Best TV adverts and commercials

This week marks the 60th anniversary of the first television advertisements on British television with the creation of the first Independent Television channel to take on the BBC which famously (and in my view, thanks heavens for that) doesn’t show any television advertising.

Maybe it is because in the U.K. we all very easily able to avoid television advertising that our advert makers have been forced to produce relatively entertaining and memorable adverts.  Many adverts, more so 10-20 years ago were so subtle it was entirely possible to watch them and not really be aware of what was being advertised and many others were infinitely better than the TV shows they are sandwiched between.

I must admit I don’t really watch commercial channels.  With a few exceptions the shows are not the sort of thing that interests me and I’m sure this is partly because of the need for commercial breaks and advertisers desires to attract certain audiences.   As someone with an ancient push button phone who has just purchased a new winters coat to replace my perfectly warm but slightly drab looking 1997 coat, its fair to say I’m not really influenced by adverts so maybe the feeling is mutual!

What I find really annoying for some reason are some foreign TV adverts.  Not many foreign adverts as generally I love them when I am abroad.  I don’t mind the French, Spanish or Italian adverts that occasionally thing speaking to viewers in a language most don’t understand may attract wine, beer or car purchases.  The ones I don’t like are predominantly German ones where the lighting level is too bright, everyone is a little bit too white and the advert is filmed in such a way that they think they can dub it into 20 languages and we never quite get to clearly see the actors faces when the words are being said.   There are also a very few American adverts that clearly make no effort to pretend they are being filmed locally and even use terms that people here barely understand… if companies don’t value me enough to make a proper advert then be prepared for me to switch off!

Here are some of the more famous and mostly hilarious television adverts that I grew up with.  I really could have picked 60 of them, not just 16.  For some of you it may spark a little deja-vu and for others it will no doubt make us look even more crazy than we undoubtedly are.

  1. BT – It’s for you-oo.   I always liked this advert even though I was only 8 or 9 when it first appeared.  For some reason I knew all about the Battle of Little Big Horn and thought the advert was quite hilarious.   It gets you thinking how much telephones and communication have changed the world.

2.  Carling – Bouncing bomb advert.   This isn’t the first Carling advert to use the famous story of the Dambusters and their bouncing bomb.  An earlier one had the bouncing bombs being saved by a fantastic German goalkeeper who obviously drank Carling Black Label.  This one though I think is funnier and dates from the early 1990’s and depicts a valiant patriotic move to secure the best pool lounger from those early rising friends in Germany.

3. Shake and Vac – This advert might be a big catchy for the first few thousand times you hear it but as it aired regularly from the 1970’s – 90’s it can get a bit repetitive.  Few people in Britain over the age of 25 are unable to recite the words perfectly.  My dog loved Shake and Vac, he would always roll in it which delayed the hoovering process considerably.

4. Tang0 – This advert was quite short lived as it was quickly modified for broadcast amid fears that it was being copied at school.   It features a man drinking a new brand of soft drink with two stereotypically excited and bored football commentators describing the action.

5. Smash Robots – This advert also dates from the 1970’s and this along with successors were onscreen for decades.  Still everyone used to buy Smash so I guess it worked.

6. Heineken – The Water In Majorca .   When I was a kid at school, everyone loved this advert and everyone would try to copy the accent, with or without Heineken.  Both Heineken and Carling were and still are famous for their comedic advertising campaigns.

7. Yellow Pages – French Polishers.  This advert is from around 1990, it was one of those people actually liked watching for the ending.   So much more imaginative than those generic Kinder and Muller adverts!

8. Smirnoff Vodka – This advert dates from about 1990 and would run in the cinema for 10-15 years.  I think it is one of the most incredible adverts I have ever seen and actually had the music in my head yesterday which prompted me to write this post.   When it was viewed on the big screen it was incredible.   Surely it beat The Matrix to Bullet Time by about 15 years .   This 1 minute advert surely beats most action movies on thrills and spills.

