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The 50 Best Commercials of All Time

Celebrate the sponsored moments of your life with EW’s 50 Best Commercials of all time

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Sometimes they give you an Excedrin headache; other times, they really satisfy. Either way, one thing’s for sure: TV commercials, they’re a part of your life. The average viewer is force-fed about 24,000 in just one year, according to the media report TV Dimensions ’97.

Who would’ve guessed that a primitive black-and-white Bulova ad in 1941 — at a cost of $9 — would spawn a nearly $40 billion-a-year industry? But it did, and commercials have been reaching out and touching us ever since: captivating, tickling, and — okay, often annoying us. Only lately, though, have they gotten any respect: Nick at Nite‘s nostalgia-driven TV Land network has had as much success with its ”retromercials” as it’s had reviving sitcoms and dramas. Super Bowl ads now generate nearly as much ink as the game itself. And this year, for the first time, even the Emmys will care enough to reward the very best prime-time commercial.

With that in mind, we thought it was time to plug these ubiquitous moments of capitalism in our own pages. After sampling hundreds of noteworthy promos, from the dawn of TV to the present, we managed to winnow the list down to a hearty handful of national spots. (Local and international ads had to be excluded from consideration because they were not available to all of our readers.) Effectiveness in selling product wasn’t taken into consideration (if it had been a requirement, many of our favorites would never have made the list). The winners were selected strictly on aesthetic grounds — just, if you will, for the taste of them. In short, they are the 50 we consider uncommonly good. Good to the last drop. Finger-lickin’ good. Hell, they’re gr-r-reat!

And now — dare we say it? — a word from our sponsors.

1 ENERGIZER ”ESCAPE OF THE BUNNY”

He’s kept going and going for eight years and almost 100 spots. He has an annual budget of $50 million, survived a backlash (David Letterman attacked him with a baseball bat), and has become a cultural cliche (he’s been compared to everything from Saddam Hussein to the Oscars). He had a resurgence with last year’s hilarious Twister spoof. (”He’s out there,” says agency creative head Lee Clow. ”People believe in him.”) But the second Energizer Bunny spot is still the most inspired: The relentless, shades-bedecked pink pitchman leaves his own ad and rudely drums his way through three others — parodies of coffee, sinus remedy, and wine spots. Jolting us awake from our sponsor-induced coma, this was literally breakthrough advertising — and helped separate Energizer from the battery pack.
AGENCY: TBWA Chiat/Day
YEAR: 1989

2 FEDERAL EXPRESS

”FAST-PACED WORLD”

Quick:Whatmakesthisguysolovable?Maybeit’sthesheerphysicalfeatof spewing450wordsperminute(that’s7wordspersecond!).Maybeit’sthatfasterisalwaysfunnier(askKeystoneKopsfans).Maybeit’sthatbusinessclichssoundevensillierathighspeeds.Whatever,thisseries,starringactorJohnMoschitta,isabsolutely,positivelyoneofthebestgimmicksincommercialhistory.”Peoplesaidmakingfunofbusinesswasadumbwaytodoadvertising,”saysdirectorJoeSedelmaier.Peoplewerewrong.
AGENCY: Ally & Gargano
YEAR: 1981

3 AMERICAN TOURISTER

“GORILLA”

What better way to prove the durability of a suitcase than to have a gorilla jump all over it? This admirably simple, Clio-winning spot did just that—sort of. The ape was actor Don McLeod in a $20,000 monkey suit (with moving eyebrows). So convincing was his performance, he was soon making appearances as a spokesgorilla. “I’ve met women who thought it would be kinky to have a gorilla up to their hotel room,” McLeod has said. Only if she’s waiting in a suitcase, Don.
AGENCY: Doyle Dane Bernbach
YEAR: 1980

4 ALKA SELTZER

“SPICY MEATBALL”

Gut-bustingly funny, and perhaps the most famous commercial about making a commercial: An actor doing a pasta ad blows his big line so often—”That’s a spicy meatball”—he gets indigestion. Director Howard Zieff went on to features (Private Benjamin); meatball victim Jack Somack, a vet of 300 spots, died in 1983. Though everyone quoted his refrain, it didn’t boost sales. As ad editor Stan Siegel explains, “Everyone thought it was for spaghetti sauce.”
AGENCY: DDB
YEAR: 1969

