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
2 FEDERAL EXPRESS
AGENCY: Ally & Gargano
3 AMERICAN TOURISTER
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 thatsort 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
4 ALKA SELTZER
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."
"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 smocksa 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
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
AGENCY: Della Femina, Travisano & Partners
"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.
8 PARTNERSHIP FOR A DRUG-FREE AMERICA
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?