1. Volkswagen: The Force
Star Wars fans, especially those who grew up with the original trilogy in the 1970s and ’80s, are generally unkind toward the prequel films depicting the rise of a young Darth Vader.
By contrast, it’s hard not to be charmed by this 2011 commercial featuring a young kid dressed as Darth Vader. While Anakin Skywalker eventually used the Force for evil, this kid just wants to move some household objects around.
If you’re wondering how the Dark Lord of the Sith and a 2012 Passat are connected, just watch until the end.
2. Budweiser: Puppy Love
Companies know that cute puppies can move product — just ask Subaru, for example — but it turns out a little horsepower can also go a long way.
With more than 1.5 million views on YouTube, this 2014 Budweiser ad stars a golden retriever puppy up for adoption on a farm. The little troublemaker keeps escaping its cage to meet up with a new friend: a fully grown Clydesdale.
Their bond is so strong that when the puppy gets adopted, the Clydesdale breaks out of the stable and runs after the car taking his #BestBud away.
This particular duo is new, but the “Budweiser Clydesdales” have been used in promotions since 1933. The original set was a gift to brewing magnate August Anheuser Busch, Sr. to celebrate the end of prohibition.
3. Apple: 1984
Directed by Ridley Scott and based on the George Orwell novel of the same name, “1984” has been called the best commercial ever made and the forerunner of the modern cavalcade of big-budget Super Bowl ads.
The ad depicts a uniform dystopia, as men with shaved heads and identical blue jumpsuits march toward a screen blasting propaganda. The men sit in rows and gaze mindlessly at Big Brother.
A woman in bright red shorts breaks the trance by hurling a sledgehammer at the screen — depicting Apple as the resistance against the dull, gray establishment.
4. Nike: Hare Jordan
Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny made for a surprising duo in this 1992 Nike ad that proved to have lasting appeal.
Four basketball bullies start picking on Bugs, eliciting one of his famous catch phrases: “Of course you know, this means war.” So Bugs grabs his new “Hare Jordans” and calls in one very tall, very skilled friend. The bullies don’t last long against their wacky antics.
If the plot seems familiar, that’s because the ad was indeed the inspiration for the animation-meets-live-action flick “Space Jam,” which is the highest-grossing basketball movie of all time.
5. Pepsi: Diner
The age-old battle between two classic soft drinks was put on pause for a very brief moment in 1995 — not even the length of a one-minute commercial.
Two truck drivers, one for Pepsi and one for Coca-Cola, meet unexpectedly in a diner and start bonding. They each try each other’s drinks, but the blooming friendship breaks down when the Coke driver doesn’t want to give his Pepsi back.
The rivalry dates all the way back to the late 1800s, when Coca-Cola and Pepsi were first invented. PepsiCo eventually branched out into the snack market, but when it comes to their flagship drinks, Pepsi remains the underdog. Coke’s market share for cola dwarfs that of Pepsi.
6. Amazon: Alexa Loses Her Voice
Alexa, Amazon’s virtual assistant, has answered so many questions lately that she loses her voice in this No. 1 favorite from 2018.
As the country begins to panic, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is assured by his staff that the situation is under control.
Ultimately, we learn that Alexa can’t be replaced as would-be stand-ins Gordon Ramsay, Rebel Wilson, Cardi B and Sir Anthony Hopkins all fail spectacularly.
7. Always: Like a Girl
Always, the feminine-hygiene brand, delivered a swift punch to the gut with this ad that exposes the misogyny of insults such as “runs like a girl” or “fights like a girl.” The 2015 commercial says it’s time to redeem that phrase, as girls’ confidence “plummets” during puberty.
The hashtag took off as people shared impressive feats they did #LikeAGirl. Always reported that 94% of survey respondents agreed that the campaign has encouraged girls to be more confident.
With 67 million views on YouTube, the ad took a somewhat taboo topic and sparked a broader conversation that transcends feminine hygiene products.
8. Master Lock: Tough Under Fire
Airing in 1974, this Master Lock ad was simple yet very effective.
The grainy video begins with a sharpshooter aiming at a target. Upon closer inspection, a No. 15 lock is pinned to the bulls-eye. In dramatic slow motion, we see the bullet cut straight through the center of the lock.
Even under fire, we see the No. 15 remains (mostly) intact and locked in place.
This wasn’t the first time the company demonstrated its locks’ strength this way. An earlier ad in 1965 used a handgun but was reportedly shelved after viewers tried to imitate the test at point-blank range.
