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Classic Commercials

Television | By The Top 13 on February 16, 2010

As we watched the Super Bowl earlier this month, we didn't see a single commercial that really resonated. And that got us thinking about the best commercials, whether they aired during the Super Bowl or any other time. We watched dozens of commercials in cutting down this list and really struggled with the final few cuts. Ultimately, however, we think we've come up with a list of the most memorable, effective, and iconic commercials in history. Accordingly, we present the Top 13 Classic Commercials.

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Wendy's - Fluffy Bun

1

Wendy's - Fluffy Bun

1984

Featuring 84-year-old former manicurist Clara Peller as one of three elderly women examining the "fluffy bun" and tiny burger of fictitious Wendy's competitor "Big Bun," this commercial became an instant sensation and is credited with lifting sales at Wendy's by 31 percent in 1985. The irascible Peller inspects the burger and demands to know "where's the beef?" That three-word catch phrase quickly became ingrained in pop culture and was even borrowed by presidential candidate Walter Mondale, who used the line against rival Gary Hart in his successful bid for the 1984 Democratic nomination. This commercial was ranked as the third best of the past 25 years by USA Today in 2007.

Life Cereal - Mikey Likes It

2

Life Cereal - Mikey Likes It

1972

One of the longest-running and most adorable commercials ever, who can forget the three brothers at the breakfast table eyeing a bowl of Life cereal? When neither of the older boys want to try it, they decide to let their finicky brother Mikey be the guinea pig. After one joyful bite, we get the unforgettable catch phrase, "he likes it. Hey Mikey." One of four commercials on the Top 13 inducted into the prestigious Clio Awards Hall of Fame, it was ranked tenth all time by TV Guide. The actor who played Mikey, John Gilchrist, reprised the role dozens of times, including as a college student in the mid-1980s. And no, he didn't die from eating Pop Rocks and drinking Coke at the same time.

Partnership for a Drug-Free America - Your Brain on Drugs

3

Partnership for a Drug-Free America - Your Brain on Drugs

1987

TV Guide named this brief, yet iconic public service announcement as the eleventh best commercial of all time. It starts with a sizzling frying pan, which the voiceover informs us is drugs, and then a raw egg is dumped into the pan and immediately begins to cook. "This is your brain on drugs," the narrator continues. "Any questions?" There were several versions of this PSA, including an update more than a decade later in which actress Rachel Leigh Cook talks specifically about heroin and, after the egg fries, proceeds to destroy the kitchen with the frying pan to show the impact of drugs on a user's family and friends.

Coca-Cola - Mean Joe Greene

4

Coca-Cola - Mean Joe Greene

1979

The mother of all sports endorsements, ferocious but dejected Hall of Fame defensive tackle Mean Joe Greene is limping his way to the locker room when he is cheered up by a young boy who tells Greene that he thinks he's "the best ever" and then gives his idol a bottle of Coke. A smiling Greene takes a sip and tosses the boy his jersey in return. Finishing seventh in the TV Guide poll, this spot was so popular it was adapted into an hour-long television show on NBC with Greene and future E.T. star Henry Thomas as the boy.

Federal Express - Fast Paced World

5

Federal Express - Fast Paced World

1981

Directed by Joe Sedelmaier, who also helmed the Wendy's spot at the top of this list, this awe-inspiring advertisement is considered to be the most award-winning commercial in history. Motormouth John Moschitta talks non-stop for nearly a full minute as he demonstrates just how fast the business world moves. For his work, Moschitta earned one of six prestigious Clio Awards the commercial received. New York Magazine named it "The Most Memorable Advertisement Ever," and it was inducted into the Clio Awards Hall of Fame in 1986.

California Milk Processors Board - Aaron Burr

6

California Milk Processors Board - Aaron Burr

1993

Inducted into the Clio Awards Hall of Fame just last year, this commercial was actually the first in the long-standing "Got Milk" campaign. Directed by Michael Bay, who later helmed schlocky Hollywood blockbusters such as Armageddon and Transformers, this genius spot features an unlucky historian obsessed with Alexander Hamilton who can win $10,000 in a radio trivia contest if he can correctly identify Hamilton's killer. With a mouthful of peanut butter and no milk to wash it down, he can't say "Aaron Burr" clearly enough before time runs out.

