TIER-LIST: Coca-Cola Super Bowl Ads
Updated: Apr 13
March 25, 2023
By: Patrick Wu
Patrick Wu takes our Tuesday adversaries to the next level with a thorough critique and final tier list of some of Coca-Cola's Super Bowl ads.
Coca-Cola is one of the most recognizable brands across the entire globe, and for good reason. There’s simply nothing more classic than a crisp can of Coke. But a big reason why their brand is so successful is the sheer volume of content that they push out with marketing and advertising campaigns. And there’s no bigger place to show up and show out in that way than at the Super Bowl. But just evaluating Coca-Cola’s Super Bowl ads from 2010-2020 would be a little boring, so you know I had to tier-list them.
2010 Coca-Cola Super Bowl Ad: [B Tier] // 2010
I only kind of like the Simpsons.
The Simpsons Super Bowl ad holds up pretty well in terms of production. It hits comedic timing, has good story pacing, and incorporates the football theme towards the end. The only issue for me is that I don’t really know anything about the Simpsons, which really detached me from this ad. I felt like I should’ve cared more about some of the characters that showed up and some of the easter eggs and bits in the ad. But I just couldn’t relate. And that’ll be a small recurring theme for this list, most commercial cameos don’t really do it for me, and the Simpsons are no exception.
2011 Coca-Cola Super Bowl Ad: [C Tier] // 2011
I don’t know why I don’t really like this ad.
The score in the background is amazing, the concept is simple and cute, and the execution is pretty good. So why don’t I like this ad? I genuinely don’t know. I can’t put my finger on why it’s not memorable, I can’t figure out why I’m not invested in it, and I don’t understand why it doesn’t push any of my buttons. I simply have no opinion about it. Most of it is objectively decent, but I can’t feel anything more from the ad, which, you know, just happens sometimes. No matter how well-crafted a piece of media is or how many other people like it in general, it’s just not going to land with everyone. And that shouldn’t be any advertiser’s goal, because you simply can’t perfectly satisfy everyone. Nothing can ever be universally stellar, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m sure this ad did well for most people, just not me.
2012 Coca-Cola Super Bowl Ad: [A Tier] // 2012
The Coca-Cola polar bears rarely drop the ball.
And they certainly don’t drop Coke bottles either. In this 2012 gem titled “The Catch”, we follow a particularly clumsy polar bear as it knocks over, slide tackles, and runs through the rest of its friends while bobbling its precious bottle of pop. In fact, the entire action sequence was choreographed to mimic a rushing touchdown in football. With the fumbled Coke bottle taking center stage, the ad has solid product placement and the detailed scenery and goofy slapstick greatly elevate the atmosphere and characters.
A whimsical and nostalgic quality oozes out of this commercial, and that’s all a Coca-Cola ad needs to do. With a simple storyboard and an iconic product/mascot pairing, all it needed to deliver was some clean execution. And from the thematic music to the unique animation style, Coca-Cola did just about everything flawlessly, perfectly capturing the North Pole/Super Bowl fantasy with fun-loving animals, beautiful natural colors, and chaotic interactions.
2013 Coca-Cola Super Bowl Ad: [B Tier] // 2013
Sequels just don’t live up to the original.
Although the Coca-Cola polar bears are indeed iconic, in direct comparison to the 2012 ad, this one just doesn’t quite stack up. Now don’t get me wrong. A cuddly fluffy family of polar bears building a snow bear is beyond adorable, and having the baby polar bear use a Coca-Cola bottle cap for the nose is such a cute touch. But I feel like this ad just didn’t have the ‘fun factor’ that the 2012 one did.
Of course, not every Super Bowl ad has to be football themed, it’s just that for a well-established brand like Coke, there can still be such a thing as too simple of a concept. There wasn’t any real story or message, it was just a wholesome little animated short. Which, again, would be normally fine for a basic TV commercial. It's just not enough for me as a follow-up Super Bowl ad with a beloved recurring cast.
2014 Coca-Cola Super Bowl Ad: [S Tier] // 2014
Perfect. And it barely has anything to even do with Coca-Cola.
Retracting on some marketing-related ideas I’ve already discussed, this ad is hardly even a Coke ad. Sure we get some scenes with the bottle caps and the logo flashes at the end, but it's really not a lot. And that’s totally fine with me. This ad could’ve been made by anybody and it still would’ve been a smash, which I guess could be a bad thing, but Coca-Cola did it so well it doesn’t even matter. With the hashtag, #AmericaIsBeautiful, this ad sought to capture the diverse and varied identity of what it means to be ‘American’. Having a cultural blend of voices and languages singing the tune America The Beautiful while inclusive and all-encompassing snapshots, videos, and candids rolled on screen was just so heartwarming, welcoming, and gratifying. It really sent the message that EVERYONE could be a part of our community. And that EVERYONE should be accepted with open arms. Especially considering the unique polarizing social and political climate of our country at the time. To air that ad with that message at that time during that major ‘American’ event was the most perfect thing Coca-Cola’s marketing team has ever done.
2015 Coca-Cola Ad: [A Tier] // 2015
As you might have gathered, and will continue to gather, I’m a big sucker for the sentimental.
