The 30 Freakiest Ads of 2012

1

30-26

Agency: Fitzroy, Amsterdam

Country: The Netherlands

 

When a commercial is titled "Upskirt," you know it's going to be a sleazy affair. And so it is with this Hyundai spot from Holland, created by the dirtbags at ad agency Fitzroy. There's lots of hot weather, drippy ice cream, perspiring women, and yes, fluttering skirts—as a bunch of overheated ladies get even more worked up by the Hyundai in their midst. The slogan is "New thinking. New possibilities." But of course, this is the oldest auto marketing trick in the book—just taken to extremes.

 

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Agency: Ogilvy & Mather, Paris

Country: France

 

Oh look, more sweaty people. An oppressive heat wave is enveloping Earth in this fantastical Perrier spot, directed by Swedish music-video director Johan Renck. Who can save humanity? A beautiful model in a futuristic gold space suit, of course! How? By climbing into a translucent orb and shooting off into space to tackle the source of the problem! With a anxious world watching, our heroine arrives at the sun, intending to douse it with Perrier, but she's so parched that she drinks the whole bottle herself. But wait, no. All it takes to cool the sweltering star is a single leftover drop flicked from the woman's lips. Perrier: So refreshing, it can solve global warming.

 

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Agency: Mother, New York

Country: U.S.

 

Relentless, angry, piercing screams aren't generally the best way to endear people to your brand. And indeed, plenty of people had issues with this dystopian JCPenney TV spot in which customers screamed in horror at the chaos of retail shopping and the endless vagaries of sales and promotions. The point? JCPenney was lowering prices across the board, and ending its weekly sales advertised in Sunday newspapers. Many viewers just wanted the screaming to end. "This is the worst ad of all time," wrote one woman in an official complaint. "Stop it immediately!" Say what you will, but people took notice of the spot—for the right reasons or not.

 

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Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore.

Country: U.S.

 

Terry Crews has been perfecting the role of amped-up spokesfreak for Old Spice for years. This year, he added an extra element of surprise by crashing a pair of commercials for Procter & Gamble sister brands Charmin and Bounce—delivering an ear-splitting pitch for Old Spice body spray. "It's so powerful, it sells itself in other people's commercials!!!" he screams after driving his jet ski through the wall of a suburban mom's home and into her laundry room. She tries to respond, but his twitching pecs silence her. For an exit, he smashes through the ceiling. Easy come, easy go.

 

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Director: David Lynch

Country: U.S.

 

Hollywood auteur David Lynch, a renowned coffee hound (he used to throw back 20 cups of instant per day), recently developed his own line of coffee. And, no surprise here, he's been making strange and disturbing ads for it. Last year, we had the super-creepy spot in which Lynch made breathy small talk with a clenched Barbie head. He followed that up this year with a more shadowy spot—with ominous sound effects, brief flashes of light illuminating scenes of the coffee-making process, and shots of dusty espresso powder, dripping brown liquid, and a woman with blood-red nails drinking from a mug. "Oh yeah," a distant female voice echoes. To which one can only reply, "Oh no."

 

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2

25-21

Agency: JWT, Melbourne

Country: Australia

 

Killing cute creatures is an odd advertising plot choice. Yet Ford Australia went there anyway with this weird "Cane Toad Road" spot for the Ford Falcon and its six-cylinder EcoBoost engine. Cane toads may be a dangerous, feral, much-disliked species in Australia. Still, we get to know a pair of them quite well in this 90-second spot. And while they're not exactly sympathetic characters—one of them spends much of the time licking his own toxic secretions—you sort of end up liking them. So, when one of the toads is mercilessly run over, it's an awkward moment. Not everyone took it well. "Fuck ford cars for killing Raphie," reads the top comment on YouTube.

 

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Agency: DDB, Amsterdam

Country: The Netherlands

 

Three words: quivering butt cheeks. This whole Dutch insurance commercial is pretty quirky. But it's the moment right around the 0:12 mark, when the suave speedboat driver quakes in his red Speedos, that takes it to another realm. Even the guy's date is suddenly horrified, perhaps wondering if she should jump overboard. She needn't worry—she'll be in the water soon enough. The spot, which has a nice unexpected ending, carries the longtime tagline "Just call Apeldoorn," which is the Dutch city where Centraal Beheer is based.

