When it comes to Super Bowl commercials, there are certain things you can bank on: funny animals, celebrity cameos and iconic music.
Many of rock’s biggest and most recognizable tunes have been featured in ads airing during the big game in the 21st century, as you’ll see in the below list of Best Rock Super Bowl Commercials Year-by-Year 2000-20.
Sometimes the tracks were the central point of the commercial’s theme; other times, they simply provided background noise to amplify a spot’s message.
Thanks to a legendary catalog of material, coupled with a distinctive, anthemic sound, Queen have had their music regularly featured in Super Bowl spots. Songs by the Rolling Stones, Motley Crue and Aerosmith have also been used in ads; some of the artists even made cameos in a couple of spots. Some years offered a multitude of quality options, while others were duds. We listed honorable mentions when appropriate.
2000 – Chicago, “If You Leave Me Now,” Pets.com
Remember the good old days, before the dot-com bubble burst? At the turn of the millennium, many soon-to-be-failed websites were eager to pony up money for a Super Bowl ad. Just look at the list of companies that advertised during the big game in 2000: Oxygen.com, Computer.com, Netpliance, OurBeginning.com and something called Agillion. Still, perhaps no tech newbie was more noticeable than Pets.com, a site that promised to give pet owners an alternative to big-name supply stores like Petco and Petsmart. The Pets.com spokesperson was a talking-dog sock puppet. And in the Super Bowl spot, he proved he could sing, too – albeit, not on key. As owners left their sad pets at home while going to the store, the puppet crooned Chicago’s 1976 classic “If You Leave Me Now.” Let’s just say the high note is better left for Peter Cetera.
Honorable Mentions: The aforementioned Agillion utilized “We Are the Champions” in its spot, while Mountain Dew hijacked another Queen classic – “Bohemian Rhapsody” – giving the song new lyrics designed for its adrenaline-junky clientele.
2001 – Hot Chocolate, “You Sexy Thing,” Pepsi
Hot Chocolate’s 1975 hit “You Sexy Thing” has popped up in all kinds of movies (Reservoir Dogs, The Full Monty, Boogie Nights) and TV shows (The Office, Malcolm in the Middle), so it’s no surprise the track has also enjoyed the Super Bowl spotlight. In a 2001 spot for Pepsi, a train passenger daydreams about being in a hot tub with bikini-clad women, only to have his fellow commuters invade the vision.
Honorable Mentions: In a spot for HotJobs.com, a silver marble escapes from its perch on a desktop Newton’s Cradle and rolls into the city outside as the Mamas & the Papas’ 1965 song “Go Where You Wanna Go” plays in the background. Elsewhere, bunny rabbits multiply rapidly to the tones of Barry White’s “Love Is in the Air” in a Visa commercial.
2002 – Led Zeppelin, “Rock and Roll,” Cadillac
Cadillac enjoyed a long run utilizing Led Zeppelin’s 1971 classic “Rock and Roll” throughout its commercials. The luxury carmaker saw a sharp increase in the sales of vehicles as a result of the campaign, which started with this 2002 Super Bowl spot. In it, a commuter sees Cadillac’s evolution while staring out the window of a train. It marked the first time Led Zeppelin ever licensed their music for a commercial.
2003 – Ozzy Osbourne Pepsi commercial
Ozzy Osbourne was riding high on his latest wave of fame, thanks to the success of the reality series The Osbournes. As such, the Prince of Darkness found himself as a pop-culture icon once again and cashed in with several notable television commercials. For this Super Bowl spot, it was Ozzy and his children, Jack and Kelly, sharing screen time. The kids show up to tell their rock-star dad that their soda isn’t traditional Pepsi but a new flavor called Pepsi Twist. They then admit that they’re not actually the Osbournes, pulling off disguises to reveal Donny and Marie Osmond.
2004 – Jimi Hendrix, “Purple Haze,” Pepsi
A simple decision can change the course of history. That’s the general message sent in this 2004 Pepsi commercial, which suggests one’s preferred brand of cola can drastically alter their lot in life. Set in 1953 Seattle, a young Jimi Hendrix is walking down the street when he sees a Pepsi machine on one side of the road and a Coke machine on the other. He opts for the Pepsi machine, and while sipping on his beverage he notices a Fender Telecaster electric guitar in a pawn shop window. The camera then jumps to the other side of the street, where the Coke machine sits next to an accordion shop. The screen then says, “Whew … that was a close one,” while “Purple Haze” blares in the background.