5 WENDY’S

“RUSSIAN FASHION SHOW”

“Where’s the Beef?” got more attention, but this $250,000 spot was funnier, and the best Cold War spoof since Dr. Strangelove. A rotund Soviet model (played by a man) struts in a series of drab smocks—a flashlight signifies evening wear; a beach ball, swimwear. The delightfully absurd implication: Wendy’s, with its many menu choices, is all-American; other chains are commies. Not everyone chuckled: The Soviets balked at this ad running during the Goodwill Games.
AGENCY: Dancer Fitzgerald Sample
YEAR: 1985

6 ISUZU

“JOE ISUZU/LIAR”

It won 432 Clio awards. Sold 300 million cars. Was praised by world leaders. We’re lying. But the outrageous claims of oily car salesman Joe Isuzu (“gets 94 miles to the gallon”) were an ingenious break from the usual hard sell, not to mention a postmodern poke at advertising’s own inflated claims. The David Leisure-starring spots were so popular, Ronald Reagan once compared Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega to “that fellow from Isuzu.”
AGENCY: Della Femina, Travisano & Partners
YEAR: 1985

7 COKE

“MEAN JOE GREENE”

One of the most beloved of all time and a Clio winner: Steelers lineman Mean Joe Greene comes off the field angry with himself and reluctantly bonds with a boy offering a Coke. (Poor Greene had to swig a total of 18 bottles.) “In South America we used the same concept with a soccer player,” says Coca-Cola’s Phil Mooney. Four years ago Pepsi spoofed it: Hoops star Shaquille O’Neal asks a kid for his cola, and the brat refuses. Very ’90s.
AGENCY: McCann-Erickson
YEAR: 1979

8 PARTNERSHIP FOR A DRUG-FREE AMERICA

“FRIED EGG”

What a buzz kill. This long-running spot from director Joe Pytka was the toughest of all tough-love PSAs. “This is your brain,” the announcer snapped at an intact egg. Then, at a sizzling one, “This is your brain on drugs.” That stark food for thought may have saved a few million neurons and certainly provided rent money for many a comedy writer: “This is your brain on drugs, with a side of bacon,” SNL mocked in one satire. Any questions?
AGENCY: Keye/Donna/Pearlstein
YEAR: 1987

9 CRACKER JACK

“TRAIN”

Nuanced, silent slapstick work from stage actor Jack Gilford as a train passenger stealing Cracker Jacks from riders in the sleeper car (Gilford did 26 Cracker Jack ads in all). Originally a 60-second spot (said ad editor David Dee, “There was nothing I could pull without destroying Gilford’s exquisite timing”), the sponsor requested another version at 30 seconds. What to do? Run the ad faster: “Speeding the action up 50 percent made [it] even funnier,” said Dee.
AGENCY: DDB
YEAR: 1965

10 RICE KRISPIES

“VESTI”

Mimi died of consumption. Madame Butterfly killed herself. But our hero—he’s run out of Rice Krispies! In this opera satire (refreshingly highbrow for Madison Avenue), a father bemoans his lack of cereal in hilariously overwrought fashion. “My tears will not stop,” he sings, “until I hear snap, crackle, and pop!” Someone does bring cereal—sadly, our hero’s intrusive mother-in-law. So funny, you wish Krispies’ cartoon pixies would die of consumption.
AGENCY: Leo Burnett
YEAR: 1969

11 CALIFORNIA MILK BOARD “AARON BURR”

The cholesterol-wary no longer swallow milk-is-good-for-you ads. Hence the arcane “Got Milk?” campaign. The cream of the crop: a peanut-butter-eating Alexander Hamilton buff who can’t articulate Aaron Burr to win a radio quiz ’cause he’s got no milk. “That it goes so far afield is what’s charming,” says adman Jeff Goodby. Directed by Michael Bay (The Rock), the $300,000 spot does the mind good.
AGENCY: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners
YEAR: 1993

12 JELL-O

“WEIRD HAROLD”

