As we've already learned, the Super Bowl may be the last bastion of massive collective viewing on live television. To state the obvious, the game has been and remains an opportunity for brands to attract unprecedented levels of attention. Consequently, much like the players on the football field, there is pressure for advertisers to deliver the goods.
What "the goods" are exactly is largely subjective, but when it costs up to $4 million for 30-seconds of air time marketers' tolerance for risk is often predictably low. That's why, much like for Hollywood superhero sequels and romantic comedies, formula can be your friend. Over the years, ad makers have identified some trusty Super Bowl formulae and, for better or worse, used them to guide creative direction on big game ads. It's usually for the worse, of course. Because as soon as enough people start using the same recipes, and following them too closely, the result is, well, look at most movies today for how that works out.
But the classics are classics for a reason. Some of the best Super Bowl spots have used the tried and true formula, cleverly—treading close enough to be familiar but far enough away to not appear generic. Of course, not all ad hits conform to formula but those—like Apple's "1984"—are the exception.
To prep you for this year's ad bowl, here are the 10 most common ad genres used during the sports world's biggest Sunday, and the ads that best exemplify them.
People watching the game with friends like to be reminded of the value of those around them. A spot like Budweiser's legendary "Whassup?" shows the intense camaraderie among buddies—the way that a room full of dudes can laugh and say, "Pass the nachos," when they really mean, "I love you, man."
Nothing complements the sheer sporting savagery of NFL football like a tastefully violent commercial. But it takes more than your garden variety crotch shot to be a real hit. Reebok's office linebacker Terry Tate taught us that in 2003.
Championship football games can be a largely testosterone-fueled affair, but ads that tug those heartstrings or reflect our love lives effectively can cut through the goofy gag clutter to make a lasting impression. Budweiser successfully combined it with laughs back in 2003, but a surprise classic came with Google's “Parisian Love.”
This year, another surprise player in the love game—Axe!!
People love kids. It's probably why we keep making them. It's also why brands keep using them to make us laugh or, like Monster.com's 1999 "When I Grow Up," think about our own lives in a different way ...
... or to provide investing advice, as in ETrade's original talking baby spot from 2008.
The standards are high in this category as it contains two titans:
One of the most viewed Super Bowl spots of all time, VW's unstoppable "The Force" from 2011.
And one of the best-known Super Bowl commercials ever, Coke's "Mean Joe Green" from 1980.
This was a category that reached its apotheosis during the first dotcom boom. EDS "Cat Herders" from 2000 is the pinnacle of the genre.
This might be the easiest, most repeated formula of them all. Take brand, add famous person people love or respect, then sit back and watch those ad impressions roll in. It takes skill though to stand above and use that celebrity in an unexpected or more impactful way. Chrysler managed it in 2011 with Eminem and "Imported from Detroit.”
One of the best all-time is from 2003 when Gatorade pit Michael Jordan against his younger self in a game of one-on-one.
Ah, but then there's the idea of taking a celebrity and using them to make people laugh. David Fincher took a meta-view of celebrity culture for Heineken in 2005 by showing us that maybe Brad Pitt was in on the joke:
And Snickers knocked this formula out of the park in 2010 with Betty White.
This is a bit of a cross-over trope that could be applied to love, friendship and kids. But this 2002 Budweiser spot, aired just once, goes to show it can stand out as a formula of its own.
As the Internet proves on a daily basis, pictures and videos of cute animals is big business. But add a bit of a story to it, like Budweiser did back in 1999 and again last year with "Brotherhood," and you've got yourself a huge pile of "Awwwwww!" cooing for your brand.