The best British ads
Some hugely memorable adverts have come out of Britain over the years – from the wartime ‘dig for victory’, to the Levis’ Launderette and the Milk Tray man.
The Drum asked creative directors at advertising and marketing agencies to name their most memorable British ad ever to mark the Queen's Jubilee. Take a walk along memory lane and see how many you remember.
Comment and let us know who you agree with - or if you think there is a gem that has been overlooked!
Hovis bike, 1973Pete Camponi, creative director, Gratterpalm“I’m sure I won’t be alone in choosing the Hovis advert as one of the most memorable ads ever made.“‘Twas like taking bread to the top ‘o the world,’ said the lad, as he pushed his delivery bike up the hill to the tune of Dvorak’s New World Symphony.“It was the first ad that was made to look like a film, which isn’t surprising as it was shot by British director and producer Ridley Scott, whose famous films include Thelma & Louise and Gladiator. The ad seamlessly wove the absolute truth about the product and brand into a story rich with emotion. An absolute classic.”
Smash martians, 1974David Waters, founder, Watermill“The most memorable ad of all time? For me it should probably be the impossibly glamorous ads for Martini that showed us New York, at a time when none of your friends or their Dads were likely to ever go there.“Or the Manikin cigar ads from a time before cancer which promised ‘Sheer enjoyment’ and featured a super- hot girl in a wet T shirt rolling in the surf... that musicstill arouses me 40 years later. But it’s not just about what I remember from puberty so I’d probably have to include Blackcurrant Tango because as Dave Knoxsays, you can watch that 50 times and still laugh.“Obviously it’s none of those for me because Smash Martians is my choice if I can only have one. I loved it, the juries loved it, my Mum loved it, nobody didn’t loveit. Perhaps it’s the laughing; perhaps it’s the genius of John Webster. Whatever it is, if you watch it today, you’ll probably smile again and think, fondly: ‘For mash get Smash’. And that’s no mean feat because frankly the product is shit.”
John Smith dog, 1983Bob Nash, creative director, Watson Phillips Norman"My enduring favourite is this spot for John Smith's bitter."It’s made by perhaps the greatest British advertising creative, John Webster, during his long reign at BMP. The ad has a wonderful simplicity. It is laugh out loud funny. It's memorable. And it manages to do all this with a wonderfully British sense of understatement. This campaign for John Smith's ran for ages and yet each new ad was a real event - managing to surprise and delight all over again."
British Gas tell Sid, 1986
The Guardian points of view, 1986Billy Mawhinney, creative director, Big Communications“My most memorable British ad would have to be The Guardian’s ‘Points of view’. It was written by one of the very greatest British ad men, John Webster and directed by one of London’s finest, Paul Weiland.“It encourages us not to rush to the wrong point of view as the story unfolds and we see the whole picture. It’s even for a British newspaper that should perhaps re-look at the ad for themselves. And like any great ad, could run today and be just as powerful. BMP at its finest.”Gerry Farrell, creative director, The Leith Agency"You see a skinhead start running up an alley. In your middle- class way, you assume the Old Bill are up his arse. From behind, you see him sprint towards an elderly gent who holds up his briefcase like a shield. “Oh Jeez Louise,” youthink. “That mindless thug is going to beat the crap out of that nice man!” "From above, you look down on the whole scene and see a swinging pallet of bricks about to crush the old codger’s skull like a bovver boot coming down on a sparrow’segg. As the pallet sheds its load, the skinhead pushes the dear old chap to safety. A voice you haven’t quite being listening to finishes off: ”…but it’s only when you get the whole picture,you can fully understand what’s going on.” "A caption says: ‘The Guardian. The whole picture.’ There has to be a Best- Ever British Ad. This is it. If you’re the only person in the meeja what’s never seen it, read all about it on Thickopaedia."
Milk Accrington Stanley, 1988Leigh Sheridan, creative director, Delineo"One of my top favourite British ads is the one that inadvertently made Ian Rush a household name aside from his football career. Mothers everywhere must have been rejoicing when the ad broke as it was no longer a chore to get their young ones to drink milk.“Set in an everyday kitchen, the ad reaches out to, and relates to, every young lad’s dream of becoming a footballer. Team that with a broad, recognisable (and easily impersonated) accent and it is job done. Even after briefly mentioning it in the agency there was an instant ripple of “Accrington Stanley” followed by “Who are they?”“The ad probably also marks the most watched TV event in Accrington Stanley’s history. So I think the ad was right; there are times when only milk will do.”
