Superbowl Commercials The Ultimate Stage for Viral Advertising

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by Alysson Fergison on January 27, 2009 in Viral Marketing

These are 11 of the top Superbowl commercials of all time. There are a number of qualities that are common to all viral video advertising, not the least of which is a basic connection on a very fundamental level. Whether the concept plays on a common fear, humor or an attempt to provoke, these 11 videos are among the most popular and most highly viewed Superbowl commercials of all time – the most popular of which has been viewed over 8 million times.

1984 by Apple Computer

In typical Apple fashion, they created what would become a great viral video 25 years ago with the release of their Superbowl commercial, “1984”. At the time, such a thing as “viral content” didn’t exist, nor did the Internet…at least not in the form we are familiar with today. Nonetheless, the appeal of this commercial was its ability to appeal to an individual’s desire to buck the system and escape the status quo. In the years that followed, Apple became known as the “anti-establishment” personal computing choice that appealed many who believed that you didn’t need to wear a suit & tie to need a computer.

“I really underestimated the creepiness…” by E-Trade

Kids play well in advertising. This offering from E-Trade, though, takes that appeal a step further. It marries a cute kid, advanced animation techniques and a deep-seeded fear that many people don’t even admit to – the fear of clowns. I wish I had a nickel from every person who has seen that commercial and said, either out loud or to themselves, “Yeah…I hate clowns…”

Broadcast Censorship Committee by GoDaddy

Well, this video pretty much speaks for itself. It doesn’t speak to me, but it certainly does speak to GoDaddy’s target market. Why? Because sex sells, that’s why. There’s no way around it and that will likely never change. As long as there are straight men inhabiting the Earth, sex will be used to sell products and services to them. The end.

“What Is Love?” by Pepsi

Pepsi’s Superbowl commercials rarely fall short of pure advertising genius. This one certainly hits the mark. First, it includes a host of celebrities with whom a wide variety of demographic groups will identify. Second, it capitalizes on the success of what was at the time a blockbuster movie starring Chris Kattan and Will Ferrell, called “Night at the Roxbury”. Third, the song that plays throughout that movie and the commercial is one of those incessantly annoying songs that grabs hold of your subconscious mind and just won’t let go. This video is everything that viral content should be.

The Cavemen by FedEx

We’ve all had those days at the office where nothing seems to go right. Those always seem to be the days our bosses choose to come down on us and hold us responsible for things over which no one has control…like outside vendors not showing up on time, phone systems going down or, say, having your chosen courier be eaten by a Tyrannosaurus Rex. I particularly enjoy the Karmic irony of the end of the commercial. After having been fired, the caveman walks out and kicks a small dinosaur – misdirecting his frustration and anger in much the same way his boss just did – and is promptly crushed by a Brontosaurus.

Talking Stain by Tide

This commercial is funny in large part due to its sheer lunacy. Many of us identify with having something out of place in a job interview…be it our hair, having something in our teeth or, as in this case, having spilled coffee on our shirt on the way to the interview. It is a commercial that speaks to our tendency to focus on, be easily distracted by and even lose a job because of something as small as a coffee stain. How can you stop such a thing from happening? Well, by making sure you always have a “Tide To Go” pen handy, of course.

Fist Bump Is Out by Bud Light

Sometimes a cultural gesture becomes so overused that it becomes almost a caricature of itself. When that happens, it is never long before the opportunity to parody that gesture presents itself. While the fist bump is universally recognized, that doesn’t mean we fully understand where it came from or how it has so completely infiltrated pop culture. What we don’t fully understand, we often parody. This commercial is a perfect example of a hilarious look at what might come after the now infamous “fist bump”. Why is it so popular? It’s hysterical…and we can all imagine how funny it would be to be standing in a bar or at a sporting event watching grown men slap one another across the face as a gesture of thanks or camaraderie.

Rock Paper Scissors by Bud Light

What makes this viral? Again, it’s “the funny factor”. The commercial features a classic childhood problem solving technique – rock, paper, scissors. Often when we reach an impasse as kids (and sometimes even as adults), we turn to this classic method of deciding who will win out in the end. We all searched for the ultimate strategy to ensure we would always win. This commercial definitely highlights the ultimate strategy for success in rock, paper, scissors. What makes this funny? Some of the funniest commercials feature characters doing something outrageous or unexpected. This would certainly cover both of those criteria.

The Kiss by Snickers

Do you see a pattern forming here? I do…and it’s funny. Humor is universal. Humor sells. Humor works. This commercial is funny because it’s just wrong. I don’t be wrong as in offensive or illegal. I mean wrong in the sense that two burly mechanics kissing is unexpected. I mean wrong in the sense that two men ripping out huge chunks of chest hair is unusual and disturbing. Once you see it, you never forget it and you can’t help but laugh out loud.

Skinny-dipping by Bud Light

Several of the most popular Superbowl ads are from Bud Light. And that’s no accident. Again, the humor is a huge draw. This commercial plays on the funny factor, but also incorporates an element of embarrassment. This ad was actually banned from television, but remains one of most popular Superbowl commercial videos on YouTube with almost 4 million views. Even if you’ve never had the dream yourself, you’ve heard tell of the “going to the grocery store naked” or “going to school naked” dreams and how disturbing they are. For whatever reason, being naked in America is considered taboo and reason to be embarrassed. This commercial takes advantage of that in a fresh and surprising way. Have I mentioned it’s also hilarious?

Evolution by Dove

While the previous videos employ humor, drama and even sex, this commercial by Dove is very different. You might be surprised to learn that of all of the Superbowl videos available through YouTube, this is the single most popular with over 8 million views – more than Pepsi’s Britney Spears commercial…more than Ali Landry scarfing down Doritos and more than Candice Michelle’s “bow chica bow bow” commercials for GoDaddy. Why? Because it is provocative and unlike any Superbowl commercial we had ever seen. This commercial is not outrageous…not funny…not sexual. In a word, it isn’t simple. The very concept seems to go against the grain of the atmosphere created by the Superbowl itself…the flash, the pageantry and the show. What made this commercial so provocative and so unexpected is not only its content, but the company that created it.

These are just 11 of the top viral Superbowl commercials. Superbowl commercials are, in and of themselves, viral by nature. Corporations spend millions in an attempt to create the year’s number one Superbowl commercial. If you’re trying to figure out how to create your own viral videos, take a lesson from the big dogs. Watch their videos. You may not have their big-time budgets, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from their tactics and incorporate some of those basics into your own attempts to create viral content.

About the Author

Alysson Fergison

Alysson is a WordPress designer & SEO providing small business website design, SEO audit and keyword research services. Her goal is to provide affordable services that help local small businesses develop a stronger online presence. She also publishes a woefully neglected SEO blog dedicated to helping small business owners better understand how to create more search engine friendly websites and avoid common SEO scams. Read more posts from .


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