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The Top Rated Super Bowl Commercial Each Year

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Since 1989, USA Today has asked viewers to sit through the beer ads, candy commercials, and those awful GoDaddy spots to pick the best. Last year, they expanded their online operations to poll 7619 panelists who were asked to watch the entire broadcast and, in live time, score each commercial on a scale of 1 to 10. As you prepare to judge 2014's commerical offerings, let's take a look back at the best of previous years:

1989 – American Express

In a fairly straightforward commercial (OK, straightforward for the Super Bowl), actors Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey, who were both on Saturday Night Live at the time, use their credit cards to get to the big game in Miami. Lovitz has trouble with his Visa, while Carvey is in paradise with his American Express.

1990 – Nike


Announcers, including the likes of Harry Caray, call an event that keeps changing sports with shots of Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, and Bo Jackson. The phrase “Nice shoes” keeps being used. Oh, and there’s even a Richard Nixon joke.

1991 – Diet Pepsi

Because America was fighting the Gulf War at the time, USA Today says many advertisers switched their funny commercials to more serious ones—and those spots didn’t even make their top 10. Diet Pepsi and Ray Charles asked the world if their jingle had caught on yet, receiving a unanimous “sure, dude.”

1992 – Nike

“Who’d you expect, Elmer Fudd?” asks Michael Jordan in Nike’s winning ad, which also featured Bugs Bunny. This commercial laid the groundwork for the future cinematic work of art, Space Jam.

1993 – McDonald’s

Maybe Michael Jordan is what it takes to hit number one; by 1993, he had been featured in three winning commercials. Jordan and Larry Bird duel against each other in an outrageous game of H-O-R-S-E played throughout Chicago. All in the name of the almighty Big Mac.

1994 – Pepsi

A lab chimp drinks a bottle of Pepsi, drives to the beach, and turns into a party animal. Enough said. This begins Pepsi’s domination over other Super Bowl commercials for the next four years.

1995 – Pepsi

Using his straw to get the last drop of Pepsi in his bottle, a young boy on a beach accidentally sucks so hard that he pulls himself into the bottle. His little sister yells, “Mom, he’s done it again!”

1996 – Pepsi

A Coke driver is delivering a new batch to a store when he decides to grab a Pepsi. The whole shelf of cans tumbles to the floor while the Hank Williams song “Your Cheatin’ Heart” plays in the background. Anyone else imagining a modern-day version with Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats”?

1997 – Pepsi

These bears had a primal urge to dance to the tune of the YMCA song, just using the letters that spell out Pepsi. Bless the old man toward the end who makes a Macarena joke.

1998 – Pepsi

This was the last year for Pepsi, who had proved to be a powerhouse during the mid-90s. In this minute-long spot, a skysurfer goes head to head with a goose. The two eventually share a Pepsi and a flock of geese fly away, creating the company’s logo in the sky.

1999 – Budweiser

Enter Budweiser, a company that will play on its Clydesdale tradition and dominate Super Bowl ads from here on. Two dalmatian puppies are separated at birth, one becoming a part of a firehouse and the other the mascot of the Clydesdale-driven beer wagon.

2000 – Budweiser

Rex the Wonder Dog isn’t cooperating on set. While his director is yelling at him, we see the dog’s dream: While chasing a Budweiser truck, he slams into the side of a mini-van. The dog howls, the director catches it on film, and the movie becomes a success.

2001 – Bud Light

Anheuser-Busch replaces their love for animals with Cedric the Entertainer. While trying to entertain his date, the romance takes a turn for the worse when his bottle of Bud Light accidentally explodes on the girl.

2002 – Bud Light

Satin sheets—good. Bud Light—great. The two together? Not so much. A woman begins enticing her beau to join her on their satin sheets with Bud Light, but it doesn’t go as planned. He slides across the sheets and flies out the bedroom window.

2003 – Budweiser

Another Budweiser spot using their famous Clydesdale horses. This time, Budweiser is parodying the use of instant replay by having football-playing horses and a referee zebra. When one of the two humans watching the game calls the ref a “jackass,” the other responds, "I believe that's a zebra."

2004 – Bud Light

They brought back the animals … just not in a good way. Two dog trainers are using their pets to try to outdo each other. It gets weird when one dog bites the other trainer in the groin. This was the same year that Janet Jackson introduced “wardrobe malfunction” into our everyday language.

