How a 1973 Shave Cream Ad Launched the $5 Million Super Bowl Commercial Phenomenon

Feb 2, 2017 · 2 min read

The key to a great Super Bowl commercial, as it turns out, has very little to do with the product itself.

Hot wings with celery sticks and blue cheese. Seven layer taco dip. BBQ pulled pork sliders. And beer. Lots and lots of beer. All are part of the perfect recipe for the quintessential Super Bowl Experience — but it wouldn’t be complete without the final ingredient: a healthy dose of multimillion-dollar commercials.

The annual Super Bowl is, without a doubt, a career highlight for the players and coaches who have spent a lifetime wading through blood, sweat, tears, and an endless river of Gatorade to make it this far. And as they hit the turf, so do the advertisers.

As an estimated 115 million viewers prepare to tune in for Super Bowl LI, how many of them stop to wonder how these memorable commercials became the $5 million cultural phenomenon they are today? Just as importantly, how do companies and ad agencies cook up a winning formula that generates enough buzz to end up at the top of everybody’s Facebook Feed come Monday morning?

The key to a great Super Bowl commercial, as it turns out, has very little to do with the product itself.

First Down

In January 1967, the Doors released their first album, gas was 33 cents per gallon, and Lipton Onion Dip had just become an American household mainstay.

It was also in January 1967 — on the 15th, to be exact — that America witnessed the first ever AFL-NFL World Championship, later to be known as Super Bowl I, when the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs clashed at Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles. Some 51 million people tuned in for that game, but it wasn’t until six years later, in 1973, that advertisers managed to crack the Super Bowl commercial formula.

That year, in a 30-second ad spot that cost $42,000, football player Joe Namath and Charlie’s Angels star Farrah Fawcett lent their endorsement to Noxzema Shave Cream, with the catchline “Let Noxzema cream your face”.

Spearheaded by the Madison Avenue ad men who have since become immortalized by the TV show Mad Men, the commercial was a blowout success that took American living rooms by storm. “I’m so excited, I’m gonna get creamed,” declares Namath, before Fawcett sensually slathers his face with the shave cream product.

This near-seamless blend of football slang and sexual innuendo — not to mention a very healthy dose of relevant celebrity endorsement — immediately resonated with legions of football fans. Just as important, it was entertaining, it sparked conversations, and it drove a new kind of awareness to the brand.

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