What Makes Super Bowl Commercials Memorable?

Feb 1, 2020

The Super Bowl is much more than a football game. It's a touchstone of American culture. And while people do watch it for the actual sporting event, many non-football fans love to watch the game for the commercials.

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There’s been a steady climb in the growth of the Super Bowl's audience over the past 50 years, and with that, a growth of advertisers looking to pursue them. In the last 20 years, the Super Bowl has achieved the largest TV audience for a single TV show every year.

TV Networks stand to gain about $250 million in ad sales during the Super Bowl. But it’s crucial that the commercials stand out in their own playing field. So, what makes them memorable? And do the ads really work?

For audiences to connect with a particular brand, you need: brand awareness, brand reminder, and a feel-good use of humor or nostalgia that captures an "awww" factor. That's according to Jim Pokrywczynski, associate professor of strategic communication at Marquette University.

Take for example, Budweiser's 2014 Super Bowl commercial:

Many companies will tease their commercials leading up to the big event, and some will release the whole commercial in advance.

"I thought that was a bad idea at first, and to some degree I still do because it kind of takes away that anticipation and excitement," says Pokrywczynski.

Super Bowl commercials also use the power of celebrity to endorse their products and give the ad a more memorable factor. But in the age of social media promotions and an abundance of access, do celebrities have as much star power as they once did?

"There's probably a diminishing factor in the use of celebrities, but if you find the right celebrity and put that person in the right context, I think you can still have a very powerful message," notes Pokrywczynski.

His most memorable example? MC Hammer:

If a commercial is done right, Pokrywczynski says its influence lasts well after the final touchdown. For example, the 1984 commercial that introduced Apple's Macintosh computer.

"That one has survived the test of time," says Pokrywczynski. "It's still at the top of most people's list of the greatest Super Bowl commercials of all time."