7 the most creative Super Bowl ads – commercials that went viral and changed the game (18 min read)
The Super Bowl is an annual American football championship that always ends the US National Football League (NFL) season. This phenomenon has been lasting since 1966.
The companies make their commercials for that short advertisement break during the event and hope for a great return in their revenue. The best Super Bowl commercials score millions of views and can earn millions or billions of dollars during that particular time, although it is often the first time for them to be aired at all.
Super Bowl ads costs
The cost of airing an ad during the Super Bowl break for commercials increases from year to year. An average 30-second advertisement broadcast is valued at a few millions. In 2020, it was about $5.6 million, to be exact. Of course, the price goes up even more if a commercial is longer. In 1967, it was less than $50,000, but since that time, the costs have gone about 150 times higher.
Coinbase Super Bowl commercial (2022)
Coinbase made their Super Bowl ad, which has totally crashed their app due to the increased interest it had generated.
The Coinbase Super Bowl commercial was intriguing because there was only a QR code switching colors and kept bouncing from the screen borders. No actors, no storytelling, no dialogues, no subtitles – just a black screen and the single QR code.
It was very different from what most of us think of when hearing about an advertisement. It was much more like a “screensaver,” which is there for us only so that we don’t have to stare at a blank screen. The commercial was very similar to the famous DVD icon screensaver. This similarity brought nostalgia emotions in the viewers. Look at the comparison below.
Surojit Chatterjee, the CPO of Coinbase, tweeted on February 14th, 2022 about the fact that they scored over 20 million individual visits on their landing page thanks to the QR code commercial.
… and a massive crash
Coinbase's servers didn’t come up to the expectations of their owners on the day the ad viewers stormed them after scanning the QR code. In a matter of just a few seconds till the airing of the QR code ad, the app has crashed in front of about 117 million users, which is the estimated number of people who were watching that commercial then.
It was a big fail from Coinbase, the cryptocurrency exchange giant, but at the end of the day, people quickly forgot about that slip, and the company has scored profit.
What was behind the QR code in the Coinbase Super Bowl commercial?
Users that have scanned the bouncing QR code got redirected to the Coinbase landing page with a $15 bonus for their Bitcoin purchase once they have signed up on the platform. Moreover, Coinbase was also giving out $3 million to their already existing users.
The budget of the Coinbase Super Bowl commercial
According to estimations, Coinbase has spent about $20 million for their Super Bowl QR code commercial in total. That’s not too much, regarding the fact that the company is the biggest cryptocurrency exchange platform in the USA, and that the ad became a total hit as their traffic got truly historic thanks to that ad.
The psychological foundation – bizarreness effect
The main psychological effect taking place in the Coinbase Super Bowl Commercial (2010) was the bizarreness effect. The whole thing was quite bizarre, as the ad didn’t look like a usual commercial.
It was strange, and it drew attention because of that shock effect that it was causing in the viewers.
Mountain Dew Super Bowl ad (2021)
Another one of the best Super Bowl commercials was that by Mountain Dew. PepsiCo's brand, Mountain Dew aired their Super Bowl commercial in 2021 with a famous WWE champion and a movie star, John Cena. That Mountain Dew Super Bowl ad was very successful because of a few things.
John Cena in the Mountain Dew Super Bowl ad
The Mountain Dew Super Bowl ad in 2021 was so popular partly because of John Cena, who starred in it. This is because of the authority bias, which is a psychological effect that says that people tend to trust famous people, but it was also because John Cena is kind of a “living meme.” Strange humor has arisen around the actor, and now he has also become the face of the Mountain Dew Super Bowl campaign.
The Mountain Dew Super Bowl ad with John Cena was “gamified” because it offered some reward for completing some challenge – just like in an ordinary game with “winners” and “losers.” The ad had its ending with John Cena talking to the audience and announcing a contest with a cash prize of $1 million for the one who would count all the Mountain Dew bottles in the commercial and then would write that number under the Mountain Dew tweet with that ad. The announcement was quick and included a Call To Action to motivate the viewers.
An immediate reaction was required, which also boosted the engagement and the popularity of that commercial. The viewers were told to go to the Mountain Dew official Twitter account right after watching the ad and take part in the contest by writing their comments with the number of bottles seen. It was a great rush, motivated by the lucrative reward.
Replaying the ad
The whole thing was based on the fact that people wanting to win the contest (to get that $1 million), needed to replay the ad multiple times on Mountain Dew's official Twitter account. That needed to stop the 30-second commercial to count the fast-moving bottles of the drink all around the screen, and they had to be ultra-focused not to get lost in the whole process. Now, that's what we call “engaging content!”
Mountain Dew claimed that they got more than 250,000 contest entries in the night following the upload of the commercial. The next few days brought only more people.
