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One-and-done: Super Bowl ad one-hit wonders

The multibillion-dollar industry known as Super Bowl advertising has been populated by a long list of corporate players over the past 48 years of the big game.

The Pets.com sock puppet dog stars in a commercial for the company, Jan. 11, 2000, in Los Angeles.
Bob Riha | Liaison | Getty Images
The Pets.com sock puppet dog stars in a commercial for the company, Jan. 11, 2000, in Los Angeles.

And every year, there are first-time advertisers that gamble millions—this year up to $4.5 million for a 30-second spot—in hopes of scoring big on game day and long afterward.

Many newbies have accomplished their goals and become perennial stalwarts, none more so than Budweiser, Coke, Pepsi and Doritos.

But there's also a long list of one-hit wonder brands—from household names to unfamiliar start-ups—that are no longer around, despite the success or failure of their ads. The reasons for their disappearances vary, of course, but their Super Bowl commercials certainly didn't help matters.

As you prepare for Super Bowl XLIX's game within the game, hark back on these 10 past one-and-done advertisers:

AMF (1979)

American Machine and Foundry grew from a small manufacturer of cigarette machines at the dawn of the 20th century into the epitome of a conglomerate.

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By 1979, AMF owned a vast corporate playground of recreational equipment companies, including several brands promoted in its Super Bowl XIII animated "We make weekends" spot.

The ad prompted a cartoon couch potato to get out and dribble a Voit basketball, swing Ben Hogan golf clubs and ride a Harley-Davidson.

That Harley was then the laughingstock of burly bikers, who bemoaned the hog's dilapidation, was testimony to AMF's so-big-it-failed fate, culminating in the conglomerate's bankruptcy in 2001. Harley now thrives as a stand-alone company. AMF's bowling division also re-emerged, only to file Chapter 11 in 2012.

Harley-Davidson declined to comment.

E.F. Hutton (1980)

The financial services firm, founded in 1904, launched an ad campaign in the late 1970s designed to distinguish itself as a trusted advisor to private investors, literally stopping people in their tracks to hear what Hutton's savvy stockbrokers had to say.

The tagline, "When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen," was heard well beyond Wall Street. During Super Bowl XIV, a couple of yuppies jogging through the park froze a crowd of outdoors enthusiasts.

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Hutton took a heavy hit in the 1987 stock market crash, leading to a series of mergers and its ultimate collapse. There was news of a revival by the founder's grandson in 2012, yet an Internet search halts at a blank page—and deafening silence.

Polaroid (1981)

Compared to today's smartphone-equipped still and video cameras, the Polaroid is like a manual typewriter vs. a MacBook Air.

Inventor Edwin Land first marketed his "instant photo" camera in 1948, and it quickly developed into a sensation among shutterbugs. A slew of improved models followed, including the Time Zero, demonstrated by a flirty James Garner, then of "Rockford Files" fame, in Super Bowl XV.

In fact, Polaroid pioneered digital cameras in 1996, though it failed to capitalize on the game-changing technology. That mismanagement contributed to bankruptcy in 2001, and by 2009, the reorganized entity was out of the camera and film business.

The name lives on in a line of instant and digital cameras from a Dutch company, The Impossible Project.

Bugle Boy (1991)

It's probably not a stretch to say that tens of thousands of guys were wearing Bugle Boy jeans when this ad aired during Super Bowl XXV.

The company founded by Chinese engineer William Mow in 1977 made a name for itself as the purveyor of parachute pants, cargo pants and designer jeans.

By the early '90s, sales topped $500 million. That was also around the time when the Go-Go's got going again. The '80s girl group reunited in 1990 and was featured in concert in the ad, which peaked when lead singer Belinda Carlisle stopped the music to ask a dude in the crowd:

"Excuse me, are those Bugle Boys you're wearing?" Of course they were, but just as blue jeans do, fashion trends tend to fade. Almost a decade to the day after the New York Giants edged the Buffalo Bills, Bugle Boy was playing the Chapter 11 blues. Another reincarnation of the Go-Go's toured last year.

Outpost.com (1998)

Cute and furry gerbils have long enjoyed the affection of kids—and the disdain of their parents—yet those rodents were water-cooler superstars after being shot out of a canon in the Super Bowl XXXII commercial for Cyberian Outpost, an online vendor of computer hardware and software and early entrant in the dot-com boom.