British Airways face, 1989Vince McSweeney, group executive creative director, McCann“Growing up in the colonies, I have much fewer British ads to draw from when thinking about ‘most memorable’. But one that readily comes to mind – and surelythat means I’ve answered the brief – is the 1989 British Airways ‘Face’ commercial created by Saatchi & Saatchi. It was guaranteed to stop me mid Weet-bix (yes, that’s how we spell it over there) whenever it came on the telly.“The scale of the ad, to my young impressionable mind, was incredible. Thousands of people all perfectly choreographed, a hauntingly beautiful music track, and a clever twist at the end where the face changed to a globe. It really defined ‘big’ for me. And obviously I wasn’t the only Aussie who felt that way, with Patts Y&R Melbourne paying reference to it in one of the best ads of all time - the brilliantly funny ‘Big Ad’ for Carlton Draught from 2005.”
Carling dambusters, 1989Nick Presley, executive creative director, INITIALS“HHCL’s macho ad for Tango Blackcurrent where Ray Gardner (Tango spokesman) berates Sebastian Loyes (French student) and charges off to the white cliffs of Dover challenging not just him, but the whole world to a boxing match, is hard to beat for sheer patriotism.“But for me Carling’s Dambusters by WCRS (a great British institution in itself, and which must surely be celebrating its own Golden Jubilee soon) is one of our greatest ever ads. Spoofing the 1955 film classic, everything about it heralds the best of British – the casting, the production technique, the exquisite Britishironic humour (we may not be able to beat the Germans on penalties, but we did actually blow up theirdamn dam!) The piece de resistance? The twist of the pilot removing his mask to reveal his radio-mic speech impediment. This ad was created when campaignswere real campaigns… I bet they all drank Carling Black Label back then.”
Reebok theatre of dreams, 1998Alistair Ross, head of creative, Draftfcb“I would like to nominate Reebok “Theatre of Dreams”. Rarely has there been such a great use of British celebrity in a commercial. Never mind twenty of them.“All are linked by the brilliant idea that even famous people want to be in Ryan Giggs’s boots when he scores. A wonderful script, combined with a powerfully uplifting score and sound design, evokes the moment when a goal is scored better than any Nike or Adidas commercial ever has. Goosebumps every time. Brilliance like this is timeless. Watching it again today, the idea remains as fresh as ever, it is only the celebrities that have aged.”
Sony Bravia balls, 2005Sarah Druce, creative director, MARS \Y&R“A quarter of a million bouncy balls fired out of cannons in a sunny San Francisco launched Sony’s new LCD Bravia brand in 2005. The cascade of colour as the balls stream down the hilly streets, bouncing off trees, cars and houses, made me not only love a brand for the first time ever, but buy it.“For Fallon, the easiest solution to communicating the Bravia’s then-new technology would have been to use CGI. But Fallon turned the new tech on its head with a palpably low-tech execution – a cannon firing real rubber balls – to create a one-take-only spectacle. Both client and agency had the balls to be brave – and it paid off. Sony Bravia Balls was one of the first ads to be leaked virally before the agency’s release, and the first to air with a director’s cut. Fallon was briefed to create two follow-on spots – both executed equally creatively.”
Halfords the trip, 2012Paul Garner, UK executive creative director, OgilvyAction"DLKW Lowe’s ‘The Trip’ for Halfords encompasses all the romance of the by-gone days of the 70s but what makes the ad one of the best of British for me is the soundtrack. The seminal Into the Valley by The Skids – is inspired and makes for a great counterbalance to what could otherwise have been a schmaltzy execution that alienated more than engaged its target audience. "The ad uses the cute trick of interposing a 1970s brother and sister with their modern day equivalents to show that while the times have changed, what delights us as people hasn’t. We might live in an always-on society, but the thrill of bike rides and skinny dip remain potent. As such, for me, the ad embodies a core truism on which activation and shopper marketing is based: yes, we’re digitally liberated today. But we still do the things we’ve always done. With that insight, DLKW Lowe has done that rare thing of delivering a call to action without saying a word."
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