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Why Some Ads Are Fan Favorites

And How to Make Your Ads Fan Favorites
Brett Friedman

The best advertisements in history are the ones that grab onto a viewer and change the way they see something. This can be anything from an immediate purchase of whatever the ad is selling to a lifelong commitment to a brand. The high-speed digital advertising world we live in today lends itself more so to the immediate purchase option, but we wanted to find out more about those ads that made lasting impacts on people. We wanted to find the fan favorites.

We asked 17 people to tell us about their favorite ads, then we found the core commonalities among them.

Fan Favorites

Apple: 1984

In 1984, Apple changed the world not only with the launch of the Macintosh, but with the creation of an ad campaign that infiltrated the minds of its viewers and stayed within them to this day. The 1984 Apple Super Bowl Commercial referencing George Orwell's book, 1984, was only the beginning of the empire that we know today, but it was the perfect beginning. By focusing this campaign on emotion & cultural relevance, Apple was able stick in the memory and capture the loyalty of its viewers and become the company we all know today.

Elias Manolopoulos, Founder of Aeon Ads, explains why it's his favorite ad:

"My favorite ad of all time is the Apple “1984” tv commercial that introduced the Macintosh. At this point it’s a classic, but when it first launched only a few people knew the brand.

It was just ahead of its time on every level. Both theme-wise, drawing inspiration from George Orwell’s famous book, and product-wise since the world only knew what a PC was. It put the Mac on the map against then competitor IBM even though the company eventually changed stylistically the way it promotes their products."

Spain National Christmas Lottery: Justino

This Spanish National Christmas Lottery Advertisement, entitled Justino, takes a similar approach to becoming a fan favorite as Apple, but in a very different way. Just like the Apple commercial, this advertisement strikes an emotional response in the viewer as it runs through the story of Justino, a lonely, night-shift working janitor at a mannequin factory. However, the biggest difference is that Justino pulls at your heartstrings, while 1984 uses fear and humor. This story-driven advertisement is emotional and memorable to all who have seen it, and that is what makes it Abby MacKinnon's (Content Creator at Hoot Design Co) favorite!

"My favorite ad of all time is Leo Burnett Madrid's Justino campaign. The Pixar-style animation, storyline that pulls at the heartstrings, and tear-jerking ending make this commercial feel more like a short film than an advertisement for the Spanish Lottery.

The dialogue-free video makes this Spanish advertisement easy to understand while still revealing an important Spanish tradition. And as an American,
it was interesting to experience a lottery that is based on community, something that we don't have here.

I love this ad because it made me feel waves of both sadness and delight. It was also beautifully animated, and it taught me about something I didn't even know existed before. We can learn a lot from engaging with global advertisements, something we should all do more often."

Chef Boyardee: Rolling Can

Chef Boyardee's 2006 modern classic, Rolling Can, follows a can of Ravioli as it embarks on a journey to its own consumption. It's a lighthearted story that connects Chef Boyardee to families all across the country. This advertisement perfectly targeted its audience and has stuck with them for years to come.

Cameron Pullano, SEO Content Creator at Falcon Marketing has this to say:

"I would have to say my favorite advertisement of all time is a TV commercial from Chef Boyardee called Rolling Can that ran in the early 2000s. The general concept of the ad is that a child is at the grocery store with their mother and asks their mother for Chef Boyardee, but is denied. Music plays as the can rolls off the shelf, and then is shown rolling down sidewalks, streets, and highways before it ends up at the child's feet.

This advertisement really stuck out to me I think because of how little dialogue there is. The music combined with the lack of dialogue really emphasizes the tone of the advertisement in a way that I try to emulate in my work. Simplicity can be sometimes be much, much more effective than any detail-laden ad. Ads like this remind me to try to make the most of just a few words."

Visit Las Vegas: Championship Trophy

One of the most popular slogans of all time, "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas," coming from Las Vegas' 'Visitors' Authority, exemplifies the exact opposite of its own quote. Great advertisements like Visit Las Vegas' Championship Trophy, stick with their viewers wherever they go. That's why this humorous bachelor-party-based advertisement is still a fan favorite today! Matthew Seltzer, Market Research & Strategy Consultant at S2 Research, explains why he chose this ad:

"My favorite ad of all time is the Visit Las Vegas Champion :30 spot. I'm biased because I actually worked for the Las Vegas visitors authority for a time, but this was a favorite before those days, and I base that on the fact that it's the ad I've shared more times than any other.