 

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Agency: Barton F. Graf 9000, New York

Country: U.S.

 

It's a bizarre premise for a pasta-sauce ad: A boy walks in on his parents having sex in the afternoon, then needs a hearty meal as fuel to begin the arduous mental work of burying the traumatic images as far from his conscious mind as possible. The spot for the Unilever brand caused a stir during the Olympics, and was part of a larger campaign about the difficulties of being a kid. The tagline: "A long day of childhood calls for America's favorite pasta sauce."

 

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Agency: George Patterson Y&R, Sydney

Country: Australia

 

It's hard not to get sucked in by this strange LG commercial—much like the plus-size model it features, whose flesh is disturbingly pulled trim and taut by the impressive suction power of a Kompressor vacuum cleaner. The sound effect of her body returning to normal after the shoot, when the Kompressor is turned off, can only be described as gross as hell. Yet almost 2 million people sat rapt in front of the YouTube video. Thankfully, comments were disabled.

 

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Agency: Heimat, Berlin

Country: Germany

 

Hornbach, a German home-improvement chain, has done a slew of weird commercials over the years. Most notable was "The Infinite House" from 2010—nine of the most sublimely odd minutes in advertising. "Festival," a surreal, cinematic 45-second spot from this year, upholds the client's quirky traditions nicely. We get fluttering, laughing cherubs; creepy gazing deer; and a whole festival of fans ready to cheer a do-it-yourselfer's perfect hammering of a nail into a deck. Great slow-motion visuals and evocative sound design capture that quiet, euphoric feeling of doing one's own home projects. Now, our hero just needs to repeat the epic process a few hundred more times, and the deck will be done.

 

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3

20-16

Agency: McCann, Melbourne

Country: Australia

 

Who would've thought 32 million people (and counting) would want to watch a music video depicting dozens of grisly, accidental deaths? Luckily, McCann Melbourne wrapped the horror in a tasty candy shell with a catchy nougat center. What can we say that hasn't already been said about this viral megahit? It's the most successful PSA in memory—a charming, hilarious and freaky ode to train safety, sung by the most adorable blobs on the wrong side of the tracks.

 

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Directors: Rhett & Link

Country: U.S.

 

Rhett & Link, adland's most esteemed schlockmeisters, deliver nutty local commercials year after year. This year, they achieved an artistic high point with their magical spot for SleepBetter.org. But this faux anti-drug PSA for a roller-skating rink in Reno, Nevada, takes the prize for pure comedy. The kids' testimonials alone are worth the price of entry. "Prison is full of people that have never roller skated," says one. Twins proclaim, "Because we roller skate today, we'll go to college tomorrow." The rest of the cast is crazier than a sack of weasels, including chubby Roller Kingdom owner Brad as a kidnapper, rink DJ Julio as a jivey drug dealer, and skate instructor George as the most wrinkled street-gang leader of all time. When you're ready to give up the crack pipe, you'll know where to lace up your skates.

 

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Agency: CHI & Partners, London

Country: U.K.

 

When you're shopping for groceries, it's a good idea to open the egg carton and check the eggs—just in case they've banded together to form a tiny choir singing songs to the tune of the Welsh standard "Men of Harlech." That's an indication they've gone off. With this spot, the advertiser—Internet grocery shopping and comparison website mySupermarket—said it wanted to "capture people's imaginations … in a witty, charming and memorable way." Well, it is memorable. Singing food is something of a tradition on this list—among the edible crooners of yore was everyone's favorite barbershop-quartet pizza slice, brought to you by Tabasco.

 

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Agency: LatinWorks, Austin, Texas

Country: U.S.