Moreover, that Super Bowl commercial was said to make more than 56% of the viewers feel the need to make a purchase of the drink. The data also shows that the popularity of the search term “Mountain Dew Major Melon” has increased by 247% on Amazon.
The psychological foundation – competitiveness and gamification effect
The thing that has driven the buzz around the Mountain Dew Super Bowl ad was the competitiveness that the commercial was based on. The challenge announced by the memic John Cena made thousands of viewers rush to their Twitter accounts to try their luck in winning the promised $1 million. Everybody wanted to be the winner.
People like playing games and being competitive to compare their performance and results with the others. That’s why such a gimmick has worked like magic in that commercial.
Skittles Super Bowl commercial (2018)
Skittles Super Bowl commercial went viral because it did not air during the Super Bowl, but it was aired exclusively for one 17-year-old from California, Marcos Menendez.
Skittles was building up the tension by having a popular actor, David Schwimmer, starring in their commercial. He is most notably known as Ross from the hit show, Friends.
The company tried marketing through influencers, too. As Super Bowl is about football, they reached out to Marshawn Lynch, a former American football player, who had a big following on Twitter. Lynch helped to build excitement about the “most exclusive ad” by retweeting Menendez’s tweet.
Focusing on emotions and true experience
The main aim of the Skittles Super Bowl commercial was to focus on Menendez’s reactions and true experiences when watching the exclusive ad. Skittles live-streamed his watching of the commercial on their Facebook account.
While the live stream is not available anymore, it is known that Skittles streamed Marcos’ reaction and a 15-minute-long documentary on how the ad featuring David Schwimmer was actually tailor-made for the teen, featuring his house, hang out spots, friends, and family members.
Meme potential of the Skittles Super Bowl commercial
The Internet users engaged in the whole event with the Skittles Super Bowl commercial pointed to the similarities between Schwimmer’s characters and Nicolas Cage, suggesting the meme potential of the marketing campaign.
The idea of not using air time to advertise a product during the biggest commercial event of the year already had the potential to attract people’s attention. Skittles created an atmosphere of suspense and excitement by claiming that only one person will get to see their Super Bowl ad. The ostensible rejection of the media attention during the sports final clearly worked to generate even more focus on the unaired TV commercial.
Turning up the hype
Before the exclusive airing of the ad to Menendez, Skittles kept building up the hype by releasing numerous shorter commercials with David Schwimmer announcing the upcoming Skittles Super Bowl ad. Those short videos had him saying words like “Is this really a scene from the new Skittles Super Bowl ad that only one single person gets to watch?” with some strange, Skittles-style things happening later on.
The psychological foundation – exclusivity and limited availability
What is exclusive and rare, is also much more desired than the regular stuff. That was exactly the strategy and the way of thinking that the Skittles Super Bowl commercial creators presented.
Showing the ad only to one teenager and showing his reactions has greatly boosted the exclusivity of the ad. The boy has been pointed by the company as “the worthy.” It was just natural that it got people hooked.
Cards Against Humanity Super Bowl ad (2017)
In 2017, Cards Against Humanity creators made a potato ad. Super Bowl fans didn't have the opportunity to see it during the commercial break, though. Why? Because the ad has never been aired!
The whole thing was a marketing stunt. In February 2017, the company tweeted about their allegedly failed potato ad. Super Bowl commercials are very expensive to launch because of the price of the time the companies need to pay to have their moment on the screen.
Cards Against Humanity knew that and the possible aim of the entire campaign was to mock the idea of ultra-expensive Super Bowl ads, which, at the end of the day, look very similar to one another.
The ad included only one, ordinary potato with the word “ADVERTISEMENT” written on it with a black pen. It was 30-second long and had no sound. The potato was simply lying still on a white table, and the camera didn't move for a bit. It was a bizarre experience to watch something like that!
The company went to social media to show their “unsuccessful” ad, claiming that they went bankrupt because of their investment in the potato commercial. That went viral and the ad that has never been aired on TV has quickly become an Internet hit.
The explanation of the company for why they decided to make such an ad was that they wanted to “zig where everyone else zagged.” They claimed that everybody was used to commercials with smiling celebrities and pompous special effects when it comes to the Super Bowl, and that it depicts how dynamic and changing is the world. They, in turn, wanted to show something that the fast world wasn't prepared for – that “standing still” can be also interesting and can draw attention.
Did Cards Against Humanity air their potato ad (Super Bowl commercial)?
There is no simple answer to that. They didn't do it during the usual time, designed for companies to air their commercials, but there is no clear evidence whether they have aired it at all. They could've done it in the pregame, for example.