Bill Cosby’s career was in a slump when he began his Jell-O stint, coming on like a goofily grumpy pal to kids, pushing pudding with the fresh immediacy of improv. Indeed, in the first of over 80 spots (centering on an Old Weird Harold story), a kid’s unrehearsed “You come out, Harold!” provides a memorable ender. Cosby’s popularity soared, and the road was paved for The Cosby Show’s goofy-grumpy dad.
AGENCY: Young & Rubicam
YEAR: 1973

13 CALIFORNIA RAISINS

“LUNCHBOX”

The coolest wrinkled musicians this side of the Stones, the California Raisins made their Marvin Gaye moves courtesy of a breakthrough use of Claymation (models were adjusted up to 24 times per second). The purple ones spawned over 200 products, made it into the Smithsonian, and starred in seven ads, one with a raisinized Michael Jackson. “The Raisins even have their own fan club,” says agency exec Claude Jacques. What other dried fruit can make that claim?
AGENCY: Foote, Cone & Belding
YEAR: 1986

14 HALLMARK

“100TH BIRTHDAY”

Hallmark cared enough to send its very best with this two-minute spot about a 100-year-old woman’s surprise party. Thank the spunky star, the now-deceased Fannie Peterson, a.k.a. “Ma Pete.” Also thank the punchline, where one of Ma’s crusty buddies turns to another and snipes, “She’s actually 101.” Says copywriter Judy Faulkner-Krause, “Just when you think it’s going to be pure schmaltz, there’s a zinger.”
AGENCY: Leo Burnett
YEAR: 1990

15 BENSON & HEDGES

“THE DIS-ADVANTAGES”

The ad equivalent to Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In: quick cuts of puffers haplessly adjusting to the longer length of their Benson & Hedges 100’s. Ad cocreator Dick Rich says the spot “first aired on a Saturday during Mission: Impossible and was an overnight sensation.” The groovy bossa nova music (by Mitch Leigh, composer of a little Broadway thing called Man of La Mancha) became the Top 40 hit “The Dis-Advantages of You.”
AGENCY: Wells Rich Greene
YEAR: 1966

16 NIKE

“HANG TIME”

The first collaboration of Spike (as in filmmaker Lee) and Mike (as in hoopster Jordan), set the irreverent tone. “Traditionally, sports ads had taken an inspirational, athlete-as-hero route,” says Nike’s Chris Zimmerman. “We broke ground in [laughing] at ourselves.” Lee, who also directed, played motormouth Mars Blackmon; Jordan his reluctant stepladder. The 10-part series made Air Jordan No. 1 and popularized the slang term money.
AGENCY: Wieden & Kennedy
YEAR: 1989

17 CHEVROLET

“BOY MEETS IMPALA”

Shut up and let your pictures do the talking. That idea drove this iconoclast in the narration-heavy ’50s. Here’s the all-American story, shrewdly tapping new feelings of prosperity: A prom-bound boy sadly eyes his jalopy when Dad springs a surprise—Junior can drive the old man’s new convertible! Part of a campaign with a then huge $1 million budget, the ad contained only 21 words, including “What a gal! What a night! What a car!”
AGENCY: Campbell-Ewald
YEAR: 1958

18 MARLBORO

“FOGGY MORNING”

Agency founder Leo Burnett said it best: “Do you know anything more masculine than a cowboy?” Hence the tight-lipped Marlboro Man, who perfectly mainlined America’s tough-guy mythology. The poetic campaign—including this cinematic spot—helped turn a tiny brand once aimed at women (slogan: “Mild as May”) into a market leader. Its dark side: The widow of Marlboro Man David McLean, who died of lung cancer, is suing the tobacco giant for damages.
AGENCY: Leo Burnett
YEAR: 1967

19 DIETPEPSI

“APARTMENT 10G”

This superbly edited ad forced Michael J. Fox to defy rain, traffic, and a menacing gang, all to fetch a soda for his hubba-hubba neighbor. Director Rick Levine wanted a feature-film look, and he got it by scrapping sets for naturalism: “Three days we shot in the rain; Michael was shivering from cold.” Pepsi was so jazzed, the Family Ties star got a reported $2 million a year, three-spot deal. Costar Gail O’Grady got her payoff in ’93: Donna Abandando on NYPD Blue.
AGENCY: BBDO N.Y.
YEAR: 1987

