For some, the highlight of the Super Bowl isn’t the masterful plays executed by the NFL’s most distinguished athletes, or which side gets to claim the Vince Lombardi trophy in the final touchdown. It’s the chance to see advertising’s most entertaining commercials. But many Super Bowl ads aren’t just commerce or entertainment — they provide clues into a larger cultural movement and our collective changing values. In that spirit, on the eve of Super Bowl LIII (Feb. 3 at 6:30 p.m. on CBS), we looked back at some of the most inspiring iconic ads in Super Bowl history. Ones that are both fun to watch but have meaningful takeaways, too.
Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef” ad encourages us to ask for what we want
In this 1984 ad, which became something of a cultural phenomenon, a trio of little old ladies stare down at a massive white bun showcasing a burger the size of a Hershey’s Kiss and demand to know, “Where’s the beef?” The trio of feisty friends refuse to walk away with that unsatisfying burger. Instead, they call the manager who amps up the qualities of the supersize bum to no avail. They want their beef… as should you.
Coke’s “Mean Joe Greene” spot reminds us to reach out to someone in need
In this adorably memorable ad from 1979, “Mean” Joe Greene, a defensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers, limps off the field of a game looking dejected and defeated. A young boy looks up at him with awe and sheepishly asks, “Mr. Greene, you need any help?” The football star declines his offer, but the boy persists: “I just want you to know I think, I think you’re the best ever.” Greene sadly responds, “Yeah, sure,” then continues to drag himself away. “Want my Coke? It’s OK. You can have it.” At first Joe rejects the kid’s offer, but then accepts with a crack of a smile and thanks. The exchange lights both of them up and encourages Greene to toss the boy his jersey. Studies confirm the healing powers of acts of kindness on both the giver and the receiver.
This Larry Bird/Michael Jordan ad from McDonald’s teaches us to pick competitors who make us better
The fast food chain’s 1993 ad, “The Showdown,” pits basketball greats Larry Bird and Michael Jordan against each other in a dual for Jordan’s Big Mac and fries. Because they’re comparably talented, no one misses a shot and Jordan looks into the camera and says, “I think we’re going to be here awhile. I suggest you go get yourself a Big Mac.” The two have to up the ante on the challenge to secure a winner. Bird maps out their next absurdly difficult shot: “Off the floor, off the scoreboard, off the bang board, no rim!” No luck, they both keep rising to the task. No one ever wins because they keep pushing each other to ascend to ever greater heights. The final scene shows the duo on the top of a skyscraper designing their next shot: “Off the expressway, over the river, off the billboard, through the window, off the wall, nothing but net.” It’s a great message about finding competitors who help you scale ever increasing heights.
Volkswagen’s “Believe in Magic” commercial urges us to believe in small miracles
This sweet commercial from Volkswagen in 2011 shows a little kid wearing a Darth Vader costume, traipsing through every room in the house, attempting to impact his surroundings with the mere movement of his hands. In one scene, he tries to set a stationary bike in motion. No success. In another, he seeks to get the washing machine cycling. Nope. Defeated and slump-shouldered, he perks up once his dad pulls into the driveway. He runs straight outside for the car and concentrates really hard to make something, anything, happen. From inside the house, dad turns the car on remotely and the kid is so stunned he stumbles and then seems to register his triumph. Believing in small miracles sometimes encourages magic to happen.
Always’ “Like a girl” spot challenges stereotypes in a major way
In the same way the new Gillette ad is trying to redefine masculinity, Always took a swipe at the practice of disparaging men and women by saying they do something “like a girl,” in their hard-to-forget 2015 Super Bowl commercial. In the powerful three minute ad, they show the belittling effects of using that phrase and attempt to reclaim it on more empowering terms. One young woman captures the sentiment best when she states, “Yes, I kick like a girl and I swim like a girl and I walk like a girl and I wake up in the morning like a girl because I am a girl and that is not something I should be ashamed of.” We’re all for changing the culture in ways that promote women — and men — to embrace their strengths.
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