As always, this year’s Super Bowl was peppered with what are sure to be some of the best ads of the year. Of course, the chatter around our watercooler this morning mostly revolved around car-related ads. And admittedly, there’s a little debate going on about how they compare with some of the classic Super Bowl car ads. To gain some perspective, I took a stroll down memory lane to rediscover the best Super Bowl commercials in recent history (featuring cars, of course).

Feel I’ve done a particular ad a great injustice by leaving it out? Link to it in a comment and let me know!

Volkswagen: “Darth Vader”

Let’s start with Volkswagen’s 2011 “Darth Vader” spot. This is probably the most popular automobile-related Super Bowl commercial of all time — and for good reason. Though you never see his face, you can clearly see the kid’s determination, frustration, and surprise in his movements as he tries to harness the mysterious powers of the Force.

Logistically, the ad was a huge success. Costs that year were estimated at around $3 million for 30 seconds — not to mention all the money they put into producing it. Yikes. But according to Forbes, it generated close to $100 million in publicity. So it’s no surprise the company pumped another $10 million into this year’s spot.

Bridgestone: “Screaming Squirrel”

As makers of the “Official Tire of the NFL” and producer of several classic Super Bowl ads, Bridgestone can’t be overlooked. There are a few ads to choose from, including last year’s “Carma” campaign, but their most popular spot would have to be the “Screaming Squirrel.” (Some might also call it “infamous” … or “unbearably obnoxious.”) Either way, it’s certainly memorable.

Clocking in at just 30 seconds long, this ad would have cost an estimated $2.7 million to air in 2008. At the time, Super Bowl XLII was the most-watched Super Bowl in history with 97.5 million viewers (though that record has already been broken 3 times).

Chrysler: “Imported From Detroit”

In 2011, Chrysler aired a rare breed of Super Bowl commercial. This was about 2 years after the automaker emerged from bankruptcy, and they were in no mood to joke around. The ad painted a grim but optimistic picture of Detroit and starred Detroit native Eminem, who also provided the soundtrack.

It’s not your standard Super Bowl commercial. But if you visit the official video on YouTube, you’ll see hundreds of comments like this: “I want to buy a Chrysler because of this commercial.” Despite accusations of political incentive, the combination of star power and economic woe made for a uniquely powerful message.

Honda: “Matthew’s Day Off”

Last year, Honda enlisted Ferris Bueller (aka Matthew Broderick) to star in its CR-V Super Bowl ad. Remarkably, Broderick agreed to parody his claim to fame in a lengthy spot titled “Matthew’s Day Off.” It incorporates dozens of blatant references to the movie, including Yello’s hit song “Oh Yeah.” Even if it didn’t push any CR-Vs, it’s a tasteful throwback for fans of the movie.

This is also a good example of digital marketing, which is becoming increasingly popular. Only 30 seconds of the video actually aired during the Super Bowl. The rest of the 2:25 minute video was posted online and has received more than 16.5 million views in less than a year.

Toyota: “Badgers”

We’ve seen the silly, the sweet, the serious, and the sentimental. And now, we leave you with Toyota’s “Man Trapped in a Car with Angry Badger.”

Because that happened.

Super Bowl Ads in the Digital Age

Running an extended ad during the Super Bowl is too cost prohibitive for most companies. So what’s an advertiser with a great (but longish) ad idea to do? Post online, of course!

This year, many advertisers aired their commercials before the big game. VW’s $10 million spot, featuring a Minnesotan businessman with a Jamaican accent and “get happy” attitude, went up on YouTube exactly one week before the game. By game day, it more than 8 million views … and a whole lot of buzz.

Mercedes-Benz also aired an extended cut of its spot the Wednesday before the game. Like the Chrysler and Honda ads above, their commercial relied on star power. Usher, Kate Upton, and Willem Dafoe each make an appearance, while The Rolling Stones’s “Sympathy for the Devil” plays.

As advertising becomes increasingly digital, Super Bowl advertising will also evolve. We’re already seeing brands like Target and Coca-Cola developing alternative strategies, from interactive apps to crowd-sourced content. But if this year’s lineup is any indication, you can rest assured there are plenty more classic Super Bowl ads to come.


Around the nation


about Anthony

Anthony Larsen has been copywriting since 2010 and blogging since the early Xanga days. He’s only been driving for 10 years, but as a Los Angeles native with a relentless commute, that’s enough for a lifetime.