A Look Back at a Masterpiece of ‘Gotcha’ Advertising That Was Both Prank and Tearjerker

Tuesday Poliak picks her favorite ads ever

Four years ago, American Greetings had an enormous hit with “World’s Toughest Job,” an irresistible piece of prankvertising that had a tearjerker ending—a combination that sent it into the viral stratosphere.

In the four-minute spot, from MullenLowe, the brand duped 24 people on camera (and many millions of viewers at home) by putting a job posting out for a “director of operations” position, with a seemingly impossible list of job requirements. As it turns out, the job description was for a mom, highlighting how important mothers are and how much they do to take care of their loved ones.

It featured a man holding job interviews on Skype for a role with impossible hours and no pay. It then seamlessly morphed into a tribute to moms. It went on to get more than 27 million views on YouTube, and eventually won a Grand Effie. (The goal was to drive consumers to create their own cards at American Greetings’ Cardstore; orders increased by 20 percent, according to MullenLowe.)

Now, Tuesday Poliak, chief creative officer at Wunderman D.C., has picked the spot as one of her three favorites in our latest “Best Ads Ever” video.

So many details from the ad stand out to Poliak, from the man cast to play the interviewer to how the brand was able to capture all of these natural reactions from the interviewees. It also still makes her cry anytime she watches it.

“I love who they cast for the interviewer, and it’s just such a ridiculous exercise in explaining what a mom does and setting up her position and what she’s actually doing every single day,” Poliak says. “And then you get these natural reactions from people thinking ‘Well, this sounds like the worst job in the world.’

“To see everybody’s faces and reactions change … to such appreciation for the mom having done the worst job and the toughest job in the world—like many people, I immediately called my mom and told her how much I loved her, and thanked her for what she did.”

She adds: “It’s such a great example of taking a subject matter that we all know—moms matter, and wish the a Happy Mother’s Day—but instead of telling us, they gave us this experiential way … to feel how hard that job is, and how thankful we are that our moms took it on. I just think it’s one of the best pieces of communication ever done.”

For her other two picks, Poliak chose Volkswagen’s “Pink Moon” and Discovery Channel’s “I Love the World.”

Regarding “Pink Moon,” Poliak said she has been “mesmerized by it my whole life.” She added: “This commercial had such an ability to make me feel like I was in that car and feeling the air.” The Discovery ad, meanwhile, is “one of the most magical, inspiring pieces of film” that she has ever come across, she added.

See the video above for her thoughts on those spots, and see the ads in full below.

Also, check out a second video below with Poliak, in which she relates the ingenious stunt that helped her land her first agency job. And for more “Best Ads Ever” videos, click here.