From The New Yorker:
Super Bowl ads have been a major part of the game’s telecast since 1984, at least. That was the year that Apple débuted its “1984” spot, which was directed by Ridley Scott and showed a benumbed crowd herded into an auditorium before being liberated by an enlightened, hammer-throwing revolutionary. The commercial was a homage to George Orwell’s novel, of course, but also a suggestion that Apple Macintosh users might be more interested in individuality and energy than, say, P.C. users. It ran during the Super Bowl and only once more before it was removed from circulation; cult fame was instant.
There had been notable Super Bowl ads before “1984”: Joe Namath hawked Noxzema in 1973 and Xerox launched its famous monastery spot in 1977. But “1984” kicked things up a notch. Apple returned the following year with the “lemmings” ad, in which P.C. users marched off a cliff; it was considered a failure, but still generated tremendous interest in the week leading up to the game. In 1990, Ridley Scott directed a spot for Nissan that courted criticism for what some said was a glorification of street racing. In 1993, basketball dominated: Larry Bird and Michael Jordan played an increasingly Byzantine game of H-O-R-S-E, and Jordan was featured in a second ad that featured Looney Tunes characters and became the basis for the movie “Space Jam.” And then there was the post-9/11 Clydesdales ad of 2002, where the famed Budweiser horses crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and then bowed their heads in prayer.