Top 13 TV Commercials of All Time

While the rise of the digital age is altering the marketing landscape, television commercials are still the undisputed king of advertising.  With 99% of U.S. household having a least one television and an ever-increasing amount of channels and shows, television is an integral part of American culture and life.  With television come the television commercials – an opportunity for businesses and corporations to promote their product to millions of households.  No other medium allows for higher exposure, creation of brand recognition, and most importantly, sales.

Commercials have become part of the fabric of America – a source of conversation, culture, and common experience.  Holiday, back to school, and Super Bowl commercials are almost as memorable as the shows they interrupt.  Often Super Bowl commercials are more anticipated than the football game.  Super Bowl winners and losers are quickly forgotten, but the commercials stay with viewers.  Advertisers and television companies certainly understand the effectiveness of commercials, and the cost has risen accordingly.   Throughout Super Bowl history the cost of a 30 second ad spot has risen from $42,000 to over $3.5 million. Savvy advertisers create commercials that are funny, motivational, moving, and trendsetting.  The best of the best become part of the American consciousness and the television experience.

The following list includes the top commercials of all time; ones that did more than promote a product, but transcended into pop culture.

#1 – Apple: 1984 Commercial

This iconic and Ridley Scott directed ad is one of the most well-known commercials of all time.  Airing during half time of the 1984 Super Bowl, the commercial promoted the introduction of the Apple Macintosh.  With huge production value and memorable images, this commercial was a catalyst for the development of more creative and powerful Super Bowl commercials.  The ad effectively communicated the rebellious and original spirit of Apple designers, helping to create brand and ideology recognition.

#2 – Coca-Cola Classic ad: Mean Joe Green

This classic 1979 Coca-Cola ad makes the list for its ultimate appeal to our emotions.  Featuring defensive line football star and four-time Super Bowl champ Mean Joe Green, the commercial resonates because of the interaction between a tough football player and a young boy. The boy offers Joe Green his Coke, expecting nothing in return.  The commercial warms the heart when Joe Green shows his appreciation and gives the boy his jersey in return for soda.  With this commercial Coca-Cola sends the message that their product brings people together and makes you smile.

#3 – Xerox: Monks TV Commercial

This award-winning 1977 Xerox commercial was so successful that five additional installments were made. Clever and witty, the commercial’s premise is a medieval monk who needs to make multiple copies of a manuscript. Rather than copying by hand, the monk jumps to a Xerox representative who quickly makes his duplicates. With the humorous and tongue-in-cheek tagline of “It’s a Miracle…” this commercial became a template for many future ads.

#4 – McDonalds: Larry Bird vs. Michael Jordan

This classic 1993 McDonald’s commercial made use of basketball superstars Michael Jordan and Larry Bird.  With Bird challenging Jordon to a shoot-off, all for the prize of a Big Mac, McDonald’s created such an iconic commercial that it in 2010 it was remade with LeBron James and Dwight Howard.  Filled with humor, good will, and general appeal, this commercial establishes McDonald’s as an American institution, and their product as something worth competing for.

#5 – Budweiser: Frogs Commercial

Originally airing in 1995, this hugely popular Budweiser commercial often appears on “Best Commercials Ever” lists.  The premise couldn’t be more uncomplicated – just three frogs in a swamp that croak “bud” “wei” and “ser.”  Simple and straightforward, this commercial transcended “ad” status and became part of popular culture.  Endlessly talked about and mimicked, in a world before Facebook and Twitter, this commercial became and international sensation.  Its reach was so extensive that the ad was spoofed on numerous television shows, including MadTV and The Simpsons.

#6 – Monster: When I Grow Up

While humorously comparing the innocent goals and aspirations we set for ourselves as children versus the realities of the modern workplace, this sarcastic yet poignant Monster.com ad claims, “there is a better job out there.” Funny, thought provoking, and possibly career-enhancing all at the same time, this ad contains a call to action that encourages self-reflection. An ad that plays on emotions and the naivety of youth, this 1999 commercial provided massive exposure for Monster.com.

#7 – Budweiser: “Wassup?”

In 1999 Budweiser hit another homerun with their “Wassup?” advertising campaign.  Another simple concept commercial, this ad blew up and created a pop culture sensation and catch phrase.  Spawning a continuing commercial series and famous parodies, included one in the Scream movie series, this Budweiser commercial became a hugely successful international campaign.  Budweiser was able to catch lighting in a bottle once again with this memorable commercial.

#8 – ETrade: Wasted $2 Million

ETrade’s 2000 Super Bowl commercial makes the list for its humor and sass.  Highlighting the increasing cost of Super Bowl ads and the lack of content within the ads, ETrade’s commercial features a dancing monkey and the famous tagline of, “well, we just wasted 2 million bucks.”  While being satirical and funny, ETrade also cleverly promoted their business of money management. It is a brilliant commercial that combines social commentary, simple humor, and product placement.

#9 – Budweiser: Football

For their third appearance on our list, Budweiser’s 1996 Super Bowl campaign commercial “Football” features horses playing an intense game. Capturing a sense of grandeur, beauty, and humor, this timeless commercial became in instant hit. Cleverly blending a tone of comedy and poignancy, this high production value ad lent a sense of importance and dignity to both football and Budweiser.

#10 – Reebok: Terry Tate’s Office Linebacker

Funny, intense, and with a great football tie in, Reebok’s 2002-2003 commercial series featuring Terry Tate was one of the most successful Super Bowl campaigns of all time.  While the commercial only aired once of broadcast television, the series of Terry Tate commercials were downloaded over 7 million times from Reebok’s website.  The commercial is made relatable by cleverly bringing the football star into a recognizable office environment.  Blending the violence of football with the mundane activities of an office, this commercial captured attention and became part of Super Bowl commercial history.

#11 – Nike: Take it to the Next Level

This powerful first-person perspective commercial puts the viewer right in the game. Directed by Guy Ritchie, and released in 2008 for the European Championship football series, this Nike commercial is immersive, emotional, and inspirational. Perfectly conveying the Nike motto of “just do it!” this advertisement is active and physical, sending the message that anyone can join right in.  The fast-paced movie style action creates excitement and expertly sells the Nike brand.

#12 – Old Spice: Your Man Could Smell Like Me

Clever, funny, and hip, this 2010 Super Bowl commercial revamped Old Spice’s public image and became an instant pop-culture phenomenon. Targeting both men and women, the mass appeal of this commercial helped contribute to its wide spread success. Its popularity led to a series of related advertisements and the resurgence of Old Spice products. A great example of humor and out of the box “cool,” this commercial truly appealed to all demographics.

#13 – Nike: Write the Future

Also making our list is Nike’s sequel to their “Take it to the next level” ad.  This three-minute advertisement, directed by famed Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu, was released during the 2010 World Cup Series. A commercial packed with sports super stars, the ad contains an emotional message that centers on the importance and lasting effect of all actions. Fast paced and with a high production value, this glossy commercial serves to highlight the importance of soccer and further the Nike brand.

Even with an ever-changing market place, television and commercials are here to stay.  Advertisers will continue to find funny, poignant, and inspirational way to encourage the public to buy their products.  Commercials are more than just advertising, they have become an art form that has the potential to enlighten, move, and entertain the masses.

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