9. Honda -The Cog .  Dating from 2003 this advert was widely lauded as being perfect.  It’s still incredible to watch now.

10. Scotch Video Tapes – Whoever thought up the idea of a dancing skeleton to advertise video tapes with the catch line ‘Re-record not fade away’ was something of a genius.

11. Castlemaine XXXX – In the 1990’s our televisions were swamped with adverts for Castlemaine XXXX.  They were all funny  in one way or the other and played up to the British idea at least of the Australian outback.

12. Hamlet – The Mild Cigar.   TV Advertising for tobacco has been banned in the U.K. for decades which though a good thing for health did actually upset a few people because it meant we were forever deprived of the ingenuity of this long line of advertising.

13. Stella Artois – This was perhaps the first of a new line of advertising by Stella in the 1990’s featuring a man who crossed the country to fulfil a dying wish but you have to watch it to see what happens.

14. Cadbury’s Chocolate – Cadburys are another iconic brand famous not just for their delicious chocolate (with a glass and a half of milk as we all remember from adverts) but also for their advertising.  I like this advert as I used to see it often at cinema in the months after my mother died and it always got me in the mood for the movie.  Also it reminded me of a friend where I used to work where we had the most fun ever… but only when everyone was out of the office.  The amount of laughing we did and then had to stop when our calls were taken off hold was unreal.  Surely everyone dances on their chair at work… they do in my work from home office!

15. Milk – This advert by the British Milk Council is an all-time classic.  Here two boys end up fighting over the milk as Liverpool football hero Ian Rush has advised one that if they don’t drink milk then they will never make the big time.     Accrington Stanley… who are they?  EXACTLY!

16. Aleksandr The Meerkat – Compare the  – Probably the only set of adverts currently active on TV which will be remembered by future generations.   This ingenious and extremely long running series of adverts features an aristocratic Russian Meerkat, Alexandr Orlov along with long suffering Sergei, baby Oleg and various other characters from Meerkhova.  Originally Alexandr was running a Meerkat online dating agency called Compare The and was growing infuriated by people bothering about their car insurance who really needed Compare The

In around 7 years, Aleksandr has saturated our lives, written a UK number 1 top selling book and woven his way into popular culture with his trademark ‘Simples!’ My wife has a cuddly toy of Baby Oleg and below is a garden ornament of Aleksandr dressed in the uniforms of a Victorian soldier during the Zulu wars (co-incidentally on guard next to a war and history book).

Here you can see our first glimpse of Aleksandr

This clip below is part 2 of the tale of how Aleksandr ended up in Russia.  Here we are introduced to the dastardly Mongooses!

For people like my lovely wife who were upset when Baby Oleg left, here you can see some of his best moments.

The most recent Meerkat advert currently onscreen now features out two biggest stars plus Mr. Arnoldr

For more information our favourite Russian Meerkat, you can check out his Youtube channel  which also leads to his Twitter, Facebook and everything else a meerkat has these days.

You can see my favourite advert from 2014 in my post here.  A much more sombre Christmas Advert recalling the Christmas Truce and football match in WW1.

Let me know if you have a favourite!

About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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5 Responses to Best TV adverts and commercials

  1. Francis says:

    Great fun. I loved your selection!


  2. My favourite advert was the De Beers one where a woman picked leaves out of the air and they turned into earrings/bracelets – music was Karl Jenkins. Wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your wife wasn’t the only one. God, I was so upset. That baby was adorable. They got rid of him because he had to go out on a high – too much of him, and he would’ve lost his charm. But, they brought back that Welsh ‘Go Compare’ guy, so you never know…

    I still can’t believe the guy who does one of the meerkat voices is the Geordie from Alan Partridge. I can’t see that voice in him.

    The problem with the meerkat adverts is that I’m more interested in the meerkats than the website they’re advertising. They’re eclipsing what they’re advertising.

    (The only advert I’ve seen from this list is the Honda one. Still amazing all these years later.)

    Liked by 1 person

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