Grey Poupon - Pardon Me

7

Grey Poupon - Pardon Me

1981

This commercial gave us perhaps the most unforgettable advertising catch phrase of the 1980s. With one sentence, Grey Poupon's owner at the time, the Heublein Company, transformed the brand from a minor player in the condiment market to the most powerful brand in mustard. In the commercial, a Rolls Royce pulls up alongside another Rolls Royce on a beautiful country road, and a passenger in one asks the passenger in the other, "Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?" The commercial has been parodied repeatedly, including in Wayne's World and in Family Guy.

California Raisin Advisory Board - Grapevine

8

California Raisin Advisory Board - Grapevine

1986

No other commercial on the Top 13 had near the cultural impact of this highly innovative spot. Featuring a cover version of Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" sung in the commercial by an R&B group comprised of anthropomorphized raisins, this commercial launched a brand that included four studio albums, two television shows, a Saturday morning cartoon, and so much more. Ranked as the seventh most memorable commercial of the past 25 years by USA Today in 2007, it is also considered one of the most successful early modern uses of claymation.

Dunkin' Donuts - Time to Make the Donuts!

9

Dunkin' Donuts - Time to Make the Donuts!

1982

The fourth commercial on the Top 13 to earn a place in the coveted Clio Awards Hall of Fame, this spot for Dunkin' Donuts aired for about fifteen years, making it among the longest running on this list. Featured the heavy-eyed character Fred the Baker (played by actor Michael Vale) repeatedly waking up before dawn and uttering the well-known catch phrase "time to make the donuts," this commercial was so popular that the chain surveyed customers to make sure they wouldn't revolt if Fred retired.

Apple - 1984

10

Apple - 1984

1984

Although it aired only once (during the 1984 Super Bowl), this is one of the most successful and acclaimed commercials of all time. Directed by multiple Oscar nominee Ridley Scott (Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, and Black Hawk Down), "1984" was Apple's stunning introduction of its Macintosh personal computer. A brilliant play on George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984, the commercial features a scary authority type on a giant screen lecturing rows of automatons. When a woman hurls a sledge hammer into the screen, causing it to explode, a narrator announces: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like 1984."

Nike - Bo Knows

11

Nike - Bo Knows

1989

"Bo Knows" is the best of many great Nike advertising campaigns and one of the best sports commercials ever. The commercial for Nike's cross-trainers featured the awesome two-sport star playing various sports with stars from each of those sports – including Michael Jordan and John McEnroe – vouching for Bo's knowledge of their sports. Jackson runs into some memorable trouble near the end of the spot, when Wayne Gretzky simply says "no," and blues legend Bo Diddley takes one look at Jackson with a guitar and exclaims, "Bo you don't know diddley."

Coca-Cola - I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke

12

Coca-Cola - I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke

1971

No other commercial jingle has ever become so popular that it was re-recorded without brand references to become a top ten hit, but that's exactly what happened to Coke's "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (in Perfect Harmony)" when this commercial debuted in 1971. This iconic spot features a grainy survey of dozens of diverse young people lip synching the song on an idyllic hill outside Rome, Italy, perfectly capturing the era's mood of hopefulness. The commercial's shoot was plagued by days of rain and ultimately cost $250,000 to make, which was more than any other commercial at the time.

LifeCall - I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up!

13

LifeCall - I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up!

1989

Though the original commercial only aired for about two years before LifeCall went out of business, its catch phrase "I've fallen and I can't get up" is as well known as any on the Top 13. Indeed, in 2007, USA Today ranked it as the most memorable spot from the past 25 years. It's hard to forget poor Mrs. Fletcher sprawled out on her bathroom floor using her medical alert pendant to call for help. Although not quite as memorable as Mrs. Fletcher, the commercial also featured an elderly man named Mr. Miller seeking help: "I'm having chest pains!" In recent years, the campaign has been recycled by a company called Life Alert.

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Comments Leave a comment

jason ★★

Still in shock that Michael Bay directed the Aaron Burr commercial.

11:02 AM   Feb 16, 2010

stillathreat ★★

I've watched Where's the Beef and LifeCall like three times each this morning. Can't stop laughing. But where's the Freshmaker on here?

11:05 AM   Feb 16, 2010

KungFuJay ★★

I could watch that FedEx commercial on repeat the rest of my life and be content.

4:14 PM   Feb 16, 2010

eeezoe 

I love the Federal Express commercial -- the best!

8:35 AM   Feb 24, 2010

eriq 

These are great commercials. Does anyone know where I can find the California Egg commercial with someone mimicking chickens singing "Anything Goes?"

1:02 PM   Apr 12, 2012

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