What the best ads of all time have in common – and what brand marketers must remember about them

Let’s look at some of the very best, most impactful and most timeless brand marketing ads of all time. See if you can spot what they have in common.

June 14, 2022
What the best ads of all time have in common – and what brand marketers must remember about them

What makes a great advert? It’s a question marketers have asked themselves for over a century – from the early days of radio, through the golden age of television and into today’s digital age of video marketing. If you want to know, you need to look for examples of the best ads of all time, naturally.

But it’s not just the question of “what makes a great ad” that has stayed the same. The answer has too. Many of the best ads of all time have something important in common – even when the tone, style, budget or products are very different.

Curious to know what we’re talking about? Well, why tell you when we can show you? Let’s start by running down of some of the very best, most impactful and most timeless TV and video ads. See if you can spot what they have in common.

1. Nike | “Dream Crazy” with Colin Kaepernick

Just Do It was launched in 1988 and is one of the most successful and timeless slogans ever. To mark the campaign’s 30th anniversary, Nike did what it does best; it put out an ad that isn’t just motivational, but aspirational.

The company has a marked history in honoring incredible athletes, and this ad is no different. Nike teamed up with some of the best-known sports stars in the world to drive the message home, including Colin Kaepernick, Serena Williams and LeBron James.

Narrated by Kaepernick, the commercial – titled ‘Dream Crazy’ – uses a formula that Nike has honed to perfection over the years. It emphasizes the importance of believing in yourself, no matter how much you fail, and going the extra mile to become truly exceptional. Don’t worry about being different. Strive for it.

Dream Crazy is also a great example of a company promoting diversity, inclusion and social justice in its ads – showing that Nike isn’t afraid to take a stand (or, perhaps more accurately, take a knee) with its campaigns. *chef’s kiss*

2. Budweiser | “Whassup?”

To readers of a certain vintage, this viral ad needs no introduction. Five men, four phones, several bottles of Bud, and a whole lot of “Whaaaaasssuuups”. Budweiser’s ad was simple, funny and spawned one of the most memorable brand catchphrases of all time when it originally ran in 1999.

It’s been referenced in everything from TV series such as Friends, The Simpsons and The Office, to films like Scary Movie and Central Intelligence. A song called ‘Wassuup!’ was even released by music duo Shaft in 2001.

So why did it become such a renowned pop-culture phenomenon? For a start, it didn’t really feel like an ad. There’s no evidence of slick production values, no sentimental musical score that tugs at the heartstrings and no sales pitch.

But it is hugely relatable. A few friends, chilling at home, shooting the breeze and watching sports. It’s funny; the individuality of each person shines through; there’s a feeling of camaraderie – the kind of low-key, laid-back friendships many people aspire to. And you know what? They’re all drinking Bud. Fancy that.

3. Rocket Homes and Mortgage | “Dream House” with Anna Kendrick and Barbie

Rocket Homes and Rocket Mortgage’s Dream House advert is a classic example of nostalgia marketing… with a twist. At first, it seems like a classic Barbie dollhouse advert from the 1990s – all bright colors, catchy jingles and an overly exuberant narrator.

But what’s this? Barbie isn’t the only one who wants to buy her ‘Dream House’. So does Better Offer Betty, Cash Offer Carl and House Flipper Skipper. And this is where the audience is let in on the joke – it’s not an ad for Barbie after all. It’s a quirky riff on a classic theme (with hilarious cameos from He-Man and Skeletor).

Why the trip down memory lane? Well, nostalgia is a powerful advertising strategy. It’s one that’s used to remarkable effect in TV series like Stranger Things, where 1980s pop culture is such a fundamental part of the show that it’s almost a character of its own.

And could you possibly imagine an ad with Anna Kendrick not having a quirky, comedy spin? Not only does her addition add comic relief, her relevance takes something with deep roots in the past (both Barbie and the home-buying process) and gives it a fresh spin for the modern way of life. What brand wouldn’t want to be associated with those feelings?

4. Charmin | “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin”

How about a vintage ad? Procter & Gamble’s Charmin toilet paper has been around since 1928. But it wasn’t until 1964 that its ads began featuring Mr. Whipple, a fictional supermarket manager who scolds customers who feel compelled to ‘squeeze the Charmin’.

