1991's best advertisements -- Why we loved Leslie Nielsen, Charles Barkley, Glad-Lock Zipper Bags, and more

Miller Lite claimed the last word: It’s it and that’s that. Bud Dry claimed the final question: Why ask why? But while existential philosophy made its way into the scripts of 1991’s best TV commercials, the imagery was pure Madison Avenue bible: sex, humor, and — when all else fails — babies. Why ask why?

1. Id’s Id and That’s That
Chanel staged un petit opera to promote Egoïste, its new men’s fragrance. Directed by French filmmaker Jean-Paul Goude — the fellow who practically invented Grace Jones — the commercial featured gorgeous demoiselles popping in and out of louvered doors, shaking their fists, and shrieking lines from Corneille’s Le Cid (”O rage! O Désespoir!”), as Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet boomed and swelled. Who got them so worked up? The Egoïste man, who finally plants a bottle of the stuff smack in front of the camera.

2. I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar
A thirsty lady and a thirsty lion climb opposite sides of a hill, at the top of which stands a cool bottle of Perrier. The lion roars at the lady. The lady roars back. The big cat skulks away. Adweek’s critic noted that the spot might not be popular with the PC crowd because of its ”neocolonial overtones”; its boldness did, however, earn it first prize at Cannes’ prestigious International Advertising Film Festival in June — an award called, appropriately enough, the Lion.

3. Adults Only
Jazzy, Twin Peaks-style music plays in the background as the camera lingers on an empty, rumpled bed. ”Earlier this evening,” says the smoky-voiced announcer, ”Sally was wearing an ivory and black buffalo check jacket over a black sequined bodysuit, a black miniskirt, and black tights.” Suddenly a half-naked couple comes rolling across the floor into camera range-proof of the seductive power of A Line, a new line of casual wear from Anne Klein. Or of Sally’s exceptional ability to disentangle herself from a bodysuit without ruining the mood.

4. Second Helpings
Du Pont’s Stainmaster carpet ad (in which a beautiful couple pushed over a table of food) was one of 1990’s most playful ads. This year, the glam couple (model Tatjana Patitz and French actor Jean-Marie Marion) is reunited for another romantic dinner — which quickly degenerates into a whipped-cream-tossing food fight. Wall-to-wall pile never looked so sexy.

5. Rabbit at Rest
The best spoof of the year, Coors’ parody of the famous Eveready Energizer bunny spots, almost didn’t make it on the air. The ad starts out like any other beer commercial, with a narrator droning about ”the brewmeister’s art.” But then Naked Gun‘s Leslie Nielsen, dressed in bunny ears and tail, comes walking into view, banging a Coors Light drum. Eveready tried to stop the ad with a lawsuit, but the judge ruled all’s fair in advertising. ”Mr. Nielsen,” he reasoned, ”is not a toy…, does not run on batteries , is not 15 inches tall…, (and) is not predominantly pink.” But he does keep going and going and going.

6. Car from the Madding Crowd
Forget Fahrvergnugen. With its stripped-down message, Subaru’s 1991 models were aimed squarely at the Gap crowd. ”A car is a car,” says Brian Keith’s voice-over as the camera pans workers welding on an assembly line. ”It won’t make you handsome or prettier or younger. And if it improves your standing with the neighbors, then you live among snobs.” The snobs who are presumably buying the Ultimate Driving Machine.

7. Still Just Doing It
In 1990, Nike unleashed its brilliant ”Bo Knows” campaign (in which then Kansas City left fielder Bo Jackson was shown playing everything but tiddlywinks). In 1991, the sneaker company came up with another winner in its ”Just Do It” portfolio: A Japanimation-style cartoon showing a Godzilla-size Philadelphia 76er Charles Bark-ley storming a basketball court (above), knocking down players like a Sherman tank in gym shorts (”Pardon me, excuse me,” the soft-spoken forward says in the voice-over). It was the most visually arresting TV spot of the year — and it made us eager to see just who’ll do what in Nikes in ’92.

8. Where is Thy Sting
This witty spot for Glad-Lock food bags wasn’t exactly groundbreaking, but it did give viewers a nice buzz. ”Mary Clarey thinks her zipper bags are the best and she’ll never switch to Glad-Lock Zipper bags,” says the announcer smugly. ”That’s right, never,” Mary Clarey says with a firm nod. Then she is offered a challenge: ”Whaddya say we lock you in this phone booth here with either your bag filled with angry bees or a Glad-Lock bag filled with angry bees?” the announcer asks, holding up two bags buzzing with activity. ”You know,” Mary Clarey says, ”change is good — I’ll take the Glad-Lock Zipper bag.” So will we.