The 30 Freakiest Ads of 2011

Van Damme to David Lynch, zombies to food phantasmagorias

You've watched the 10 Best Commercials of 2011. Now, it's time to slip into something less comfortable—the 30 Freakiest Ads of 2011. There's a wide variety this year—from the gross to the creepy, the goofy to the terrifying. We've got celebrity actors (Jean-Claude Van Damme, Kristen Schaal, Kate Moss) and celebrity directors (David Lynch, Darren Aronofksy). We've got spots from all over the world—Japan, Argentina, Norway, Italy, and plenty from the U.S. We've even got one freaky commercial that also made Adweek's 10-best list. There are fewer gory PSAs than in past years, too, which allows for more unsettling commercial work to sneak in the door. So, after the jump, sit back and soak up the weirdest commercials of the year. Then take a long, hot shower and try to forget about them.

  1. TOYOTA • People Person

    Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi, Los Angeles

    Click to view

    Let's start off with a real monstrosity. Did you find the giant Toyota Prius person, made up of lots of normal-size people, to be delightfully enchanting? Or did you find him utterly terrifying? Saatchi & Saatchi Los Angeles came up with the idea for the creature—a Pilobolus-like beast formed by 18 people linked together, reminiscent of the artwork of Andre Martins de Barros. He was meant to be fanciful, but many found him objectionable. "I'd say the worst part was the nose being someone's butt," wrote one reviewer. "Reminds me just a tad of the Human Centipede."

  2. ZIPPEARZ • Rhythm & Boobs

    Director: David Gott

    Click to view

    Here's one of the more anatomically strange ads of the year. This spot for Zippearz earbuds featured a female jogger whose breasts got frighteningly auto-jiggly with the funky dance beat, much to the dismay/curiosity of a dude sitting nearby on a park bench. "They won't fall out," explains the just-as-crass female voiceover, which is all breathy and sultry—referring to the earbuds, obviously. Not the proudest moment for tech advertising, but certainly a visual that sticks with you.

  3. CARMAX • Kid in a Candy Store

    Agency: Amalgamated, New York

    Click to view

    The most mind-bending commercial from Super Bowl XLV last February, this CarMax spot had a peculiar cast of characters: a kid in a candy store, a geek at a robot convention, a mermaid at a swim meet, a wrestler in a folding-chair factory, a hippie in a drum circle, an acrobat in a mattress store, and of course, a customer at CarMax—lucky souls, all, who feel right at home in their environments. All that was missing, really, was the proverbial pig in muck.

  4. SONIC • Heart's Desire

    Agency: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco

    Click to view

    This spot isn't really freaky so much as it is completely awesome. But it descends into a hallucinatory phantasmagoria, so it counts. It opens with a man at a Sonic drive-through being told he can get anything he wants on his burger. This sends him careening into a colorful, crazy daydream full of giant Sonic food floating around and Sonic workers making kaleidoscopic Busby Berkeley moves in roller skates. (The Dude's dream sequence in The Big Lebowski reportedly was an inspiration.) The music tops it off—a parody of "You Can Do Magic" by America, with lyrics that are stupidly and comically forced to rhyme. Throw in some wonderfully goofy acting, and you've got the year's looniest fast-food ad. I'll have what he's having.

  5. ORKIN • Vacation

    Agency: The Richards Group, Dallas

    Click to view

    Orkin has been doing humorously disgusting commercials starring giant insects for a couple of years now. In 2011, the pest-control company added a pair of nasty rats to the mix. These rodents of unusual size were quite musical—they're seen rocking out on guitars in a living room while a family is on vacation. When the homeowners return early, the rats don't scamper and hide. They stand their ground, and one of the rats even hisses, "We could use the boy … on drums." Only when Orkin shows up do the rodents flee, peeling out hilariously in an old-style race car. A wonderful addition to a pleasantly freaky campaign.

  6. ECHO • Exam

    Agency: Cramer-Krasselt, Milwaukee

    Click to view

    Ah, proctology humor. It's one of the oldest and dirtiest tricks in the book. But this spot for Echo power equipment takes it into even nether-er territory. "I put up with a lot," our hero says, as his backside is investigated by a proctologist in full view of some medical students. "But one thing I won't put up with is outdoor power equipment that always breaks down. So, I use professional-grade equipment from Echo." He then whips out a weed whacker. Sure, it was among the year's crassest, most gratuitously stupid commercials—but intentionally so. Give it a little slack, and it won't hurt a bit.

  7. ESPN RADIO • Sports for Your Ears

    Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, New York

    Click to view

    Here it is—the most disturbing anthropomorphized body part from any commercial this year. It's an oversized ear with weird stubby arms and legs who learns to love the ESPN Radio app. The ad has its charms—you get to see a lot about this poor ear's life in 30 seconds. You learn that he's a psychiatrist (a fitting job for an ear), that he enjoys lawn care, that he takes the bus when he travels, and that he owns the world's largest iPhone earbuds (OK, earbud). The spot features some amusing fake brands, too, including Cotton Tips for sensitive ears and the Dogromat self-service dog grooming place. For an ugly little guy, his story is cute enough. Hear, hear!

  8. SRISAWAD TRANSPORT LOAN • Truck

    Agency: CFG Services, Bangkok, Thailand

    Click to view

    This Thai commercial for an auto-loan company truly is an assault on the senses. The frenetic visuals and gut-punching sound design abrasively paint the picture of a family harried to the brink by their hectic life. The last thing they need is a hassle when they try to get cash to buy a car. Luckily, Srisawad Transport Loan gives them money the same day, and lets them breathe what you have to assume is a rare sigh of relief. The weird echo effect at the end is pure local-commercial special effects, yet everything else about the spot is impressively constructed. The judges at Cannes felt the same way, awarding the commercial a Bronze Lion in Film.

  9. OLD SPICE • Jungle Wilderness

    Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore.

    Click to view

    American viewers got to see plenty of Old Spice ads again this year—but one of the freakiest aired outside the U.S. only. "Jungle Wilderness" featured a new super-suave non-Isaiah-Mustafa spokesman who treks through a jungle in pursuit of a woman, expounding on the merits of the brand's Danger Zone products while getting personally ravaged by snakes, crocodiles, and pirañas. (He also gets hit by a bus.) "Danger excites me. But I can't fully enjoy it when I smell like fear and body odor," he explains. By the end, he's lost all flesh below the waist, becoming a half-skeleton, but he hasn't lost his swagger. "You smell like you look amazing," says his lady friend. You could say the same about the ad.

  10. CRAVENDALE • Milk Me Brian

Recommended articles