Bottom line, it's a great execution of the existing brand (what happens here, stays here). It's an excellent joke, and that's the reason I share it so much - it's memorable and genuinely catchy. But that in mind, it never loses the brand message in telling that joke, which I see happening to a lot of ads out there. It also serves the goal of reaching an international audience without ever feeling like it's pandering to those visitors, which is a really hard thing to do. Like I said, altogether great execution."

Geico: These Renters Have a Clogging Problem

Geico, one of the most consistent and clever advertisers out there, has had numerous viral campaigns; this one is no exception. These Renters Have a Clogging Problem is humorous, brand-relevant, and well-targeted - touching on a noisy flat mate problem that most people have experienced while making us laugh and mentioning their value proposition. Much like the previous ad, Geico does humor right, and when done right, humor sells.

Janice Wald, Blogger, Blogging Coach and Freelance Writer, at Mostly Blogging chose this ad as her favorite!

"The ad has everything: a vintage feel from the Amish family, entertainment due to the dancing, and humor since one of the children eats pasta while dancing."

MTV VMAs 2001: Jamie Foxx and Britney Spears

Some of the greatest ads of the early 2000's, including George Lois' famous "I want my MTV" campaign, came from the MTV we all used to know and love! By using humor to connect celebrities with viewers, MTV was able to successfully promote the 2001 VMAs and teach us all, along with Jamie Foxx, how to dance. Watching Britney Spears teach Jamie Foxx to dance is the perfect example of a perspective-shifting campaign that remains brand-focused and relevant at the same time.

Nicole Russin-McFarland, Film Director & Film Score Composer at Lucky Pineapple Films, chose this ad as her favorite ad!

"One of my favorite ads since my youth is Britney Spears teaching Jamie Foxx a dance using Pulp Fiction music. The 2001 commercial was for the MTV VMAs. It was silly and did not hypersexualize either individual, though both looked great. The beauty of a successful youth oriented ad is you achieve the message of fun without sexualizing the stars."

Always: #likeagirl

Always' #likeagirl campaign is another modern classic that stands out in the advertising world! It's emotional, it's relatable, and it makes the audience see the world from a new perspective.

Danielle G., a frequent consumer of ads from Eyes for Our Lives, colors why it's so impactful:

"The #LikeaGirl television and internet advertisement by Always is my favourite advertisement of all time. This ad delves into various the stereotypes and stigma's young females face that are not often discussed in mainstream media.

The ad asks consists of people's giving their perceptions of what it's like to run and throw a ball like a girl and what it means to be a girl. This ad is extremely powerful as it communicates to viewers a groundbreaking message about how girls continue to remain diminished in today's society. To me, the #LikeaGirl campaign is important because it's a reminder of how girls are as capable as boys are and that we shouldn't underestimate our abilities based on societal perceptions."

Dos Equis: Most Interesting Man in the World

The Most Interesting Man in the World campaign was not only funny & clever, it was also culture shifting (in terms of alcohol). Slavoj Zizek, a renowned contemporary philosopher, once noted that being interested was more important than being happy. This ad encapsulated and pushed that idea to new bounds, turning Dos Equis into a household name through the charming stories told about the Most Interesting Man in the World.

Craig Singleton, Product Description Copywriter at 4kcopywriting.com, sums it up well:

"My favorite advertisement is definitely the (original) Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign. I believe it was developed by the French advertising agency, Havas Creative. The ad itself somehow managed to speak to beer enthusiasts from all walks of life. Whether you had already achieved success, were on your way up the corporate ladder or somewhere in-between, that character gave us all something to aspire towards.

It wasn’t about money, success or fame… but simply cultivating a lifestyle of a more well rounded (interesting) person. The campaign/character itself became such a phenomenon, that there were even dedicated sites for users to come up with slogans, taglines and quotes. (e.g. He once went to a psychic... to warn her | If he were to pat you on your back, you would list it on your resume.) Most importantly, those creative and feel-good vibes were passed on to the product brand itself, and managed to introduce Dos Equis to an entirely new segment of beer drinkers."

3M Post-It: Not Just a Piece of Paper

The Post-It note is an iconic piece of sticky paper found in just about every office, classroom, and household around the country. 3M's Not Just a Piece of Paper campaign is a great example of how advertising can be used to grab people and bring them into a new world. By taking ordinary routines and turning them into extraordinary scenarios, 3M was able to capture the attention of their audience with ease!

"My favorite ad has got to be the one by 3M Post-It. This remarkably simple piece of sticky yellow paper has been part-and-puzzle of our lives at work and at home but as the ad suggests, “it’s not just a piece of paper”. I admire the minimalistic execution as it focuses on the scribbles and doodles we typically do on it.

