1980s Super Bowl commercials are pure vintage. A golden fund of world advertising, they are to be studied and cited. We’re happy to give you a new dose of the superb historic TV commercials continuing our Super Bowl-devoted article series.
Sepia-heavy 80s were rough, beautiful, and terrifying. Michael Jackson ruled the music world, the first video games boggled the minds of Americans, MTV hit cable TV in 1981 for the first time, the food courts found their way into the malls, and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was released.
The degree of happiness in the eighties was largely dependent on the place in the world you lived. While the US was experiencing a consumerist boom, the Iron Curtain in Europe was alive and well. It was both a hyper-cool era to be around and very weird too.
If we’re talking about 1980s Super Bowl commercials, there were real gems. There were some really bad entries too. Let’s see the best super bowl commercials of the 1980s and relive this era through the ads.
By the way, here you can find the best Super Bowl commercials of the 1990s.
But we’re in the 1980s right now and here are the best 1980s Super Bowl commercials.
1. Apple – 1984 (the very best of the 1980s Super Bowl commercials)
Why: when it comes to advertising you simply can’t top what Apple did in 1984. It’s a classic, it’s an ad that changed how Super Bowl commercials are perceived, and it’s an artistic masterpiece in the sphere of marketing. Directed by the one and only Ridley Scott at the height of his “Alien” and “Blade Runner” fame, it is inspired by the eponymous novel of George Orwell about a dystopian world where Big Brother controls everyone.
The plot follows a model running with a hammer toward the screen with Big Brother brainwashing the grey-wearing populace. But we’re not in Orwell’s world here. It’s very much an Apple universe. Big Brother is IBM, the people in grey are consumers, the colored model is Apple, and the hammer smashing the talking screen is a brand new company’s Macintosh computer. Hammer destroying the screen is an allegory for changing the status quo of IBM’s domination of the computer market by Apple.
The text at the end reads: “On January 24th, Apple will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like “1984.” We think it’s beautiful.
Definitely, one of the best Super Bowl commercials of the 1980s and one of the best ads ever created. The audacity, the artistic direction, and the ideas behind it, all of it make it a creative royalty that hasn’t been rivaled ever since.
2. Apple – Lemmings – 1985
Why: Apple has been super active in the 80s with TV advertising. And while their 1984 stint has been met with universal praise, their subsequent Super Bowl entry “Lemmings” hasn’t enjoyed such a welcome. Still, it’s one of the best 1980s Super Bowl commercials, albeit quite a divisive one.
The company chose to play with heavy topics on this one. There’s a belief that lemmings commit mass suicide once in a while. Apple takes it as a basis for the commercial depicting the queue of corporate people slowly marching to the edge of the cliff to face their grim death. The eyes closed patch, the suites on, the women wearing high heels. It’s quite intimidating and grim. The ad concludes with one of the corporate slaves taking the eye patch off and seeing what he’s been going toward. There’s a new line of corporate slaves marching and the narrator’s voice says “you can look into it or you can go on with business as usual”. Then a sign of The Macintosh Office appears.
Boom. Now that’s quite of a ride for the family-friendly Super Bowl game. And that’s exactly why this commercial is on our list. The reactions at the time were very much “love it or hate it”. It was praised for the creative direction but heavily criticized for being insulting to the very core audience it’s advertising to – the corporate workers. Still, it’s a fantastic commercial.
3. Hyatt Hotels – Hotel in Space – 1985
Why: this one is unique for several reasons. First of all, Super Bowl isn’t quite a popular advertising place for hotels. There were only a few entries throughout the years and Hyatt’s Hotel in Space is definitely one of the most remarkable ones. Secondly, it was 1985, a year after Apple turned the advertising world upside down with the 1984 stint. The stakes were high to deliver a visually appealing and impressive ad. Hyatt managed to do just that.
It employed an NFL darling Bart Starr to star (pun intended) in this charming vacation trip to the floating hotel next to Earth. There’s something very nostalgic, very familiar about this commercial. A father and son have the time of their lives under the comets and meteorites. Spectacular it is. Inspired by Star Trek and the space operas of the 1980s, Hyatt’s commercial won the hearts of the audience.
4. Spuds MacKenzie – Bud Light Commercial – 1987
Why: nothing says the 80s louder than an adorable bull terrier by the name of Spuds MacKenzie. 1987 was the year when one of the world’s most famous “party animals” was introduced to the American public. And it was an instant success, the sales of Bud skyrocketed and the mascot became one of the pop culture icons for years to come.
While the ad itself is pretty trivial, a depiction of American party dreams of the era with lots of alcohol, college fun, and music, the real gem here is the mascot. Spuds MacKenzie is cute and acts as if he’s clueless about everything that surrounds him. That’s delightful to watch. Kudos to the creative team behind giving us such a nice mascot.
5. U.S. Marines – Sword – 1985
Why: it’s one thing to have fast food restaurants, automotive companies, and beer advertising at Super Bowl. But who thought that U.S. Marines would be alongside silly commercials promoting a new burger?
The Sword is one of the most iconic Super Bowl ads of all time. It follows the dramatic approach that Apple took in 1984 and puts it to use to promote recruitment at the U.S. Marines corps. Everything is on point here, the visuals, the message, and the execution. It’s a surprising entry but it definitely works.