2005 – Bud Light

A first-time skydiver is too scared to jump out of the plane—and when his instructor tosses a six-pack of Bud Light out of the hatch, it's the plane's pilot who takes the plunge. 

2006 – Bud Light

In what is a “genius” idea, a man installs a turntable so he can hide his refrigerator in an attempt to keep his friends away from his Bud Light. The turntable, though, sends his box to the apartment next door where a group of men are praising the “magic fridge.”

2007 – Budweiser

On a beach, a bunch of crabs hijack a cooler filled with Bud Light. When two bottles in the cooler make it appear like a large crab surrounded by a halo of sun, the gang begins to idolize it.

2008 – Budweiser

In a tribute to Rocky, a horse is turned down to join the iconic horse-drawn Budwesier Clydesdale wagon, but gets inspiration from an unlikely mentor: a dalmatian. The horse trains through the toughest of conditions to join the hitch team.

2009 – Doritos

Doritos ended the reign of the Anheuser-Busch dynasty this year with their first-ever fan-generated commercial. Two men use a snow globe—what one character calls his "crystal ball"—to make wishes for the future. One man says that there will be free Doritos at work, so he throws the snow globe into a vending machine, breaking the glass to get at the Doritos. The other man wishes for a promotion, but accidentally hits his boss when he throws the globe.

2010 – Snickers

“You’re playing like Betty White out there!” Put an aging character actor in a commercial, let her get tackled during a football game, and apparently it’s solid gold that other Super Bowl commercials dream of.

2011 (tie) – Bud Light and Doritos

This was the first year the system returned a tie. Anheuser-Busch and Doritos were neck and neck in 2011, but not so much in 2012 and 2013.

A man is asked to housesit a group of intelligent dogs in a home with a refrigerator full of Bud Light. The man puts the dogs to work, catering a party and serving the product to guests.

In another user-generated win for Doritos, a man teases his girlfriend’s pug with a bag of Doritos. The guy closes and stands behind a glass door, but the pug runs and pounces on the door, knocking it down and taking the bag of chips.

2012 – Doritos

When a man witnesses his dog bury his wife’s cat, the dog bribes the man with bags of Doritos to keep mum. The dog’s plan worked, the commercial worked, and it only cost the video’s creator $20 to put together.

2013 - Budweiser

The big score (and waterworks) of the 2013 Super Bowl came when Budweiser told an emotional story of a trainer and the horse he breeds and raises to be a Budweiser Clydesdale. After seeing the baby horse and trainer interact, the commercial jumps three years, where we see the two re-unite at a big-city parade. The “Brotherhood” spot, which received an averaged score of 7.76, is paying homage to Budweiser’s long relationship with Super Bowl ads and with their horses. “It will be one that makes people smile, maybe put a little bit of a tear in their eye, it’s a very emotionally evocative spot. It’s a great piece and a nod to the tradition of the Clydesdales,” said Paul Chibe, vice president of U.S. marketing for Anheuser-Busch.

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Jug Life: A History of the Kool-Aid Man
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Kraft

When Robert Skollar joined the General Foods marketing team at Grey Advertising in 1988, it didn’t take him long to realize that there were certain perks that came with the job. As the executive behind the Kool-Aid ad campaign, Skollar inherited the Kool-Aid Man, the anthropomorphic pitcher of sugar water that had been a staple of the brand for more than a decade.

Two stories stand out: The first, Skollar says, is when he was working late one night and decided to try on the Kool-Aid Man’s fiberglass costume for himself. It was like being inside a Christmas ornament. “It’s hard to hear anything in there,” Skollar tells Mental Floss. “You just hope you don’t fall down.”

The second was when Skollar got caught up in the trend of New York professionals putting on elaborate birthday parties for their kids. Skollar asked Richard Berg, the voice of Kool-Aid Man’s “Oh, Yeah!” catchphrase, to actually wear the costume for a personal appearance at his son’s sixth birthday party. (Normally, Berg just recorded the line.) “It was the voice in the costume, which was a first,” Skollar says. “And half the kids were frightened to death.”

Fortunately, that was hardly the typical reaction. Introduced in 1975, Kool-Aid Man became one of the most beloved characters in advertising history, with a recognition factor that sometimes outpaced that of Ronald McDonald. He got his own video game, his own comic book, and his own museum display in Hastings, Nebraska.

Not bad for someone who started out as a disembodied head.