I don’t really know why but when it comes to massive corporations like Coca-Cola, positive and emotional ads just do it for me. I don’t need anything flashy from them, I don’t need anything super witty, and I certainly don’t need the most mind-blowing content. I just want good vibes, a good message, and good intentions. I know what the base product is, and my opinion on it isn’t really going to change no matter what. All I need from the marketing side is a little reassurance that this brand I enjoy has good morals and is supported by good people.
The visual effect of Coca-Cola seeping throughout the internet via cables, microfibers, and wires that glitches out negative content into positive content is more than fresh enough to hold up the theme they’re going for. And the idea that spreading happiness, joy, and kindness can come from something as simple as sharing a drink is such an important one for our generation to understand. As more of our lives transition to the digital, it’s crucial we find ways to maintain and cherish the human interactions that keep us, well, human.
2016 Coca-Cola Super Bowl Ad: [B Tier] // 2016
Hot take: Marvel is severely overrated.
I get it. I really do. I’m just not the biggest Marvel fan there is. Of course, I’ve seen almost all of the movies, but do I like any of them that much? No, I don’t. And that’s the thing with celebrities and icons showing up in your ads, it’s going to be a little bit hit or miss. Now, most people like Marvel so most people would be more inclined to like this ad. But for those who don’t, the ad just becomes a glorified Marvel mini-short where the Hulk and Ant-Man share a Coke. There’s just nothing that really screams ‘Coca-Cola’ about this ad, and for me, that’s what non-sentimental ads should do at the very least. Yes, the animation is good. Yes, the action is good. But if that’s all I want, I can just find a better version of that on YouTube without the Coca-Cola branding. I like my ads to send a message or sell a product/service, and this one in particular doesn’t really do either of those things.
But, as I said. The ad clearly has high production value, it’s well made, and it’s objectively engaging as entertainment. Which is why I can’t sink it all the way down to C-tier.
2017 Coca-Cola Ad: [D Tier] // 2017
Basic and boring.
This is the most cookie-cutter soulless ad featured on this list. In fact, if they had stock photos for ads, this would be one of them. Random people are randomly happy eating random food and drinking random Coke. There’s no story, there’s no plot, there’s no real message, and there’s nothing to make me remember it. I’ve seen countless ads where people do normal things, just with the product ad-libbing somewhere in the background. There’s simply no substance. Nothing happened in this ad. Which is why I have almost nothing to say about it.
“Wow! This drink made to be enjoyed with food tastes better when you have it with… food!?”
2018 Coca-Cola Ad: [A Tier] // 2018
I have a type when it comes to ads.
Uplifting. Inclusive. Empowering. Simple. Check. Check. Check. Check.
I think cinematically, I just really like the video collage style that this ad chose to go with. Similar to other ads I’ve rated highly on this list, it feels like I’m experiencing more, getting more, and am a part of more as a result. There’s more to feel good about, more to get behind, and more to enjoy. The only knock I’d give is that the music wasn’t as moving and compelling as it could’ve been. I get that the message was meant to be more positive than emotional, but I still feel that there could’ve been some improvement in that department. I can’t say what I’d pick instead, but the soundtrack for this ad just felt a little underwhelming.
2019 Coca-Cola Ad: [C Tier] // 2019
Wholesome but shockingly forgettable.
I love cute and sweet ads, but this one just didn’t land. In some ways, it didn’t feel as genuine. I can’t quite put my finger on it but I didn’t care or get as invested in this message compared to other more hearstringy ads on this list. The animation was amazing, the noticeable demographic difference in voice acting was a nice touch, and it wasn’t too long. I just couldn’t feel the heart of this ad nearly as much as I wanted to. In fact, when going over my tier list for the last time, I didn’t even remember what this ad was about and had to watch it again.
I think a big part of the emotional beats that sentimental ads need to hit is the visual of real people and real experiences. Not to say that animation can’t garner emotion out of people, but rather that in such a condensed format, I need to personally feel strongly and closely connected to whatever content I’m consuming.
2020 Coca-Cola Ad: [B Tier] // 2020
Classic celebrity clutter.
Although this ad may seem super unique and quirky, (having random plot points, different environments, and a varied cast of celebrities and characters) this style of ‘weird, random, and funny’ ad has been grossly overplayed in the last five years or so. Sensory overload in ads to try and grab your attention used to work really well because it was unexpected, but now it’s almost the norm. Your typical ad is just usually just some wacky jumble of B-tier actors mixed in with some recent promotional blockbuster movie. Of course, Scorsese and Jonah Hill are some of the better celebrities to have for your ad, but they still don’t really do much more for me. At the very most they don’t drag the ad down even further. Intentional lack of cohesion following a vague storyline is one of my most hated trends in commercials these days, and the only reason this particular ad doesn’t fall lower is that Coca-Cola was at least promoting a new product, Coca-Cola Energy. There was some intent to pair the energy drink concept with the scenario of having to rush from one place to another, which was better than nothing.
And of course, at the end of the day, my opinions are just that. Opinions. Maybe some of the ads I really liked didn’t resonate with you at all. Maybe the ones I didn’t like were actually your favorites. So feel free to watch through the ads yourself and challenge me with a tier list of your own!
Patrick Wu is a sophomore studying Finance at NYU Stern with a minor in BEMT. He’s an avid sports fan and you can always find him catching the latest basketball, football, soccer, or e-sports match.