route or the puppy path or any of the traditional ways that Super Bowl advertisers try to get our attention.
The ad shows an ordinary Joe, sitting on a porch in the woods, eating a slice of pizza. Who can’t relate? Everyone overeats on Super Bowl Sunday. And relaxing on a porch while enjoying a bite is practically an American tradition.
The man is dousing the pizza with Tabasco sauce. Our mouths are watering. Our bodies are responding to the commercial, a solid win that advertisers strive for.
There are no words said during the commercial, no eager salesperson making the most of the $1.3 million ad spot, no push to inundate us with information. Just a guy, on a porch, eating pizza with hot sauce.
We have to keep on watching, because something has to eventually happen, right?
A mosquito lands on the fellow’s leg. He doesn’t brush it away, just looks at it and keeps eating his Tabasco-flavored pizza.
The mosquito flies off into the night, done with the meal now that it’s full of the man’s blood. The man’s Tabasco-rich blood, we point out.
When the mosquito explodes because of the hot sauce, we crack up. How could you not?
It’s amazing how something so simple can become one of the best Super Bowl commercials of all time.
By not doing anything momentous for the first 25 seconds of the commercial, Tabasco has caused us to lean forward in anticipation, poised for some kind of joke or surprise. We get both. It’s a total win: we want Tabasco, it’s funny, and it’s very entertaining without being offensive.
It’s true that PETA protested the explosion of the mosquito, but since even the Dalai Lama said he swats at mosquitoes, we think that the “offense” factor is pretty small.
Good job, Tabasco.
#1 – Old Milwaukee Beer Super Bowl Commercial, 2012
Aired During: Super Bowl XLVI
#1 on Our Best Super Bowl Ads List For: “Let’s watch it again!” …and again…and…
Will Ferrell has made a number of commercials for Old Milwaukee Beer, and our favorite played during Super Bowl XLVI, but on a local station only. Viewers in North Platte, Nebraska, were the only ones to enjoy this ad during the game.
Mr. Ferrell is striding through a picturesque field with portentous, “pomp and circumstance”-type symphonic music playing in a measured cadence. Clearly, something important is about to happen. It’s the type of music you expect to play when the MVP trophy is awarded after the Super Bowl.
The music continues, as does the striding. More music, more striding. Finally, Mr. Ferrell comes close to the camera. Someone throws him a can of Old Milwaukee, and he cracks it open. The foam spurts out impressively, as foam tends to do in beer commercials.
Clearly, this man who has just walked a long way through agribusiness acreage is thirsty. And he’s about to have his thirst quenched, by God.
He holds up the beer can in a manner that implies both pride and satiety, and begins to say “Old Mil—” when the camera beeps and the commercial is cut. Time has run out.
Classic Will Ferrell, touting, by superimposing the celebrity’s characteristics upon the product itself, as we are meant to do, a classic American beer.
Although the commercial only aired on North Platte’s KNOP-TV, making the original viewership about 25,000 people, its replays on YouTube are close to two million.
This is what every advertiser wants: social media activity and positive conversation about an ad. Old Milwaukee did this with a low-budget spot, and Ferrell performed for free. Thus, the return on investment of the best Super Bowl ad of all time blows every other Big Game commercial out of the water.
And it’s hilarious.
Why Do Companies Pay $5M for Half a Minute?
Advertisers want to get a product in front of as many eyes as possible. Hence, the billboards on busy highways, the commercials during the most popular shows, and product placement in movies.
Nowhere in America will they find a bigger collection of eyes than during the Super Bowl. Nielsen ratings put the number of Super Bowl viewers at right around 100 million people.
Hence the multi-million-dollar price tag for a 30-second commercial spot during the championship game.
These commercials can make or break a company. E-Trade reported increased new account sign-ups after its talking baby ad.
Unfortunately, other companies like Radio Shack and Just for Feet declared bankruptcy after running one of the worst Super Bowl commercials.
Fortunately, some brands do hit the target for a clear win in the eyes of consumers.
Most commercials are ephemeral, rising and falling with regularity, disappearing quickly into the ether. Some last days, some are aired for weeks, and a few last months. As soon as human interest wanders elsewhere, it’s time to head back to the drawing board.
However, when $5 million dollars is on the line, it’s important that the commercial lasts a little longer than a few episodes of Veep.
Our picks for the five best Super Bowl ads of all time are still making the media rounds. The It’s a 10 ad has more than a million YouTube views, and the E-Trade baby ad and its sequels have their own online compilations.
These Super Bowl commercials still attract viewers in droves, and thus the brands represented are still getting “eyes” on the product, even years later. Score!
Interested in more “best of” lists related to the Super Bowl? Take a look at these.