The psychological foundation – bizarreness effect
The potato is not weird by itself. But when you see a single potato, lying like that at the center of the screen, it makes you wonder, what’s going on. So, the ad was bizarre in comparison to what is usually understood under the term “advertisement.” It was a hoax that has generated interest.
Google Parisian Love Super Bowl commercial (2010)
In 2010, Google aimed with their ad at creating a nostalgic love story with the use of their search engine. Google Parisian love 2010 Super Bowl commercial tells a “love story” of a man who wants to seduce a French girl. The ad is a compilation of screen recordings from several Google searches, all of which are somehow connected to the “Romeo's” plan towards the girl.
Presenting the tool
In fact, the commercial presented Google’s search tool on the background of a well-told love story, so it was not only about emotions and nostalgia. The ad was a compilation of different Google searches regarding the boy’s efforts towards the girl. Each shot of the screen was fast and the suggestions option was also visible. The viewers observed the exact process of typing in the search terms, and they saw the suggestions popping up on the scroll-down list.
Everybody knows how Google’s search engine works, but it has become such an integral part of our lives that we may often ignore its significance. That ad, however, has tried to remind us how important, and yet – how simple it is.
What’s so special about it?
Well, there were no actors praising some product or tool. There were no explicit recommendations, too. It was more like sneak-peaking onto someone else’s screen or searching history and making a story based on our discoveries.
Usually, commercials are like a long list of recommendations dressed in nice cinematic and a bit of action and/or humor. Google took a different approach there. They let their tool speak for itself! “Look, we can even help you with finding the love of your life!” the commercial seemed to be saying.
Google went the easier route here. They wanted to make their viewers get that nostalgic feeling while being told a unique love story. It’s quite common to use such tactics when preparing a Super Bowl commercial. This is probably because the annual football championship is rather something that unites people of various beliefs and origins, especially when it's lifted to the level of Christmas or other equally important events.
People like love stories. A lot of romantic comedies are made on that assumption. A story where a man does his best to impress a woman is usually quite a heartwarming experience.
Positive emotions make us more eager to use some products or make a purchase. Nothing evokes stronger emotions than a love story with a happy ending, doesn't it?
During the game and after it, Google Parisian Love 2010 Super Bowl commercial was widely discussed and tweeted about on social media.
In less than three months since its airing, the ad has scored more than 1.1 million of individual views. It has also received above 3,000 ratings, with an average rating of 4.74.
Google Parisian love 2010 Super Bowl commercial was not to be a Super Bowl commercial at all when it was originally made. It has been already present on the Internet for a few months before the team decided to air on for the Super Bowl audience.
It was the first ad that Google aired on TV at all. According to Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt's tweet on February 6th, 2010, the ad was primarily to show the simplicity and universality of the Google search engine, so the theme and music were not deliberately chosen for the Super Bowl season.
The psychological foundation – nostalgia effect
People tend to feel more touched by things that they associate with stronger emotions. Love stories usually generate such emotional factors, and that is why so many of us like watching romantic comedies with happy endings.
This is why that commercial has generated such warm feedback from the viewers, and why it has been talked about. The story had a happy ending, too (“assembling a crib”), so people loved it.
Snickers Super Bowl commercial (2010)
Snickers hit the 2010 Super Bowl season with their first in the history “You're not you when you're hungry” ad. Starring Betty White Snickers commercial was one of the greatest and most liked Super Bowl ads of that year.
A true icon
Betty White was a true icon of the US comedy world. Despite her age, she was loved by her fans. However, it has been some time between her activity as an actress and the Snickers Super Bowl commercial in 2010.
Snickers helped Betty regain her former glory and fame, and she gave the company a sure boost during the 2010 Super Bowl season.
“You're not you when you're hungry”
The ad got popular not only because of the presence of Betty White. Snickers commercial for the 2010 Super Bowl had a catchy slogan, which was “You're not you when you're hungry,” and that was quite self-explanatory. Eating Snickers will make you better, so it's not only a snack – it will give you the energy you need to go back into the action.
That ad has started a whole chain of similar Snickers commercials, each of which included that smart catchphrase. Various celebrities starred in some later versions of the ad, and the whole series of those ads were based on people’s daily routines for “having a snack.” They wanted to create a habit of thinking about eating Snickers whenever a bit of hunger comes to us. “You’re not you when you’re hungry” has survived the test of times because of that method. It has somehow gotten rooted into people’s minds as a normal thing to do when looking for a snack.
How successful was that Snickers Super Bowl commercial? Well, Ipsos, a global leader in market research, stated that the Betty White Snickers commercial was the funniest, most unique, and – what is most important – the most talked about Super Bowl ad in 2010. Both men and women of younger and older generations liked the ad for its creativity.
