Weekly Feature

best advertisements 21st century, best ads

Notable Advertisements

September 25, 2008
by Liz Colville
Modern advertising could be considered an art form; agencies employ beauty and storytelling, and attempt to connect products to people’s lives in a meaningful—or at least creative and memorable—way. Those who bestow advertising awards reward creativity, as well as humor, originality and technical sophistication.

The Award-Winning Ads

The Clio Awards, the veritable Academy Awards of advertising, indicated that in 2008, humor was king. Many of the television ads that won the top prizes this year had a chuckle at their root: a Kellogg’s All-Bran commercial parodied the joys of smooth digestion on a construction site; an ad for the Buenos Aires International Independent Film Festival featured a painting of a cat dressed as a cowboy, deemed the “saddest painting in the world”; and a Skittles ad had a man with the uncanny power to make the world flow endlessly with Skittles at the touch of his finger. Watch these and other winners on the Clio site.

Each category of ad has a distinct flavor and mission, as well as confines that it must try to break through. For example, billboards must try to stand out from their environment, yet also reflect it, and print ads must engage a reader flipping absentmindedly through dozens of pages. In 2008, Clio’s print awards went almost exclusively to the cutest print ads: a permanent marker ad shows identical twins differentiated by a marker dot on one twin’s cheek. In an ad for Matchbox cars, young children are “driving” elegant classic cars like the Mustang and Eldorado. In a Tide Ultra ad, dastardly stains like soy sauce and ketchup are pitted against a swarming “army” of stain-fighting detergent.

The Strange Ads

The Daily Weird, a blog with a whole section on advertisements, shows how agencies literally push the boundaries of the billboard. In one ad for bubblegum, a boy is shown with a popped gum bubble on his face; the remnants of the gum are draped over the trees below the billboard. 

Ad agencies’ attempts to “tug at the heartstrings” of viewers can be successful, but sometimes they do such a good job that viewers are turned off from buying the product advertised. As MSNBC’s blog Ads of the Weird explains, one recent Duracell ad showcases a parent’s worst fear—her child going missing—and plays to the company’s “long-running claim that people should trust its batteries in even the most serious situations.” But ethics enter the equation when the batteries are used for a child-tracking device, opening up “a distracting Pandora’s box of thorny issues over whether such devices are a help to parents, or a needless and creepy invasion of privacy.” The comments below the blog post show just how the emotional response to strongly advertisements can be.

Visit the Ads of the Weird homepage for more peculiar commercials, mostly of the television variety, as well as discussions of trends in the industry.

The Just-Plain-Cool Ads

Amnesty International’s campaign, “Eyes on Darfur,” used Google Maps technology to show people an aerial view of the damage done to this region of the Sudan. The site won a prize in the 2008 Internet Advertising Competition for “Best Advocacy Site/Landing Page.”

View numerous other winners of that competition on the Internet Advertising Competition’s site.

Virgin Atlantic launched the ad campaign “Land Happy” to promote its upper-class tickets. Flying upper class gets you personal massages, a three-course meal and other luxuries. Using the popular British children’s book series “Mr. Men,” Virgin Atlantic showed characters like Ms. Messy and Mr. Grumpy transformed into their opposites by the upper-class flight experience. The Mr. Men characters even had their own Facebook pages. After a year, Virgin found itself overbooked on a regular basis. Watch the ad campaign in action via AdForum.

Also spotlighted on AdForum, which is a database of advertising news and features, is a Brazilian campaign by environmental activists that used a filthy city tunnel to send a message about pollution. The walls of the tunnel were so thick with exhaust grime that the activists were able to write “Ride a Bicycle,” “Take a Bus,” “Take the Subway” in old-fashioned “WASH ME” style, addressing all the guilty drivers cruising by.

Most Recent Features