What are the most memorable Super Bowl commercials?

What are the most memorable Super Bowl commercials?

“And now, a word from our high-rolling sponsors”: The Matrix Reloaded (Screenshot), The Bud Ice Penguin (Screenshot), Britney Spears for Pepsi (Screenshot), and one of the Budweiser frogs (Screenshot)
“And now, a word from our high-rolling sponsors”: The Matrix Reloaded (Screenshot), The Bud Ice Penguin (Screenshot), Britney Spears for Pepsi (Screenshot), and one of the Budweiser frogs (Screenshot)
Graphic: Allison Corr
AVQ&AWelcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences.

This week’s AVQ&A comes from editor-in-chief Patrick Gomez, in honor of Super Bowl LV:

What’s your pick for the most memorable Super Bowl commercial?

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2 / 9

Super Bowl XXVII—Nike, “Hare Jordan”

Super Bowl XXVII—Nike, “Hare Jordan”

I haven’t watched the Super Bowl since I was a wee little one; despite growing up in a sports-loving household, I was the typical dork who got excited about the event only because I knew it was a chance to watch TV for more than three hours straight and eat tons of junk food. But as with most kids, I only really cared about the commercials, anyway. And the last one that sticks in my brain from the days before double digits is “Hare Jordan,” the Nike ad that saw Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan team up to clown on some dim-witted knuckleheads. It was basically a minute-long Looney Tunes, complete with sound effects, albeit transposed to an exciting (for the time) real-world setting. I remember thinking it was funny and promptly forgetting about it—that is, until a couple years later, when they took that idea and made a whole movie out of it. Perhaps you’ve heard of Space Jam and its eternal website? [Alex McLevy]

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3 / 9

Super Bowl XXIX—Budweiser, “Frogs”

Super Bowl XXIX—Budweiser, “Frogs”

Where “most memorable” intersects with “favorite,” I’d probably still give the edge to my answer from this 2014 AVQ&A. But when it comes to the pitch that’s seeped deepest into long-term storage, it doesn’t hurt to chant the product’s name like a mantra. Or croak it: Not only do I remember getting a kick out of the Budweiser frogs in 1995, but I remember racing to the TV when the commercial played during other sporting events. Why were we as a culture so enamored with these presumably literate amphibians? When did the craze reach such a fever pitch that my wife—who was, as I was, a child at the time—came into the possession of these playing cards? Maybe we can chalk it up to the direction of Gore Verbinski. Or perhaps the answer lies in the resigned musings of the ad that introduced chameleons Louie and Frankie to the Budweiser Frogs Cinematic Universe: “Frogs sell beer. That’s it, man.” (I’d still rather have a Coors.) [Erik Adams]

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4 / 9

Super Bowl XXX—Bud Ice, “When A Penguin Calls”

Super Bowl XXX—Bud Ice, “When A Penguin Calls”

There are plenty of Super Bowl commercials that I recall for making me laugh, but only one still haunts me 25 years later. I’m not talking about PuppyMonkeyBaby, though that was creepy as hell. No, I’m referring to the Bud Ice Penguin ads. The first of this noir-horror campaign aired in 1996 during Super Bowl XXX and was a riff on When A Stranger Calls, with a seemingly lovely couple sitting on the couch enjoying some Bud Ice when they begin getting frightening phone calls, each concluding with the caller… I don’t even know what to call it… scat singing(?) a bit of “Strangers In The Night.” I was old enough that the ad shouldn’t have freaked me out, but it did—memories of that stalker penguin turning and facing the camera emerging to the front of my mind as I drifted off to sleep each night. You can imagine my horror when the ad was deemed successful and spawned an entire campaign. Thankfully, Bud Ice wasn’t as popular as the ads, and Anheuser-Busch eventually moved on to push other sub-brands. You can still buy Bud Ice, though. But, uh, beware the penguins. [Patrick Gomez]

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5 / 9

Super Bowl XXXIV—EDS, “Cat Herders”

Super Bowl XXXIV—EDS, “Cat Herders”

I am the worst kind of Super Bowl watcher: I pretty much only look up from whatever neighborhood party I’m at to watch the halftime show and to catch the occasional commercial. Luckily, I caught this one: It’s one of those that’s so good, and it really sells the concept (project management being about as difficult as herding cats), but you forget what company it was actually promoting (it was EDS, which was eventually bought out by HP). But I’ve never forgotten the epic one-minute western devoted to a team of veteran cat herders, spending their days wrassling “ten thousand half-wild short hairs.” The details really sell it, as the cowboys (catboys?) wrap giant balls of yarn, try to rid their clothing of feline hair, and tend to their many scratches. Herding cats, man. Don’t let anybody tell you it’s easy. [Gwen Ihnat]

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6 / 9

Super Bowl XXXVI—Pepsi, “Now And Then”

Super Bowl XXXVI—Pepsi, “Now And Then”

Sorry WandaVision, but Britney Spears did it first. In 2002, Pepsi needed a spokesperson who could highlight the cross-generational appeal of their signature soda, and Spears—while only a few years into her music career—had already achieved the kind of ubiquitousness that made her feel like a timeless star, so she was a perfect fit for their “Pepsi: Now And Then” Super Bowl spot. At 90 seconds, the ad is a time warp of jingles, kicking off with a black-and-white ode to “Say Pepsi, Please!” of the late ’50s, and ending with modern, Britney-fied “The Joy Of Pepsi.” Spears gives (genuinely) one of her best on-screen performances as she flips through the decades, hamming it up in a bikini-clad ’60s beach party and going full Robert Palmer drag for 1989. It’s about as infectious and memorable as an advertisement from a multi-billion-dollar corporation can get, achieving a level of star-studded fun maybe only ever matched a few years later, when Beyoncé and Pink joined Britney Jean for a gladiatorial brawl at the Colosseum. [Cameron Scheetz]

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7 / 9

Super Bowl XXXVII—The Matrix Reloaded teaser

Super Bowl XXXVII—The Matrix Reloaded teaser

I distinctly remember watching the Super Bowl for a specific commercial in 2003: That was when Warner Bros. released the first proper teaser for The Matrix Reloaded, and if it had been possible, I would’ve watched that minute-long clip a thousand times. Instead, I just had to savor those incredible-seeming moments as best I could: The army of Agent Smiths! Neo flying! Trinity on a motorcycle! And then it ended with confirmation that another movie would be coming out later that year. It was unbelievably cool, to the point where at least some of my fondness for the Matrix sequels is still tied to that ad. [Sam Barsanti]

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8 / 9

Super Bowl XLIV—The Last Airbender teaser

Super Bowl XLIV—The Last Airbender teaser

Since this list is cataloging memorable commercials, I think I can safely add the teaser for The Last Airbender to this list without fear of retribution from the Avatar fandom. Look, I get it. The movie is bad. One of cinema’s laziest, most frustrating adaptations. But there was a time when people were genuinely excited for it—if you don’t believe me, read the YouTube comments under the teaser from eager fans marveling at how good the bending looked. I wasn’t one of those fans—at the time of this spot’s airing, I’d never watched the series—but I was surrounded by people who were. Their excitement over this Super Bowl spot was what convinced me to finally watch the Nickelodeon series, which is actually worth a damn. [Baraka Kaseko]

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9 / 9