According to both armchair critics and advertising pros, 2007 ranked with the best of times for TV and online video commercials — or it was a disaster.
To help select the year's most memorable ad moments in 10 major categories, the Ad Team asked readers to give us their picks at usatoday.com and also gathered opinions from advertising industry experts.
The responses included an outpouring for ads that people loved, or loved to hate.
The dialogue also included, however, comments from readers — and some ad executives — depressed by almost all video ads.
"Commercials insult my intelligence, make fun of people (mostly men), talk in poor grammar and clichés and perpetuate stereotypes," wrote reader Janice Brown, a technology marketing consultant in Wentworth, N.H. "If you have any respect for yourself, you will turn off your TV permanently."
Nick Law, North American chief creative director at ad agency R/GA, was even more Scrooge-like. When asked for an ad that made him misty-eyed, he responded: "Nothing. Advertising has turned my soul as black as coal."
For the record, reaction to Geico's cavemen ads — which this fall became the basis for a TV sit-com — was strong in both directions.
Based on the views of readers, advertising insiders and the Ad Team, here is a look at 2007's highlights — for better and for worse — in video advertising.
Contributing: Theresa Howard in New York and Bruce Horovitz in McLean, Va.
2007's best ad (and a marketing home run):Frito-Lay Doritos
Sorry, Madison Avenue. The best video ad of 2007 was created on a budget of 12 bucks by an amateur admaker who won Frito-Lay's contest to "make your own Doritos Super Bowl ad."
The romantic tale of two Doritos lovers who meet on the street beat more than 1,000 other homemade ads to air before the Super Bowl's huge audience in February.
The promotion also got more than 1,000 consumers to buy chips, videotape themselves with them and upload video praise.
Then, those Doritos-touting videos were viewed about 4 million times on the Doritos "Crash the Super Bowl" website.
Meanwhile, a crush of media coverage of the novel contest, before and after the game, brought the brand free publicity worth millions of dollars more.
Marketing mission accomplished!
Best online 'viral' video:Unilever Dove
The Evolution Web video from Unilever's unDove brand attempts to show how much cosmetic, hair and digital trickery is needed to turn a real woman into a glamorous billboard image.
The kicker: "No wonder our perception of beauty is so distorted."
The ad, by Ogilvy & Mather, Toronto, is part of Dove's three-year "Campaign for Real Beauty," which aims to debunk impossible body image ideals and celebrate "real" beauty. Evolution was viewed more than 10 million times since it was posted and passed virally by users across the Internet.
The video also generated backlash, as well as praise.
Some consumers saw a double-standard by Unilever: promoting self-esteem in ads for Dove women's products, while often featuring sexy, scantily clad women in ads for its male-oriented Axe fragrances.
Many advertising pros weren't thrilled by the video's not-so-subtle shot at the industry that keeps the beauty care brand's products moving. And that theme was made even more explicit in a later Dove video, Onslaught, which showed a montage of unrealistic beauty images in ads to which a girl is exposed.
Best (not-so) special effects:Toyota Tundra pickup
With computerized fakery now common, this year's best "special effect" was reality — as used by Toyota tm to tout the power and brakes of its new Tundra pickup.
In one "over-the-top" Super Bowl ad, the truck tows a 6,400-pound trailer up a giant "seesaw," then the brakes haul it in as the ramp tips down on the other side. Another ad — which also aired in the Super Bowl — shows the truck racing toward a cliff, then stopping just feet from dropping into the abyss.
The stunts were the real deal — did you notice ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi, L.A.'s "actual demonstration" disclaimer? To back it up, Toyota has sworn affidavits of authenticity.
Made me want to buy it now:Apple iPhone
An ad ahead of the iPhone's June 29 release that showcased the functions of Apple's aaplflashy new gadget stirred lust for the product in hearts far beyond those of famously loyal Applephiles. The ad, created by TBWA/Chiat/Day simply showed a close-up of the phone's touch screen, with a hand demonstrating how the device shows pictures; organizes, displays and plays your music; shows video; and makes calls.
"Apple gets it," says William Ward, a marketing professor at Alfred University, Alfred, N.Y. "The ad clearly demonstrates the benefits. Most companies aren't able to do 'simple' — but Apple takes a pretty complicated product and makes it simple."
Biggest hoot:Jack Link's beef jerky
Readers were all over the map in what they thought was funny, but clear favorites were new ads in the ongoing "Messin' with Sasquatch" series for Jack Link's beef jerky by ad agency Carmichael Lynch. The humor is sophomoric — OK, maybe that's generous — but done with great slapstick timing.
