The 30 Freakiest Ads of 2010 Clowns to human socks, drivable butts to domestic violence
Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco
Click to view. Walmart's "Clown" spot from Publicis & Hal Riney was such a departure from the retail giant's usual image that it bordered on weird self-mockery. It connected something everyone should hate (i.e., Walmart) with something they already hate (i.e., clowns). The setup is innocuous enough, but the guy's scream (after he impales his foot on a plastic unicorn) goes on so long, it becomes uncomfortable—even menacing. The wife reacts nonchalantly, and the chirpy Walmart music tries to lighten the mood. But don't kid yourself—Daddy's got issues. The children were smart to hightail it out of there before the sad clown really loses it.
TBWA\Chiat\Day, New York
Click to view. This second, and freakier, Skittles spot on our list (along with the "Plant" ad at No. 18) heralded the arrival of Fruit Fizzl'd Skittles, which make your tongue snap, crackle and pop. To promote the candies, TBWA\Chiat\Day introduced an elderly couple who are intent on sparking up their taste buds. The wife simply eats Fruit Fizzl'd Skittles. The husband, making things more complicated than they need to be, prefers to have a giant tube-sock slave pad around the house and zap him in the tongue with the static electricity. As ad characters go, Tube Sock is a truly sad bastard—a faceless, hulking mass of servitude, with one leg inexplicably thicker than the other, doomed to unquestioningly perform his senile master's bidding. The kids, of course, loved him. The spot was directed by Ulf Johansson, who will show up again below with another spot in the top 10.
Young & Rubicam, Frankfurt, Germany
Click to view. One of the most striking PSAs of the year, this spot from Y&R in Germany (and director Titus Twister) tackled the problem of women falling down stairs. Or more to the point, women not falling down stairs. According to Osocio, everyone involved in the production worked for free: the stunt women, the actors, the 2-D and 3-D animators, the musicians and color graders. Also, the music was an original composition created specifically for the spot. Perhaps most remarkably, it was only the second-best domestic-violence spot of the year produced by the Y&R network.
Director: Daniel Cox, Sussex, England
Click to view. This one might be a stretch, but we're including it anyway—the Sussex Safer Roads Partnership's famous plea for seatbelt use. Many safe-driving PSAs are freaky because of all the blood and guts. This one's the opposite. It doesn't feature a single mangled body, piercing scream or gut-wrenching sob. It doesn't even feature a car—just a man and his wife and daughter make-believe acting out an accident scene in slow motion in their living room. Yet it's just as emotionally powerful—in fact, more so—than all the gore and mayhem that are the category's stock in trade. No spot has ever connected seatbelts, love and life quite so exquisitely. In that sense, it was the year's freakiest road-safety spot. With more than 12 million views on YouTube as of this writing, it also reached a massive global audience—and was recognized at the U.K.'s Campaign Media Awards in November with the inaugural YouTube Ad of the Year award.
CHI & Partners, London
Click to view. Juice brand Drench brought us one of the year's most puzzling characters: a subway traveler with a Rubik's Cube-like head. The guy is all discombobulated upstairs, and needs to suck down some Drench to solve the mess, as the song "Oops Upside Your Head" by the Gap Band plays. Copy at the end reads, "Brains perform best when they're hydrated. Stay drenched." Two masks were built for the spot—one for the wide shots, with the actor walking down the platform, and a second as a model for the moving cubehead. The actor's facial expressions were then filmed, and superimposed on the mask. Sounds like a real headache! Directed by Ulf Johansson, who also did Skittles' "Tube Sock" spot, at No. 10 on our list.
"Grocery Store Lady"
BBDO, New York
Click to view. Probably the best-known freaky commercial of the year, Snickers' first-ever Halloween spot succeeded greatly in creeping out its audience. A giant, warbly-voiced lady in what looks like a Jocelyn Wildenstein mask approaches a shopper at a grocery store and begins loading her cart with Snickers. Not content to make candy suggestions, the creature also caresses the terrified shopper's face. By the end of the spot, it's revealed that the freaky lady is just two kids playing dress-up. Or is it—more ominously—a boy and his father? Hey, you never know. Mars rep Lauren Nodzak feigned innocence, saying the ad was simply geared toward moms who "want to impress during Halloween and provide the best costumes, candy and hospitality."
"The Daily Routine"
Click to view. The year's most off-putting visual—a guy rubbing a disembodied scrotum all over his face—was served up in this unbelievable video for the True Clean Towel. It's a real product that features the outline of a body printed on it, so you know which part of the towel you should use to dry your face, and which part you should use to dry your groin—and never the twain shall meet. If you fail to keep track, the ad suggests, you will end up rubbing your genitals all over your face. "Know where your towel has been" is the tagline. The towel is available for $19 (or just $15 if you order by Dec. 3). "By working our butts off, we have kept costs down," the creators explain on the Web site. Technically, though, they worked their balls off. The Old Spice guy, arbiter of all things male and bathroom, would not approve.
Santo, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Click to view. A shoe-car hunts down an ass-car in a remote desert, corners it and kicks its ass in this insane video for Diesel sneakers. Then, surprisingly, a love affair ensues. The pair ride off together into the sunset, locked in an obscene embrace, as copy reads: "I feel I wasn't made for running, but to kick you tender till the end of time." There was plenty of assvertising in 2010, and this global Diesel campaign supplied about half of it. Dozens of videos and print ads offered the same basic message: that asses are made for kicking, preferably by Diesel-made footwear.
Del Campo Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Click to view. A man with a baby's head. Or is it a baby with a man's body? Either way, it's disconcerting. This point of this Argentine spot for the PS3 was that gamers should retain their childlike wonder as they grow older—or as the tagline says, "Live in a state of play." Thus, we see our heroic but confused man-baby progressing through life in a literally regressive state, playing with his shaving cream and a female co-worker's earring, giggling at remote-control car locks—but unable to hold back the tears when confronted with a barking dog. He's an emotional wreck, which actually doesn't seem like a very fun way to live. Still, the commercial does have its charms, with the expert special effects endowing the overgrown baby with a freaky quality that's endearing as well.
"It Rarely Stops"
Young & Rubicam, Chicago
Click to view. Bruises and cuts heal on a battered woman's face, only to bloom anew, in this harrowing PSA from @radical.media director Dave Meyers and Y&R in Chicago, depicting the endless cycle of domestic violence. The stark approach evocatively and depressingly illustrates the tagline, "It rarely stops." The bathroom, with its door cracked open and spooky windows, heightens the feeling of unease. So does the dirge-y soundtrack (Emoto's version of Peter Gabriel's "Mercy Street"). It's a quietly sad, sickening, hypnotic experience. So much so that the woman's sudden movement at the end—presumably hearing her abuser return—is exceptionally jarring. But the spot also offers the possibility of freedom from stasis—a hotline number for when it's time to stop hoping and start healing.
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AdFreak is your daily blog of the best and worst of creativity in advertising, media, marketing and design. Follow us as we celebrate (and skewer) the latest, greatest, quirkiest and freakiest commercials, promos, trailers, posters, billboards, logos and package designs around. Edited by Adweek's Tim Nudd. Updated every weekday, with a weekly recap on Saturdays.