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Commercials take center stage at Super Bowl

Marty Schroeder | Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Every first Sunday in February, millions of Americans and others from around the world tune in to see the best that the National Football League has to offer. Staggering linemen, swift tailbacks and rocket-arm quarterbacks amaze and awe every man, woman and child who watches the epic clash of football’s best.

However, there is that little part of the Super Bowl that everyone tunes in for beside the brilliant displays of courage on the gridiron: the commercials. The most expensive advertising time of the year often inspires the best marketing minds to create a mere 30 seconds of fame for their company.

Some companies have become Super Bowl commercial staples by bringing their A-games every year. Beer corporations like Miller and Budweiser are often among this class of commercials, airing spots that inevitably become future classics. Other companies have had “one-hit-wonder” Super Bowl ads, such as Apple’s famous “1984” piece and the ’90s-era McDonald’s ads starring Larry Bird and Michael Jordan.

These commercials are, for some people, the exclusive reason to watch the Super Bowl. As this year’s game of champions approaches, it’s worthwhile to look back at where the Super Bowl commercial came from, and where it might be going.

1984: Apple Computers

One of – if not the most – famous commercials in history is the Apple Computers advertisement during the 1984 Super Bowl. Directed by famed filmmaker Ridley Scott, the commercial depicted a large “Big Brother”-type character directing masses of grey-garbed workers from a large television screen. A lone woman runs in, dressed in colorful clothing, and throws a hammer at the huge screen to destroy Big Brother and free the masses.

The “Big Brother” character was meant to represent IBM, one of Apple’s main competitors during the early years of the home computer. With the ending line, “On Jan. 24, Apple will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 wont be like ‘1984,’” Apple’s statement was clear. The literary reference and the cinematic nature of the commercial make it one of the most memorable in Super Bowl history.

1993: McDonald’s

This commercial features Larry Bird and Michael Jordan having a competition to see who can make the most difficult shots. At first the contest seems normal, but then they start adding outlandish shots such as “around the moon,” “off the Space Shuttle” and “nothing but net.” Bird’s usual on-court rival, Magic Johnson, had retired from basketball at this point, so current superstar Jordan was brought in for the ad.

Before fast food and healthy eating were at all connected, it was interesting to see super-athletes advertising for one of the companies at the center of the American obesity debate. Also curious was the fact that Bird had retired a year earlier and was now working as an assistant in the front office for the Boston Celtics. As something of a “passing of the torch,” it must have been exciting to see the star of old and the star of new playing on the same court.

Others in the Super Bowl’s history have been just as memorable, such as the “Bud. Weis. Errr” ad featuring the Budweiser frogs and chameleons in 1995. “Terry Tate: Office Linebacker” also terrorized offices for Reebok in 2003, back when the Raiders were actually good.

Hopefully this year’s Super Bowl will be a great game on the field. Even more importantly for some people, the commercials had better be up to snuff. Like last year’s “magic fridge” that gave everyone an ice-cold Budweiser, this year does not seem like it will disappoint. Enjoy the game and enjoy watching the commercials on YouTube afterward.

Contact Marty Schroeder at mschroe1@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.