9. Pepsi: Britney Spears, Beyonce and Pink — We Will Rock You
In this 2004 ad, Pepsi combined a catchy rock song, a gladiatorial ring and three queens of pop (pun intended).
Britney, Beyonce and Pink are set to fight, but once they reach the center of the arena, they start singing “We Will Rock You” by Queen. The crowd loves it, unsettling Roman Emperor Enrique Iglesias and his Pepsi horde.
The commercial reinforces the historical power of music to enact social change, and in the end Pepsi returns to the hands of the masses.
10. Snickers: Betty White
Famous comedian and national treasure Betty White, who turned 98 this year, gets brutally tackled into the mud in this Snickers commercial from 2010.
The “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” campaign shows disgruntled, frustrated people transformed into disgruntled, frustrated celebrities. Only a Snickers bar can satisfy so they can calm down and return to their usual selves.
The campaign won a 2011 Gold Effie, awarded “to spotlight ideas that work and encourage thoughtful dialogue about the drivers of marketing effectiveness.”
11. Doritos: Live The Flavor
In 2006, the Doritos marketing team rejected the idea of holding a contest to let ordinary consumers create a Super Bowl ad. The pitch was considered too risky for such a massive event.
Its supporters persisted, however, and a few months later the pitch for “Crash the Super Bowl” was accepted.
The first amateur ad, Live The Flavor, ran in 2007 and was among the most beloved Super Bowl commercials that year.
12. Old Spice: The Man Your Man Could Smell Like
One of Advertising Age’s best campaigns of the century began with this 2010 ad starring former wide receiver Isaiah Mustafa.
The direct delivery, absurd humor and smooth technical mastery would all become hallmarks of Old Spice commercials to come. The Wieden+Kennedy advertising agency then broke new ground by writing and filming nearly 200 responses to questions on social media.
The Man Your Man Could Smell Like wasn’t just popular; it was effective. In just a few months, sales of Old Spice Red Zone Body Wash doubled.
13. EDS: Cat Herders
You don’t need to be familiar with EDS (Electronic Data Systems) to enjoy this surreal commercial from the year 2000.
A group of cowboys try to herd hundreds of cats as if they were cattle. Each cowpoke gets a moment to reflect on the occupational hazards, but hey — there’s nothing they’d rather do.
The commercial is a nod to the idiom “like herding cats,” referring to an attempt to control the uncontrollable. EDS — an American IT company bought by Hewlett-Packard in 2008 — playfully suggested it could solve such problems.
14. Xerox: Monks
Aired all the way back in 1977 during Super Bowl XI, this ad opens with the unlucky Brother Dominic painstakingly copying a manuscript by hand. The monk does good work — so good he’s tasked with creating 500 more.
Thankfully he has a moment of divine inspiration and goes to photocopy the manuscript instead.
The commercial was so timeless that Xerox released a remake in 2017. The new ad closely mirrors the first, though the new Brother Dominic must also translate the manuscript into 35 languages and share it across the world, showing off the power of Xerox’s new technology.
15. McDonald’s: The Showdown
In 1993, McDonald’s put two of the world’s most famous basketball players together in a head-to-head game of H-O-R-S-E. The only prize big enough for Michael Jordan and Larry Bird: a Big Mac and fries.
McDonald’s is an absolute titan of the fast-food world and only continues to grow. In 1994, the year after this commercial aired, there were 15,899 McDonald’s restaurants in the world. By 2018, that number more than doubled to 37,855.
We’re not saying this ad was a major factor, but we’re lovin’ it all the same.
16. Levi’s: Crazy Legs
Aired in 2002, this commercial tries to show just how lightweight and flexible Levi’s jeans can be.
The camera follows a young man traveling down the street, listening to his headphones, while his legs flail about in a spasmodic dance. The guy definitely has a future at the Ministry of Silly Walks.
The first denim blue jeans were created by Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss in 1873 for hardworking laborers in need of durable clothing. Now, at over 160 years old, Levi’s has become one of the best known denim brands in the world and almost everyone has a pair of jeans in their closet.
17. Clash of Clans: Liam Neeson
Liam Neeson may be known for his particular set of skills, but he still gets bested by a guy named BigBuffetBoy85 in this 2015 ad.
Clash of Clans is a wildly popular mobile game, raking in millions each week even several years after release. The game tasks the player with building a town using resources earned in raids on other players.
This ad, in which Neeson declares he will seek revenge for the destruction of his town, is a riff on a famous scene in the action movie “Taken.”
Watch your back, BigBuffetBoy85.
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