20 AT&T”

“JOEY CALLED”

AT&T reached out and touched us with this vignette of an aging mother moved to tears by her grown son calling “just ‘cuz I love you.” Back then, “long distance meant bad news,” says N.W. Ayer’s Tricia Kenney. “We wanted to overcome that.” She also cops to a more hard-nosed motive: “We were preparing for divestiture. AT&T was a monopoly, but there was competition on the rise.” As in…MCI?
AGENCY: N.W. Ayer & Partners
YEAR: 1981

21 MCI

“PARENTS”

MCI’s shrewd parody of “Joey Called”—an elderly mother sobs not over her son’s affection but at her phone bill—was funny and aggressive. “At that time, AT&T had 98 percent of the market,” says copywriter Tom Messner, “so we attacked it…. We’d tell the salespeople when the ad was going to run, so they’d be ready. Once calls [to switch to MCI lessened], we took it off the air.” But not before winning a Clio.
AGENCY: Ally & Gargano
YEAR: 1982

22 SUNSWEET PRUNES

“TODAY THE PITS…”

Actor-writer-director Stan Freberg was the commercial auteur who introduced sarcasm and skepticism to TV ads, and his soft-sell philosophy—”Here’s a product; you might enjoy it. If not, that’s OK too”—was never better articulated than here. A man grimaces at a box of pitted prunes; he tries one, likes it, but hates the wrinkles. Freberg’s mock-heroic tag “Today the pits…tomorrow the wrinkles” worked: Prune sales rose an estimated 400 percent.
AGENCY: Freberg, Ltd.
YEAR: 1967

23 DANNON

“OLD RUSSIANS”

No one actually promises that Dannon will stave off death. Instead, a nudge-nudge voice-over says, “In Soviet Georgia, where they eat a lot of yogurt, a lot of people live past 100.” The first capitalist ads filmed in communist USSR, they show real, aged Georgians kicking up their heels, including one mom with her 89-year-old son! “[They] didn’t get any money for this,” swore Marsteller’s Milton Sutton at the time. “There was an exchange of souvenirs.”
AGENCY: Marsteller Inc.
YEAR: 1977

24 MCDONALD’S

“CLEAN”

Served up to highlight McDonald’s image as a spotless, family-friendly chain, this exuberant fast-food homage to a Busby Berkeley musical also debuted the chain’s new theme song, “You Deserve a Break Today,” later sung (but not written) by Barry Manilow. The ad—featuring a pre-Good Times John Amos and a pre-Happy Days Anson Williams—recharged a hackneyed genre with a sweet naivete rare in commercials.
AGENCY: Needham, Harper & Steers
YEAR: 1971

25 MAYPO

“MARKY MAYPO”

Marky, the cartoon brat who squalled, “I want my Maypo!” put the maple-flavored oatmeal on the map and inspired a later generation’s slogan: “I want my MTV!” The stark, ultra-’50s animation was by John and Faith Hubley, who went on to win three Oscars for their animated shorts. The Hubleys’ 4-year-old, Mark, provided the kid’s voice. Does this mean he was the first Marky Mark?
AGENCY: Fletcher Richards, Calkins & Holden
YEAR: 1956

26 DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

“CRASHING GLASSES”

It’s what you don’t see that makes it powerful. There are no snarled fenders, no bloody bodies. Instead, this anti-drunk driving PSA for the Ad Council lets a simple visual pun do all the work: Glasses approach for a celebratory clink—only to smash to shards. The ad (shot in super slow-mo by a camera designed to track missile launches) transcends language: It has played around the world.
AGENCY: Leber Katz Partners
YEAR: 1983

27 IKEA

“DINING ROOM”

They’re Everycouple. They gaze into each other’s eyes, bicker about buying a table, talk about commitment. And, oh yeah, they’re both men. Such was the attitude that infused this spot, the first (and so far only) major ad to matter-of-factly portray a gay couple. Predictably, the religious right protested. But the Swedish furniture company argued it wasn’t a political statement, just one in a series that also depicted hetero couples and a divorcee.
AGENCY: Deutsch Inc.
YEAR: 1994

28 LIFE

“THREE BROTHERS”

