The best commercial ads of all time, ever

At Biteable, we like to think we know a thing or two about creating great video commercials and ads. For fun, we decided to pool together some of our favourite commercials of all time to provide inspiration for your next video ad.

What makes a great TV commercial or video ad?

Since the very first television commercial ran — for $9 — more than 75 years ago, television advertising has grown into a $75 billion/year industry. Though TV’s market share has dropped as many viewers cut the cord, internet advertising has ensured that video ads are more popular than ever.

So what does it take to make a good ad? Well, as you’ll see in the examples below, there are a few common traits the best commercials share.

They’re memorable: From “Wassup!” to “Where’s the Beef?” the most successful ads have a way of ingraining themselves in your memory (whether you want them to or not!) Today’s average urbanite sees some 5000 advertising messages in a single day. Your job, as an advertiser, is to cut through the noise and stand out with a message that’s relevant, different, and effectively represents your brand identity.

They’re shareworthy: For maximum exposure, your ad should make people want to talk about it with other people, both in real life and on social media. Usually the ads that inspire that kind of dialogue have elicited some kind of emotional reaction: they’re funny, shocking, weird, or emotionally touching.

They communicate the brand’s values: The best ads capture the brand’s voice and identity, and communicate the ethos behind the company. Your audience should watch the ad and think, “this brand is for people like me.”

Call to action: Lastly, an effective commercial makes it clear what it wants you to do next, whether it’s to visit a website, lease a car, or buy some candy. While some advertisers skip this step, incorporating the brand more subtly or focusing on awareness, you can really only get away with this if you’re already a household name like Nike or Apple.

Funniest Commercials

Let’s get this out of the way: humor is hard. What’s hilarious to one person might be downright annoying to another. When it’s effective, a funny ad can grab attention and inspire positive feelings for a brand. But a joke that falls flat can do the opposite, or even inspire a negative backlash.

Moreover, experts are split on whether even a hilarious, popular ad will actually translate to increased revenue and awareness. In some cases, a funny ad can cause a so-called “vampire effect” in which viewers remember the ad, but not the product or company it’s associated with.

The key, it seems, is to strike just the right balance between being funny, relevant, and informative. Here are some of the most effective, and funniest commercials we’ve seen:

Old Spice: “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” (2010)

When Old Spice realized that women made the majority of purchasing decisions when it came to men’s body wash products, they took a different approach with their next campaign. While the tagline “don’t let your man smell like a woman,” might not fly these days, the genuinely funny non-sequitur dialogue and Isaiah Mustafa’s perfect delivery made it a massive hit.

Old Spice’s ad was perhaps the pinnacle of the absurdist, unpredictable, meme-able humor many advertisers have embraced, in hopes of creating a viral hit. And it worked. The ad took home nearly every major industry award that year and currently stands at over 55 million views on YouTube. Old Spice, meanwhile, has continued to hone their off-beat brand voice with a hugely popular follow-up campaign starring actor Terry Crews.

Reebok: “Terry Tate, Office Linebacker” (2003)

Slapstick violence: since the earliest days of comedy it’s been a foolproof way to make ‘em laugh. Reebok’s Super Bowl XXXVII ad had plenty, along with an amusing premise (boosting office productivity), an element of surprise, and solid one-liners and delivery.

The spot was roundly praised by critics and viewers alike that year, though whether it actually succeeded in boosting Reebok’s brand is questionable. According to one poll after it aired, just 55% of viewers recalled that the ad was affiliated with Reebok. Though Reebok considered it nonetheless a success, citing a 4-fold increase in online sales, it’s still a good reminder to consider whether misaligned subject matter may cause your ad to become a victim of the vampire effect.

John West Salmon: “Bear” (2000)

UK seafood company John West’s ad begins with a serene, nature documentary-style shot of bears fishing, as a narrator describes the scene in his best David Attenborough impression. Then things takes an unexpected turn.

The ad’s effective use of three time-honored comedy traditions — the abrupt shift in tone, animals, and, yes, the well-timed groin kick — quickly made it a viral sensation in those early Internet days. The ad shot to the top of every “best commercial list” and by 2006 it had more than 300 million views, making it the sixth most viewed online video at the time. It also won a number of awards and was voted “funniest ad of all time” in Campaign Live’s 2008 poll.

Snickers: “Hungry Betty White” (2010)

When Snickers launched their “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” campaign with Betty White (and Abe Vigoda) during the 2010 Super Bowl, it was a turning point for the brand and the 88-year-old Golden Girl.

That ad won the night — going viral and topping every best commercials list that year — and also kicked off a massively successful campaign that increased sales for the company by $376 million in two years. It’s also credited with revitalizing White’s career, who followed up the spot with an appearance hosting Saturday Night Live and quickly landed other roles.

The success of the long-running campaign overall was largely thanks to the global approach Snickers and ad agency BBDO took, featuring celebrities famed in each global market (you can see regional versions here.) But it all started here, with a beloved octogenarian getting crash-tackled into some mud.

Animated Commercials

Animated television ads are nothing new. They’ve been a mainstay of advertising since at least 1941, when the first animated commercial aired, and grew in popularity in the decades that followed.