Anyone familiar with the ads will know Mr. Whipple was a hypocrite and would often be giving Charmin’s soft and luxurious TP a covert squeeze himself when he thought no one was looking.

The interesting thing about Mr. Whipple ads is that not everyone’s a fan. In fact, quite a lot of people find them annoying. Copywriting guru Luke Sullivan even wrote a book, ‘Hey Whipple, Squeeze this: The Classic Guide to Writing Great Ads’, based on his hatred of the ads when he was growing up.  

Is it annoying? That’s subjective. But it wouldn’t be the first time an ‘irritating’ ad left a lasting impression on audiences (see also the UK’s infamous Crazy Frog advert of the mid-2000s). Film-makers have also been using antagonists to elicit emotional responses throughout the history of cinema – from Agent Smith of The Matrix to 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s HAL.

The somewhat negative response to Mr Whipple was almost certainly not planned, but it must have moved the marketing needle. The mascot’s 21-year tenure on our screens is testament to that.

Truth be told, whether you find the ads charming or annoying, they did make you feel something – the characters made you feel something – while making Charmin seem irresistible. Funny how that works.

5. John Lewis | “The Man on the Moon”

Our UK readers will know what we mean when we reference “the John Lewis Christmas ad”. Around the festive season, the department store puts out its biggest advertisement of the year, in a bid to win the hearts and minds (and perhaps wallets) of the British population.

The brand has managed to do something similar to Coca-Cola with the invention of the Santa mascot, becoming synonymous with Christmas among its audience. The Man on the Moon ad is perhaps the most famous of all its festive advertisements.

And unlike most other ads, it does so without making you feel solely positive emotions. Loneliness, isolation, some of the negative aspects of old age are all keenly and empathetically felt by the audience. But then comes childhood wonder, and a reminder of the simple but irreplaceable thrill of human connection, even if it’s from a great distance.

The ad, released in 2016, might even be more heartwarming today, a whole pandemic later.

So, what do all the best ads have in common?

It should be clear by now that great ads come in all shapes and sizes. They may be funny, or heart-wrenching, or even irritating. Some have celebrities or mascots, many do not. They can be one-hit wonders or part of a brand’s marketing campaigns for decades.

But one thing the best ads share is they connect with you on an emotional level – they can make you laugh, cry or feel a sense of wonder. Yes, they might even make you roll your eyes or write a book like Luke Sullivan. The magic is in making the audience feel something.

And that emotional connection isn’t built by a product or solution. It’s not the sneakers or toilet paper you relate to. What resonates with consumers is the values embodied by the people, characters and personalities of your brand.

The values of principle and equality, of friendship and camraderie, fun and humor, cheekiness or childhood glee. It’s people and personalities that make these emotions stick.

As Seth Godin says: “Marketing is no longer about the stuff you make, but about the stories you tell.” And what story doesn’t have a protagonist onto whom you can convey charm, empathy, fun and a whole range of other emotions?

All of these ads – all the best ads – have personalities at the heart of all they do. So, why don’t your other marketing efforts strive to do the same?

Most effective affective advertising and emotional resonance tactics

Reinvigorating your marketing funnel with the power of personality

This year, it looks like TV could hand over its crown to digital video in terms of annual advertising spend. Brands splashed out $65.6 billion on TV ads in 2021, but digital video spend is set to climb to $67 billion this year.

Yet, in many ways, platform doesn’t matter. We’re confident that empathy marketing, which has worked in TV and video advertising for decades, will continue to be essential to brand marketers in the future. And you can create emotion-driven experiences far beyond just the top of the marketing funnel.

Digital humans can embody a brand’s voice, values and messaging, building emotional connections that can be utilized in conversations with people – at scale, across every stage of the consumer journey, from awareness to after-sale.

Using a digital human twin of Albert Einstein affected our entire funnel here at UneeQ. Our cost of acquisition fell while website engagement improved. Our web traffic increased 350% while our number of booked demos went up 270%.

Harnessing the power of personalities and putting them throughout various stages of your buyer journey works. It replicates that emotional engagement that ads have excelled at delivering, but allows it to make an impact far beyond your audience’s screen.

So what do you think? How does your favorite advertisement use the power of personality? Or can you think of an ad that doesn’t use personality to create a stronger brand engagement?