Later today, well over 100 million people in the US are expected to watch Super Bowl 58. The NFL championship game has such a huge live television audience that it’s become the place for businesses to launch new commercial marketing campaigns that they hope will be memorable. That’s also why buying commercial time during the broadcast will cost companies an estimated $7 million for just a 30-second spot.
Microsoft bought time for a one-minute ad during Sunday’s game to promote its Copilot generative AI assistant. However, it’s certainly not the first time a big tech company, or even a small one, has ponied up the big bucks to show a new commercial. Indeed, it was a tech company that many people credit for turning the Super Bowl into the product and commercial launch pad that it is today.
Apple Macintosh 1984 ad – Super Bowl 1984
The commercial Apple developed to launch its Macintosh PC during Super Bowl XVIII is still thought of as one of the greatest TV ads in history. The George Orwell “1984” themed commercial, directed by Alien and Blade Runner movie director Tony Scott, is still pretty effective to watch even today.
Fun fact: Officially, the Apple Macintosh Super Bowl ad only ran as an actual commercial twice. According to Folklore, the second time the commercial was run was during the nationally broadcast Super Bowl on January 22, 1984. The first time the commercial was shown was several weeks earlier, on December 15, 1983, on the TV station KMVT in Twin Falls, Idaho, at 1 a.m. This was done so that it could qualify for awards for ads and commercials during the next year.
Pets.com commercial – Super Bowl 2000
The dot-com era of both business and the internet of the late 1990s and early 2000s saw lots of companies grow big fast and then flame out just as quickly. The peak of the dot-com era might be Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000. This Wikipedia entry shows that no less than 14 dot-com companies bought commercials during the broadcast of the game. They spend an average of $2.2 million for their big spot.
Many of those companies were later acquired by other businesses or just shut down completely shortly after their big Super Bowl ads. Perhaps the most infamous example is the commercial created by Pets.com, where the website’s famous sock puppet dog started singing “Baby, Please Don’t Go.” However, the site simply didn’t generate enough money to support the massive amount of Pets.com advertising. In November 2000, less than a year after that ad, Pets.com shut down.
Godaddy.com commercials – Super Bowl 2005 and beyond
When the domain name register company GoDaddy.com decided to run an ad during the 2005 Super Bowl, it went with the “Sex sells” theme. The ad featured a woman who talked about the business to a group of lawmakers. One of the woman’s shoulder straps comes undone during this “hearing.”
CNN reported at the time that the ad was supposed to be shown twice during the Super Bowl, but the NFL, who had not pre-screened the commercial ahead of time, pulled the second airing of the ad from the broadcast.
Even with that move, GoDaddy.com became a regular advertiser during subsequent Super Bowls, and many of them also featured suggestive content. However, in 2015, a lot of people felt the company finally went too far. A few days before that year’s Super Bowl, the company previewed its commercial for the game.
It showed a cute puppy trying to get back home to his human family. When he did, his owner surprised the puppy by telling him he was just sold on a website made via GoDaddy.com.
There was a huge backlash from dog owners against the ad, and as CNBC reported at the time, GoDaddy.com decided not to run the commercial during the Super Bowl.
BlackBerry Z10 commercial – Super Bowl 2013
BlackBerry was trying to get back on track in early 2013, as the market share for its smartphones was losing out to Apple’s iPhone and Android smartphones. It decided to run a Super Bowl ad to promote the new BlackBerry Z10 phone but in an unusual way.
Instead of showing the phone’s features and what it could do, the ad showed what the BlackBerry Z10 couldn’t do. That included the owner of the phone bursting into flame, growing massive legs, and even turning a truck into thousands of ducks. It was certainly a creative choice, but spending all that money to produce the ad and then buy the airtime to have it run during the Super Bowl just didn’t work.
The phone was a sales failure, and in November 2013, BlackBerry kicked out its head of marketing, who came up with the Super Bowl ad. The Globe and Mail site claimed that many of the company’s board members hated that commercial, and they may have had a point.
We could go down the rabbit hole to look at many more Super Bowl tech commercials through the decades, and perhaps for Super Bowl 2025, we will post another article that looks at more of these ads.