“He likes it! Hey, Mikey!” Who doesn’t remember and love little chubby-cheeked Mikey, played by then-3-year-old John Gilchrist? The ad has been a mixed blessing for Life owner Quaker Oats; they’ve been trying to come up with a fresh campaign ever since, but focus groups tell them that Mikey’s is the only one they like. In ’86, Quaker gave up and shot an updated version with an 18-year-old Gilchrist; the results were pretty Life-less.
AGENCY: DDB
YEAR: 1971

29 LEVI’S

“DOCTORS”

Part ER, part Monty Python, this is Advertising of the Absurd at its best. Directed by MTV fave Spike Jonze, the macabre musical features a jeans-wearing patient singing the ’80s cheeseball hit “Tainted Love” to the beat of his EKG (rights were unavailable for “Chain Gang”). Spike wanted to make it gorier. “We had to rein him in,” says account supervisor Ken Epstein, who oversaw a second clever Levi’s spot about strangers in an elevator.
AGENCY: Foote, Cone & Belding
YEAR: 1996

30 COKE

“MAX/INTERVIEW”

One of the first computer-generated pitchmen, wisecracking Max Headroom (actor Matt Frewer with latex mask) was already a cable talk-show host when Coca-Cola made him their symbol for new Coke. Headroom’s sarcasm and the headlight-bright visuals “broke records for consumer awareness,” said Coke senior VP John Reid. But while people loved Max (he got his own ABC TV show), they hated new Coke. Max’s tag line, “Catch the Wave,” quickly sank.
AGENCY: McCann-Erickson
YEAR: 1987

31 MEOW MIX

“SINGING CAT”

The image of a feline crooning those memorable lyrics (“Meow, meow, meow, meow”) is so silly it’s genius—a refreshing alternative to the whinings of rival Morris. Curiously, the absurdly cheap $3,000 spot was an accident: While shooting a more straightforward ad, the furry star choked. It looked funny, so the ad guys looped the footage and added music. Assures Jerry Della Femina, “I gave the cat a Heimlich maneuver.”
AGENCY: Della Femina, Travisano & Partners
YEAR: 1972

32 POLAROID

“ONESTEP/SUN SYSTEM”

In perhaps the most effective teaming of celeb endorsers, James Garner and Mariette Hartley spar, flirt, and joke so convincingly, people thought they were really married. Winner of three Clios, it was a rare campaign praised by feminists for Hartley’s giving-as-good-as-she-got exchanges. The spots ran four years, and people still ask for more, but Garner’s now on to pushing the Nicotrol patch and Hartley’s touting Axid heartburn medication.
AGENCY: DDB
YEAR: 1977

33 NISSAN

“TOYS”

The spiritual heir to Chevy’s prom story, this ad has no talk of mileage. In fact, no talk at all. Just pure adolescent fun: As Van Halen rocks, a convertible-driving G.I. Joe look-alike seduces a Barbie double. With real people “it might’ve been chauvinistic,” admits creative head Lee Clow. But with stop-motion dolls, the million-dollar-plus toy story has become such a hit, Nissan plans to sell the remote-control car.
AGENCY: TBWA Chiat/Day
YEAR: 1996

34 WILKINS INSTANT COFFEE

“CANNON SHOT”

Not just a java ad but one of the first Muppet commercials. Jim Henson, 20 at the time, created spokespuppets Wilkins and Wontkins to push the product. The eight-second spot has a timely prescience: Wontkins carries a sign that reads “TV Anti-Violence League”; Wilkins blasts him with a cannon for not liking coffee. Clearly, Henson’s delightful anarchism was brewing.
AGENCY: M. Belmont ver Standig Inc.
YEAR: 1957

35 DUNKIN’DONUTS

“TIME TO MAKE THE DONUTS”

The Maytag repairman waited for our call. Rosie picked up after us. But no one gives as much as Fred the baker. For 15 years, the sleep-deprived martyr has kept the pastry chain (which spends over $40 mill a year on the campaign) atop the donut heap. By the way, actor Michael Vale’s vaguely fascistic facial hair was a Dunkin’ dictum, lest viewers confuse Fred with dairy pitchman Sam Breakstone (also Vale).
AGENCY: Ally & Gargano
YEAR: 1982