The psychological foundation – humor effect
Apart from the fact, that we had a famous comedian starring in that commercial, the very ad was also funny. The atmosphere of the ad matched the tone of the laugh-evoking productions Betty White has appeared in during her career. That gave some additional “likeability” factor to the commercial.
Old Spice Super Bowl commercial (2010)
In 2010, one of the best Super Bowl commercials was also the one from Old Spice. “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” totally hit the jackpot.
An innovative video
Old Spice first created a character, the Old Spice Guy, that got people stunned. Then it created a fascinating experience that people wanted to be a part of. Set up the new trend and got ready for the flood of less successful copycats!
The whole chain of similar Old Spice ads made for the solid foundation of their marketing strategy. The Old Spice Guy has become an icon of their brand, although the actor has been changing throughout numerous campaigns. Nevertheless, thinking about their products would immediately bring straight connotations with that style of the ads.
When it was launched?
The Old Spice Super Bowl commercial 2010 with the Old Spice Guy launched online several days prior to the Super Bowl in February 2010.
Then premiered on television the day after the big game, the ad helped the brand capture 75% of all conversations in this category.
Who created Old Spice Super Bowl commercial 2010?
The Wieden + Kennedy team was responsible for the Old Spice commercial. They could easily identify consumers’ perception of Old Spice, specifically dealing with men.
The campaign of “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” gained nearly 105 million views on YouTube. Along with YouTube views, other benefits were:
The psychological foundation – halo effect
The Old Spice Guy was not only humorous, but he was also objectively handsome, and that was a fact. The slogan “The Man You’re Man Could Smell Like” was to bring immediate associations with how a “perfect man” should look to the minds of many female viewers of the ad.
The actor looked good, so he “must have smelled” just as good. The halo effect claims that we tend to associate positive features with people presenting some other positive factors. It’s often connected with looks. Beautiful people tend to be perceived as more successful and generally “better” than those less attractive.
Most Americans wait for the NFL championship every year. The Super Bowl is treated almost like Christmas, and a lot of people gather in front of their TVs to watch and experience the whole event, usually together with their friends and families.
Such occasions are great for marketers and companies to boost their sales and traffic on their websites. That’s why the time for commercials during the Super Bowl is so valuable and expensive. But, it is also why those commercials earn so much!
Some of the best Super Bowl commercials focus on the humor effect. People like to laugh and feel positive, and it increases the chance they will be willing to make purchases or sign up for some paid services.
Snickers and Old Spice have made quite a good use of that fact when they were creating their Super Bowl commercials.
It is often a case that the best Super Bowl commercials are truly bizarre. Look at the example of Mountain Dew. There are so many strange and unusual elements that it’s hard to describe them all without missing something.
Old Spice Super Bowl commercial has also been created around the bizarreness effect. When people see something for the first time in their lives, they’re more likely to remember it better and think about it for some time later on.
Cognitive ease and simplicity
Not many companies choose to go with simplicity in their Super Bowl ads. However, this text depicts two of such cases.
The human brain prefers fewer pieces of information at one time than an overload of data, and Coinbase knew it very well when they created their QR Code Super Bowl commercial. The potato ad by Cards Against Humanity was also based on that factor, although the whole context was quite different there.
Playing on nostalgic moments is also something quite frequent regarding the best Super Bowl commercials. Good storytelling, combined with some mood music, or simply playing on the older generations’ memories are often the keys to success.
Google’s love story or Snickers’ hiring Betty White for their commercial were classic examples of such tactics. The first one was a case of an ad without dialogues, but with brilliant storytelling and fairly good background music, while the latter was based on the character of a well-known actress, loved by a lot of fans.
Some of the best Super Bowl commercials also use the effect of gamification. It is generally about giving people a chance to win something, but for some effort that they are required to put into the process.
Counting bottles in the Mountain Dew Super Bowl ad was an example of the gamification strategy in practice. Such methods increase the audience’s engagement, too, as they introduce a bit of competitiveness among the viewers.
The Super Bowl is a good time to make new collaborations with the famous. A lot of the best Super Bowl commercials feature known and followed individuals, such as actors, singers or TV presenters.
John Cena in the Mountain Dew Super Bowl ad, or Betty White in the “You’re not you when you’re hungry” ad in 2010, both show how you do it properly.
People are curious by nature. We don’t like it when somebody waves a mystery in front of our eyes and doesn’t let us see what’s inside. That’s why many just need to check it out.
One of the best Super Bowl commercials taking advantage of the curiosity gap was the one made by Coinbase. Nobody knew what was hidden behind that strange, moving, and color-changing QR code. A lot of people have taken out their phones to scan it and check what’s “inside.”
Window of Opportunity
Any major event that is widely experienced by a lot of people is a great occasion to move on with the marketing campaign. Even if it fails or will be simply “not as good” as the creators would expect, it can still give great profits.
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