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The 10 Greatest TV Commercials of All Time

Before Netflix and Chill was ever a thing, and when DVR was just a twinkle in our cable company’s eye, we used to watch television and be forced to sit through commercials. Most of us ignore these ads nowadays. In fact, 76% of people completely skip the commercials while watching their programs. As such, it’s not the advertising goldmine it used to be.

Rest assured, there’s still hope for all the commercial connoisseurs out there. A good ad stands the test of time, sparks nostalgic feelings, and has the potential to become a viral sensation. Even more, the Super Bowl unleashes a wave of entertaining commercials every year. This is the one time when people actually care to sit around and analyze the ads from popular companies like Doritos, Ford, and Mountain Dew, to name a few.

Ready to dive in? Take a look at the most effective commercials of all time!

#1:  Apple – “1984” (1984)

People all across the nation started talking after this Apple commercial aired in 1984. The company was advertising their original Macintosh computer. The ad, directed by Ridley Scott (the same guy behind Alien and Gladiator), showed a scantily clad woman fighting a brainwashing machine, inspired by George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel “1984.” The futuristic society depicted was condemning a bunch of drones to a life based on the “Unification of Thoughts.”

This ad fired on all cylinders for its pop culture relevance, intelligence, originality, and daring. Surprisingly, the marketing team at Apple originally dismissed the ad, thinking it would be one of the least effective commercials ever tested. They couldn’t have been more wrong! The day after it aired, customers flooded electronics stores, going on to purchase $155 million worth of Macintosh computers three months after the ad debuted. Not to mention, this single ad only aired one time, yet encouraged every Super Bowl advertisement that followed.

 

#2:  Wendy’s – “Where’s the Beef?” (1984)

You know you’ve got a commercial that deserves a slow clap when one of the lines becomes a phrase used in everyday life. Wendy’s achieved that status with their memorable “Where’s the Beef?” ad in 1984. Today, people utter this phrase whenever they’re looking for more substance, whether it’s a professor grading an essay or a business professional wanting more details in a presentation.

Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?” commercial significantly changed fast food advertising for good. Never before had a quick burger joint achieved such pop culture relevance. In fact, Wendy’s VP of Communication David Lynch noted that this ad was their “grand slam at the bottom-of-the-ninth in the World Series.” Following only a year after the ad, Wendy’s pulled in a record $76.2 million in sales after they had been facing the possibility of bankruptcy.

 

#3:  Tootsie Pop – “How Many Licks?” (1968)

A little boy asks nature’s finest, a cow, fox, turtle, and owl, how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. Of course, the wise old bird is the only one with the “correct” answer and it’s three. Still, the world may never know. They may also never know why the little boy was naked while he was talking to these woodland creatures.

Tootsie Pop revolutionized the power of a good ad with this classic campaign. Ad agency Doner came up with the original concept with Paul Winchell (best known as the voice of Tigger in Winnie the Pooh) voicing the wise old owl. The ad went on to be a lucrative part of their company, selling merchandise decorated with the iconic characters. Today, you’ll find lunch boxes, t-shirts, and other products printed with the little boy and Mr. Owl.

 

#4:  Coca-Cola – “Meet Joe Greene” (1979)

With a bit of co-branding at its finest, Coca-Cola and the NFL paired up to bring Mean Joe Greene into America’s hearts. This ad has since become one of the most famous commercials in Super Bowl history. It has also gone on to win several awards for advertising including a Clio and a Cannes Gold Lion.

The Coca-Cola Mean Joe Greene commercial completely softened the tough-guy image for the former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle. In the ad, a young boy selflessly shares his bottle of Coke with Joe who is clearly down and had a rough game. Touched by this offer, Joe tosses his jersey to his #1 fan with the classic line, “Hey kid, catch!” Coca-Cola was already a leader in soft drinks by this point, but the commercial did more for the reputation of professional football. It shows the heartwarming moment of meeting your personal hero.

 

#5:  Budweiser – “Whassup?!” (1999)

This has become a beloved commercial by all generations, even getting spoofed in the original Scary Movie. Budweiser’s ad is based on a short film called “True” by Charles Stone III that showed his friends uttering their unique greeting. Throw it in while they’re chilling and watching a football game, and you’re hitting close to home for your target audience.

Budweiser’s “Whassup?!” commercial has withstood the test of time and remained a favorite ad in the pop culture canon. Comics, DJs, and talk show hosts like Howard Stern have used the phrase in their routines. In fact, the ad completely transcended the product as other countries that didn’t even have Budweiser on their shelves were saying “whassup” to each other. Hands down, this ad became a global phenomenon.

 

#6:  McDonald’s – “The Showdown” (1993)

Never mind all the cholesterol, two of NBA’s greatest competed on the court for a juicy Big Mac. Larry Bird and Michael Jordan play the ultimate game of HORSE, starting with easy shots and gradually getting more complicated. Finally, they end up shooting a basket off a building and easily making the shot. It seems as though they never secure that Big Mac after all. Maybe it’s a sign that you shouldn’t eat a Big Mac and then expect to be a great athlete.