36 LITTLE CAESARS

“HIGH CHAIR”

Pizza companies crave the money shot. “They always say, ‘Give me a cheese pull,'” laughs agency head Cliff Freeman (who voiced this ad’s “Cheeser, cheeser” tag line). “They want the cheese trailing off the slice.” Well here’s the Mother of all Cheese Pulls, and perhaps advertising’s best use of exaggeration: The mozzarella (made of rubber) is so stringy, a giggling baby and her high chair are propelled slingshot-style from living room to front yard.
AGENCY: Cliff Freeman and Partners
YEAR: 1991

37 PEPSI

“SECURITY CAMERA”

Veteran ad director Joe Pytka has a knack for instant atmosphere; this spot—a Coke deliveryman captured by the store’s security camera as he tries to cadge a Pepsi—is his masterpiece to date. If the punchline is tons of Pepsi cans cascading out of the fridge, the genius stroke is the raw, plaintive music: Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart” as piped-in Muzak. The ad was the ’96 Super Bowl’s high point; later that year, Pytka released the feature film Space Jam.
AGENCY: BBDO N.Y.
YEAR: 1996

38 KEEP AMERICA BEAUTIFUL

“CRYING INDIAN”

The image of Cree Cherokee Iron Eyes Cody weeping at his country overrun by pollution is unforgettable, and was so effective that Keep America Beautiful’s nonprofit programs “increased [from 0] to 500” thanks to the two spots, says KAB head Roger Powers. Ironically, Cody, a vet of Westerns, couldn’t swim and wore a life preserver under his buckskins when canoeing for one ad. Now 94, he lives in L.A.
AGENCY: Marsteller
YEAR: 1971

39 CHANEL NO. 5

“MARILYN”

How do you make a $250-an-ounce product with classic cachet appeal to a new generation? Chanel solved its problem with a heady mix of seduction and technology: A moviegoer (actress Carole Bouquet) morphs into Marilyn Monroe singing “I Wanna Be Loved by You,” all because she’s wearing Chanel No. 5. The ad cost major bucks (rights to Monroe’s image and the song alone cost a few million), but success smelled sweet: Sales went through the roof.
AGENCY: Arnell Group
YEAR: 1994

40 AMERICAN EXPRESS

“RAGS TO RICHES”

A perfect match of celebrity with ad sensibility, as what-me-worry? Jerry Seinfeld uses his American Express card to survive the rigors of falling overboard at sea (it’s actually a remake of an AmEx spot from the ’70s). Company ad VP Peggy Mitchell-King says that Seinfeld—a Cardmember since 1980—”provides a lot of input into the creative process, often improvising and adding his keen sense of irony.”
AGENCY: Ogilvy & Mather
YEAR: 1994

41 VOLKSWAGEN

“RONNIE & JONNIE”

Early VW ads were notoriously wry, but for sheer funniness, it’s hard to beat this spot, which centers not on a car but on two hokey Tin Pan Alley types desperately trying to write a catchy jingle about the Bug’s new features. At first the duo ignites with “Dish pistons optimized, compression ratio-o-o, Oh, yes, I know-ow-ow,” but, defeated by all the technical jargon (“advanced manifold pre-heating system”), they soon run out of gas. An inspired ad about a lack of inspiration.
AGENCY: DDB
YEAR: 1972

42 HUSH PUPPIES

“VENTILATED HUSH PUPPIES”

His name is Jason, and he’s the anti-Spuds MacKenzie: underrated and understated. In this perfectly contained 15-second spot (the first of six), the sad-eyed basset’s droopy ears are raised by the whoosh of an unseen subway—a wry nod to Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch. The punny punch line: “Ventilated Hush Puppies.” Fishing line taped to the ears created the effect. It took 20 takes, says art director Bob Barrie, but Jason seemed to “really enjoy himself.”
AGENCY: Fallon McElligott
YEAR: 1988

43 BRYLCREEM

“GIRL IN TUBE”

