The things that we find entertaining are always subjective. The music that moves us, the films and television shows that either make us laugh, cry or even burst out in anger; our reaction to such things is always a matter of taste and opinion. The same can also be said about the commercials we laugh at and find engaging. Maybe we enjoy the commercial enough to buy the product it advertises, or, conversely, maybe we hate the commercial enough to avoid the product advertised altogether. Or maybe some of us are impervious to advertising and simply view commercials with an eye for entertainment, seeing them as mini films or vignettes made merely for entertainment value and nothing more. With that in mind, and the fact that again, what we find entertaining is subjective, here are ten of the funniest, weirdest, most creative and ultimately, best commercials of all time to this writer’s eyes.
10. Volvo’s Epic Split
Jean-Claude Van Damme proved he is a certified ass kicker in his ’80s action films where he displayed his martial arts prowess. In 2013 Van Damme proved once again that he still has it when the 53-year-old Belgian actor took part in a Volvo truck commercial. Set to a soundtrack consisting of Enya’s “Only Time,” the commercial starts with a close up of the actor as he explains that his body is crafted to perfection, able to perform the most epic of splits. The camera then pans out to reveal Van Damme has one leg on one Volvo truck driving in reverse, his other leg on another Volvo truck driving in the same direction. The trucks then pull away from each other, all the while Van Damme maintains his balance on the trucks and ultimately ends up, as promised, performing the most epic of splits.
9. Cadbury’s Techno Eyebrows
This commercial most definitely falls into the weird category, and yet, it is impossible to look away. First aired in 2009 to promote Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate bar, the commercial sees two decidedly nerdy children, a boy and a girl, sitting in front of a photographer’s back drop ostensibly to get their portrait taken. When the photographer exits the room to answer the telephone, the boy taps a button on his watch, which prompts a techno song to begin playing. The children move their eyebrows to the beat of the music, periodically moving their heads at different angles as the camera follows in close up. The commercial’s crowning moment is when the young girl begins to release air from a pink balloon, playing it like a turntable mimicking the scratching of the soundtrack. A weird commercial indeed, but a potentially genius one too.
8. Ray Lewis’ Old Spice Swagger
Retired NFL superstar Ray Lewis may very well be the greatest linebacker to ever play football. As such, Lewis had plenty of swagger on the field. Old Spice clearly realized Lewis’s presence, and despite a series of highly successful Old Spice commercials with actor Isaiah Mustafa entitled The Man Your Man Could Smell Like prior to the Baltimore Ravens legend’s involvement, the brand of male grooming products struck an endorsement deal with the NFL in 2010 and went straight to Lewis to peddle their brand. While plenty of the Mustafa commercials have made various best and funniest commercial lists, as stated before, what we find entertaining is subjective, and as a football fan there’s nothing like seeing Ray Lewis ride on a mystical raven, have a conversation with a bear, or rip out his own heart to reveal Old Spice resides in his chest.
7. Budweiser Asks, “Whassup?”
Needing no introduction, this infamous commercial has gone from entertaining to annoying over the past 15 years, but when it first hit the airwaves on Monday Night Football in 1999 it was a stroke of genius. The campaign was so successful that the phrase “whassup?” became a pop culture phenomenon for a period of time and was parodied by numerous films, television shows and comedians all over the world. Based on a short film by Charles Stone, director of the film Drumline, who also directed the commercials, the campaign won numerous awards and was resurrected in 2008 independent of Budweiser as a viral anti George Bush, pro Barack Obama campaign. While the catchphrase has certainly come along way from its Budweiser origins, it will forever be known as the beginning of a cultural phenomenon that transcended mere advertising.
6. John West Foods’ Bear Fight
John West is a food company from the UK that specializes in canned fish. More recently, they have been noted for their ad campaigns. In fact, the company’s 2000 commercial involving a John West fisherman and a bear getting into a fight over wild salmon was voted the funniest commercial of all by numerous media outlets, and it is quite funny. As the camera observes bears at the edge of a river hunting for fish, you would think it was a wild life commercial, that is until a John West fisherman enters the frame, charging towards the bear in an attempt to snatch the fresh fish from the animal’s paws. Naturally, an all out brawl ensues, including a fistfight, and a few well placed karate kicks from the bear. As the situation begins to look dire for the fisherman, he manages to distract the bear, and proceeds to kick the bear where the sun don’t shine, landing the fisherman the prized fish and leaving the bear lying on the ground howling in pain. The commercial ends with the tagline “John West endure the worst to bring you the best.” The commercial won numerous awards and has been viewed nearly half a billion times online.
