Are These Really The World’s 18 Best Commercials?

Business Insider thinks that “choosing the...best ads of 2012 is a tough task” because “the line between ‘the great’ and ‘the absolute best’ is thin indeed.”

Maybe.

But when you look at their picks for the world’s ten best and eight runners-up, it may strikes you that most didn’t come anywhere near that line, much less cross it.

Because while most are rich in production values and dramatic, often computer-generated, special effects, they’re for the most part weak on ideas and message. All too many are of the all-too-familiar all-windup-and-no-pitch school, where a long – in one case over three-minute-long – setup leads to a one-line message that may or may not have anything to do with it.

Others use cinematic parodies, sometimes with good effect, sometimes not.

Three of the ten best (two deservedly so) came from one advertising agency – Wieden + Kennedy from Portland, OR.

But most of these commercials didn’t air in the United States, and some of those that were online still had limited exposure here, so you may enjoy seeing them for the first time.

And now, the winners:

#18 – Andes Beer: “A Singular Man,” Del Campo Nazca Saatchi There’s not much we can say about this commercial, since it’s been taken down from YouTube. Sorry about that.

#17 – Axe: “Susan Glenn,” BBH New York This is one of those long-windup spots, but at least that has a little something to do with the pitch. A man’s voice-over reminisces about Susan Glenn, the girl he fell in love with in high school but never got up the courage to even talk to. Video shows her in high school scenes, including some which literally depict the narrator’s florid fantasies, such as “the earthquake beneath my feet” whenever she was there. At the 53-second mark of this 60-second spot, a camera reveals the narrator, Kiefer Sutherland, before his bathroom mirror. “If I could do it again,” his voice-over continues, “I’d do it differently.” As he exits the bathroom, a product shot of Axe deodorant is supered on screen, along with “FEAR NO Susan Glenn.”

#16 – Wideroe Airline: “Grandpa’s Magic Trick,” McCann Oslo A young boy begs his grandfather  to please do his magic trick one more time. After stalling and stalling as the boy grows more beseeching, Grandpa reacts to something, cups his hands, blows into them, and an airplane in the distant sky appears to be flying out of his hand. (The kid must live in televisionland, which isn’t 3D.) The message: Wideroe is all over Norway. When you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it enough.

#15 – Hornbach: “Festival,” Frujahrskampagne After a man building a wooden house in the woods misses hitting a nail twice, we go to slow motion closeup of the hammer in his third attempt, intercut with a deer in the forest looking up, a cherub in the sky fluttering its wings in nervousness, an anxious crowd looking up from below the man (whose under-construction deck is now some sort of platform), a closeup of the hammer nailing the nailhead, and crowd cheers. If I spoke German, I’d know what the tag line, “Keiner spurt es so wie Du,” has to do with the rest of the 40 seconds proceeding it, but I suspect it’s not much if the other picks are any guide.

#14 – Louis Vuitton: “L’Invitation au Voyage” A woman leaves her apartment and walks, slow-motion, through the street, through the Louvre, unlocks a trunk, picks up a Vuitton purse, and heads for the courtyard, where a hot-air balloon is waiting. She gets into it and takes off, leaving some guy who was stalking her in the Louvre behind. Very pretty, but looks aren’t everything.

#13 – Heineken: “UEFA Chamnpionship League Trophy Tour 2012,” TBWA Amsterdam They rigged a room in an Amerstdam hotel with hidden cameras so they could show reaction shots of soccer fans who check in and discover the actual, full-size trophy from this soccer championship in it. The point? Heineken sponsors this championship series.

#12 – Carlton Draught: “Beer Chase,” Clemenger BBDO This Australian :90 replicates all the cliches of a Los Angeles cops-and-robbers car chase, except that both the robbers and the cops are on foot, while trying very hard not to spill their glasses of Carlton Beer – which, as the tag line tells us, is Made from Beer.

#11 – Expedia: “Find Your Understanding” For over three minutes, a father explains, both on-camera and in voice-over with B-roll, how he came to terms with his daughter’s lesbian marriage. Three minutes and four seconds into this monologue, we see a supered “Find your understanding,” which dissolves four seconds later into the Expedia logo and “Find yours.” Funny, I though Expedia helped you find cheap airline tickets.

