The Sunday Magazine: The Super Bowl of Commercials

I’ve written about it a few times, but I am a fan of a well-done television commercial. My current favorite is the one for Progressive Insurance where we discover that Jaime, who has been the butt of jokes, has an amazing home life. The insurance companies have all stepped up their commercial games recently as not only Progressive, but Farmer’s and GEICO are also ones which make me laugh. My favorite overall recent series is the Allstate “Mayhem” ads. Those are the everyday ones. With the airing of the Super Bowl the other game besides the one on the field is to be named the best commercial of the game. It has become a crown worth seeking.

The commercials at the Super Bowl often debuted something new for the brand they were representing. It was where new soft drinks or beer would have their first exposure. The eternal fast food battle of McDonalds vs. Burger King has had Super Bowl skirmishes. The real turning point took place 35 years ago during Super Bowl XVIII.

It was partway through the third quarter of a game where the Los Angeles Raiders were handily beating the Washington Redskins. As the announcers sent us to break nobody knew what was coming. Over the next minute a commercial showing a female runner in red shorts and a white tank top running with a sledgehammer. As she is chased by the police, we realize this is the dystopia described in George Orwell’s 1984. The runner approaches the screen where Big Brother is speaking. As he says, “We shall prevail!” the runner throws the sledgehammer through the screen; exploding it. Only at the end do we see the tagline from Apple Computers saying, “you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984”.

That commercial was directed by Ridley Scott less than two years after he had done “Blade Runner”. In those days there were only a few VCRs and no internet to see it again. Over the next couple days it was as talked about as the game. Ever since brands have upped their game looking for that kind of buzz.

The commercials at the Super Bowl fall into a couple of categories; funny and heart-warming. The funny commercials have become such a recent trend that having the funniest Super Bowl commercial almost assures it will be voted the best commercial. If a funny commercial doesn’t win it is because there is an ad which is meant to make you go, “aww” while complaining about the dust in your eye. There hasn’t been a big spectacle ad like the Apple 1984 ad in a while.

I would give out a yelp of delight if Apple marked the anniversary with a new big-budget ad. I still expect to laugh and wipe a tear away in those four minutes of advertisement in between the game itself. Because that’s the other Super Bowl going on.

Mark Behnke