It's Super Bowl time again, which means, for three hours on Feb. 3, viewers across the country will give commercials a chance—even though most Super Bowl spots frankly aren't much better than what we see from advertisers the rest of the year.
Still, there have been some wonderful ones over the years.
For Muse's first-ever Super Bowl feature, we wanted to highlight some of the best efforts of the past. So, we asked people working in the ad industry to pick their favorite spots—and write about them in 53 words or less, in honor of Super Bowl 53.
We had one rule, though: They couldn't pick Apple "1984" or E*Trade "Monkey." Those two spots are always the runaway favorites, and I wanted to hear other choices. I did include both of those spots on the list—how could you not?—but I wrote the blurbs for them myself (and threw in one of my other favorites as well).
Check out the industry's picks below, sorted alphabetically by advertiser. And if you have a pick to share, please email me and I'll consider adding it.
Thanks to everyone who contributed, and congrats to all the advertisers (particularly Jublia, who surely wasn't expecting any kind words after the drubbing its 2016 Super Bowl spot received at the time).
• Airbnb, "We Accept" (2017)
Culture Curator, TBWA\Chiat\Day LA
When was the last time you let a stranger into your home? The backbone of Airbnb is the acceptance of strangers and difference. They've built a global community by allowing us the opportunity of walking in a stranger's shoes and living freely. This ad was the best kind of reminder of that power.
• Always, "Like a Girl" (2015)
Partner and Executive Creative Director, Venables Bell & Partners
There are few commercials that have the power to quiet a room during the Super Bowl, and this is one of them. It was a beautifully sharp insight that cut through everything and made you think. More importantly, it made you feel.
Creative Director, Wongdoody
Before 2015, the average person—my feminist, daughter-having self included—used the phrase "like a girl" as a slam. But in 60 perfect, female-empowerment-fueled seconds, Always turned "like a girl" into a rallying cry. And helped girls, women and the ad industry realize we're capable of more than we ever thought possible.
Founder and President, BARÚ Advertising
Half of the Super Bowl audience is women, but most of its ads target men. The ones with women frequently rely on harmful stereotypes. Always #LikeaGirl shows the effects of those stereotypes, speaks to the female audience through their love of athletics, and reminds them to be proud of who they are.
Chief Creative Officer, RAPP
I'm most drawn to ads with powerful human insights behind them. In "Like a Girl," Always addressed the lack of confidence girls experience after puberty by challenging what it means to be a woman, representing the power of advertising: ideas that not only mirror culture but reshape it and leave a positive legacy.
Founder, Moving Image & Content
This spot connected to the female fanbase (the NFL estimates 45 percent of fans are women), debunked stereotypes about women and sports—and cut through the clutter of hyper-masculine ads. It sparked conversations about equality that continue to snowball today. Being topical to culture-at-large, but also to the event, was effective.
Chief Growth Officer, Social Native
A perfectly executed campaign that highlighted just how powerful personal stories are. The spot cut through the hype of the Super Bowl and brought the viewers together with the use of real stories, a powerful, culturally relevant message and a global cause, which captivated and inspired millions.
• Amazon, "Baldwin Bowl" (2016)
Director of Strategy, Allen & Gerritsen
My dream state is in a room overflowing with fried finger food, swathed by the ruggedly handsome Alec Baldwin and intellectually stimulating Jason Schwartzman, serenaded by a new Missy Elliot track, and a device reminding me to order toilet paper. It's also the Alexa spot from 2016, making it my favorite by default.
• Amazon, "Alexa Loses Her Voice" (2018)
Everything goes wrong in this 90-second commercial, which weirdly makes me want to jump on the Alexa bandwagon! The irony played out by Alexa's replacements—Gordon Ramsay, Cardi B and Rebel Wilson—is both clever and hilarious. Honestly, part of me wants Gordon Ramsay to yell at all my life decisions!
• Ameriquest, "Surprise Dinner" (2005)
Associate Creative Director, Propac
I love how this ad gets across the brand promise in a quick, memorable way. The twisted, clever logic and inevitably compromising situation that follows are paid off nicely by a great tag. A smart concept with a clear tie-in to its offering—no flash or glitz needed. But maybe a white cat.
• Apple, "1984" (1984)
Editor in Chief, Clio
[Editor's note: As noted above, we didn't let anyone choose "1984" for this list, because half of you would have picked it. It remains at the head of the pack.] Chiat/Day and Ridley Scott's masterpiece is the most famous commercial ever made, the ad to change all ads. Grand and darkly compelling, it brilliantly cast Apple as the spirited underdog to IBM's Big Brother. The media buy—having it run just once—only added to its legend. It will surely never be equalled.
• Audi, "Godfather" (2008)
CEO, Kovert Creative
The 2008 Audi ad by Venables Bell & Partners borrowed from a famous scene from the Godfather, the greatest movie ever. Why was Audi advertising the R8 in the game? How did VBP pull off this concept? Who cares? It was brilliant, ballsy and memorable; Audi hasn't looked back in the U.S. since.
