World’s best ads ever #87: Berlitz’s German Coastguard recruit gets lost in translation
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.
This modest commercial from language school Berlitz is proof that not every ad has to be epic to stand the test of time. Created in 2006 by the Bates United agency in Oslo, it has proved a sleeper hit, becoming the sort of cult spot that finds a new audience every few years when it inevitably reappears on social media. And why? Because it’s funny.
Some influential industry figures have made persuasive cases in recent years that advertising isn’t as funny as it used to be. And though some of the ads in the higher echelons of this list would severely test that premise – the likes of Old Spice, Skittles and Epuron immediately spring to mind – it’s arguably true to say today’s commercials are lighter on the belly laughs than their 70s or 80s predecessors, owing their humor more to irreverence than stand-up style jokes. ‘We Are Sinking’ has no such pretensions. It feels, instead, like a well-told old pub joke passed down through the generations. Who knows? It probably once was and after hundreds of thousands of viral views, it certainly will be by now.
The setup is simple. A recruit in the German coastguard is led to his imposing console, given some brief instructions in his native tongue to pay attention to the ‘survival radar’, then left to his own devices. Before he can even settle back into his chair, his radio receives a distress call from an English ship in peril. “May day, may day, we are sinking!” comes the repeated frantic cry down the line. “Hello, this is the German coastguard…” our heavily accented hero responds, more hesitantly than one might expect in such a crisis. “…What are you thinking about?”
Fittingly for a language school, there’s not a wasted word to be found in the copy. Without being subjected to a po-faced lecture, we’re reminded of the importance of the clarity of language, written by a team who evidently relish being playful with it themselves. In a sea of big budget epics, where the purpose sermon reigns supreme, ‘We Are Sinking‘ feels like a throwback to a different age. And yet, unlike some of those blockbusters, this is an ad that will be resurfaced for years to come.