Honorable Mentions: Pepsi was on a classic-rock run this year. Aside from the Hendrix spot, Beyonce, Pink and Britney Spears covered Queen’s “We Will Rock You” in a gladiatorial-themed spot (which also featured cameos by the band’s Brian May and Roger Taylor). Meanwhile, kudos go to Willie Nelson who appeared in a series of spots for H&R Block. The Red-Headed Stranger displayed a great sense of humor by making light of his own real-life tax woes in the commercial.
2005 – The Rolling Stones, “Gimme Shelter,” Heineken
It’s gotta be tough being Brad Pitt. Even a simple beer run is difficult when you’re a hugely popular actor who’s been named the Sexiest Man on Earth twice. In this David Fincher-directed spot, Pitt heads down to his local liquor store to pick up a six-pack while thousands of paparazzi follow him along the way. The whole thing is set to the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” adding further layers to the commercial, as Pitt seeks shelter from his own fame. It really makes us feel for the guy.
Honorable mentions: The Bee Gees‘ “Stayin Alive” served as the soundtrack to a Pepsi spot in which throngs of women ogle a handsome man walking down the street. FedEx delivered a humorous spot featuring Burt Reynolds, a dancing bear and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Meanwhile, Alias’ power ballad “More Than Words Can Say” popped up in a Subway commercial.
2006 – Robert Palmer, “Addicted to Love,” ‘Lost’
In 1985, Robert Palmer had a hit with the song “Addicted to Love.” Roughly 20 years later, the JJ Abrams-helmed TV series Lost became a huge success for ABC. Fans became “addicted” to the drama – so we’re guessing it didn’t take long for an ad agency to bring these two worlds together. In this commercial, clips of the show play while Palmer’s hit song airs in the background. The only change to the lyrics? “Might as well face it, you’re addicted to Lost.” Genius.
Honorable Mentions: “Love Is Strange” by Paul McCartney and Wings got featured in a Hummer spot that showcased Godzilla-like monsters in love. In an ad for CareerBuilder.com, an office employee stayed stone-faced while his monkey coworkers partied to the sounds of Quiet Riot‘s “Cum on Feel the Noize.” The room goes silent when he explains that the company has been looking at the sales chart upside down.
2007 – Elton John, “Crocodile Rock,” Chevrolet
Chevrolet decided to highlight its generational place in pop culture by featuring several songs that have used Chevy or one of its notable vehicle models in the lyrics. Among the tunes, a snippet of Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock”: “Holdin’ hands and skimmin’ stones / Had an old gold Chevy and a place of my own.”
Honorable Mentions: An automobile assembly-line robot finds himself out of work in a General Motors spot featuring Eric Carmen’s “All by Myself.” Meanwhile, heavy metal vocalist Steve Grimmett (from the bands Grim Reaper and Lionsheart) sings an original tune called “Maposaurus” for a Garmin auto-navigation ad.
2008 – Alice Cooper cameo in Bridgestone
One of the rare rough years for rock in Super Bowl commercials, 2008’s entries have very little to offer. We’ll go with this spot from Bridgestone tires featuring a brief cameo by Alice Cooper, who pops up on a dimly lit road as a driving hazard.
2009 – Bob Dylan, “Forever Young,” Pepsi
Pepsi continues to claim its position as the younger generation’s soda with this spot highlighted by Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.” The commercial features archival Dylan footage and cultural B-roll from the ‘60s interspliced with modern scenes. Unfortunately, Pepsi also felt it necessary to have will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas covering part of “Forever Young,” but we can’t do anything about that.
Honorable mention: House of Pain’s “Jump Around” was used in a Bridgestone tires commercial, featuring astronauts bouncing on Mars. Does that count?
2010 – Kiss, “Calling Dr. Love,” Dr. Pepper Cherry
When Dr. Pepper decided it wanted to hype up its new creation Dr. Pepper Cherry – a soda featuring a “kiss” of cherry flavor – it naturally decided to bring none other than Kiss on board for the commercial. Gene Simmons and company ham it up for the camera, while the band’s 1977 single “Calling Dr. Love” blares in the background. Still, the cherry on top (yes, pun intended) comes from the appearance of “Little Kiss,” a band of Kiss lookalikes made up of little people.
Honorable Mentions: A big year for rock in Super Bowl ads. Cheap Trick’s “Dream Police” appeared in an Audi commercial, its lyrics changed to “Green Police” to reflect the motor brand’s dedication to being environmentally friendly. Streaming service Flo TV used the Who‘s “My Generation” in its spot, while Michelob opted to use Blur’s famous 1997 woo-hoo track “Song 2.” Even the NFL itself got in on the act, snagging “Wake Up” by Arcade Fire for a spot promoting the league.
