Every year since 1967, Americans have huddled around the television on Super Bowl Sunday in hopes of watching a great football game. For those who aren’t sports fans, there’s still reason to tune in: the clever commercials that offer advertisers a chance to make us laugh, cry and, yes, buy stuff.
This year you can expect the usual lineup of commercials from companies selling cars, beer and chips, featuring grownup celebrities such as Brian Cox, Bryan Cranston, Dave Grohl, Jon Hamm, Kevin Bacon, Melissa McCarthy, Ozzy Osbourne, Paul Rudd, Steve Martin and Sylvester Stallone.
Meanwhile, before the big game, here are five Super Bowl commercials from the past that were especially successful in warming viewers’ hearts — and still do today. Plus, watch a Super Bowl commercial airing this Sunday that we think will be an instant classic.
Coca-Cola: “Mean Joe Greene” (1980)
NFL star “Mean” Joe Greene turned out not to be so mean in this Coke commercial. Although it first aired in October 1979, it wasn’t until its Super Bowl debut in 1980 that it gained widespread attention. Prepare for goose bumps.
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Wendy’s: “Where’s the Beef?” (1984)
Character actress Clara Peller, then 81 years old, uttered the iconic catchphrase that still makes us smile nearly four decades later. That Peller’s complaint to her two friends was about something as mundane as the disappointing size of a hamburger patty doesn’t diminish the lasting cultural significance of the three words she uttered: “Where’s the beef?”
McDonald’s: “Mike’s Story” (1991)
Everyone loves a tale about overcoming obstacles and finding success. That’s what McDonald’s portrayed in 1991 in “Mike’s Story,” a touching reminder that anyone has the ability to achieve the best version of themself. Grab the Kleenex.
Nike: “There Is No Finish Line” (1991)
Another commercial from 1991, this one took your average running sequence and combined it with inspiration, athleticism and heart. Through perseverance and a slick pair of shoes — Nike was selling a product, after all — there really is no finish line, the company wants you to believe.
Budweiser: “Puppy Love” (2014)
Budweiser has landed on a winning formula for tugging at viewers’ heartstrings: mix adorable dogs with majestic horses. Success struck again eight years ago with “Puppy Love,” a vignette that brought together an irresistible yellow Labrador puppy and an impressively maned steed — not to mention their human owners. Our tears are still drying.
“A Brighter Boston” (2023)
Sam Adams’ new commercial takes a fresh, comedic approach to promoting its new beer, Boston Lager Remastered. Featuring appearances by comedian Lenny Clarke, basketball player Kevin Garnett and a relatable “cousin from Boston,” the ad offers a heartwarming take on the city’s stereotypes.
Aaron Kassraie writes about issues important to military veterans and their families for AARP. He also serves as a general assignment reporter. Kassraie previously covered U.S. foreign policy as a correspondent for the Kuwait News Agency’s Washington bureau and worked in news gathering for USA Today and Al Jazeera English.
Editor’s note: This article, originally published Jan. 30, 2020, has been updated with new information.