Football: It’s a uniquely American phenomenon, from the game itself to the diehard fans. And this Sunday millions of Americans will flock to sports bars and house parties to watch the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers vie for NFL gold at Super Bowl XLV.
But the game itself isn’t the only reason why the Super Bowl is consistently the most-watched television event of the year, with roughly 100 million viewers. Nor is it just because people love an excuse to get trashed on a Sunday (though as a general rule, that’s almost always a good enough reason to do anything).
It’s also about the commercials—especially those featuring celebrities—which have become an essential part of the game day tradition, making the Super Bowl a must-see event, even for those “fans” who think football is just a fancy word for soccer. So even if you’re not from Green Bay (which no one is) or Pittsburgh (which no one admits to), you’ve still got a reason to tune in—and advertisers are banking on you doing just that.
“Super Bowl spots, by virtue of the large TV audience, are going to be seen by more people at one time. From a sheer viewership context, that accounts for some measure of implied success,” says Ryan Kutscher, a creative director and copywriter who has worked on award-winning advertising campaigns for Burger King, Volkswagon and others. “In addition to being the Super Bowl of football,” he continues, “it’s also the Super Bowl of commercials. So you’ve actually got a commercial-watching audience.”
Indeed, in recent years especially, celebrity Super Bowl commercials have captured as much national attention as the game, providing weeks of material for both the blogs and the water cooler, and generating massive publicity for the featured brands. It’s no wonder companies are willing to shell out millions just to secure that coveted 30 seconds of airtime—not to mention the additional costs of making a commercial with a celebrity on the payroll. It’s a worthwhile investment; after all, who can forget the image of Betty White getting sacked for Snickers?
And it’s also great exposure for the celebrities themselves, as Kutscher points out. “Betty White really just blew up last year, and you could maybe cite that Snickers spot as the beginning of her renaissance,” he says, adding, “She’s probably had the best year of her long career on the heels of that commercial.”
So, what will prove to be this year’s Betty White commercial? While you’re making your own predictions, amuse yourself by watching these videos of the 9 best celebrity Super Bowl ads from years past.
Farrah Fawcett and Joe Nameth for Noxema (1973): In this 1973 commercial, Joe Nameth declares, “I’m so excited, I’m gonna get creamed!” Farrah Fawcett then proceeds to spread Noxema all over Joe’s face while singing a little jingle that goes, “Let Noxema cream your face, so the razor won’t.” So, um, that happened.
Megan Fox for Motorola (2010): You could probably just point a camera at Megan Fox’s face for 30 seconds—no dialogue, no visuals, no music—and it would still be a hit. But putting her in a bubble bath to hawk cell phones works, too.
Brett Favre for Hyundai (2010): It’s always nice when celebrities poke fun at themselves. In this 2010 ad, Farve is seen accepting an MVP trophy—in the year 2020. Says Farve, “When you’re 50-years-old, older than the fans, players and coaches, it’s tough taking orders from people. I should probably retire after this … I don’t know, maybe.” If only he had taken his own advice and retired last season; then we might still think of him as the guy who went out on top, instead of the guy who went out sexting.
Michael J Fox for Pepsi (1987): In this 1987 ad, a ‘Family Ties’-era Michael J. Fox must go to great lengths to procure a Diet Pepsi for the buxom blonde who just moved in next door. We’re pretty sure no one ever knocked on a neighbor’s door asking to “borrow a Diet Pepsi,” even in the ‘80s, but in a way that just makes it better.
Brad Pitt for Heineken (2005): Brad Pitt collaborated with director David Fincher on this Heineken ad, which aired during the 2005 Super Bowl. In the 60-second spot, Pitt really needs to make a beer run, and he won’t be stopped by the swarming mob of paparazzi waiting outside his house. The takeaway seems to be this: Brad Pitt has absolutely nothing in common with normal people, except that we’re all willing to do anything for a sixer of Heineken.
Betty White for Snickers (2010): We’ve already given Betty White enough ink for one day, but suffice it to say that last year’s Snickers commercial was one of the all-time best. It also gets extra points for the Abe Vigoda cameo at the end.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., for Budweiser (2004): Here’s the main thrust of this 2004 Bud commercial: Dale Earnhardt, Jr., is a pimp. And if you drink Bud, maybe you can be a pimp, too. (But probably not.)
Chevy Chase & Beverly D’Angelo for HomeAway (2010): In this mock movie trailer, Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo reprise their roles as Clark and Ellen Griswold from ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation.’ You don’t need to be familiar with the original movie to appreciate the fake commercial. You only need to know one thing: Chevy Chase eats paper. For no reason.
Jay Leno for Doritos (1989): Ironically, this 1989 Super Bowl commercial isn’t particularly funny, even though it actually stars a comedian. But the retro computer screens and weird robots are a throwback, and it’s a treat to see the old-school Cool Ranch Doritos packaging we so fondly remember from our youth.
(A version of this article was originally published on PopEater.com)