2011 – Elton John, “Tiny Dancer,” Budweiser
The scene begins like something out of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: A grizzled gunslinger enters an Old West town and sidles up to the local saloon. Patrons look on aghast as he orders a Budweiser, only to be told they’re all out. The high tension is suddenly cut when a deliveryman bursts in with a full case of cold ones. The gunslinger’s attitude immediately changes after a sip, as he leads the entire bar in a rendition of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” (Reminiscent of the classic Almost Famous scene).
2012 – Motley Crue, “Kickstart My Heart,” Kia
Mr. Sandman normally sprinkles just a tiny bit of his magic dust to help sleepers dream. But when he trips and accidentally spills a whole bucket of dust onto an unsuspecting guy, things get wild. The man’s dream immediately becomes an MTV-esque party, complete with gorgeous women, fast cars, pyrotechnics and Motley Crue! The band members appear in the clip as their song “Kickstart My Heart” wails throughout most of the commercial.
Honorable Mentions: Another strong year of rock entries. Elton John appeared in a Pepsi spot dressed as a king, while the Darkness and their hit song “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” helped move Samsung phones. A remix of the Cult’s “She Sells Sanctuary” was used in a Budweiser ad, Audi featured Echo and the Bunnymen’s song “The Killing Moon” in a vampire-centric spot and the Animals’ “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” promoted H&M’s David Beckham line of bodywear. Oh, and Matthew Broderick revisited his Ferris Bueller roots with a Honda spot that had him traveling all over town on a wild day off, complete with the classic “Oh Yeah” song by Yello.
2013 – Fleetwood Mac, “Landslide,” Budweiser
A rancher raises his horse, trains it, then sets it free into the world where it becomes one of the famous Budweiser Clydesdales. At a parade, the man excitedly tries to get the horse’s attention, only to have it pass undaunted. Later, the animal runs up the street to grab the rancher’s attention before he leaves. The heartstring-pulling commercial is given emotional resonance thanks to Fleetwood Mac’s poignant “Landslide.” We’re not crying, you are.
Honorable Mentions: The red M&M shows he can handle a power ballad, belting out Meat Loaf’s “I Would Do Anything for Love” while a series of clips shows a gorgeous woman’s attempts to eat him. Quiet Riot’s “Bang Your Head (Metal Health)” soundtracks a child recruiting his ultimate pickup football team in a spot for the Hyundai Santa Fe. The carmaker then brought the Flaming Lips for its second 2013 Super Bowl commercial, with the band performing their song “Sun Blows Up Today” in another Santa Fe spot. The Devil (played by Willem Dafoe) tries to secure a soul in exchange for a Mercedes Benz, with the man’s daydream is highlighted by the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” The Sam & Dave classic “Hold On, I’m Comin’” plays as the Rock goes on a milk run, only to encounter robbers, destruction and interplanetary invaders. Stevie Wonder brings a little voodoo magic (and his song “Superstitious”) to a commercial for Bud Light.
2014 – Loverboy, “Working for the Weekend,” RadioShack
“The ‘80s called. They want their store back,” remarks a RadioShack clerk at the beginning of this 2014 commercial. From there, his store is invaded by a swarm of ‘80s-era pop-culture icons. Hulk Hogan, Cliff from Cheers, Alf, the California Raisins, Kid ‘n Play and Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider are among the celebrities who ransack the shop. Loverboy’s 1981 hit “Working for the Weekend” soundtracks the spot, which aimed to usher RadioShack into a new generation. (Spoiler alert: It didn’t work.)
Honorable Mentions: Bob Dylan narrates and provides music for a Chrysler spot that focuses on the company’s American roots. “Come on Bring the Toys” – a reimagined version of Quiet Riot’s “Cum on Feel the Noize” – highlights a combo spot for Intuit and toymaker Goldie Blocks. The Human Beinz classic “Nobody but Me” plays as David Beckham runs around in his underwear in another H&M commercial.
2015 – Van Halen “Oh, Pretty Woman” Nationwide
Actress Mindy Kaling is so accustomed to being ignored, she begins to think that she really is invisible. As the tones of Van Halen’s 1982 cover of Roy Orbison‘s “Oh, Pretty Woman” begin to play, Kaling is seen embracing her invisibility – sunbathing nude, taking food from other people’s plates and walking through a carwash. Of course, when she moves in to kiss an unsuspecting Matt Damon, the actress quickly finds out she is most definitely visible. The commercial then promotes Nationwide, “the nation that sees you as a priority.”