5. Apple’s 1984
The commercial that started it all for Apple, “1984” introduced the Macintosh personal computer to the public. The minute long TV spot aired in very limited numbers in late 1983, before airing during the Super Bowl in January of 1984. Adding further clout to Apple’s watershed moment was the involvement of legendary director Ridley Scott, hot on the heals of Blade Runner. The commercial is very closely based on Gerorge Orwell’s novel 1984, portraying a dystopian future run by the police and overseen by a televised “Big Brother” type character speaking to assembled masses. The scenes with the police and “Big Brother” are all filmed in greyish blue colors, juxtaposed with color footage following a female heroine, dressed like a track athlete, wearing a shirt with the new computer emblazoned on it, while carrying a sledge hammer. Soon the runner reaches the screen upon which “Big Brother” is speaking, and she throws the hammer towards the TV, shattering it. The phrase: “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like “1984.” The commercial was controversial initially as many Apple board members did not like it at all, and George Orwell’s estate actually attempted to sue the company for copyright infringement. Though the ad was met with mixed reception at the time, 30 years later it is regarded as a milestone.
4. Everything You Touch Turns to Skittles
Skittles has reinvented its brand as something that is cool again in large part thanks to their recent ad campaign. The latest Skittle commercials are slapstick, a little weird, and most often quite funny. The “Everything You Touch Turns to Skittles” commercial from 2011 is this writer’s favorite of the recent Skittles ads. In it, an office worker, Tim, who has the ability to turn anything into Skittles with his hands, is seen staring sadly at his hands when he is implored by a co-worker to show a young man his magic. The man with the confectionary hands first grabs a stapler and laments, “Is it awesome when you can’t hold your newborn baby in your hands?” He follows it up by retelling a tale how he shook a man’s hand on the bus that day; the man will never see his family again. As his phone rings, he attempts to answer it, and it of course turns to Skittles. Frustrated, Tim bangs his fists on his desk and the desk collapses into a torrent of Skittles. The slogan “touch the rainbow, taste the rainbow” frames a bag of Skittles to close out the fantastic commercial.
3. The Visa Monkey
Can’t go wrong with this ad. The credit card commercial shows a man at the zoo, and while leaning over a ledge to photograph the monkeys, he drops his wallet. As the music moves from suspenseful to heart-warming, one of the monkeys runs down from his tree and grabs the man’s wallet, climbs up another tree towards the man, and in a pure Disney moment returns the wallet to its owner, while the other monkeys cheer and nod their heads in approval. The man holds his wallet in his hands with a touched look on his face as the monkey returns to his group, looking back longingly at the man a final time. Once back in his tree, and after the incredulous man has walked a way, the monkey produces a mischievous smile and the man’s Visa card, revealing to his brethren that he stole it, as the slogan “Visa is all you need” appears on the screen.
2. The Bud Light Vikings
We’ve all had obligations we’ve committed to that we really wish we hadn’t, maybe a party, an appointment, or maybe even a spouse’s family reunion. Previously, we’d forego watching the game and instead grin and bear our obligations, feign a smile and pretend we had a good time. That is until Bud Light solved our dilemma. In one of the funniest commercials in recent memory, a man who doesn’t want to cancel his day with his buddies to go to his wife’s family reunion discovers Bud Light has a new service to help. All you have to do is call them and give them the date, time and address of the event and Bud Light will send a band of marauding Vikings to break up the party, thus cancelling the obligation and leaving the day open for football. The deadpan way the man responds “damn Vikings” after his wife informs him of the cancellation, and the cause, is priceless.
1. The Discovery Channel Loves the Whole World
Maybe a little saccharine, but nonetheless touching and at times awe-inspiring, the Discovery Channel’s love of the world is at least a little infectious. Promoting the taglines “I love the world” and “the world is just awesome” in 2008 and 2009, the channel created a series of ads that rewrote the lyrics of the traditional song “I Love the World”, and added the refrain of “boom-de-yah-da” to the chorus. While various hosts from Discovery Channel programs sing the song, striking images of the earth, as well as the TV personalities in their natural environment are shown on the screen. Massive resources went into the ad campaign, with the Discovery Channel going so far to produce multiple versions of both the 2008 and 2009 commercials, and long and short versions for both the U.S. and Canadian markets. While the song gets a little annoying after some time, the visuals on display are worth it alone, making one more curious about the programs on the channel they may be unaware of, and more importantly, adding a sense of wonder and pride for the planet we inhabit. With the amount of negativity going on in the world daily, this commercial is a pleasant reminder of the beauty in the world.