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Creatives from GSD&M, Upshot, 22squared and more sound off on what their all-time favorite Super Bowl ads are

This Sunday, creatives all across the country will finally see months of hard work come to fruition as brands both old and new unveil their Super Bowl ads to an audience of more than 100 million.

As the stakes get higher and game day ads get more and more expensive – this year, they hit a record $5m per 30-second spot – The Drum decided to look back on past Super Bowls to find out which ads have stood out to the creative community and have set the bar for what is being made today.

The Drum asked creatives from agencies including GSD&M, Publicis Seattle, and Epsilon to weigh in on what their all-time favorite Super Bowl ad is and why.

See the responses – and ads – below:

John Stapleton, chief creative officer at 22squared

Ahh, the Super Bowl. The perfect opportunity for creatives to finally have an unlimited budget to dream up the most ridiculous and expensive story possible. Besides, the media is ungodly expensive so shouldn’t the creative be too? Nope. My favorite Super Bowl spot of all time is what Fed-Ex did way back in the late 1990s. I’m going to title it “Color Bars." It’s a placeholder card for a commercial that didn’t make it to NBC on time because the ‘ad agency chose a carrier other than reliable Fed-Ex.’ The type actually said they fired the agency. This is genius. This is creativity at it’s best.

Andrew Christou, chief creative officer at Publicis Seattle

The Super Bowl is the biggest, most watched sporting event in America. Where titans clash in a brutal showdown, all for the glory of wearing a giant, rare-earth mined diamond encrusted, metal ring – roughly the size of a child’s cranium. Such a spectacle deserves the same fearlessness from the brands that spend millions for our collective (drunken) eyeballs.

This is why my all-time fave is the Nike Super Bowl XXVIII ad feat. Michael Jordan & Steve Martin Fake Retirement Parts 1 and 2 (God, even the name is ridiculously big…)

It has all the trappings of the Super Bowl itself – Celebrities, conspiracy theories, drama, comedy, and every imaginable basketball star the planet has ever known. Hell, even the media buy itself is big (2 minutes!).

The genius of the spot starts with its timing. Weeks after Michael Jordan announces his retirement, this conspiracy trope of Michael returning to the game through suspicious disguises resonated beautifully with sports fans, but also non-sports fans who were in awe of him. We were in a collective mourning knowing we’d never have the chance to see him play again.

So simply put, a big creative story that makes you smile throughout every second.

And though I love nothing more than a laugh about stupid, (cue Beavis grunting), it’s the great creative stories that have always stuck with me over the years. (Volkswagen Star Wars, God Made A Farmer, Love Letter to Detroit to name a few recent ones, and classics like Mean Joe Green and 1984 are still clearly etched in my mind).

Everything about this work honors what I think a great Super Bowl spot should be. Its cultural significance, production value, star-studded cameos, great conceptual storytelling and delivery, all tied in a neat bow by the great Steve Martin, honors the sheer perfection of Michael Jordan’s legendary status.

Mike Baron, vice president and creative director at Partners + Napier

It aired only once. But no one will ever forget it. The “Respect” commercial—or 9/11 Tribute—was created in 2001 by Hill Holliday, Boston. I happened to be a Senior Writer there at the time. And while I didn’t work on the account, it felt like it was the only project in the agency—and rightfully so. For me, this spot exemplifies brave work. Not just from the agency, but from the client. In a time when our nation was still raw with emotion—and hypersensitive to any brand even acknowledging the tragedies of that day, Budweiser was brave enough to try to bring us all together—if only for 60 seconds. They succeeded.

John Immesoete, chief creative officer at Epsilon

My favorite Super Bowl ad of all time? Mean Joe Greene for Coca-Cola, for a lot or reasons. First, before I was ever in advertising, this is an ad I knew because EVERYONE knew it and loved it. It did what great ads do – got recognition, got talked about, is remembered to this day, exceeded the grasp of what mere advertising is supposed to do and became a cultural touchstone. Second, as an ad professional, it does everything right – perfect idea, perfectly executed, something for everybody with a tremendous emotional hook. Third, again as an ad guy, it does what a Super Bowl ad is expected to do – exceeds the limitations of the product and becomes something greater than a plug, it becomes an incredibly powerful piece of branded entertainment. Sugar water is petty much sugar water no matter who makes it, this made Coke a very special product and a very special company. Fourth, from the moment it was made throughout the eighties and beyond, this ad single-handedly influenced generations of marketers and ad pros. Not just a great Super Bowl ad or great ad period, this is a great short film brought to you by Coke.

Tom Hamling, group creative director at GSD&M

Miller Lite’s "Evil Beaver" came out when I was in ad school and really epitomized the kind of work that got my generation excited about advertising. I know it probably makes some all-time worst list (Yep - I just Googled it) but that’s ok. Those lists are wrong. The Super Bowl is all about entertaining people. And that’s exactly what this spot did - it’s the perfect mix of smart and stupid. The kind of spot everybody was talking about the next day. The kind of spot that really puts peg-legged loggers in their place.

Bill Fogarty, vice president and creative director at Upshot

Google ran a commercial on the Super Bowl in 2010 that stands out by telling a compelling story without speaking a word. “Parisian Love” stands the test of time through its minimalistic approach and clever telling of one man’s changing life. Using only search entries on a tightly cropped computer screen we get to feel the passage of time and his evolving interests. They didn’t try to shout over the other Super Bowl spots. In fact, they managed to tell this very human story without showing anyone. In the end it makes the connection with their product in a way that seems essential to this person’s life, in ways that even he is probably unaware of. In this case understatement wins the game.

Will Hall, executive creative director at Rain

EXPLOSIONS! TALKING ANIMALS!! FLAMING CHAINSAWS!!! BROS, BROS, BROS!!!

While I love Michael Baye and ironic cameos as much as the next guy, hyperbole is expected when it comes to Super Bowl spots. The more brands try to stand out, the more they blend in, often borrowing from the same tropes of Xtreme Advertising™. As with all marketing, though, the goal isn’t to be right; it’s to be remarkable.

And etrade's dancing monkey spot is remarkable. It’s “dumb,” but brilliant. It wastes money, while being frugal. It skips the glitter, fire and boobs, and instead shows an absurdly stripped down set and cast of unlikely stars. These contradictions make the spot “wrong,” but completely remarkable and memorable. That’s great advertising. *cues explosion*

Jake Wheeler, executive creative director at The Community

This spot is such a silly tweak on American iconography. In a game laden with toughness and gridiron heroes, we have grizzled range riders baring their souls about getting fluffy cats across the prairie. Keep in mind this was before the internet discovered the whole cat formula – so it was kind of ahead of its time.

Also, there’s this whole meta-funny layer in that EDS has absolutely no business doing a Super Bowl spot, and they’re like “Oh we’re doing one, yeah, and we’re going cats and cowboys. Believe it.” That is the Super Bowl in a nutshell.​

Denny Hebson, executive creative director at Schafer Condon Carter

I’m sitting on my sofa in the year 2000, beer in hand, witnessing the lavish spectacle that is the Super Bowl. Suddenly, a cheap looking video of a monkey and an old man in a garage, clapping off-time to a boom box, interrupts everything. “What the hell is going on?” I wonder. Two title cards explain. “Well, we just wasted two million bucks. What are you doing with your money?”

With just a few words, E-Trade deftly punctured the pomp and pretense of the day. No special effects. No celebrities. No fart jokes. Just a hilariously self-effacing message I will never forget.

Ironically, it’s perhaps the smartest two million ever spent in advertising.