Honorable Mentions: Carl’s Jr. used some of Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold” in a spot promoting its all-natural burger, but the commercial is better remembered for near-naked model Charlotte McKinney than any of its music.
2016 – Queen, “Somebody to Love,” Honda
Lots of executives in expensive suits walk into a meeting with their advertising agency, prepared to hear the pitch they’ll invest millions of dollars into creating. After everyone has settled in the conference room, an ad agency account manager unveils three words written on a whiteboard: “Sheep sing Queen.” After a moment of pause, everyone bursts into rapturous applause. That’s probably not how the creation of this Honda commercial went down, but we like to imagine it is. In a year full of many classic rock-infused spots, watching livestock soulfully belt out the words to “Somebody to Love” was undoubtedly the most memorable.
Honorable Mentions: Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler watches as a painting in his likeness – made entirely of Skittles – belts out the words to “Dream On.” David Lee Roth’s shrieks and wails are heard in a spot for Acura, before Van Halen’s “Runnin’ With the Devil” kicks things into high gear.
2017 – Steppenwolf, “Born to Be Wild,” Mercedes
The world of Easy Rider is revisited in this Coen Brothers-directed spot. At a biker bar, a man plays Steppenwolf‘s “Born to Be Wild” on the jukebox, as patrons fight, arm wrestle and generally get rowdy. Things take a turn when one of the men announces that he’s been “blocked in.” The crowd walks outside to see a Mercedes convertible blocking the motorcycles. At that moment, Easy Rider star Peter Fonda walks over to the car and hops in. “Nice rides,” the actor comments before racing off in his AMG GT roadster.
Honorable Mentions: Some of sports’ biggest stars, including Tom Brady, LeBron James and Serena Williams, get hyped up while listening to the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” on their Beats headphones. Foreigner’s “Cold as Ice” highlights Wendy’s promise to never use frozen beef in its burgers. Bud Light opted for a soft piano version of Guns N’ Roses‘ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” in its spot dedicated to friendship. Meanwhile, Bonnie Tyler‘s “I Need a Hero” soundtracked Kia’s commercial starring Melissa McCarthy, and Chicago’s “You’re the Inspiration” highlighted an ad about Super Bowl baby booms.
2018 – Aerosmith, “Dream On,” Kia
A modern-day Steven Tyler gets into a Kia Stinger, set to give the car a test drive on a racing track. The Aerosmith singer suddenly throws the vehicle in reverse, speeding backward around the track – and apparently back in time. Tyler emerges from the car his younger self, then smiles as adoring fans rush toward him.
Honorable Mentions: Queen’s sped-up live rendition of “We Will Rock You” is used in a Dodge Ram ad, featuring a group of Vikings forging their way to Minneapolis (home of the NFL’s Vikings). Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” hypes the Olympic games and U.S. snowboarder Shaun White. A clip of Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” pops up in a Toyota spot, as leaders from various religions carpool together to a local football game.
2019 – Queen, “Don’t Stop Me Now,” Amazon Alexa
Another big game, another Queen hit. This spot for Amazon featured the Alexa virtual assistant installed into various household products – often to failed results. Actor Forest Whitaker struggles with his Alexa-powered toothbrush, Broad City stars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer get tossed from their Alexa hot tub and Harrison Ford’s Boston terrier orders an entire shipment of dog food, much to his owner’s chagrin. The spot closes with astronauts accidentally using their Alexa to shut down the Earth’s power grid, while Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” blasts in the background.
Honorable Mentions: Planters mascot Mr. Peanut tears through the streets in his nut mobile to the tunes of Motley Crue’s “Kickstart My Heart.” The Who’s “Pinball Wizard” plays as a Toyota Supra races around a giant pinball machine. An office worker sits inside an all-electric Audi, only to realize his heavenly vision was the result of nearly choking to death on a cashew. Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” plays as the spot closes.
2020 – Warrant, “Sure Feels Good to Me,” Walmart
Warrant’s 1990 song “Sure Feels Good to Me” plays as an array of film’s most famous sci-fi characters pick up supplies at Walmart. Star Wars, Flash Gordon, Mars Attacks, Star Trek, Blade Runner and Men in Black are just some of the classic movies highlighted in the spot. Bill from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure also makes an appearance, in both his classic and modern-day form.
Honorable Mentions: Hip-hop icon Missy Elliott and R&B singer H.E.R. delivered their best Rolling Stones impression, covering “Paint It, Black” for a sleekly stylized Pepsi spot.