The Big Game’s Commercials: Are Traditional Ads a Thing of the Past?

By: Kyle Haas

While many are still reflecting on one of the greatest comebacks of all time, the big game also enables the 111 million viewers who tuned in on Sunday evening to deliberate on the endless supply of multi-million dollar commercials.

The trend of the game’s commercials being dissected, reviewed and ranked is a relatively new one, but some of the most iconic commercials of all time were aired during the event. The 1979 ad that Coca-Cola produced with Pittsburgh Steeler’s “Mean Joe Green” is widely considered the first blockbuster big game commercial. Apple ran a one-time ad inspired by George Orwell’s novel “1984” that introduced America to the Macintosh computer.

Nowadays, one of the main arguments made against traditional advertising is that it doesn’t permit a two-way relationship, because it’s based on the premise of broadcast: the one-to-many paradigm. This means that the advertiser can only make an impression or get attention by talking (at) consumers. With the advent of social media and new technologies, advertisers can now interact with consumers through a variety of mediums. Let’s take a look at some of this year’s ads that deployed these new mediums:

Netflix – Stranger Things Season Two: 1984

Netflix had a trick and a treat for “Stranger Things” fans during Sunday’s game. The teaser debuted some clues and scenes from the new season as well as revealed the start date for the second season of the nostalgic sci-fi series: Halloween. It is a bit ironic for a online, streaming entertainment video company to air a traditional ad on TV—the enemy.

T Mobile—attacks Verizon  

Verizon and T-Mobile have been battling for wireless supremacy in the market for quite some time. T-Mobile aired three Super Bowl spot, but the last one aimed squarely at Verizon. Starring Kristen Schaal in a send-up of Fifty Shades of Grey, the ad tried to turn the pain of being on Verizon’s network into a BDSM relationship. It was weird. Of course, Verizon decided to clap back on Twitter, starting a pretty bizarre war of words. The back-and-forth on Twitter garnered thousands of likes, retweets and engagement for both brands. The decision of who won the Twitter battle may be subjective, but it was Verizon who demonstrated that you don’t need to spend millions on an ad spot to get some national exposure. Just take to social media and “clap-back.”


Hyundai is no stranger to placing big bets on super bowl ads. This year the brand once synonymous with shielding hikers from hungry bears did the unthinkable—produced a live documentary ad in the span of fifteen minutes. Hyundai introduced “Operation Better” to eager viewers in the so-called “post-gun” slot just after the game ended. If you were caught off guard by the heart-tugging ad you’re not alone. Hyundai and acclaimed director Peter Berg kept all plans for the spot under lock and key leading up to the game. Berg shot the ad during the first quarter, edited the spot during the second quarter while simultaneously getting the Department of Defense, NFL, FOX and Hyundai to sign-off on the minute and a half spot. Berg used the third and fourth quarter to button it up and make sure 111 million viewers shed a tear. While this spot wasn’t eligible for any official awards due to the time it ran, shooting an ad halfway around the world in 15 minutes set the bar high for next year.

Bai: Justin Timberlake & Christopher Walken

The commercial for the antioxidant-infused Bai Drinks takes a traditional approach to consumers, powered with influencers, laughs and some simple branding. The commercial begins with the camera on Christopher Walken, speaking what seems to be some random, monotone poetry. The camera pans out to reveal Justin Timberlake, also known as Bai’s Chief Flavor Officer, sitting beside Walken. The Backstreet Boys 90’s hit “Bye, Bye, Bye” begins to play as Timberlake shares a few quick facts about the drink. The ad showed that traditional ads can survive the times with the right combination of branding, influence and wit.