At first, they relied on hand-drawn cel animation which made them far more expensive than the live action ads that dominated. Thanks to advancements in technology, high-end animated adverts eventually became cheaper to produce than their live action counterparts, but that’s not the only reason advertisers like them.

As you’ll see in our picks for the best animated commercials, animated characters are endearing and relatable, appealing to people of all ages, and they’re capable of performing actions that would be impossible to film with real-life actors (or animals).

Metro Trains: “Dumb Ways to Die” (2012)

The goal of public service announcements is to change people’s behavior, or inspire action, usually through a shocking or impactful message. While there have been some memorable awareness campaigns over the years, few are as funny — or as popular — as Metro Trains Melbourne’s “Dumb Ways to Die.”

The video features a catchy song and cute animated characters being killed in a variety of absurd ways. The message is simple: Be safe around trains. The campaign was a massive hit, becoming the most awarded campaign in the history of Cannes and racking up more than 164 million views on YouTube to date. Popular spin-off content like a mobile game, toys, and a children’s book soon followed, extending the reach of the campaign.

Best of all, it seems to have been successful in its main goal of improving safety around trains — Metro credited the campaign with reducing the number of “near-miss” accidents by more than 30%.

Chipotle: “Back to the Start” (2011)

Set to Willie Nelson’s cover of Coldplay’s “The Scientist,” Chipotle’s first national TV ad follows a farmer’s journey from industrialized farming to adopting more sustainable practices.

Though the award-winning two-minute ad was released online and played in movie theatres months earlier, it wasn’t until it aired during the Grammy Awards in early 2012 that it picked up steam. Impressively, many critics and viewers agreedd that the stop-motion commercial upstaged Coldplay’s actual performance at the Grammys that night.

Honda: “Paper” (2015)

Honda’s ad “Paper” takes us through the automaker’s 60-year history, beginning with founder Soichiro Honda’s idea for using a radio generator to power his wife’s bicycle. The idea behind the ad was to demonstrate “Honda thinking” and “all the people that touch our wide range of products along the way.”

Directed by PES, the Emmy Award-winning ad was created over four months, incorporating thousands of hand-drawn illustrations by dozens of illustrators and animators. The paper flipping was captured using stop-motion techniques, with real people carefully manipulating each image, one frame at a time.

John Lewis: “The Bear and the Hare” (2013)

UK retailer John Lewis’ annual Christmas campaign has become something of a tradition, signalling the start of the holiday season in Britain. Set to Lily Allen’s cover of Keane’s 2004 hit “Somewhere Only We Know”, this two-minute advert from 2013 combines stop motion and traditional hand-drawn animation by Disney veterans.

The result is a heartwarming story of two unlikely animal friends sharing Christmas. The campaign won a number of awards, racked up millions of views, and was credited with boosting sales of alarm clocks by 55% in the week following its launch.

You don’t need to be an animator to create your own animated commercials and videos. Biteable makes it easy with hundreds of free animated video templates. Get started here.

Weird Commercials

There are ads that make you laugh, some that make you cry, and then there are those ads that make you say “Wait, what?” These weird commercials fall squarely in the last category.

While there are vintage examples of bizarre ads, many experts agree that we largely have the Super Bowl — and advertisers’ never-ending quest for online virality — to thank for the relatively recent rise of “oddvertising.”

E-Trade: “Monkey” (2000)

A chimpanzee in an E-Trade t-shirt stands on a bucket in a suburban garage,lip-syncing “La Cucaracha” as two off-rhythm, flannel-clad seniors clap along. Then it ends with a hilariously meta tagline.

A favorite of this experts over at Ad Week, this subversive 30-second spot originally aired during the 2000 Super Bowl. At the time, Ad Age praised it as “Impossibly stupid, impossibly brilliant.” We’d have to agree.

Calvin Klein: “Obsession” (1986)

Perfume commercials are widely known for being bizarre — and they’re regularly the subject of parody as a result. Calvin Klein’s “Obsession” series of ads from the 1980s was no exception. Channeling art house cinema and the films of Ingmar Bergman, these ads were dreamlike, highly stylized, and, yes, somewhat incomprehensible.

And, true to form, the ad was famously lampooned by Saturday Night Live, in the show’s pitch-perfect “Compulsion” sketch.

Mountain Dew: “Puppy Monkey Baby” (2016)

Finally, we’d be remiss to leave out this somewhat nightmare-inducing Super Bowl ad from Mountain Dew. The soda company’s 2016 ad for its Kickstarter drink generated a massive response when it aired, earning 2.2 million online views and 300,000 social media interactions in one night.

Viewers were split. Some found the ad and its CGI mascot to be hilarious, while others thought it was creepy, annoying, or stupid. But the overall consensus? It definitely grabbed your attention.

Emotional & Touching Commercials

There’s no shame in crying at commercials, and in some cases you’d need a heart of stone to avoid it. No, we won’t make you watch Sarah McLachlan’s heart wrenching ASPCA ads, but you may still want to have some tissues handy for the emotional commercials below.

