Every year, there’s one Super Bowl commercial that seem larger than the rest. Amidst the foolishness associated with selling beer and chips, there’s usually one ad that is unapologetically dramatic and downright cinematic. They cost tens of millions of dollars and will likely air just once. They’re not commercials – they’re short films. And that’s exactly how the companies want us to perceive them.
Given the pomp and spectacle that is the Super Bowl, it’s remarkable that these ads manage to captivate us at all – and yet they do, sometimes for an entire two minutes. They do so by being the opposite of the event that they interrupt. They are eerie, powerful and almost impossible to ignore – like a calm during a storm.
In 1984, Apple put out what is perhaps the greatest television ad ever.
This is the ad that changed it all and made the Super Bowl the event to showcase your brand to the country (fun fact: the commercial was directed by Ridley Scott). There have been other big ones since then, but not until 2011 did did we begin to see hints of a larger message portrayed cinematically. That was the year Eminem took us through Detroit.
Big, but not quite 1984. Chrysler followed that up with a pep talk not about a city and an industry, but about national character. “Halftime in America” with Clint Eastwood was an immediate sensation.
This year, Chrysler’s Dodge subsidiary went one step further by invoking the will of God in its story about the American farmer. It features a 35 photograph montage with an excerpt from Paul Harvey’s famous speech at the 1978 Future Farmers of America Convention.
For some, the grandeur evoked in these commercials is a bit much – yet another sign of over the top hyper-masculine Hollywood melodrama and America’s religious patriotism. But let’s not forget the event anchoring them. The Super Bowl is probably the least subtle media extravaganza ever, which means that even its subdued commercials tend to be blatantly dramatic.
These are the sort of ads that companies and Super Bowl viewers will be talking about decades from now. Whether you like them or not, they will leave a lasting mark. As of this writing, the three have accumulated 35 million views on YouTube – and none of them have half naked women or dancing monkeys. Pretty impressive.
In the next post, I’ll tell you why the last one (the one about the farmer), while beautifully crafted, is bullshit.