The 10 Best Commercials of 2011

The year's most impeccable craft and storytelling in advertising

Many people groaned last winter when it became clear that Super Bowl XLV would be packed bumper to bumper with automotive ads. It’s not a category that’s exactly wowed with its creativity in recent years. It was a pleasant surprise, then, when many of the car spots proved not only tolerable but wonderful. Now, with the year almost passed, it’s become clear that two of those ads in particular—Chrysler’s “Born of Fire” by Wieden + Kennedy and Volkswagen’s “The Force” by Deutsch—weren’t just among that evening’s best spots. They turned out to be among the year’s best.

Those two ads are joined by a third car commercial, Nissan Leaf’s “Gas Powered Everything” by TBWA\Chiat\Day, in Adweek’s ranking of The 10 Best Commercials of 2011, presented here. Those auto spots were all expertly conceived and executed, with great atmospherics, details, and flourishes. And interestingly, they’re all so different—an environmental appeal in a bleak alternate universe; a rugged defense of Motor City’s heritage and pride, featuring a powerful celebrity cameo; and a kid in a Darth Vader mask just trying to exert a little mind control around the house. Together, they represent the best automotive advertising has to offer.

Elsewhere, the list celebrates work across a wide variety of products, themes, styles, and geographies. You’ve got candy bars and zombies, cats with thumbs, and film-directing bears. You’ve also got two spots focused on the environment, and two explicitly about the humanizing power of technology—fundamental concerns in an age when our lives, and the world, can feel like they’re spinning out of control.

Congratulations to all the agencies and clients on the list, and the creative-services companies that helped bring their visions to life. Now, go make something even better.

10) SNICKERS • Focus Group

Agency: BBDO, New York • Director: Jim Jenkins, O Positive
Editing: Number 6 • Effects: Framestore
A triumph of macabre humor, this Snickers spot from BBDO imagined the world’s most savage focus group—four sharks who’ve been invited to a little human taste-testing session. “OK, so which one tasted better?” asks the wonderfully peppy focus-group leader, as she points to posterboard photos of a man and woman. The sharks hilariously choose the guy because, before they ate him, he had just eaten a Snickers Peanut Butter Squared bar, presumably making his flesh delectably rich and tasty. (The woman had eaten boring old peanut-butter cups.) The concept, sick and twisted, is brilliant. But the genius is in the details—the little gestures like the lead shark’s flipper movements as he searches for words to explain himself; the stunning CGI and voice work; the deadpan, cartoony merging of the monstrous and the mundane. The ending is a winner, too, as one shark declares, a bit sheepishly, that he’d “love another taste.” A new human is trotted out for gustatory pleasure of the conference-room predators, one of whom requests that the guy “eat both squares, please!” One of 2011’s tastiest confections.

Full credits here

9) NISSAN LEAF • Gas Powered Everything

Agency: TBWA\Chiat\Day, Los Angeles • Director: Dante Ariola, MJZ • Editing: Mackenzie Cutler • Effects: The Mill
What if everything ran on gas? Then again, what if everything didn’t? Those disparate visions provided the setup and payoff for this bleak, dystopian Nissan Leaf spot by TBWA\ Chiat\Day, which imagined a world in which all our devices, from clock radios to cell phones to dentist drills, guzzle gasoline like cars and spit out choking, noxious fumes. A spare piano score and the endless, dreary putt-putting of little motors provide the soundtrack for some remarkable visuals—a coffee maker yanked to life by a starter rope, a laptop replenished at a gas-filled watercooler, an office full of quietly smoking computers—all depressingly lit in flat green hues. Our antihero, a drone whose glum resignation subtly implicates the viewer in the stained legacy of oil-powered transport, eventually spies an all-electric Leaf across the street—while guiltily filling up his own Chevy Volt (a gasoline-electric hybrid) at a gas station. Roused slightly from his torpor, he nonetheless remains paralyzed and unsmiling as watches the Leaf drive off—a sober ending to one of the year’s most darkly memorable spots.

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