The Top 20 Ads Every Marketer Needs to Know

Jaqueline Rencsik, Senior Content Executive, Publicis Media

What is the greatest ad of all time? BBH settles the debate with their World Cup of Ads, an initiative ‘not measured by effectiveness, efficiency or Lions, but rather how beloved it is by both the public and the industry’. Based on a rigorous meta-analysis of 60 ‘greatest ever’ polls in all the industry’s leading publications, these are the essential ads.

There are too many people in our fad-driven industry who know nothing of our history. Don’t be one of them.

1. Guiness – Surfer (1998, AMV BBDO)

The winner is one of the most shared ads on YouTube, this is best experienced in the Guiness Factory in Dublin where you can see it on a 360 screen. The shoot was an adventure in itself: the crew was capsized, the cameramen hung from the front of a speedboat and the filmmaker was himself racing the 60mph waves to capture the perfect moment.

2. Apple – 1984 (1984, Chiat l Day)

With a dystopian setting based on George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four, Apple depicts IBM as Big Brother, a symbol of traditionalism. A blonde athlete throwing a sledgehammer at the screen is the physical embodiment of Apple launching Macintosh in 1984.

3. Cadbury – Gorilla (2007, Fallon London)

Marking a radical change in the way chocolate was marketed, Cadbury’s ‘Gorilla’ had a mission to get brand love from the public.

4. Smash – Martians (1974, BMP)

Promoting another Cadbury product, this advert for Smash is part of a series where a group of robots from Mars mock humans for taking the time to make mashed potatoes from scratch. It was one of the first non-boring promotions for packaged goods.

5. Hamlet – Photobooth (1987, CDP)

Humour is at the heart of this advert. After a few quite clumsy attempts at getting a decent shot of himself, The ‘Baldy Man’ rises above the fiasco and enjoys a Hamlet cigar.

6. Alka Seltzer – Spicy Meatballs (1969, DDB New York)

This ad for spicy meatballs, a product that doesn’t actually exist, was a cheeky way of advertising Alka Seltzer back in the day. The fact the actual product is only shown at the end was groundbreaking.

7. Coke – Mean Joe Greene (1979, McCann New York)

Joe Greene was one of the first African-Americans to star in a national brand commercial on this scale.

8. Levi’s – Launderette (1985, BBH London)

This was a breakthrough advert for Levi’s, cleverly recreating an image of 50s America with wit, sex appeal and nostalgia.

9. Budweiser – Whatzzup (1999, DDB Chicago)

Adapted from short film “True”, the Whatzzup advert for Budweiser became widely popular and the W-word was used in counless parodies.

10. Coke – Teach The World To Sing (1971, McCann New York)

Is this the best known ad of all time? With a production cost of $250,000, it was certainly the world’s most expensive at the time.

11. FedEx – Fast Talker (1981, A&G)

John Moschitta’s rare talent for machine-gun speech earned him the nickname “Motormouth,” a Clio Award (for the FedEx spot), and a Guinness World Record for World’s Fastest Talker. At 583 words a minute, he was able to drop syllables five times as fast as the average person.

12. Sony – Balls (2005, Fallon London)

Sony wanted to celebrate colour to promote their new high-definition LCD televisions. The shoot took three days and 50 broom-wielding students on roller skates to clear the balls at the end of each take.

13. Comparethemarket – Compare the Meerkat (2009, VCCP)

This advert series made comparethemarket.com the fourth most visited insurance website in the UK.

14. Dove – Real Beauty (2004, Ogilvy Chicago)

A commercial loved for its lack of product focus, Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ spotlights women of all shapes and sizes.

15. VW – Think Small (1959, DDB New York)

In an era where glossy ads of big, fancy cars dominated, Volkswagen took the exact opposite approach with this print add: they kept it minimal and subverted expectations.

16. Yellow Pages – JR Hartley (1983, AMV BBDO)

Yellow Pages changed its brand positioning with the launch of this 1983 ad, shifting from something people only turn to in an emergency to a helping hand for the nicer things in life.

17. American Tourister – Gorilla (1971, DDB New York)

A love letter to luggage abusers turns out to be a very convincing product demo for American Tourister.

18. Hovis – Boy on Bike (1973, CDP)

Nostalgia-laden scenes of cobbled streets with brass-band backing make this one of the most iconic ads ever made.

19. Tango – Orange Man (1991, HCL)

Tango’s Orange Man went so thoroughly viral, it had to banned after numerous reports of children being hurt in the playground.

20. Energizer – Bunny (1989, Chiat l Day)

Named one of advertising’s top icons, the Bunny has appeared in over 115 spots in English and Spanish with new commercials debuting twice a year on average.

These adverts are key milestones in the foundation of advertising. They defined early pop culture, became part of childhoods and nowadays they give us a nostalgia of times past. Let’s let them pave the way for new ideas.

Find out more about ‘The World Cup of Ads’ and see a few other ‘best ofs’ here.