Extra: “Origami” (2013)

A parent-child relationship, a “time flies” theme — it’s a tried and true formula for tearjerker commercials. While there are more than a few heartwarming examples out there, this one-minute spot for Wrigley’s Extra gum is a sweet standout.

Starring a father, a daughter, and some gum-wrapper cranes, it’s a touching, nearly wordless commercial that’s about much more than gum.

WATERisLIFE: “Kenya Bucket List” (2013)

Due to unsafe drinking water, 1 in 5 children in Kenya won’t reach the age of 5. That’s the premise behind this moving awareness video from clean water nonprofit WATERisLIFE.

We follow an adorable 4-year-old Maasai boy named Nkaitole who’s never left his village, as he goes “on an adventure to do all the things he’s always wanted to do before he dies.”

It’s a beautiful and heartbreaking way to drive home the message that Nkaitole, and thousands of children like him, are in dire need of safe water.

IAMS: “A Boy and His Dog Duck” (2015)

Here’s another that falls squarely into the coming of age, life is short category — this time for the dog lovers. Starring a cute little boy and a dog named Duck, we watch as the two grow older, side by side, and eventually learn how the pup got his unusual name.

No, IAMS isn’t exactly breaking new ground here. Yes, it’s a bit emotionally manipulative. And yes, you might just cry anyway.

Thai Life Insurance: “Unsung Hero” (2014)

In parts of Asia, Thailand in particular, advertisers seem to be all about making viewers cry. One company, Thai Life Insurance, is especially well-known for producing massively popular, touching commercials.

“Unsung Hero,” created by Ogilvy & Mather Bangkok, is just one example, and it’s one of the less depressing ads the brand has put out. The agency says that making people cry isn’t their “main objective.” The purpose is to inspire people to “appreciate the value of life, which is a core value of the brand.” Tears, it seems, are just a common side effect.

Best Super Bowl Commercials

For millions of Americans, the Super Bowl is really about the commercials. While older viewers tend to still be interested in the game, one poll found that the majority of viewers under 30 prefer the ads to the halftime show or the action on the field.

Advertisers are well aware of this fact. Every year, the ads get more over the top — more celebrity cameos, more elaborate special effects — and every year the cost to reach that ad-loving audience increases. In 2018, the cost for a 30-second spot during Super Bowl LII topped $5 million.

Apple “1984” (1984)

Directed by Ridley Scott, Apple’s ad references George Orwell’s novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, positioning the company’s soon-to-launch personal computer as the hero that would free us from “Big Brother” (possibly a jab at Apple’s rival, IBM.)

The full 60-second spot aired just once, during Super Bowl XVIII in January 1984, but its influence has extended far beyond. It’s been credited with being the ad that made Super Bowl commercials “a thing” in the first place. The Clio Awards (kind of like the Oscars of advertising) put it to their Hall of Fame while Ad Age named it the #1 Super Bowl commercial of all time.

Coca-Cola: “Hey Kid, Catch!” (1979)

A cute kid, a sports legend, a sweet moment — Coca-Cola’s “Hey Kid, Catch!” commercial is perhaps the quintessential Super Bowl ad. Debuting in 1979, it most notably aired during Super Bowl XIV in 1980.

Starring NFL legend ‘Mean’ Joe Greene, the ad won a Clio award and was so popular it was later the inspiration for the 1981 made-for-tv movie “The Steeler and the Pittsburgh Kid.”

But its impact was even more profound for some viewers. According to the copywriter responsible for the script, “Joe was perhaps the first black male to appear in a national brand commercial, and it had a profound effect at the time. The letters we got were full of gratitude and excitement.” “When I Grow Up…” (1999)

According to Ad Age, prior to this commercial airing, was getting around 1.5 unique visitors each month. In the months that followed, they averaged 2.5 million visitors.

Filmed in stark black and white, the commercial parodied the aspirational ads companies like Nike are known for, with kids matter-of-factly stating they wanted to “be replaced on a whim” and “claw my way up to middle management.” A dead-on send-up of corporate America, it is at once wry, unconventional, funny, and motivating. And overnight, it transformed Monster’s brand and won a number of industry awards along the way.

Volkswagen: “The Force” (2011)

7 years after it originally aired, Volkswagen’s commercial for its 2012 Passat remains the most watched Super Bowl ad of all time. The ad struck a perfect balance — a beloved movie franchise, a tiny kid dressed up as an iconic villain, a cute family moment, a humorous payoff.

And it benefited even more from the approach the car company and their agency, Deutsch, took in releasing it. The conventional advertising wisdom at the time was to keep Super Bowl ads under wraps until the big game. Volkswagen opted to put the spot on YouTube four days ahead of time. The ad got 1 million views overnight, and 16 million more before the game had even started. According to Deutsch, it had “paid for itself before it ever ran” and went on to pick up multiple Cannes and Clio awards.

We hope this best commercials round-up has been inspiring — or at least entertaining! Remember that you don’t have to have a Super Bowl budget to make an effective ad. Check out Biteable’s ad maker to get started for free!

Any classic commercials we’ve missed? Tell us on Twitter @biteable!

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