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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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.

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    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

    Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, London

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    Cravendale had a big hit with its amusingly peculiar "Cats With Thumbs" ad this year, which clocked in at No. 8 on Adweek's list of the 10 best commercials of 2011. But this execution was even weirder. It begins with the voiceover line, "Wonder who first thought to milk a cow." Good question. We then go back in time to see various possible scenarios. Eventually, we see a divine bovine apparition descend from the firmament, draped in flowing robes, clutching a Bible and intoning, "Milk me, Brian!" He does so, and becomes a hero to all humankind—or at least, to the creatives on the Cravendale account at W+K London. This year's crème de la crème of crazy milk commercials.

  1. SONY ERICSSON • Kristen Is Killing It

    Agency: McCann Erickson, New York

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    Kristen Schaal is one crazy chick. You may remember her as the loony fan-girl from Flight of the Conchords, or from The Daily Show, or from The Simpsons (after they misspelled her name in the credits). But after this year, you may remember her, too, from her Xperia Play ads for Sony Ericsson. Schaal is a weird combination of totally normal seeming and totally nuts, which made her an inspired choice to pitch this phone, which has a business side and a fun side. Nowhere was the dichotomy more hilariously illustrated than in the "Kristen Is Killing It" spot, where Schaal transforms from demure businesswoman into mindless killing machine. Screaming obscenities as she mows down her enemies with an AK-47, she delivered one of the most memorable celebrity endorsements of the year. Triple kill, bitches!

  2. ISPCC • I Can't Wait

    Agency: Ogilvy, Dublin, Ireland

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    There weren't as many disturbing PSAs in 2011 compared to past years. But this anti-child-abuse appeal from Ogilvy Dublin was painfully visceral. The brutal PSA, funded by the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, aimed to galvanize viewers into financially supporting the fight for children's rights by laying bare the emotional and physical toll of abuse. It shows a boy being beaten up at home while still managing to articulate, in grown-up language, a manifesto for what children deserve in life—and the future he dreams for himself in a present that's unbearable. Heartbreaking yet inspiring, it was one of the year's most powerful PSAs.

  3. DISCOUNTHOTELS.COM • EggHeads

    Agency: Stately Mansion, Marina del Rey, Calif.

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    Here's a real WTF commercial. It features a family of eggheads—literal ones, with giant white orbs atop their bodies. Mom and Dad are watching as Junior tries karate—with nasty, messy results. "If you're an egghead, putting your son in karate doesn't make a lot of sense. Neither does paying too much for a hotel room," says the voiceover. The connection to the brand is gratuitous and stupid, and the spot as a whole is embarrassingly lame. But the gushing, dribbly yolk-face is a sight not soon forgotten.

  4. VIVIDENT • Unexpected Turn

    Agency: Selection SRL, Milan, Italy

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    Here's some oddvertising in the candy/gum category—a weird and randomly disturbing Italian spot for Vivident gum, featuring some family secrets best left undiscovered. The father who whips out his man-boobs was certainly one of the most shocking ad characters of the year. And the son who turns into a marionette is creepy as well. Once again, though, the connection to the brand couldn't be more indiscriminate. "If you like unexpected turns, you should try Vivident Blast," says the spokesman, who then gets squashed by a whale at the end. Lame. But hey—man-boobs and marionettes.

  5. BJORG JEWELLERY • Heresy

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