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4 Super Bowl ads that nailed it!

Marketers will spend millions of dollars to advertise during Sunday’s Super Bowl. This year, a single 30-second spot is selling for about $4.5 million. Add in about another million to produce a spot a digital marketing campaign and executives can forever transform a brand in one night. The Super Bowl is the one time people look forward to seeing the ads. Any other day of the year, people work to avoid all but the most creative executions.

But getting it right is tricky. As many of us anticipate what’s in store, here’s a look back at four memorable Super Bowl ads that nailed it and surprised viewers in big ways.

When chimps took over CareerBuilder

In 2005 and 2006, CareerBuilder (CDR) used a band of chimps to transform its brand. At the time, the online job site was a relatively new company, but chimps changed that forever. The ads dramatized the frustrations of office life; the spots were attention getting, distinctive and memorable. In many respects, the chimps became a critical part of CareerBuilder’s brand. The firm tried a number of different creative approaches during the Super Bowl in the subsequent years and finally returned to the chimps in 2013.

ETrade meets talking babies (and its warmer side)

The E Trade baby is a wonderful example of the power of the Super Bowl. In 2008, the company used a talking baby to illustrate just how easy it was to invest with E Trade (ETFC) and helped the online brokerage firm break into the crowded world of financial services.

The firm had advertised during the Super Bowl for several years, with varying degrees of success, and the shift to the talking baby broke through the Super Bowl clutter with a distinctive voice. It also conveyed a point of differentiation that consumers could understand. E Trade then stuck with the creative idea for six years, varying the specific message but retaining the talking baby.

Chrysler’s salute to Detroit

The Chrysler brand used rapper Eminem to rebuild the Chrysler brand. During the 2011 Super Bowl, the automaker ran a dark, distinctive ad focused on Detroit, featuring rapper Eminen. It was a surprise; few knew the automaker was working on it. The ad was perhaps the most memorable Super Bowl ad that year. The gritty, emotional tone contrasted with the typical game-day mix of humor and upbeat emotion, giving the Chrysler brand a heart and soul it desperately needed. This was a strategic play that paid off.

That time Dannon turned Greek

In 2012, Dannon ran a charming ad about greek yogurt, featuring actor John Stamos fighting with a rather attractive lady over yogurt. She eventually clobbers him when he tries to take it.

Behind the ad was a tough competitive battle. Dannon had fallen behind upstart Chobani, having quickly lost shares in the Greek yogurt market after ignoring the new competitor for years. With its 2012 Super Bowl ad, Dannon signaled it wasn’t going to back down. The ad marked a turning point in the Greek yogurt battle; since, Dannon has invested and built its business in Greek yogurt.

Tim Calkins is a clinical professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Derek D. Rucker is the Sandy and Morton Goldman Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies in Marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, where he teaches advertising strategy. To learn more about the Kellogg School Super Bowl Ad Review, visit here.