Super Bowl LIV is right around the corner. And while the San Francisco 49ers prepare to take on the Kansas City Chiefs, marketers are suiting up off the field to fight for viewers’ attention.
When it comes to Super Bowl ads, the pressure is on. With 30-second commercial slots costing up to $5.6 million and about 100 million viewers to captivate, advertisers need to have a “go big or go home” mentality. Additionally, marketers must also stay true to their brand’s identity in order to remain recognizable to customers and potential buyers, while also setting themselves apart from their competitors. Throughout the years, some companies have risen to the occasion when it came to establishing their brand’s identity or evolving their brand image on the Super Bowl stage. Let’s take a look at which brands really made their mark on the TV screen over the years.
Hilltop – Coca-Cola, 1971
As one of the earliest Super Bowl commercials, this ad portrays a melting pot of people singing “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” in perfect harmony on a hilltop in Italy. When the ad was produced in 1971, it cost $250,000 to make ($150,000 over budget), making it the world’s most expensive commercial at the time.
The concept behind the commercial stems from a business trip Bill Backer, creative director of Coca-Cola’s collaboration agency, had planned for London. When the trip was derailed to Ireland instead, passengers became angered and disappointed. However, Backer quickly watched this disappointment dissipate when a bottle of Coke was shared among him and the 12 other passengers. It was then that he began to see the soda not only as a refreshing drink, but as a unifying force around the globe. This ad helped establish Coca-Cola as a common connection between people from all walks of life, so much so that it is still considered one of the most beloved commercials of all time. Regardless of your preference of soft drinks, the lasting impact and unmistakable brand identity Coca-Cola created with this ad reverberates to this day.
1984 – Apple, 1984
On January 22, 1984, Apple aired what is probably considered one of the most controversial Super Bowl ads of all time. In fact, they almost pulled the ad and sold their slot in fear of rejection. In the commercial based on George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, a Big Brother figure on a huge screen (IBM) addresses a room of dismal, bald-headed people. A blonde woman in orange shorts runs through the halls as she’s being chased by the police and throws a sledgehammer at the screen. The ad’s tagline “why 1984 won’t be like 1984” reassures viewers that Apple’s new technology will be used for freedom, not control.
What makes this commercial so iconic? For starters, the ad didn’t feature the product, which was a revolutionary strategy at the time. Apple showed that brands are more than their products – they’re also their ideas, stories, and mission statements. Apple put forth the idea that they would empower the next generation of young, innovative, and entrepreneurial minds, inspiring them to break free from the mold with the help of the new Macintosh computer.
New Can (Two Kids) and This Is The Pepsi – Pepsi, 1992 and 2018
Pepsi’s 1992 Super Bowl ad starring Cindy Crawford quickly became a pop culture classic. In the ad, two young boys watch as Crawford emerges from a flashy Lamborghini and cracks open a refreshing can of Pepsi. While the ad leads you to believe that the boys are admiring the supermodel, they are in fact mesmerized by the soda can’s new design.
Crawford made a comeback in 2018 to recreate the iconic commercial as part of the brand’s “Pepsi Generation” campaign. The ad featured other throwbacks, including past Pespi commercial stars like Britney Spears, Michael Jackson, Jeff Gordon, Uncle Crew, and the DeLorean time machine from “Back to the Future.” By playing into viewers’ nostalgia from commercials past, Pespi successfully proved their timelessness and that their brand identity and image resonates for every generation. That’s the kind of curated, consistent brand management all companies should strive for.
The Force – Volkswagen, 2011
This ad features a young boy in a Darth Vader costume desperately trying to use “The Force” to move everything in his house, from his sister’s doll to the washing machine, with no luck. Disappointed, he runs outside when his father comes home in a Volkswagen Passat, hoping to test his powers one last time. He outstretches his hands toward the car, which his dad secretly triggers with the keyless ignition, leaving the child with a priceless reaction.
The use of a famous pop culture staple like Star Wars allowed Volkswagen to tap into their audience’s childhood nostalgia without betraying their established brand identity. Instead, the company used the allusion to Star Wars to highlight the features of the car in an entertaining, comedic way. With its powerful engine that could only be awakened by “The Force,” Volkswagen’s ad reminds viewers that the force is strong with their Passat. As a result, it’s become the most shared Super Bowl ad of all time.
Puppy Love – Budweiser, 2014
How could anyone resist this adorable story of a puppy and his Clydesdale pal? This commercial follows a young pup as he consistently escapes his adoption kennel to play with the horses at a neighboring farm. When the day comes for him to start life at his new home, the Clydesdales quickly take action, refusing to be separated from their furry friend.
Budweiser’s commercial does more than depict a story between a puppy and a horse. In the 90-second ad, the viewer also watches a relationship form between the kennel owner and the horse keeper. The brand chose to take viewers on an emotional journey, as opposed to being overly promotional with their product. In fact, the product isn’t even featured until the very end of the ad. Instead, the use of Budweiser’s iconic Clydesdales throughout the commercial subtly carry their brand identity throughout the 90-second spot, so even though beer is hardly mentioned or seen, viewers unequivocally knew they were witnessing a Budweiser ad.
Alexa Loses Her Voice – Amazon, 2018
When our beloved Alexa loses her voice, Jeff Bezos and his Amazon team turn to their unqualified replacements: Gordon Ramsey, Cardi B, Anthony Hopkins, Rebel Wilson, and others. When these entertainers are unable to carry out the tasks that Alexa normally would perform, the users are left confused and lost.
While the ad itself is riddled with humor, the underlying message is actually more serious: consumers are pretty dependent on AI. By taking away Alexa’s capabilities, Amazon quickly showed viewers just how valuable she is. Additionally, they positioned their technology as irreplaceable, showing that other high-profile alternatives just won’t be the same. This ad succeeded in conveying Amazon’s domination in the space, managing to situate their brand as the go-to home assistant.
Road Trip – Planters, 2020
Ahead of this year’s football showdown, Planter’s teased a preview of the company’s Super Bowl ad killing off their beloved mascot Mr. Peanut. In the preview, the beloved legume and his two pals get into a car wreck. As the three catapult over a cliff, they all grab hold of a branch. When they realize that the branch can’t support all three of them, Mr. Peanut heroically lets go in order to save his friends. The verified Twitter account for “The Estate of Mr. Peanut” confirmed his death, and Planter’s brand manager encouraged viewers to tune into the third quarter of the Super Bowl to celebrate his life.
Planter’s has certainly taken an interesting advertising approach with this commercial. While the Super Bowl is still a few days away, Planter’s has already generated a hype and buzz around the most important element of their brand image: their 100-plus year old mascot. Will they use this opportunity to evolve their branding or usher in a complete rebrand? The world will soon find out on February 2nd.
Touchdown: Establish Your Brand Under the Super Bowl Spotlight
With a platform like the Super Bowl, brands have an incredible opportunity to remind viewers of what they stand for and what sets them apart from their competition. And while it’s unclear which team will win this year’s big game, one thing is for sure – thinking outside the box while still staying true to brand identity is a proven way to become an advertising champion.
For more around the importance of brand identity and management in today’s market landscape, be sure to check back into The MarcomCentral Blog.