The narrator starts off with an inspiring thought; that Post-It is a portal for us to speak our minds and a reminder of the important things in life. And as the animated drawings weaved through every simple act like picking up milk or buying roses for a loved one, it makes me reflect and treasure even the mundane tasks in life." - Vincent Lee, Founder, B.R.A.N.D Me

Paddy Power: Loyalty's Dead Live for Rewards

The edgiest advertisements are often the ones that stick with us the longest. This Paddy Power ad used a pop culture controversy to promote their brand's 'loyalty' program. The advertisement succeeds in making a statement, riling strong emotions, and pushing the boundaries of acceptable advertising.

"Paddy Power - a betting company has a history of causing controversy and my favourite ad they have done is no exception. They have funny, edgy content and TV adverts, but they went very close to the bone with a recent one.

Rhodri Giggs the brother of the famous footballer, Ryan Giggs previously of Man Utd fame - was in an ad talking about customer loyalty - for the brand and what it's - which was obviously him alluding to his brother's infamous affair with his wife.

Some say it was in bad taste and went too far. But I feel what his brother did was a lot worse, and Rhodri, not being famous was taking his opportunity to cash in. Some brands push too much to be disruptive and it can backfire, but this one caused many laughs with and outside the football industry, which can take itself too seriously at times.

It resonated as it related to a real-life situation that happened outside the football sphere, but interested everyone involved in football. The innuendo of loyalty perfect encapsulated Paddy Powers new reward scheme with the perfect spin of controversy to draw massive attention to it." - Brett Downes, Marketing Director, Studio 54

Subaru: Checking on the Kids

Subaru hit its viewers right at home with its 2016 campaign, Checking on the Kids. Struck with both fear and love all at once, the audience is pulled into the commercial as if they are watching a tear-jerking movie. Zach Messler has written a full article about its merits, he explains:

"My favorite ad of all time is Checking on the Kids, a Subaru ad for the 2016 Forester. Here's why:

It's a car ad that's not about a car. This ad isn't about the 2016 Subaru Forester. It's about you and how you can keep your kids safe.

The first word is YOU. It could be The 2016 Subaru Forester. It's not. Right off the bat, I know this is a different ad. And I know it's about me.

It perfectly connects a feeling Honey, are you ok? When the screen goes white and that little pip-squeaky voice responds to the mom at the end ('I'm ok'), I get the feels...every. single. time. Subaru has connected the worry of being a parent with the absolute duty of keeping our kids safe...and connected that love...that fear...that hope to their brand."

Essex Safer Roads: Embrace Life - Always Wear Your Seat Belt

Essex Safer Roads tugs on the same emotions Subaru does in this parallel tearjerker. This advertisement gives meaning to its audience without ever needing to say a word.

Scott Hamula, Associate Professor & Department Chair of Strategic Communication, Ithaca College, describes its power: 

"The first ad that came to my mind is Embrace Life - Always Wear Your Seat Belt. I show it every semester in my Advertising class and I am always emotionally moved by it. Apparently many others as well as you can see in the comments section on Youtube.

This ad has it all. It tells a story. It quickly captures your attention with a family in the living room scene where you don't exactly know what's going on. Your interest is maintained as you finally figure out the family's activity. But then, there's twist with an a-ha moment when you realize what is about to occur. The look in his daughter's eyes when she realizes something bad is about to happen to her father, and likewise by his wife. The loving embrace is beautiful.

Plus, this ad is full of symbolism that surprises you; the angel wings, his family's arms, and the glitter. The final layer is the the marvelous music bed, in and under. No words are spoken. None are needed; just the message on the screen at the end."

Tampere University: Human Potential Unlimited

Tampere University uses non-traditional storytelling to point out that humans have unlimited potential. By leading the audience on through a series of heady questions, viewers can relate to the all time greatest achievers, aspiring to join their ranks should they choose to pursue knowledge at Tampere.

Osiris Parikh, Sales Marketing Coordinator at Lilius, describes his favorite ad:

"One of my favorite ads would have to be the Tampere University of Technology's Human Potential Unlimited spot in 2018. It was a stunningly inspirational and provocative ad which highlighted the work of Mother Teresa, David Attenborough, Aristotle and Muhat Mahghandi; all of whom greatly adored for their impact on humanity.

Tampere framed their motto, Human Potential Unlimited, as an idea that we all can aspire to change the world and reach unfathomable heights if we embrace our curiosity. The ad encapsulates the ingenuity, creativity, and ambitious nature of the school, and still remains one of my favorites of all time."

Coca-Cola: I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing

Coca-Cola: 'Mean' Joe Greene

Coca-Cola gets two mentions because it makes some of the most memorable ads out there, not to mention they practically own the feeling of happiness, infusing it into all of their ads. They are representative of a number of companies whose businesses took advertising extremely seriously and majorly succeeded as a result.

