UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

The best Super Bowl ads of all time

Super Bowl commercials are a highly anticipated part of the big game – and advertisers pay a hefty price to strut their stuff in front of millions of viewers.

According to CNBC, companies will pay a record high of $5 million for a 30-second national spot to air during Super Bowl 50. It’s a huge investment that can lead to a breakout moment – and pay dividends – if executed properly.

In honor of Super Bowl 50, we asked UNC Kenan-Flagler marketing experts to reflect on their favorite commercials from years past. Here’s what they said.

Volkswagen’s “The Force” commercial (2014) was nostalgic for a Star Wars nut like me. It’s funny, cuts across generations and appeals to the target market.


The Coca-Cola Company’s “Mean Joe Greene” commercial (1979) was topical. It highlights the juxtaposition between a ‘tough guy’ (Greene) and his softer side. And it featured a Pittsburgh player – great for a Steelers fan like me.


Apple’s 1984 commercial – which introduced the Macintosh computer – was very topical. It was the first of the big Super Bowl ads. It was dark yet on the mark.

Fun fact: In 2004 – the 20th anniversary of the Macintosh computer – Apple released a remastered version of the ad with the runner wearing an iPod. Steve Jobs unveiled the ad at Macworld, Apple’s annual conference.

Arv Malhotra - UNC Kenan-Flagler

Arv Malhotra, professor of strategy and entrepreneurship and Sarah Graham Kenan Scholar



My favorite Super Bowl ad is Monster.com’s “When I grow up” (1999). It speaks to me because of its juxtaposition of black and white – which represents an old-fashioned mentality – and the children, who represent youth.

The ad catches the viewer’s attention because it is so unique. It worked as a Super Bowl commercial because it was funny, and it broke through the clutter because it was smart and cheeky. The script was beautifully written and delivered perfectly by the children, which builds interest. The message of the ad was relevant to the advertiser (Monster.com) and resonated with viewers. Everyone wanted to know how much traffic Monster.com was seeing after it aired.

I’ve seen this ad a hundred times and it still makes me smile. It’s a classic!

Claudia Kubowicz Malhotra - UNC Kenan-Flagler

Claudia Kubowicz Malhotra, associate professor of marketing



I think Doritos’ “Live the flavor” (2007) was one of the most groundbreaking and impactful Super Bowl ads (and a personal favorite). It was pioneering because it was the first winner of Doritos’ Crash the Super Bowl contest, which allows consumers to create their own ads and compete for a chance to have them aired during the big game. 

“Live the Flavor” was the first consumer-generated ad to air during the Super Bowl. It scored as the No. 4 best ad of the game on USA Today’s Ad Meter and was named the No. 9 best commercial of the year by Time.com.

The Crash the Super Bowl contest was a giant step forward in the movement to involve consumers in building a company’s brand. Doritos has continued the contest and it has become part of the Super Bowl tradition. More importantly, the winning ads continue to rank very highly in every key marketing metric every year.

I love the “Live the flavor” ad for a couple of reasons. It’s simple, likeable and uses humor to highlight the fun parts of eating Doritos (crunchy, cheesy, bold, etc.). It builds the brand at the same time it shows the product benefits. That’s pretty great for a 30-second ad that cost a few thousand dollars, was created in 24 hours and done in one shot.

And another reason I like it? It was done right here in the Triangle area – shot in Cary, N.C.!

Mark McNeilly- UNC Kenan-Flagler

Mark McNeilly, adjunct professor of marketing



While ads with dogs and horses seem to garner the most attention by tugging at heart strings, they’re mostly predictable and interchangeable. The Super Bowl spots that shine a light on our own species tend to be most memorable to me.

Bridgestone’s Super Bowl XLV ad (2011) is layered with rich comic commentary on the human workplace condition while still showcasing product performance.

Michael Schinelli - UNC Kenan-Flagler

Michael Schinelli, chief marketing officer