 

Best performance by a fetus in advertising this year goes to the unborn child in this off-kilter commercial for music magazine Marvin. The multi-spot campaign explored the potential risks of exposing one's baby to certain types of music while in the womb. "The sound is so crude, but intense at the same time," the remarkably verbal pre-infant thinks to himself while being exposed to Nirvana. "The lyrics are full of genuine pain, and the voice brutally honest. I love it." The creature starts air guitaring in the amniotic fluid, then adds this portentous final thought: "I can't wait to see them live." Unless the kid is a Paul McCartney fan too, that ain't going to happen.

 

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Agency: Armando Testa, Milan

Country: Italy

 

You asked for tons of jiggly man flesh, you got tons of jiggly man flesh. (OK, you didn't ask for it, but here it is anyway.) This NSFW spot from Italy is doubly obnoxious. Not only does it show an enormous fat naked man from almost all angles (visuals rivaled this year only by the famous "Dads in Briefs" campaign for BGH air conditioners), but the product pitch at the end, for a potting soil called Vigor, is a twist of sorts—and will tempt you, against your better judgment, to go back and watch the whole thing again. Actually, it's best not to watch it at all. Please move along.

 

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4

15-11

Agency: Barton F. Graf 9000, New York

Country: U.S.

 

Barton F. Graf 9000 places a second spot on the list—the only agency to do so—with this Kayak ad (following the Ragú spot at No. 24). The Kayak work is all pretty crazy—the brain-surgery spot was a contender here as well. But this spot was the freakiest, featuring the guy who's had his pupils dilated so he won't miss any travel deals online. His half-dead stare at his wife is creepy in the extreme, made all the more uncomfortable by his sudden noticing of her facial flaws. This guy need to stop pointing fingers and take a good long look in the mirror. A nice long vacation from this ad would be the best deal you could hope for.

 

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Agency: BBH, New York

Country: U.S.

 

Axe threw the world a curveball this year with "Susan Glenn," a stylish, even sophisticated commercial that seemed like a tentative step toward renouncing the brand's misogyny and general moral turpitude. (It even made Adweek's list of the year's 10 best spots.) Degenerates were pleased, then, when Axe followed that up with "Office Love," reaffirming the brand's world view by literally reducing a woman to a headless, walking pair of breasts. Yes, the man was reduced, too—though in a less sexual way—to an unruly tuft of hair, also disembodied and walking around forlornly on stubby little legs. "Hair. It's what girls see first," says the on-screen copy at the end, leaving the corollary theory unspoken. Some brands suggest people are greater than the sum of their parts. To Axe, parts is parts—so they'd better look and smell good.

 

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Agency: DDB, Chicago

Country: U.S.

 

Skittles got a new ad agency this year, DDB, but kept going with the weird commercials. Probably the strangest was this one, in which a girl swaps spit with a tusked sea creature. The walrus turns out to be metaphor for Skittles Riddles, whose colors don't match their flavors. (Don't ask.) The spot enjoyed the dubious distinction of being protested by One Million Moms, who, in addition to not liking gay people, also have precous little patience for human-walrus love.

 

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Agency: Sell! Sell!, London

Country: U.K.

 

Samuel Beckett meets Salvador Dali in this crazy Drambuie ad, featuring various odd and disturbing characters in a surreal and foreboding landscape entirely devoid of logical narrative. The message seems to be that Drambuie is best enjoyed by those trapped in an existential hell—by which they possibly mean all regular heavy drinkers. The solution for viewers is simple: Banish these nightmarish visions with something strong.

 

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Agency: Agency59, Toronto

Country: Canada

 

Zombies are a fairly stale advertising trope, but this Canadian PSA, directed by cult horror auteur Vincenzo Natali, resisted that death rattle and delivered an entertaining three minutes with great special effects, a fun twist and even a short CPR demo. Zombies naturally know CPR, the spot suggested—when their would-be prey suffer heart attacks (not uncommon when faced with the terrifying undead), they have to resuscitate them so all that good food won't go to waste. Extra points for the grim, cinematic look; the greenish color grade, which adds to the sense of rot; and the oozing wounds and glowing eyes. If you collapse amid a pack of zombies, perhaps it's best if you stay dead after all.

