Football teams, especially at Super Bowl time, live and die by their playbooks – tightly held strategy guides, wrought in X's and O's, designed to confound the opposition. But the contents of even the best of these squad bibles merely represent variations on familiar themes.
The same could be said for the other big game surrounding Sunday’s big game: the commercial competition. The formula for a successful Super Bowl ad can’t be bottled – unlike the products pitched by bitter rivals Coke and Pepsi. But the years have yielded some commonalities among the most memorable spots.
With a new batch of commercials set for Sunday, we’ve scoured some classics to compile what we'll call the Seven Characteristics of Highly Entertaining Super Bowl Ads. Here's our CliffsNotes version of advertisers and ad makers’ golden-lining playbook:
U.S. & World
W.C. Fields famously warned against working with children and animals. But both make for strong Super Bowl ad fodder. Let’s start with the kids: That creepy E-Trade baby aside, perhaps the greatest Super Sunday commercial of them all starred a child: Volkswagen’s Darth Vader kid, who wowed tens of millions online and on TV.
Ads featuring athletes – football players or otherwise – are another Super Bowl staple. Some of the strongest play off defying expectations, as best exemplified in the most enduring Super Sunday spot of them all, in which a certain Steelers tackle failed to live up to his nickname.
Jere Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multimedia NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.