• Audi, "Daughter" (2017)
Art Director, EP+Co
Audi's "Daughter" spot is one that has stayed with me. It was the first time I remember seeing the gender pay gap discussed so plainly in a Super Bowl spot. The writing is simple and powerful, and as a young female creative post-2016 election, it was important to see.
• Avocados From Mexico, "Avocados in Space" (2016)
Managing Director, Clients + Culture, SS+K
In the spirit of celebrating how enriching culture can be when we welcome perspectives, people, music, food and terrestrial beings from outside America (and Earth), I'm giving a shout-out to always-in-season Avocados From Mexico's 2016 spot. The Chia Pets line gets me every time.
• Budweiser/Bud Light, "Bud Bowl" (1989)
Executive Creative Director, Barton F. Graf
It paved the way for elevating ad space into something bigger and more entertaining than the game itself. Best of all, it crowned the best beer—with the only beers playing made by Bud. It was a game within a game. Which begs the question … would we have the movie Inception without Bud Bowl?
• Budweiser, "Frogs" (1995)
Founder and Chief Creative Officer, GUT
Just three frogs in a swamp. Simple. Funny. Unexpected. Not taking itself too seriously. Impossible to forget. It was the pilot of an entire series. Season 2 introduced us to Louis, Frankie and the ferret. Also, you couldn't tell the story without the brand. It makes people start croaking "Bud," "Weis" and "Er."
• Budweiser, "What Are You Doing?" (2001)
Executive Creative Director, Barbarian
The success of Budweiser's "Whassup" spots had the unfortunate side effect of turning one member of every male friend group into "the Whassup guy." So in 2001, when the brand parodied the very phenomenon it started with "What Are You Doing?", it was the perfect bit of snark the rest of us needed.
• Budweiser, "Instant Replay" (2003)
Associate Creative Director, Goodby Silverstein & Partners
A good Super Bowl commercial should be able to stand the test of time. After this postseason's questionable calls—catches no catches and fumbles no fumbles—I vote to run it this year! That's what makes "Instant Replay" an instant classic; funny, simple and memorable.
• Budweiser, "Born a Donkey" (2004)
Creative Director, Optimist Inc.
What I love about Budweiser's donkey spot is that it delivers a touching story in a very short time, "character" development, humor and an aspirational message through the acceptance of the Clydesdale horses. But really, it's the donkey braying.
• Budweiser, "Brotherhood" (2013)
President and Chief Creative Officer, Red Tettemer O'Connell + Partners
Clydesdale grows up with trainer. Clydesdale leaves trainer to join Budweiser Clydesdales. Stevie Nicks "Landslide" playing. Sniff. Clydesdale spots trainer in crowd … snniiifff, whelp … at parade … aaaaahhh, gulp … galloping. Hugging. Grrrpghrem … snort.
• Budweiser Clydesdales (various years)
Chairman of TBWA\Media Arts Lab and Director of Media Arts at TBWA\Worldwide
I love the Budweiser Clydesdales spots. All the way back to the beginning, playing football? Sorry I can't pick one. You got the dog ones. And the baby horse ones. Then you got the baby horse and the puppy ones. Then the baby horse grows up one. How can you pick just one? [Ed. note: "Puppy Love," from 2014, is shown above.]
• Budweiser, "Born the Hard Way" (2017)
Junior Planner, EP+Co
To an immigrant from Canada, with Polish-Mexican roots, Budweiser's founding story pulls the heartstrings. It speaks to the amazing spirit that immigrants share—a spirit that drives us to explore and embrace the unknown in all aspects of life.
• Bud Light, "The Bud Knight" (2018)
Account Planner, Planet Propaganda
'Twas a halt in the Bowl and thine brethren thirst for ale.
Hither came thee valiant bro, shining in coats of blue.
O'er the hills of bloodiest battle, he fetched a score plus four.
While Game of Thrones seized the commoner's heart, the era was right
to hail thou great hero Bud Knight.
• CareerBuilder, "Tips" (2009)
Creative Lead, The VIA Agency
What pisses me off is that it's actually insightful and germane to their product—not just funny for funny's sake like most SB spots. I know firsthand their biggest competitor was reeling after this. It's also a masterclass in casting, directing and editing. If I made this, I'd flip everyone off and quit.
Senior Creative, Virtue
"It can be hard picking a favorite Super Bowl commercial. As a rule, if you laughed, it may be the one. If you laughed and it made you think, it may be the one. If you laughed and it made you think existentially about your own professional purpose, it may be the one."
Partner and Editor, PS260
My favorite Super Bowl spot is Tom Kuntz's cumulative CareerBuilder spot for Super Bowl XLIII. I'm just a sucker for its pitch-perfect casting, performances, setups, script and "house that jack built" structure. As an editor, I really appreciate the craft that went into this deceptively simple edit within an edit.