 

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5

10-6

Director: Bob Ray

Country: U.S.

 

The year's craziest acting performance in a commercial—was he even acting?—was turned in by Texas lawyer Adam Reposa in this wacky spot wherein he rams his giant Chevrolet into a Chrysler Cirrus, kicks in the window and repeatedly yells, "I AM A LAWYER!!!" He certainly gets the point across, though it's unclear if anyone would trust him as far as they could throw him after watching the ad. The state bar of Texas ruled that the spot couldn't air because it showed "behavior unfitting of a lawyer." Fair point. But it went viral online. And as Reposa explained on the Texas Lawyer Blog, "Now, everyone loves it." The spot is titled "Lawyer, Patriot, Champion." Adam forgot "Lunatic."

 

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Production Company: M2Film

Country: Denmark

 

The most absurdly epic public-transportation ad ever made, this masterpiece from Denmark has it all: awesomely overblown copy, brilliant slow-motion visuals, great oddball characters and fantastic little set pieces—all serving the pitch-perfect hyperbolic premise that riding the bus in Denmark is practically the pinnacle of human experience. Sit back and enjoy the fantasy montage, as passengers writhe in their seats and bystanders, human and not, ogle hilariously at the glory that is a Midttrafik bus carving its way through the world. Underneath the comic exaggeration, we even absorb the message: that Midttrafik has some nice new vehicles that will make your trip a hell of a lot more special. In all, one of the year's craziest rides.

 

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Country: Japan

 

Toyota took a surprisingly subversive approach to the time-honored strategy of using sex to sell cars by hyping its 2013 Auris with an androgynous male model in a bikini, whom the viewer thinks is a woman until the end of the spot. Stav Strashko, 19, born in the Ukraine and raised in Israel, struts through the commercial in bikini bottoms before turning around to show his feminine face and male chest at the end. The tagline translates to, "Not trendy, not casual, not for everyone." It certainly wasn't for everyone, as the ad's shock ending was hardly universally embraced. "I get mistaken for a girl all the time, and I'm used to it now," Strashko said in a recent interview. "Usually when people talk to me they soon realize I'm a boy, but sometimes people just keep treating me as a girl, not realizing who I really am. I believe that the mind sees what it wants."

 

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Agency: Sofa Experience, Barcelona

Country: Spain

 

This one is cheating a little bit. It's not really a pizza commercial—it's a bizarre self-promo video from an ad agency. Still, it makes the list through its sheer lunacy. It pretends to advertise something called the Pizza Boomerang—pizza forged in the shape of a boomerang and hurled like one—which evidently comes from a nearby planet, can prevent suicide, and has the added bonus of somehow homing in on the private parts of pervy exhibitionists and severing them cleanly. Well, not that cleanly. (The clip is NSFW due to the graphic demonstration of the latter.) The clip flew around the planet much like the Pizza Boomerang did, bringing plenty of attention to the agency. Whether you'd be impressed enough by the dismembered member to hire them is another question.

 

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Agency: Naked Communications, Melbourne

Country: Australia

 

The grossest ad of the year, by a wide margin, this revolting Australian commercial from Oxy face wash was composed almost entirely of home-movie clips of people bursting their zits. (Some viewers say they're more like cysts, and need antibiotic treament, not a face wash, but anyway.) People push and prod their faces, to no effect, for the first half of the ad. Then, our long-suffering anti-heroes experience exultant—and many cases horrifying—release in the latter half of the ad, as bystanders moan in horror. "Amazingly we are rather proud of it," the agency told AdFreak. At least someone is.

 

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6

5

Agency: Fitzgerald + Co., Atlanta

Country: U.S.

 

Jolly singing eggs are one thing. Toothy, singing eyes are quite another. Yes, Irish eyes were not only smiling, they were belting out an old Irish standard in this off-kilter spot for Atlanta St. Patrick's Day Parade—with the two disturbing eye-mouths harmonizing nicely with ginger Elvis's normal sing-hole. The good 10 seconds of silence at the end, with the eyes smiling proudly, caps things off awkwardly. Best get to the bar quickly and throw a few back to forget about this one.

