Imagine Richard Simmons in a sparkly tank top, the affected accent of an animated gecko and the curious sight of a turkey flopping onto an airport baggage carousel. Wacky? Tasteless? Maybe. But they're just some of the ads of the past year we count as guilty pleasures.
You know them. The commercials that despite all rationality, suspending sense and sensibility, pierce their way into our consciousness. For better or worse, they evoke laughter, tears or the kind of sentiment you're embarrassed to admit to publically. They may not sweep the creative awards shows, but chances are you know them—and secretly love them, too. —Eleftheria Parpis
Advantage Flea Control
Some pet owners think of their cats and dogs as furry children, so why not give them baby voices and make them sing? Who could resist a puppy and kitten glee club? A plump Persian stumbles off her chair at the end of the first spot. It's over-the-top cutesy. Because the cute factor was off the charts, the ad catapulted the brand to the top of its category. In the latest execution, set at a groomer's shop, a catty Afghan gossips with a collie about a dog with fleas. The requisite puppy shot comes when a basset hound asks a golden retriever, "What are fleas?" Yes, it's sappy, and talking animals can sometimes make you scream. But this time it makes sense. We were certainly suckered by their adorable mugs.
The Kaplan Thaler Group, New York
For more than a year now, Aflac's unfortunate duck has been plugging its supplemental insurance with a grating quack. In the latest effort, he chases a couple of flight attendants with his familiar refrain, "Aflac!" Creative directors Tom Amico and Eric David hatched the concept when they were faced with improving recall for a client whose acronymic name did not lend itself to easy recognition. Repeating the client's name over and over, they discovered it sounded like a duck. Despite that weird feeling of annoyance on first viewing, the plucky fowl has clicked. "He's a microcosm of how we all feel in society," says CEO and chief creative officer Linda Kaplan Thaler. "He's the underduck." And a wacky one at that.
Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich.
Bob Seger may not be topping the charts these days, but his 1986 hit "Like a Rock," featured in Chevrolet ads since 1991, is still driving those
oh-so-familiar shots of cowboys and Middle-America montages that make car buyers gush. "Hockey Kids," highlighting Chevrolet's sponsorship of the U.S. Olympic hockey team, skips the beauty shots of pickup trucks kicking dust to focus on a scruffy young hopeful named Danny. His coach encourages him to "go out there and skate hard," but despite his best efforts, he falls more than three times. Can we stop him before he skates again? He finally scores a goal as Seger sings, "I was strong as I could be. Like a rock. Nothing ever got to me. Like a rock. I was something to see." Could it get any hokier? Who cares? We were inspired.
Deutsch, New York
Bad Andy may not be as cool as Flat Eric, but he lives up to his moniker. The mischievous mascot starring in the pizza maker's "Bad Andy. Good Pizza" campaign gets into trouble when he obstructs service. He pretends to be too sick to make deliveries and sticks his thermometer in the heat wave bag as proof. In another spot, he uses the heating devices to create his own personal sauna. Is it us or this thing creepy? He's a slacker employee with a gremlin-like disposition. Deutsch, which hoped Bad Andy would be the next Chihuahua, is taming him in new executions. But we'd still share a pizza with Andy.
Goodby, Silverstein & Partners,
They've been trying to pass themselves off as Foster Farms chickens for seven years, but their comical conspiracies never grow stale. Puppets are often corny and appeal more to kids than adults. Yet by giving the fowls human aspirations—being something they're not—it works. Out-of-town turkeys have recently joined the coop. In this funny courtroom drama, an imposter stands trial, asserting he's "California grown and adheres to a strict diet of corn." Two pieces of evidence are against him: a picture of the turkey with a pizza and security video of the fowl rolling out onto a baggage carousel, documenting his "arrival from Detroit." When he's led away, the turkey shrieks, "candy corn ... real corn. It's a technicality!"
