Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Top 25 Ads We Can't Get Out Of Our Heads

Even in a TiVo world, some TV commercials just can't be zapped from our cultural psyche. But selecting the 25 most-memorable TV commercials from the past 25 years almost caused USA TODAY's Ad Team to blow a tube.

Here are the 25 TV spots — love em or hate em — that left the most indelible marks on our collective memory. But don't touch that dial.

1 Life Alert: I've Fallen, and I Can't Get Up! (1990)

The best-remembered (and most-parodied) commercial phrase of the past 25 years isn't for a cola or sneaker. It comes from that elderly woman using the Life Alert gizmo around her neck to call for help. It is the ultimate product-as-hero ad.

2 Apple Macintosh: 1984 (1984)

The ad all others have aspired to be. Never mind that it aired once nationally, on the Super Bowl and that few recall much besides that very buff woman wielding a sledgehammer. It sold Macs.

3 Wendy's: Where's the Beef? (1984)

The same year Apple went over-the-top to tout its Mac, Wendy's went under-the-bun to tout its burger. Crusty ol' Clara Peller ranting "Where's the Beef" became ingrained in pop culture. It may be the most effective fast-food ad ever. Sorry, Ronald.

4 Isuzu: Joe "Trust me" Isuzu (1986)

Joe Isuzu ranks among the most memorable auto pitchmen. He (David Leisure) was a remarkably likable liar making outrageous claims about the Isuzus. Joe's job as slimy hawker wasn't to sell cars, but to familiarize consumers with the then-little-known Isuzu name. Did he ever. Trust us.

5 Energizer Bunny (1989)

Energizer stole Duracell's drum-beating bunny, put it in motion and never looked back. For this campaign, Energizer can beat its own drum. And it's still going and going and going.

PR Newswire

6 Bartles & Jaymes: Thank You for Your Support (1985)

Frank Bartles and Ed Jaymes perfected the art of sitting on the front porch step and shooting the breeze. (OK, Ed never spoke.) They convinced millions that the new wine cooler was from a coupla country geezers - never mind that wine giant Gallo was behind it.

7 California Raisin Advisory Board: Heard it Through the Grapevine (1986)

The ad wasn't just the birth of the dancing raisins. It also was the birth of Claymation - clay animated figures that could move and groove. And it was the original better-for-you snack pitch: raisins instead of sweets?

8 Budweiser: Croaking Frogs (1995)

Perhaps the most fondly remembered Super Bowl campaign from Anheuser-Busch starred a trio of talking frogs in a dark swamp croaking: "Bud. Wei. Ser." It was so widely mimicked and so wildly successful, the King of Beers made it a series with talking lizards and ferrets.

9 Bush campaign: Willie Horton (1988)

Who can forget that mug shot? The ad tried to link Democratic presidential opponent Michael Dukakis to a prison furlough for the Massachusetts convict during which Horton raped a woman and stabbed her boyfriend. But Dukakis felt the knife.

10 California Milk Processors Board: Got Milk? (1993)

What could be stickier than to have an entire peanut butter sandwich stuffed into your mouth - and have no milk to wash it down? This first ad was a springboard for Got Milk? - and Aaron Burr - into pop culture.

11 Partnership for a Drug-Free America: "This is Your Brain on Drugs" (1987)

To scare teens off drugs, this public-service ad compared an egg in a frying pan to a brain on drugs. Any questions? Yes: Got cholesterol?

12 Ikea: Gay Men Shopping (1994)

Major marketers were too timid to court gays on TV until Ikea broke the barrier. Two male actors portray a couple shopping for a dining room table. IKEA was bold, but not so much that they shopped for other rooms.

13 McDonald's: Nothing but Net (1993)

With a Big Mac at stake, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird play the most famous game of h-o-r-s-e ever captured on film. Each proposes - then swishes - increasingly improbable shots in this Super Bowl ad. For McD's, it was nothing but net.

14 Pepsi: Michael Jackson on fire (1984)

This ad is remembered not for its wonderfully 1980s capture of the Jackson mystique, but for its pyrotechnics gone awry. Jackson's hair caught fire, and nothing else mattered - not even the fact that the Gloved One refused to be seen in the ad actually holding a Pepsi.

15 Reagan Campaign: Morning in America (1984)

Here's a rarity: a positive political ad. The ultimate feel-good spot boasted of things President Reagan had done, while showing waving flags, happy kids, smiling brides. Only thing missing was a puppy.

16 Nike: Bo Knows (1989)

Super jock Bo Jackson proved he could play pro football and baseball and wear Nikes, all at the same time. But Bo Jackson, you're no Bo Diddley.

17 Nike: Revolution (1987)

Nike changed the world - at least, the ad world, by being first to feature an original Beatles recording in a TV spot. This resulted in a predictable (for Beatles music) flurry of lawsuits, including one for Nike. But in the end, the love you take is equal to the ads you make.

18 Pardon Me, Would You Have Any Grey Poupon? (1984)

Ah, the beginning of a condiment class system. Out with the yellow mustard, in with the brown Dijon. Pardon me, got any purple Heinz ketchup?

19 Federal government: Crash Test Dummies (1985)

It took a coupla dummies (Vince and Larry) to persuade Americans to buckle their seat belts. We all learned a lot from these dummies.

20 Playtex: Model (1987)

Playtex showed some skin - if you can call it that - in the first TV spot showing a bra on live models. No more mannequins in lingerie - cross your heart! It's the grandmother to the Victoria's Secret fashion shows.

21 Chevrolet trucks: Like a Rock (1991)

Most car and truck ads are entirely forgettable. Chevy made its truck ads entirely memorable by cozying-up to singer Bob Seger's Like a Rock anthem. The ads made Seger richer and Chevy truck ads hummable.

22 New Coke: Max Headroom (1986)

He was one part computer chip, one part cult hit and one part goofy while interviewing a nervous Pepsi can. Max Headroom hyped New Coke as the better-than-Pepsi. Uh-oh. Where's New Coke now? Right pitchman, wrong product.

23 Pets.com: Because Pets Can't Drive (1999)

Pets.com was a dot-com victim, but its silly sock puppet was the dot-com darling. What better way to promote an online pet supplier than with a puppy sock puppet with button eyes?

24 Reebok: Dan & Dave (1992)

It was gonna be the perfect Olympic hype. The Reebok ad had the two Americans favored to face off for decathlon gold in Barcelona. But Dan didn't even make the team. And Dave mustered only bronze. Oops.

25 Taster's Choice soap opera (1991)

What will that coffee lead to? That's what the Taster's Choice campaign seemed to pose in a series of titillating, soap opera-like ads that left viewers clamoring for the couple's next installment. Will they ever kiss?