Farmer (2013) – Ram
Simple, but powerful—even if you’ve not spent a minute working on a farm and even if it’s an ad for a truck. Dodge commissioned 10 photographers to document U.S. farm life, and overlay the images with a 1978 speech from radio broadcaster Paul Harvey at a farmers’ convention, ABC reported at the time. Harvey died in 2009.
Born of Fire (2011) – Chrysler
The ad starring Detroit rap star Eminem was part of Chrysler’s masterful “Imported from Detroit” campaign. It aired as the Super Bowl’s first two-minute spot, and was filmed in Detroit using local cast and crew.
The Force (2011) – Volkswagen
This Volkswagen ad took the Internet by storm, garnering a million views by the morning it was posted online (ahead of game day). It had 8 million views before it even aired on television. And the star of the commercial–then-6-year-old Max Page–didn’t know it was going to be a Super Bowl ad, he told Today after it aired.
Parisian Love (2010) – Google
Google didn’t advertise on television until it unleashed this spot during the Super Bowl. The ad expertly explains some of the lesser-known features of Google—like the ability to pull up your flight status by searching with the flight number–in a beautiful, tear-producing story told purely through search strings. What award-winning ad agency legend put it together? Five young Google recruits. The clip originally went online, until someone thought to air it during the Super Bowl.
Scream (2008) – Bridgestone Firestone
One thing everyone likes? Anthropomorphized animals. Of course, this isn't the only example.
The Chase (2009) – Audi
“Back to basics,” says TIME’s TV critic James Poniewozik. A history of luxury get-away cars starring Jason Statham–and then there’s Audi with its Supercharged A6. Watch them make it here.
Goulet (2007) – Emerald Nuts
The star of the 1960 Broadway show Camelot and a Las Vegas singer and performer is the office bogeyman–when you get drowsy—in this commercial for nuts. “The natural energy in just one handful of nuts is enough to keep Robert Goulet away! Until tomorrow anyway,” explains the narrator. Sadly Goulet died later that year.
All by Myself (2007) – General Motors
A GM robot’s nightmare: the robot drops a nail, is fired from the factory and jumps off a bridge, only to wake up back at work. The spot stirred controversy among suicide prevention advocacy groups, but it also got GM’s point across: “The GM 100,000 Mile Warranty. It’s got everyone at GM obsessed with quality.”
Dave and Oprah (2007) – Late Show with David Letterman
It’s David Letterman and Oprah, in love. What more could you want? In a following up three years later, Letterman nemesis Jay Leno joins the party.
Stick (2006) – FedEx
“Smart use of some sort of classic super bowl themes,” says TIME’s TV critic James Poniewozik: slapstick violence and animals. Throw in cave men for good measure.
Magic Fridge (2006) – Bud Light
One man’s ploy to hide his beer from his football buddies—a secret revolving wall—is another man’s magic fridge.
Replay (2003) – Budweiser
It wasn’t the first Clydesdale ad, and it certainly wasn’t the last. But if you can find a way to combine football and the elegant horses in one spot, along with an unmatched punch line, then you’ve got a winner.
Terry Tate (2003) – Reebok
The first of the Terry Tate: Office Linebacker series. “You know you need a cover sheet on your TPS reports, Richard! That ain’t new baby,” says Tate (Lester Speight) standing over a prone office worker.
Sad Monkey (2001) – E-Trade
The boom was a bust, and a wasteful monkey became Sad Monkey (see his origins in the 2000 commercial in the next slide). E-Trade doesn’t run away from the Nasdaq crash, says TIME’s TV critic James Poniewozik. “The monkey is trying to turn his dot com lemons into lemonade,” Poniewozik says.
Monkey (2000) – E-Trade
The E-Trade monkey, who predates the E-Trade baby, was something of a symbol of his times. In this 2000 ad, in the midst of the dot-com boom, the monkey spends the thirty seconds dancing, off-beat, to La Coucaracha. “Well, we just wasted 2 million bucks,” the ad says. “What are you doing with your money?”
Coke vs Pepsi (1995) – Pepsi
Pepsi brought the cola wars to the Super Bowl in this classic ad, in which a detente between Coke and Pepsi drivers turns south when the Coke driver refuses to hand back a can of Pepsi after taking a surreptitious sip. The concept was revived in 2010.
Showdown (1993) – McDonald’s
Two basketball greats–Larry Bird and Michael Jordan–compete in an increasingly wild game of h-o-r-s-e, all for a Big Mac and fries. McDonald’s was still capitalizing on the ad a decade later, with a remake starring NFL quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Joe Flacco.