The Martin Agency,
The Geico gecko may not have Louie's Goodfellas charm, but since his debut spot, in which he holds a press conference to tell people interested in Geico to stop calling him, "I am a gecko, not to be confused with Geico," he has given cool a new spin. True, the spot has a low-budget feel, and the gecko isn't initially entertaining. Instead, he grows on you. Four spots delve into the gecko's life as he deals with his ongoing gripe. In one spot, he makes an attempt to legally change his name. In another, he simply gives up and lets his answering machine deal with the calls.
Leo Burnett, Chicago
Hallmark's syrupy advertising feels so exploitative at times, it's made the brand synonymous with sappy. The most recent effort for the greetings-card maker is no exception. A 30-something professional woman skips drinks with her colleagues to visit her brother, who has just moved out of their parents' home and into his own apartment. Revealing that her brother is 34 is almost laughable—but snickers turn to sentiment when viewers discover Dave has Down syndrome. Just try holding back the tears when, after reading a Hallmark card from his sister, Dave says sweetly, "I'm proud of you, too."
The Kaplan Thaler Group,
The impetus of this 5-year-old campaign for organic hair-care products is offensive: It portrays women as sexually obsessed with shampoo. But in the latest execution, Richard Simmons' appearance does much to wash away the grimaces of even staunch detractors. In a chic hotel, a man identified as the "consi-urge," inspires a woman to satisfy her "urge to herbal" with a Latin dance fantasy. Then Simmons pops out, wearing a sequined tank top and wonders why she "didn't even try the styling products!" Agency research showed Simmons is perceived as more truthful than Barbara Walters and the Queen of England. Plus, "he makes people smile," says CEO and chief creative officer Linda Kaplan Thaler.
Doner, Southfield, Mich.
Try to block out the "Zoom Zoom" theme music to Mazda's "Get in. Be moved" campaign and you will fail. The tune, arranged by Spank Music & Design in Chicago, is so infectious, it's rivaling the frequency of Britney Spears sing-a-alongs in living rooms everywhere. In the first spot, a prepubescent boy stands on a country road. He turns to the camera and whispers "zoom zoom" as the world-beat music begins. Even David Letterman, who razzed spot star Micah Kanters' "European looks" on his show, has been hooked by the catchy jingle.
DMB&B, New York
A lioness shelters her cub, an elephant scoots her baby over a log and a tiny seal nuzzles his mother, while Rod Stewart belts out "Forever Young" in the background. Pampers reminds viewers that animals, like humans, want the best for their babies. Not featured, however, are hamsters, who have been known to eat their young. The tug on the heartstrings is overtly manipulative, and the images are sometimes too literal: Stewart sings, "When you finally fly away, I'll be hoping that I served you well" as two birds soar. But these little tykes can melt even the most hardened heart.
North Castle Partners,
Slim Jim Guy. He's obnoxious. Unhealthy. Even cruel at times—like when he drowns "wimpy" cupcakes and carrot sticks in the gastric juices of a teenager's stomach. But like the snack itself, the personified stick of spicy, dried beef is a guilty pleasure. We can't help but laugh at the sheer overkill of some of the character's recent TV spots, as the salty, stringy guy gets away with all types of mayhem. His battle cry, "Eat me," serves as a unrepentant tagline. He's offensive, but he's also edgy, cool—and he kicks butt. In one spot, he yells, "I think I'm gonna be sick!" as he lands in the pink and fluffy bowels of a girl's stomach, which he proceeds to trash. It's every adolescent boy's fantasy come true. In a recent execution, he cramps things up inside a swimmer's stomach. Party on, Jim.
Foote, Cone & Belding,
What do you do when you lose the wisecracking Chihuahua that made Taco Bell famous? For starters, you dig up an old '80s tune that's still on everyone's lips after 20 years and give it a twist. Four friends feast on four new flavors of chalupa. While distributing the food, they sing "My Chalupa" to the music of The Knack's hit song, "My Sharona." The spot chafes, but it's hard not to laugh after the final shot of one dweeb adding a final "My-ya-ya-ya-ya-yaya Whoo!" You may just find yourself singing along, too. In a follow-up ad, Taco dudes sing Queen's "We Will Rock You" anthem.