 

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7

4

Agency: Young & Rubicam, Buenos Aires

Country: Argentina

 

Weird babies are everywhere in advertising, but few are as strange as this little bugger. Who does he look like? His father? His grandpa? The milkman? Turns out he's a mix of all of them—he's got one relative's beady eyes, another's bushy eyebrows, another's douche-y 'stache, another's pouty lips, another's receding hairline. In fact, he changes appearance depending on who's looking at him. And thus, the tagline: "Everybody sees what they want to see." It's true of babies. And it's true of DirecTV, which has a little something for everyone. The baby at the end of this spot truly is a sight to see—his head festooned by a truly odd amalgam of adult features. Seems babies, even remarkably ugly ones, really can sell anything.

 

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8

3

Director: Doug Garth Williams

Country: U.S.

 

When Little Baby's Ice Cream messes up a batch, the results are peculiar. According to the Philadelphia brand's self-written lore, Little Baby's discovered an asexual, genderless, human-esque being just sitting there in a failed batch of Duck Sauce Vanilla ice cream. Hey, it could happen. Naturally, the brand was all but compelled to make this creature, named Malcolm, the star of its advertising. In the crazier of the two produced spots, Malcolm sits silent and bug-eyed, staring at the camera as he eats himself spoon by spoon. Hey, a guy's gotta eat. In an interview with Philebrity.com, Malcolm explained his background and larger role at the company: "Born from the ice-cream mix, I'm technically from the cows that roam freely at the seven family farms that Trickling Springs Creamery in Franklin County, Pa., source from. Which one exactly, I'll never know." He added: "They got me working in the back. … I'll be washing dishes probably, with periodic breaks to go re-solidify in the walk-in."

 

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9

2

Agency: Euro RSCG, Helsinki

Country: Finland

 

It was a surprisingly mild year for disturbing PSAs, but this one from Finland packed a punch. It shows kids wandering around a bleak, forbidding landscape and being preyed upon by monsters. But the monsters, it turns out, are their parents—who've been transformed after hitting the bottle. "How do our children see us when we've been drinking?" says the on-screen copy at the end. The clown and the giant rotting bunny are insanely creepy, and the kid at the end, in particular, does a devastating job of communicating utter fear and helplessness. Harrowing in the extreme.

 

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10

1

Director: Tadas Vidmantas

Country: Lithuania

 

You could say this is cheating. Yes, this commercial technically was made without the approval of the client. The difference here, compared to most spec ads, is that the client loved it, talks glowingly about it, and quickly hired the director to make spots in a similar style for the brand. So, we'll consider it belatedly approved and not spec. The brand is Lithuania's Vytautas Mineral Water. The director is Lithuania-born, London-based creative Tadas Vidmantas. The spot, titled "Vytautas Mineral Water! It's Earth's Juice!," was the craziest two and a half minutes in advertising this year. The shouting voiceover, the belligerently manly copy, the hilariously idiotic visuals, the self-deprecating tone—it was a real force of nature, so aggressively witty that it made the Old Spice guy look like a girly man. All for mineral water.

We reached out to brand manager Robertas Šnaras to ask how Vytautas feels about Vidmantas's crazy spot nine months after it was first uploaded. "It is hard to measure the video‘s influence on sales because we have had continued other campaigns, but certainly it had a very positive effect," he says. "Currently we hold a strong No. 1 position in the local mineral-water market. … 'It's Earth's Juice' helped to rejuvenate our consumers. This brand is the oldest Lithuanian mineral water, bottled since 1924. During the last eight years we made a big effort trying to find new consumers for Vytautas, and these videos helped us a lot. Some of the video's phrases became a part of youth slang. … We think Tadas Vidmantas is really talented guy. We have made few short and funny TV spots on the basis of viral ones that were shown during European soccer championship."

It's a pretty great story, and it goes to show that sometimes the freakiest ads are just what the doctor ordered.

 

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