McDonald’s commercial with Michael Jordan and Larry Bird did a lot more than just promote the fast food chain. Ad agency Leo Burnett came up with the original concept, which aired during Super Bowl XXVII. The phrase “nothing but net” was popularized thanks to this entertaining campaign. It also went on to get an update over a decade later with LeBron James and Dwight Howard playing for the Big Mac.

 

#7:  Energizer – “Escape of the Bunny” (1989)

While batteries may not be the most glamorous products, one of the leaders in the industry have certainly created positive energy with their branding. Energizer has an iconic slogan (“It Keeps Going, and Going, and Going”),  a reliable product, and one of the most adorably invasive mascots of all time.

This Energizer commercial from 1989 is comical, self-aware, cynical, and extremely meta. It’s a commercial within a commercial within a commercial, long before Inception was even a thought in Christopher Nolan’s mind. Here the massive pink bunny (which was a direct jab at Duracell’s pink bunnies in a previous commercial) is seen interrupting other people’s ads as a testament to how Energizer outlasts the competition. It’s pure genius! The pink bunny has since taken on a life of its own, even being inducted into the Madison Avenue Walk of Fame in 2017.

 

#8:  Dos Equis – “Most Interesting Man in the World” (2007)

We know it as a popular meme for social media and text message exchanges. However, when Dos Equis’ most interesting man in the world first debuted, he was a cultural juggernaut. After all, it takes quite the man to have the world’s strongest beard and blood that smells like cologne.

The Most Interesting Man in the World for Dos Equis is a ringer for the previously underperforming beer brand. In fact, when the ad first launched, Dos Equis quickly became one of the fastest-growing beers, increasing its sales by over 22%. The target was young men who would want to become just like the Dos Equis guy when they got older. If you want to be interesting, all it takes is a few sips of their brew to make it happen. Of course, you might end up being interesting for all the wrong reasons, but that’s part of the risk.

 

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

Perhaps no other commercial has had the viral fame of Old Spice’s 2010 commercial. The ad features an extremely attractive, smug-faced man who implores ladies to compare their current beaus to him. The argument is that he is the superior choice, especially since he smells extremely good with Old Spice. Plus, he will get you tickets to your favorite thing and turn an oyster into diamonds.

The entire commercial is self-aware and extremely comical. The classic final line, “I’m on a horse,” was a personal favorite for many people when it first aired. Ad agency Wieden+Kennedy was behind the campaign, which quickly became an overnight success and was referenced by many famous fans. Not to mention, sales rose an incredible 11% following the launch of this commercial. There is clearly power in smelling like the man your man could smell like.

#10:  Always – “Like a Girl” (2015)

There is a lot of talk among this generation about what it means to be a girl versus a boy. Tired old phrases such as “you throw like a girl” or “quit whining like a girl” perpetuate the idea that women are not as strong or as emotionally stable as men. Always rightfully believes that has to change.

Always released their groundbreaking “Like a Girl” commercial during Super Bowl XLIX. The ad shows a group of people getting asked the question: “What does it mean to do X like a girl?” The younger girls were taken aback by the question while the older girls and boys did something humiliating and self-deprecating. It was a strong message for a company and makes viewers question their thoughts and attitudes in general. The feminine care line also dared to air during a predominately male-driven event.

 

If the best TV commercials of all time prove anything, it’s that clever ideas and creativity will breed success. Not one of these companies took their customers for granted or assumed they were unintelligent. Their ads dared to go outside of the box, sometimes bringing famous help along the way like Michael Jordan or Mean Joe Green. These popular TV commercials speak to the times, make us laugh, and push the envelope. Let it be proof that there’s no reward in advertising without a little bit of risk.



Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa loves food. A LOT. Particularly pizza and popcorn, but she knows beggars can’t be choosers. When she’s not stuffing her face (which is rare), she loves watching movies, playing volleyball and softball, and engaging in any number of interesting shenanigans. If she had to pick a spirit animal, she’d be an otter because they are playful and love to laugh. Most of the time she’s laughing at herself, whether other people are laughing with or at her is to be determined.

Comments

  1. Vic

    LMAO! Some of these remind me of my childhood. I will never forget Where’s the Beef. Awesome post!

  2. QLP Jill

    So glad you enjoyed it! There are a ton more worth mentioning, like my personal favorite…the “Crossfire” game commercial from the 1980s. It’s funny how some commercials stick with you and others just get muted! Haha! 🙂

  3. David seo consultant

    Give this blog post to Davey. He’ll eat anything. lol Soem good memories.

  4. Shawn

    10 Memorable TV Commercials | What's YOUR Favorite Advertisement? http://bit.ly/5gCNuC #TV #digg #digguser

  5. Deanna Melson

    My favorite advertisment is the Seresto dog collar with Jake the dog. I don’t even have a dog but that add is so funny I love it.

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