By the time advertising executive Marvin Potts created a sentient pitcher of Kool-Aid in 1954, the powdered soft drink mix had been on shelves for 27 years. Conceived by Edwin Perkins in Hastings, Nebraska, as an alternative to glass bottle drinks—which were expensive to ship—what was then known as “Kool-Ade” became a cheap, popular way to flavor water.

When Perkins sold the brand to General Foods in 1953, their contracted advertising firm of Foote, Cone & Belding trialed a few different television spots. Potts’s idea—a large, bulbous container of Kool-Aid with an animated mouth and eyes named Pitcher Man—was the most popular. (Company lore says Perkins came up with the idea after watching his kid draw a smiley face on the condensation of a window.)

In the 1960s, Kool-Aid opted for celebrity spokespeople like The Monkees and Bugs Bunny, relegating Pitcher Man to the sidelines. “I think they found out Bugs was overwhelming the whole campaign,” Skollar says. “Kids would remember him but forget the ad was for Kool-Aid.”

That ceased to be a problem in 1975, when Alan Kupchick and Harold Karp at Grey Advertising developed the idea for Kool-Aid Man, an evolution of Pitcher Man. His face stopped moving, but the addition of arms and legs gave the character a more bombastic personality. It also allowed him to commit sensational acts of property destruction.

Skollar recalls that the iconic breaking-through-the-wall sequence wasn’t necessarily planned. “From what I’ve heard, someone on set said that Kool-Aid Man really had to make an entrance, and someone else, maybe a producer, suggested he come through the wall.” Breakaway bricks were set up, and the character's fiberglass shell—“the same material used for a Corvette Stingray,” Skollar says—effectively became a wrecking ball.

Although he was never officially named Kool-Aid Man at the time, the mascot helped propel sales of the drink mix. “It was a phenomenon,” Skollar says. “Here you had this 50-year-old product that’s not really convenient and not particularly healthy, and it’s huge.”

As Kool-Aid Man’s star grew, so did his opportunities to branch out. The property got its own Marvel comic—The Adventures of Kool-Aid Man—as well as an Atari 2600 video game. The latter could be redeemed with 125 points earned from purchasing Kool-Aid, which amounts to about 62.5 gallons of sugar water. (You could also send $10 with 30 points.)

When Skollar was handed control of the campaign in 1988, the advice was pretty clear. “It was basically: Don’t screw it up,” he says, “and make it more contemporary.”

Skollar says he took inspiration from Pee-wee’s Playhouse and the Peter Gabriel music video for "Sledgehammer" to conceive of an entire Kool-Aid Man universe—one bursting with frenetic activity that kids would find exciting and adults would find impenetrable.

“Most kid ads had a storyline at the time,” he says. “This didn’t. It was just surreal.”

This Lynchian Kool-Aid Man was no longer 7 years old, as previous marketing campaigns had implied, but 14 years old—old enough to play guitar and surf. Once naked, he now sported jeans and cool shirts. Skollar believes that the kinetic spots helped usher in a new wave of kid advertising that relied more on visceral, MTV-style cuts.

Not all of Kool-Aid’s efforts were focused on hyperactive kids, however. The drink mix was not without its controversies, having once been associated with the Jonestown massacre in 1978, where cult leader Jim Jones coerced his followers into drinking Kool-Aid and Flavor Ade laced with cyanide. There was also the matter of Kool-Aid suggesting gobs of sugar be added to the drink for flavor.

“We did a campaign targeted to moms, ‘Having Kids Means Having Kool-Aid,’” Skollar says. “And we told them they could control the amount of sugar they used. We also pushed that Kool-Aid had Vitamin C.”

Under Skollar, Kool-Aid sales shot to third place in the soft drink category—behind only Coke and Pepsi.

Kool-Aid Man makes an appearance at the NASDAQ
Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

Skollar stayed on the Kool-Aid campaign through 1994, at which point the account was passed to Ogilvy & Mather. Eventually, the fiberglass costume became nylon and computer effects began to enhance his features.

CG was something Skollar had already started to experiment with, but eventually discarded it for the analog outfit. “There was something about that rawness, that awkward-looking pitcher breaking through walls,” he says.

One of the original costumes from 1975 sits in the Hastings Museum of Natural and Cultural History in Hastings, Nebraska, a testament to the character’s enduring appeal. Skollar says he once had research data supporting the fact that over 90 percent of kids could recognize Kool-Aid Man on sight.