"We want you to remember our name," the seated businessman explained. And how, but for the wrong reasons.

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"Super Bowl advertisers risk not getting whatever they intended out of their investment," said Amanda Bower, associate professor of business administration at Washington and Lee University. Instead of garnering brand recognition, the sight of gerbils (fakes, kids!) smacking against a wall backfired. "They were trying to be incendiary instead of accomplishing their goals," Bower observed.

Outpost.com hit the wall in the 2001 dot-com bust.

Just for Feet (1999)

"You can't play it safe in the Super Bowl," cautioned Bob Dorfman, a sports ad guru and executive vice president of Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco. "You want to be talked about the next day, but for the right reasons."

Someone should have told that last part to the executives at Just for Feet, a fast-growing sports shoe and apparel retailer that declared itself "the world's largest athletic shoe store." Maybe, but most definitely the most tone deaf. Its ad in Super Bowl XXXIII featured a black athlete running barefoot across a barren terrain, unknowingly being hunted by four white men in a Humvee.

They pass him water spiked with a tranquilizer, he passes out and they slip a pair of running shoes on him. "You can try to be naughty or outrageous," but you can't make people angry, Dorfman said. Just for Feet filed for bankruptcy in November 1999.

Pets.com (2000)

Ah, what Super Bowl ad buff will ever forget the sock puppet! In Super Bowl XXXIV, the stitched-up handheld sang Chicago's "If You Leave Me Now" as a caravan of owners drove around to a lot of stores to get what their pets liked.

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The message was that they could just stay home and order online from Pets.com. Alas, the puppet fared better than the e-retailer, which was founded in 1998, went public in 2000 and shut down later the same year—a victim, pundits opined, of overspending on the Super Bowl.

"When they sold the assets, the only thing of value was the sock puppet," Bower noted. It reportedly fetched $125,000 and has since starred in car loan ads, with the tagline: "Everybody deserves a second chance."

Circuit City (2002)

Getting broadband Internet service was a downloader's Holy Grail in 2002, and Circuit City—at one time the second-largest U.S. electronics retailer, after Best Buy—could hook you up.

That was the message in this Super Bowl XXXVI ad, portraying a goofy Dad ready to clamber up to the roof to install a satellite receiver.

"Huh, we can get broadband at Circuit City," sensible Mom discovers. Would that the retailer's leaders were so shrewd. "You could blame it on the bad economy or decreased consumer spending—which played no small role—but the real culprit is good old-fashioned bad management," wrote Time in its post-mortem after Circuit City shuttered in 2009.

Click here to see Circuit City's Super Bowl XXXVI ad.

Blockbuster (2002)

It wasn't that long ago that Blockbuster seemed as ubiquitous as Starbucks, but when Super Bowl XXXVI aired, it was long before there was Netflix, Hulu and a DVR in every pot.

This humorous ad touted the video/DVD retailer's online service for movie rentals via a pet shop's talking, computer-generated residents—Carl the rabbit and Ray the guinea pig, attempting to click and drag an anonymous mouse (get it?).

Blockbuster didn't pay the pets, but probably dug deep for voiceovers by James Woods, Jim Belushi, Bob Goldthwait and Alec Baldwin. In the ensuing decade, streaming technology doomed Blockbuster, which went bankrupt in 2010, sold 1,700 remaining stores to Dish Network in 2011, and closed its final outlets in 2013.

FLO-TV (2010)

Super Bowl trivia question: What major U.S. chip maker attempted to market a streaming entertainment system? If you answered Qualcomm, treat yourself to a bag of Doritos.

The semiconductor giant ventured into the consumer space with a dedicated network and special hardware for mobile TV watching, including some live programming.

The minute-long Super Bowl XLIV commercial juxtaposed The Who's "My Generation" against a rapid fire of good, bad and ugly images that spanned the entire television era. It didn't translate into as dramatic sales increases. Qualcomm still goes strong, but four years after FLO-TV's launch in 2007, it went dark.

Qualcomm did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Disclosure:CNBC's sister company NBC Sports broadcasts the Super Bowl.