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The Top 3 Super Bowl Ads of All Time and Why We Still Love Them

The very best ad are really good stories.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Whether hilarious, heartwarming, disturbing or utterly shocking, Super Bowl Sunday commercials have the potential not only to get people lighting up social media on Monday morning, but also to drive significant sales growth for brands. The best Super Bowl ads throughout history are the ones that redefined the commercial game and have stood the test of time. Here are our top three favorites and a few reasons why they were so effective:

Related: Billionaire Jeff Bezos Will Star in Amazon's Super Bowl Ad

Apple “1984” (1984)

Apple is often credited with creating the modern day Super Bowl advertising phenomenon.  Their 1984 commercial, introducing the Macintosh to the world, is perhaps the most memorable Super Bowl ad of all time, even though it only ran one time on the air. In launching the Mac, Apple knew that telling a story about why a better computer with better features and functions would be insufficient. Who cares?

No, to win the hearts and minds of their target customer, they needed a strategy to redefine the category. The commercial is a parody of George Orwell’s classic book 1984, set in a bleak future where people live in an oppressive world of “Doublethink” and accusations of “Thoughtcrime”. By painting a picture of the competition as the villainous “Big Brother” and casting the Mac as a young heroine pursued by the “Thought Police,”Apple changed the game. As the heroine heaves the hammer into the screen, destroying Big Brother and saving the world from conformity, the audience is literally transformed both on screen and at home. As the saying goes, the rest of the story is history.

Related: Watch All of the Best Super Bowl Ad Teasers Here Before Sunday's Big Game

Coca-Cola “Mean Joe Greene” (1980)

We can thank The Coca-Cola Company for creating what is undoubtedly the quintessential Super Bowl commercial. The spot features Mean Joe Greene, the intimidating front man of the Pittsburgh Steelers' dominating “Steel Curtain” defense.

The story quickly unfolds as Joe is met by a boy as he hobbles off the field after an agonizing defeat for the Steelers. The boy offers the menacing defensive player a Coke. Mean Joe, plainly moved by the gesture, smiles. “Hey, kid!,'' he says, tossing his jersey to the boy. "Catch.” In an instant, a bond forms between the two and Coke is the enabler. “Thanks, Mean Joe,” the awestruck boy answers.

The simplicity and clarity of the story draws in the audience and instantly elicits an emotional reaction.  In that moment, a lasting bond also forms between the Coca-Cola brand and the audience. Remarkable stories are simple ones. People don’t have time for a long, drawn-out story. You’ve got to be able to break down complicated issues and suck out the complexity. Coke kept it simple, but not simplistic.

Related: What Super Bowl Ads Can Teach Entrepreneurs About Marketing

Volkswagen “The Force” (2011)

Over the years, car manufacturers have been some of the most extravagant spenders on Super Bowl advertising. Unfortunately for them, the impact and effectiveness of their commercials have often left us scratching our heads and wondering whether or not another Chief Marketing Officer will be out looking for new job on Monday morning.

Volkswagen’s 2011 commercial is the exception to the rule. The ad tells the story of a young child in a Darth Vader costume attempting to tap into “The Force” and invoke his will over the family dog, the washing machine, the sandwich his mother is preparing . . . you get the idea. Frustrated with his inability to summon the mythical Star Wars power, he appears ready to give up. Then, Dad arrives home and parks his new Volkswagen Passat in the driveway.

Little Darth again attempts to summon “The Force” upon the car . . . and miraculously the engine fires up! Cut to Dad looking out the kitchen window with the remote start button in his hand. Smile. Volkswagen had a hit on their hands. However, the genius in the ad went far beyond story. Breaking with convention, Volkswagen strategically released the ad before the Super Bowl. They already had millions of likes and shares of the ad long before their 30-second window opened on national television. Today, ‘The Force” stands as the most shared advertisement on social media in history. Most importantly, the ad worked! Volkswagen attributes the sale of at least 20,000 cars specifically to this commercial. Now, that’s what we mean by ROI.

What do all of these advertisements have in common? They follow a similar recipe for success. One that blends Story, strategy and systems to create outsized business results.

Of course, at roughly $5 million per 30-second spot this year, the Super Bowl is not a stage for everyone. Here’s the good news. Whether you’re investing $5 million in a TV spot or $5 for a Google Adword buy, you now have the recipe for success. Aligning story, strategy and systems will transform your marketing and enable you to deliver remarkable experiences for your customers. You’ll give your customers a reason to care, a reason to listen, a reason to engage, a reason to buy, and most importantly, a reason to stay.  


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