The same wasn’t necessarily true of adults. “I remember one time we were shooting an ad where Kool-Aid Man was walking over a hill at sunset, holding hands with a little girl,” he says. “And a junior brand executive taps me on the shoulder and says, ‘We can’t see his face. How will we know who he is?’”

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Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, YouTube
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The Most Famous Anti-Drug Ad Turns 30. Any Questions?
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Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, YouTube

Without realizing it, Paul Keye had made the American Egg Board very unhappy. A creative director at the ad agency Keye/Donna/Pearlstein, Keye (it rhymes with “high”) had been partly responsible for a public service announcement in tandem with the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. In it, actor John Roselius expertly cracked an egg into a searing hot frying pan, watched it sizzle, and proclaimed the scene a metaphor for what happens to your neurons when you use illegal narcotics.

“This is your brain,” Roselius intoned. “This is drugs. This is your brain on drugs.” Then, rhetorically: “Any questions?”

The spot premiered in 1987 and was lauded for its simple, direct, and effective approach to communicating the dangers of street drugs to teenagers. It’s been parodied, revisited, and credited with an actual decline in drug use. But spokespeople for the Egg Board complained that their protein-filled product was being unfairly connected with dangerous and addictive substances.

“Had I heard that,” Keye tells Mental Floss, “I would’ve told the guy to get a good night’s sleep.”

According to Keye, the spot was born out of the advertising world’s desire to “un-sell” something. “The ad world has a guild, the American Association of Ad Agencies,” he says. “One of the board members, Phil Joanou, went to a meeting and said, ‘I think we should put together some kind of effort [against] hard drugs.’”

Everyone at the table nodded. This was the 1980s, when Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign was in full force and crack cocaine was becoming an epidemic. Under the volunteer ad coalition named the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, Joanou and the agencies got together and convinced television and radio stations to donate airtime to public service messages. The value of the spots was in excess of $300 million.

The problem was that no one was creating any content to fill those empty spaces. “Big ad agencies move very slowly,” Keye says. Eventually, Joanou came to Keye and asked if his firm could come up with a concept before that valuable airtime was taken away by impatient station operators.

Keye agreed. At the time, the drug being targeted by the Partnership was cocaine. “It was the new, 'wonderful,' no-problem drug,” Keye says. “All up, no down. We knew we didn’t want to feature addicts, but put it out there for young adults and teenagers. The message was, there could be irreversible damage.”

At Keye/Donna/Pearlstein, copywriter Larre Johnson and art director Scot Fletcher came up with the fried egg scenario; Keye got an agreement from director Joe Pytka (who later directed the 1996 Michael Jordan movie Space Jam) to film it at no cost. Actor John Roselius was paid $360 to practice cracking an egg with one hand so the yolk wouldn’t break.

“He doesn’t say it, but you get the impression he’s talking to his younger brother or his son,” Keye says of the simple dialogue. “We got razzed a little about it, like it was almost Victorian, or not very hip.”

Once it was edited, Keye brought the tape over to the Partnership’s newly-opened New York City offices. “They didn’t have a playback machine,” Keye says, “so we went into an electronics store and asked the salesman to play it.” Across a dozen or so televisions, Roselius cracked the egg, let it fry, and delivered his line. The Partnership had no questions. “The client was very pleased.”

The ad began airing in 1987 in both 30- and 10-second versions—heavy repetition, Keye says, was responsible for the ad’s longevity. “It ran all day long for three or four months. The Partnership didn’t have [another commercial] ready. In advertising, it’s about repetition.”

And it worked, or at least it appeared to. In 1990, the Partnership announced that market research indicated 88 percent of teenagers believed even occasional use of cocaine was dangerous, up from 78 percent before the ads began airing. (At one point, it was believed 92 percent of teens had seen some version of the ad, and so had a lot of dealers. “Let’s go fry an egg” became slang for using.)

While Keye/Donna/Pearlstein benefited indirectly from the ad’s success—it helped them land a lucrative California anti-smoking campaign two years later—they didn’t own the ads. “The Partnership owned it, and they did another one 10 years later” about heroin, Keye says. A newer spot, which began circulating online in 2016, follows up the “Any Questions?” tag with child actors asking lots of questions.

Last year, the face of the campaign—Roselius, now 72 years old—told Rooster Magazine that passersby will still refer to him as “Egg Guy.” He garnered some ironic press when he voted to legalize recreational marijuana in California and made a curious admission: He had tried cocaine a couple of times in the ‘80s.

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