#10 – Cartier: “L’Odysee de Cartier A three-and-a-half-minute fantasy with computer effects in which a jeweled leopard comes to life in a Cartier window, follows a horse-drawn sleigh along a frozen-over river that looks like the Neva in St. Petersburg, crosses mountains to the Great Wall of China (meeting a dragon on the way), then goes to India, where it jumps on an antique biplane flown by a man wearing a Cartier watch, then jumps off in Paris and proceeds to nuzzle an elegant woman wearing an elegant Cartier bracelet in her elegant living room. They literally go to great lengths to fit in three product shots. But some art director got a great trip out of it.

#9 – Samsung: “The Next Big Thing is Already Here,” 72andSunny Takes 90 seconds to say that the best reason to buy a Samsung Galaxy S III smart phone is that you don’t have to wait in line for hours to buy one.

#8 – Old Milwaukee: “Will Ferrell Super Bowl Ad,” Funny or Die This :30 ran during Super Bowl time, but on local stations instead of the game broadcast itself. Over portentous music reminiscent of Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” Ferrel strides towards the locked-down camera across a field of flowers. At 25 seconds, he catches a can of Old Milwaukee Beer tossed from off camera, pulls the tab, holds up the can, and says, “Old Milw…” before the commercial ends and cuts him off. This attracted 554,000 free views on YouTube.

#7 – Chrysler: “Halftime in America,” Wieden + Kennedy Stars Clint Eastwood without the empty chair. When I saw this two-minute spot on this year’s Super Bowl, I thought it was not so much a commercial for Chrysler as a ripoff of the previous Super Bowl’s GM Eminem spot and a polemic for what was then a major Chrysler stockholder, the United States government. Looking at it again, I still do.

#6 – Procter & Gamble: “Best Job,” Weiden + Kennedy This was an amazing commercial – all the more so because (1) it comes from an advertisers best known for its history of mediocre commercials, (2) it comes from the same agency that produced the Chrysler polemic above, and (3) it relies not on special effects, not on movie ripoffs, not on lame puns, but on standing out by starring its audience instead of itself. On July 17, we wrote, “At a time when television screens are inundated with spots showing athletes doing their thing and glorifying their brands’ roles in making that possible; when the air waves are filled with sanctimonious ads lecturing about such highfalutin’ subjects as Diversity, Physical Activity and Health; when every advertiser is a ‘proud sponsor of the 2012 Olympics'; P&G’s ad campaign is doing something completely different — connecting with its target audience” – by glorifying the mothers behind the athletes (who, incidentally, buy P&G products).

#5 – TNT: “A Dramatic Surprise on a Quiet Square,” Duval Guillaume, Belgium This 70-second video combines two of the techniques used in other commercials listed here – hidden cameras and movie cliche parodies – but with a difference. Here it’s related to advancing TNT’s main sales point: We Know Drama. They set up a button labeled, “Push To Add Drama,” waited for someone to push it, then staged dramatic scenes right out of action movies, intercut to real people’s reactions, and finally unfurled a banner reading,  “Your Daily Dose of Drama,” along with the hours TNT was on local television.

#4 – Water is Life: “First World Problems Anthem,” DDB New York This is one of two commercials in these rankings to use the technique of having people say out-of-character things. In this :60, we see Africans of all ages, living in very obvious poverty, delivering spoiled affluent American complaints to the camera, including, “I hate when my leather seats aren’t heated,” “I hate it when my house is so big I need two wireless routers,” and “When I have to write my maid a check but forget her last name.” Titles starting 49 seconds in tell viewers, “#FirstWorldProblems Are Not Problems” and to “Donate to help bring clean water to those in need.” Take a minute to watch it – and maybe another to cut an online check.

#3 – Nike: “Jogger,” Weiden + Kennedy Part of an ambush campaign that ran during the summer Olymics but not on the Olympics broadcast. In contrast to glorifying big-time athletes, it glorified ordinary people who pushed themselves to “Find Your Greatness.” This particular execution is a continuous take of an obese pre-teen forcing himself to run down a London (Ohio, not England) road.

#2 – National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children: “The $#*! Kids Say, Inferno, London Uses the well-worn technique of putting adult words into children’s mouths, with actions to match. In this case, it’s abused or neglected children, imitating their parents at their worst. Not particularly original, especially for an anti-child-abuse organization, but at least it’s pretty well done.

#1 – The Guardian: “Three Little Pigs,” BBH London Modern-day dramatization of the fairy tale showing how modern fact-checking and online commenting uncover the real story, giving you,  as the closing super says, “the whole picture,” from the Guardian’s web, print, tablet and mobile versions. The spot won a Gold Lion at Cannes, which didn’t hurt its ranking here.

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