AdFreak: The 25 Most Epic Ads That Aren’t Apple’s ‘1984’

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The 25 most epic ads that aren’t ‘1984’

By David Griner on Wed May 5 2010

Leo Burnett once said great advertising could be boiled down into three simple messages: “Here’s what we’ve got. Here’s what it will do for you. Here’s how to get it.” Maybe, but where’s the fun in that? Sometimes it’s best to just go big. Today, AdFreak celebrates the advertising pros who sacrificed simplicity and frugality on the altar of awesomeness to make something downright epic. We didn’t set any requirements for size, scope, length or budget. These are just our 25 favorite ads that test the boundaries of cinematic storytelling. Also, we’ve left Ridley Scott’s “1984” Apple spot off the list. You’ve seen it enough, and we can all agree it’s in a class by itself. Now, let’s kiss the workday goodbye and get things started.

25.
Best Buy
“Silence Is Golden”

Best Buy Advertising
2005

Click to view.

When evil threatens the land, only one thing can stop the bloodshed. One really, really annoying thing.

24.
Clear Shampoo
“Ice Arrows”

Lowe
2009

Click to view.

This Thai commercial gets high marks for its enigmatic narration, which includes lines like, “Rage, rage against her breath of fear” and “Into the dark the icy blackness follows.” Not surprisingly, the director has also done work for Marilyn Manson, Bjork and Christina Aguilera.

23.
AIDES
“Baby, Baby”

TBWA
2005

Click to view.

This upbeat, animated (and probably NSFW) French video for AIDS prevention tells the story of a woman’s entire love life. If characters on The Sims had been this interesting, I wouldn’t have spent so much time making them pee on the floor at parties.

22.
Heineken
“One World”

Bates
2007

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So, you can move mountains? Big deal. Try moving the whole damn planet. This spot was created as a lead-up to the 2007 Rugby World Cup.

21.
Jeff and Erin
“Save the Date”

No agency
2009

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If Ridley Scott arranged marriages for a living, they would probably all go down like this. If James Cameron arranged marriages for a living, they would probably all go down in flames. Zing!

20.
Lynx
“Billions”

BBH
2006

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If you’re going to do an ad about large-breasted women, you might as well do it with every large-breasted woman on Earth.

19.
Smirnoff
“Smarienberg”

Lowe
1997

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Two years before The Matrix made millions off its use of “bullet time,” director Michel Gondry pioneered the technique (with little credit) in this frenetic joyride.

18.
U.S. Marine Corps
“Chess”

JWT
1991

Click to view.

These days, Marine Corps ads are all about grit, discipline and endurance of will. In the ’80s and early ’90s, they were all swords and sorcery—though it’s hard to picture the chess-playing Dungeons & Dragons crowd rushing out to enlist.

17.
PlayStation
“Mountain”

TBWA
2003

Click to view.

More than 1,500 extras were recruited to play king of the mountain in this British PlayStation 2 spot. The ad was meant to promote the “global competition” offered on the PS2, though it would be another few years (and another generation of hardware) before multiplayer got quite this massive.

16.
Wego Motel
“Soap”

Ogilvy & Mather
2009

Click to view.

Taiwan’s Wego Motel commissioned a series of short films to promote itself as the ultimate place for a romantic rendezvous. Apparently the promise of a good time doesn’t necessarily come with a promise of a happy ending, though.

15.
Adidas
“Impossible Field”

180
2005

Click to view.

We could devote an entire post to epic soccer commercials (and maybe we will). But there’s just something slick and nightmarish about this Adidas showdown starring David Bekham, Kaka and a few other footie favorites.

14.
Honda
“The Impossible Dream”

Wieden + Kennedy
2005

Click to view.

While Honda’s “Cog” and “Grrr” long-form spots tend to get the most attention, I still prefer this wonderfully paced and musically driven spot that builds to a powerful crescendo—tarnished only by a bit of superfluous Garrison Keillor. Honda recently unveiled an even longer version of the ad, but it’s just not the same without the soaring finale of the original.

13.
BMW
“Hostage”

Fallon
2002

Click to view.

The BMW Films project cranked out lots of epic fare, but probably none more so than this action spree directed by John Woo as part of a Clive Owen-driven series called “The Hire.”

12.
Nike
“Good vs. Evil”

Wieden + Kennedy
1996

Click to view.

The forces of darkness square off against the nice guys of world soccer in this classic, intricately detailed Nike opus. The spot’s popularity prevails to this day, with nearly 10 million views on the first version posted to YouTube in 2005.

11.
Sony Bravia
“Balls”

Fallon
2005

Click to view.

Sony’s launch spot for its Bravia television line became an Internet sensation, thanks to the visual splendor of 250,000 colorful balls bouncing down a San Francisco street.

10.
Coca-Cola
“Happiness Factory: The Movie”

Wieden + Kennedy
2007

Click to view.

Coke’s surreal celebration of life inside a vending machine, animated by Psyop, has become one of the soft drink’s most-loved ad series of all time. Watching it is now even a mandatory part of the World of Coke tour in Atlanta.

9.
Freixenet
“The Key to Reserva”

JWT
2007

Click to view.

Spanish sparkling wine Freixenet put its name on the map with this tongue-in-cheek homage to Alfred Hitchcock, as channeled by Martin Scorsese.

8.
Halo 3
“Believe” spots

T.A.G.
2007

Click to view.

Everything about Halo 3‘s advertising was cinematic and incredible, from the award-winning “Diorama” spot to this collection of brilliantly acted short films. My only complaint was that the gritty realism of the marketing felt out of sync with the gameplay, which was pretty cartoonish by comparison.

7.
Hovis Bread
“Go On, Lad”

MCBD
2008

Click to view.

Distilling the history of modern Britain down to two minutes is a tall order for any filmmaker, much less someone making an ad for bread. But this Hovis spot does a pretty impressive job of strolling through the 122 years that the bakery has been around.

6. (Tie)


@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.
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