Marketing expert Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder & CEO of Mavens & Moguls gives reason to her favorites:

"I started a global branding and digital marketing firm 19 years ago in Cambridge, MA. I watched a lot of TV as a kid and always loved the old Coca-Cola ads (I¹d like to teach the world to sing, Mean Joe Greene), Life cereal (Hey Mikey he likes it), Charmin (Mr. Whipple) and Hawaiian Punch (Punchy). Maybe that is why I ended up getting into marketing and working at Coke and P&G!

These ads made sense to me, they were catchy and memorable and are still stuck in my brain all these years later. I now understand the science behind why they work so well and they impress me even more by withstanding the test of time. These ads tell great stories, are all strategically on point and creatively engaging which is the goal of great advertising after all."

Fig Newtons: Smart Cookies

Smart Cookies. In two words, Fig Newtons positioned themselves as a better option to other cookies years ahead of the 'healthy snack' craze. Their copy spoke to its target and drove home the point that Fig Newtons were in a category of their own with just those two words. This ad is the top pick for Founder of R.M. Barrows, Inc. Advertising & Public Relations, Robert Barrows.

"Many years ago, when I was in my thirties, I saw a magazine ad for Fig Newtons. It said: Fig Newtons...It's not just a cookie, it's fruit and cake. I hadn't had a Fig Newton since I was a kid, and the next time I went to the supermarket, I picked up a package of Fig Newtons."

Brenne Whiskey: Three Wise Women

This advertisement by Brenne Whiskey offers an interesting take on the story of the Three Wise Men. Brian Shaifer, Strategic Director of Pax Divine sheds more light:

"The main reasons I love this is that it is such a cool modern twist on an otherwise VERY traditional holiday take. I later found that all three ladies in the picture were wearing camel hair coats... certainly overlooked by most- but such a creative twist on 3 Wise Men rode in on camels....

All in all such a breath of fresh air.  Certainly makes you smile in such very weird times that we're all going through globally."

Justin Hall Law Firm: Texan. Chicken Farmer. Injury Attorney.

Of all the ads so far, this last one contains the most raw authenticity, which in turn drives raw emotion. And while the brand is not as large as some of the others above, it's just as memorable thanks to its down to Earth aesthetic. While it's not purely UGC, its unedited photos will certainly help reach the 86% of consumers who say realness is relevant to their purchase decisions.

Justin Hill, Owner and Attorney of JAH Law Firm says it all in his genuine self-reflection: 

"I'm a proud Texan, really. My dad is now a retired but lifelong football coach. Picture Friday Night Lights: that was my life. In my spare time, I really enjoy hanging outside with the chickens, making sure our honey bees are cared for, and cultivating a decent garden.

This advertisement for my law firm represents my passion outside of work. I do try to incorporate the other side of me into my work as an attorney which I honestly love. I think it makes us more palpable. I run a small, boutique injury law firm and so it's really important, for me, to be authentic, and I encourage this with all of my team members. This one advertisement embodies that in a simple way."

Making Your Ad a Fan Favorite

Each of the 18 ads above has a distinct voice and message, but their goals all align; they want to shift the way a viewer thinks in order to create an action. Using common elements, the brands who produced these ads were able to make lasting marks on their audiences.

We isolated six core components within fan favorite advertisements that can help make your ads last too:

  1. Story-Driven: strong narrative including a catchy hook, attention-sustaining tension, and a satisfying conclusion.
  2. Emotional: touch on real, relatable feelings, typically positive.
  3. Perspective-Shifting: connects on multiple levels of meaning, capable of relating to many audiences, and causes the audience to see the ad through a different lens than normal.
  4. Audience-Focused: taking the audiences' point of view rather than focusing on the product being sold or the company selling the product and are relatable.
  5. Memorable: relevant and long-lasting, making viewers think about it often enough to recall for months or even years.
  6. Brand-Relevant: themes and messages always tie back to the brand promise in some way.

Fan favorite ads don't always contain all six components, they often optimize on just one. For example, Apple's 1984 ad is highly memorable, Subaru's is highly emotional, and Spain's Lottery has an excellent story. Each of these components has a healthy field of research supporting their effectiveness, check out Google Scholar for more data on the topic.

Whatever it is you go for, try including one or a few of these components in your next ad and it's sure to be someone's favorite!

And don't forget to make your fan favorite ad even better by testing out multiple versions. To learn more about creative component analysis and optimized creative, you can start here or download our guide below.

Read our full creative testing guide

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