Shortly before the Beatles made mop tops the rage, ’60s hair-goo products like Brylcreem—”A little dab’ll do ya”—permeated TV ads, none more famous than this one, featuring a slinky woman slithering up and out of a ‘creem tube. (The tube was 12 feet tall; the Brylcreem girl wasn’t inside it, but climbed a ladder behind it.) A little more than 30 years on, the tag line on this ad—”Are you man enough to try it?”—seems quaintly prehistoric.
AGENCY: Kenyon & Eckhardt
YEAR: 1966

44 BIC

“FLICK YOUR BIC”

Bic was already known for indestructible pens; ads showed them withstanding flames. But when the product was a flame—the disposable lighter—Bic took a different tack, with a series of comic spots highlighting Superfly fashion. “Flick your Bic” was the slogan; instant gratification the sexy subtext. In one spot, a woman declares, “Myron and I have a liberated marriage. I flick his Bic as often as he flicks mine.” Racy stuff from a racier time.
AGENCY: Wells Rich Greene
YEAR: 1974

45 NIKE

“MUNOZ”

It could have been seen as exploiting a tragic epidemic to sell sneakers. But the $100,000 ad showing HIV-positive marathoner Ric Munoz succeeded as an inspiring AIDS story, a Madison Avenue first. The classy approach: narration-free images and stark titles (“80 miles every week…10 marathons every year…HIV-positive…Just do it”). Says writer Jim LeMaitre, “There was no need to dramatize.” And yes, Munoz is still running. AGENCY: Wieden & Kennedy YEAR: 1995

46 QUISP AND QUAKE

“QUISP VS. QUAKE”

Delightful wise-guy wackiness from Jay Ward Productions, which gave us Rocky, Bullwinkle, and the Cap’n Crunch commercials. Also notable for pushing two cereals in one ad: Dithery alien Quisp raves about the product bearing his name (“The biggest-selling cereal from Saturn to Alpha Centauri!”); Quake disagrees. A hard-hatted miner, big of jaw and small of brain (think George of the Jungle), he was voiced by William “Cannon” Conrad.
AGENCY: Compton
YEAR: 1965

47 CHEER DETERGENT

“HANDKERCHIEF”

As grand opera swells, a silent, portly fellow—Second City alum JoBe Cerny—takes a dirty handkerchief and plunges it into a cocktail shaker, adding Cheer detergent, water, and ice. A couple of shakes and, voila!, the handkerchief is gleaming. The ad’s stylistic paradox—visual minimalism and musical maximalism—is a blissful assault that somehow conveys the notion that high culture is cleansing. Not your usual TV message.
AGENCY: Leo Burnett
YEAR: 1987

48 TRIX

“FIRST RABBIT”

Trix’s obsessive rodent made Madison Avenue safe for lovable losers. (Soon to follow: Charlie the Tuna.) In his quest for “raspberry red, lemon yellow, orange orange,” our antihero has donned 40-plus disguises. The inevitable rebuke: “Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids.” Now voiced by Russell Horton (Annie Hall’s pretentious moviegoer), the rabbit foreshadowed Cosby’s Jell-O ads in “empowering kids,” says current creative director Dave Shea.
AGENCY: Dancer Fitzgerald Sample
YEAR: 1959

49 MENTOS

“THE FRESHMAKER”

A rarity: pure, unself-conscious camp. The Dutch candy’s campaign, with its ’70s-style Euro-pop jingle and corny acting, irked as many as it pleased. Nevertheless, the spots boosted Mentos’ visibility in America, especially among Gen-Xers with a taste for goofiness. Trend-setting ads that even inspired an MTV Video Music Award winner—the Foo Fighters’ “Big Me”—they’re prized for what video director Jesse Peretz calls their air of “total lobotomized happiness.”
AGENCY: Pahnke & Partners
YEAR: 1992

50 THE VEG-O-MATIC

“IT SLICES, IT DICES”

Without Ron Popeil, Cher would be just another rock star/Oscar winner. This hyperkinetic salesman is considered the grandpa of the infomercial, a genre as American as mock apple pie. Popeil has squeezed out roughly 50 ads (including Pocket Fisherman, spray-on hair), the first for a mere $550. But his pitch for Veg-O-Matic, a slicer/dicer/julienner, was his Sistine Chapel. With trademark understatement, he called it “world-famous… amazing…tremendous!”
AGENCY: Ron Popeil
YEAR: late ’50s