During the first Super Bowl a half-century ago, Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi threw a fit when the second-half kickoff had to be done over. The reason? NBC held off returning to the game until after it aired a commercial for Winston cigarettes. It was an embarrassing moment but also a harbinger of things to come, as the game would become the single most important event in advertising.
Today, marketers are writing checks north of $5 million for 30 seconds of airtime. The game continues to command ever loftier rates because no other event brings so many Americans together. (NBC's airing of last year's matchup drew an average audience of 114.4 million viewers, making it the most watched telecast in U.S. history.)
As the Super Bowl is a window on American culture, commercials in the game are an historical record of what we think is funny, important and ultimately worth buying. Here, highlights from 50 years of championship plays—the marketing kind.
This story first appeared in the Feb. 1 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.