Cindy Crawford for Pepsi, 1992. This Pepsi ad featuring Cindy Crawford stepping out of a red Lamborghini in a white swimsuit was an instant classic. Ten years later, Crawford reenacted the spot, but this time, she’s climbing out of an SUV with her two kids in the back seat.
More than 110 million people tuned in to watch the Super Bowl last year. While admittedly, most of the audience was busy enjoying the football game on-screen, there are a number of people, an estimated 18 percent, in fact, who mostly cared about seeing the funny, splashy TV ads that occurred during the commercial breaks. (And we’re not even counting those who mostly wanted to catch last year’s halftime show of Beyoncé, Bruno Mars, and Coldplay.) That’s a lot of people, especially once you consider how few people really sit down and watch television actually on televisions anymore, let alone at the time that it’s originally airing. Brands—and the NFL—are well aware of what they’ve got: This year, a 30-second Super Bowl spot will cost advertisers between $5 million to $5.5 million, up from an average $4.8 million last year (and up almost every year since 1970, when it was a now quaint, then astronomic $78,200). Which begs the question: Is it really worth it? Brands think so. Elizabeth Lindsey, a managing partner with Wasserman, a company that strategizes with many of the brands that partner with the NFL, told Yahoo that, “It’s the last bastion of programming that people feel is must-see, in the moment, live,” and that, “I would argue the Super Bowl is a cultural experience far more than it is an individual game. It’s a gathering. And regardless of how you watch, at the end of the day, it’s social.” So when you sit around with your friends, passing the watermelon jerky and activated turmeric, coconut, and lime juice pepitas (inspired by Tom and Gisele’s diet, natch), know that you’re actually participating in an important, and age-old, tradition: enjoying branded content.
Now it’s just up to the brands! But with that kind of pressure, not everybody lives up to the hype (we’re looking at you, GoDaddy!). Some spots, though, become iconic, remembered decades after they aired, and far after the fates of the players have faded from memory. Ahead of Sunday’s game, Lady Gaga’s undoubted outfit changes, and the big branded reveals that come along with it, here are 11 of the most memorable Super Bowl ads of all time—from expertly orchestrated emotional arcs and click-bait-ready celebrity cameos to heritage companies making new moves, or just plain clever branding—and the best part? You don’t even have to wait until kickoff.
Larry Bird vs. Michael Jordan McDonald’s Ad, 1993. It’s hard to imagine anyone today dueling for a Big Mac as long as basketball stars Michael Jordan and Larry Bird did back in 1993. Fun fact: The year this ad aired, Michael Jackson was the Super Bowl halftime act, while O.J. Simpson performed the game’s opening coin toss.
Budweiser’s Frogs, 1995. It was impossible to drink a Budweiser in 1995 without thinking of these three monosyllabic frogs.
Apple’s 1984, 1984. If you watched Steve Jobs, you caught a glimpse of this controversial Apple ad, which premiered during the 1984 Super Bowl. The post-apocalyptic ad was directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Ridley Scott (The Martian) and was revolutionary at the time for not showing the product it was advertising.
Britney Spears Pepsi Generation, 2002. At the height of her popularity, Britney Spears starred in this ad by Pepsi, in which she played a pop star during the buttoned-up ’50s, a surfer girl in the ’60s, and an androgynous ’80s singer, among other characters.