Here are the best Super Bowl commercials of the 1990s. This article starts our series that honors the coolest ads that defined Super Bowl through the years. Why? Because this event is a crescendo of creativity where all the leading companies of the world are competing for the attention of the customer. What not to like here?
The 1990s were pretty wild, not like in the 1980s. It’s the period in human history when the internet was introduced to the general public. Nintendo fought Sega for domination in the console market. People talked through ICQ and AOL. There were some weird haircuts (but not the 80s level of weird) and many many people in jeans. In fact, it was the time when the mullet reached its peak so definitely a wild couple of years.
Music was dominated by solo pop stars and cheesy boy bands. It was a time when James Cameron hasn’t yet promised to do the Avatar trilogy and focused on gifting us with beloved classics like Terminator and Titanic. Leonardo Dicaprio was younger than 25 back then too. The 90s also saw the rise and rise of Nirvana and grunge.
Overall, it was a great time to live. And we’d like to honor this period by doing this list of the best Super Bowl commercials of the 1990s. These pieces of advertising art have been a reflection of the bombastic pop culture medium of the years and serve as a curious time machine. So let’s see what we’ve got.
1. “Bud” “Weis” “er” – 1995
Why: nothing more, nothing less. Just three frogs in the swamp doing their frog sounds. The sounds in question appear to be “Bud”, “Wies”, and “er”. Budweiser, you’ve got it right. It’s simple, it’s charmingly minimalist and brilliantly done. Also, it’s quite bold considering the larger-than-life Super Bowl commercials.
What makes it one of the best Super Bowl commercials of all time? The fact that it transcended the realms of advertising and became a fixture in pop culture itself. The Simpsons, Casper, Robot Chicken, and others have alluded to these three frogs in their animations. Rap songs were mentioning the ad. The swamp animals became the heroes of their own “Budweiser saga”, a series of ads that rolled throughout the 90s.
Interestingly, the commercial was directed by Gor Verbinsky, a man responsible for directing three Pirates of the Caribbean films. Iconic ad? Definitely is.
2. Nissan 300ZX Turbo – Dreamer – 1990
Why: directed by Ridley Scott, this ad is one of the best super bowl commercials not only of the 1990s but probably of all time (at least, for the automotive industry). It features a Nissan 300ZX racing against a jet. And winning! And while the plot may sound quite trivial, it’s how it’s shown that makes your jaw drop.
Scott applied his magic in filmmaking touch here giving the stunned 1990s viewers a blockbuster with a running time of under a minute. The stakes are high, the sounds are roaring, the camerawork is flawless, and the emotions are real.
Also, outside of the silver screen, the commercial put Nissan into the spotlight and changed the public perception of their cars. From “just another car” Nissan 300ZX Turbo was turned into “a car I’m dreaming of” in a matter of one Super Bowl night. And that’s pretty impressive in its own right.
3. Pepsi – Innertube – 1995
Why: generally regarded as one of the best Super Bowl commercials of the 90s, the Innertube is a fantastic example of creativity done right. The premise is effective in its absurdity. A boy is vacationing with his family on a beach. He drinks Pepsi from the bottle. And he can’t stop subsequently sucking himself into the bottle.
While this plot may sound like some kind of body horror, it has been met with praise for Pepsi both from the audience and fellow creatives placing the commercial firmly into the lists of the best Super Bowl ads of all time and securing the high spot for Pepsi in the fuzzy drink rivalry with Coca Cola.
The commercial was directed by Simon West that has a very eclectic filmography that includes shooting the video for “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley, directing Lara Croft: Tomb Rider, and even The Mechanic with Jason Statham.
4. “The Showdown” – Bird vs. Jordan McDonald’s ad – 1993
Why: that’s a legend of advertising. A classic McDonald’s Super Bowl ad featuring two titans of sports at their pick. Here we’ve got Larry Bird and Michael Jordan challenging each other for a Big Mac. The shooting contest is on and it gets more and more absurd with each shoot. A simple plot but the realization has taken McDonald’s into the annals of advertsing history.
There’s something very comfortable, very cheering about this Super Bowl commercial. That note of camaraderie, the feeling of friendship, and the spirit of the sports. The screen presence of the Gods of basketball at that time definitely helps to do the trick. You’re looking at one of the best Super Bowl commercials of the 1990s right there.
McDonald’s repeated the trick again in 2010 having an ad of the same concept with Dwight Howard and LeBron James to the fan frenzy and similarly positive reviews. Because, why not?
5. Nissan “Pigeons” – 1997
Why: the second spot for Nissan on our list. And righteously so. “Pigeons” is another example of an action-packed stint that worked great for the company in the past. But it’s the execution here that matters.
The commercial starts with the group of “pigeon soldiers” having a briefing from their “pigeon commander”. The subject? They should “bomb” the Nissan car in San Fransico. Absurd to the core but very entertaining. What follows is a fun chase with pigeons trying to hit the car and failing. There are lots of turns, camera angles change at a rapid speed and we’re graced with some cheesy 90s animation and special effects. Finally, Nissan gets to the garage safely while the last pigeon bumps into the door failing the mission. Crazy ride it is. And a classic example of the Super Bowl commercial of the 1990s.
The takeaway: San Francisco in 1997 was quite a dangerous place to drive a car. The pigeons were hunting for cars there.