World’s best ads ever #11: Xbox’s short-lived spot enjoys a life beyond the grave
We asked our readers to vote for their favorite commercials of all time. Top creatives from the World Creative Rankings and The Drum’s Judges’ Club then ranked the ads. Now, we bring you the definitive 100 best TV and video ads of all time.
In the age before YouTube, ads going viral was a foreign concept. But if one can be said to have come close, it was probably Xbox’s ‘Life is Short’ – also known as ‘Champagne’.
At the time, Xbox was in direct competition with PlayStation for consumers’ attention. It decided to opt for a more positive and inclusive brand identity, compared with PlayStation’s darker aesthetic and identity. (Its ads were famously directed by David Lynch.)
However, down the line the ‘Life is Short’ spot itself is perhaps more famous for the backlash against it. In the ad, a woman gives birth to a baby boy, who flies out of the womb and into the air, aging rapidly as he goes before crashing into the grave with the words ‘Life is short, play more’ followed by an Xbox logo. Apparently it was less the film’s graphic nature, more its upsetting theme that led to it being scrapped by the Independent Television Commission. (It attracted more than 136 complaints.)
Microsoft defended the theme, stating it was supposed to be a comment on the fleeting nature of life. Yet the ITC dismissed that, insisting the man’s screams suggested a “traumatic experience” which, coupled with the ‘Life is short’ tagline, “made the final scene more shocking”.
Yet the scandal surrounding the ad likely only heightened its impact, rather than lessening it. After Xbox commissioned BBH to create the spot, with two young creatives Fred and Farid taking the lead on the project (yes, that Fred and Farid who went on to start up their own successful agency off the back of their time at BBH) the ad went viral. Or at least, as viral as it was possible to go in 2002.
At that time, YouTube didn’t exist yet and the only way to share video files was over email. As the ad gained increased attention, the marketing team at Microsoft insisted on adding a tracking code to the video’s URL so the team could see how many times it had been shared – and watched in astonishment as it totaled more than 1m shares, unheard of in those days.
A prime example of the fact that sometimes the best ideas start with a bang – or a pop.