In the ads, hikers who happen upon the legendary Bigfoot dare to pull old-fashioned practical jokes on him and discover why you don't mess with the humanoid fur ball. Examples: Lighting a bag of dog-doo on fire at the entrance to Sasquatch's cave. In another darkly comic ad, a guy slides a "joy buzzer" into his palm, then asks the beast to shake hands. A shocked Sasquatch (Yikes!) pulls off the pranksters' arm.
As one reader, Russell P. Castaneda, posted: "(They're) off the cuff and just plain funny."
•Watch 'em at: messinwithsasquatch.com
•Honorable mention. The Ad Team may be showing its age, but laughed out loud at Kia Motors America's parody of the 1983 film Flashdance. A nerdy car salesman (no Jennifer Beals, the welder/exotic dancer) dances madly to a revision of the movie's anthem Maniac: "He's a maniac, maniac, on the floor. And he's selling like he's never sold before." Ad agency davidandgoliath closes the ad with a takeoff on a signature Flashdance scene when the disco fool is drenched with water from above.
Most offensive/annoying:Pfizer Viagra
No contest, just surprising consensus here.
We admit it's tough to sell a product used for something your potential buyers don't want even to hear about: erectile dysfunction. But Pfizer's pfe latest ad, by agency McCann HumanCare, left readers and ad pros alike scratching their heads.
In it, a rock band of middle-aged guys praises the product by belting out a version of Elvis' Viva Las Vegas— rewritten as Viva Viagra.
Eric Webber, managing partner of Webber/McJ marketing and public relations agency, was among the crowd panning it: "If I had an erectile dysfunction problem and Viagra solved it, I'd probably celebrate too, but not by hosting a jam session with my friends."
•To watch it: go to viagra.com and click on "Watch the music video."
Made me misty-eyed:Diamond Trading Co.
We all know that some — if not most — ads for diamonds are going to shamelessly turn on the schmaltz to manipulate (or guilt) folks into paying a bundle for sparkly baubles. Yet the holiday ad from Diamond Trading Co. (a subsidiary of De Beers) still brought little lumps to a lot of throats.
The ad by JWT shows a loving couple driving down a snowy city street. They hold hands as music plays: "I think that possibly, maybe, I'm falling for you. Yes, there's a chance that I've fallen quite hard over you."
At a stoplight, the man slips a diamond pendant into the women's hand. The light turns green, but they don't move as she leans over to kiss him.
Best characters/ mascots/spokespeople:Apple computers
Actor Justin Long — the Mac — and comedian John Hodgman — the PC — were stellar in 17 new TV ads this year for Apple computers. The PC (usually in a dorky suit) and the Mac (cool and casually attired) discuss their attributes, with the PC humorously revealing his failure to match up. The ads by TBWA/Chiat/Day masterfully humanize a complex technical comparison.
"Absolute perfection," says Mike Lear, associate creative director at ad shop The Martin Agency.
•Honorable mention. Memorable car ads are rare, but sultry Grey's Anatomy actress Kate Walsh made it look easy in a pitch for Cadillac's new CTS. After ticking off a few of the car's many features, she purrs the real bottom line: "When you turn your car on, does it return the favor?"
•Watch the ad and outtakes at: cadillac.com/cadillacjsp/footer/downloads.jsp
Best use of music:Coca-Cola
It's hard to beat Coca-Cola kofor its feel-good music. The company that brought us the ditty, "I'd like to buy the world a Coke," kept up — and updated — the tradition this year by mixing catchy music with video game-like animation in an ad that got such high-profile airings as on American Idol and the Super Bowl.
The song Give a Little Love is the theme in an upbeat ad designed with the look of the video game Grand Theft Auto. A tough-looking guy does good deeds — such as nabbing a purse snatcher and giving money to a street musician — to lyrics such as "You give a little love and it all comes back to you." Agency Wieden & Kennedy created the ad and licensed the music from writer and singer Paul Williams.
Best 'green' ad:GE Ecomagination
Eco-friendly and super-sweet — what more should a green ad be? OK, maybe talk about a product with substance, but GE's gead for its wind energy equipment does that, too.
In the ad, a boy runs up a seaside hill and captures a gust of wind in a jar. He carries it through fields and streets, even on a train, until he gets to a family gathering. There, he opens the jar, and the gust blows out the multitude of candles on his grandfather's birthday cake. Says the voice-over: "Capturing the wind and putting it to good use. Wind energy from GE."
The ad by BBDO, New York, is part of GE's series on "Ecomagination," a companywide initiative that includes plans to spend more than $1.5 billion annually by 2010 on eco-friendly research and development.