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Drew Babb's 100 Greatest TV Spots of All Time_1 - 10

This is, admittedly, a highly personal and subjective list. Thanks to everyone who helped me get the credits, especially my great friend, Jean Hall, one of the best advertising writers ever. If one of your favorite spots is missing, if you have a spot to add, if you can help us complete or correct credits, use the email form at the end. I'd love to hear from you.


100 greatest commercials: number 1"America Runs on Bulova Time"

I put this one first because it's the very first documented TV commercial, according to Wikipedia. It ran July 1, 1941, before the start of the Brooklyn Dodgers-Philadelphia Phillies telecast. It was what we today call a "billboard" -- a one-line intro. Video: A Bulova clock superimposed over a map of the United States. Audio: America runs on Bulova time. Reportedly cost the client $10 to run it!
Bulova Watch
1941


100 greatest commercials: number 2American Cancer Society/"William Talman"

The prosecutor on TV's "Perry Mason", a consistent loser to defense attorney Perry (played by Raymond Burr), gaunt and gray, dying of lung cancer, wins the battle of courage by urging people not to smoke. The copy: My name is Bill Talman. The most unsuccessful prosecuting attorney in the history of the legal profession. I didn't really mind losing those courtroom battles. But I'm in a battle right now I don't want to lose. I've got lung cancer. So take some advice about smoking from someone who's been doing both for years: If you haven't smoked, don't start. If you do smoke, quit. Don't be a loser! Burr was on the set to support his co-star who was sedated and very much in pain. One of the most compelling PSAs ever produced.
American Cancer Society
1968


100 greatest commercials: number 3"I Love New York"

The music and footage are sublime and there were more Broadway and political stars than you could shake a slate at. A feast! The jingle became New York State's official song.
New York State Tourism
Agency: Wells Rich Greene
Writer: Charlie Moss
Art Director: Stan Dragotti
Director: Stan Dragotti
Music: Steve Karmen
1983


100 greatest commercials: number 4"Speedy Alka Seltzer"

That geeky little guy with the tablet cap and the big smile sure sold a lot of antacid, didn't he? His original name was Sparky, but a suit at the client changed it to Speedy to pump their tagline, Speedy Relief. Good move. The character was voiced by radio actor Dick Beals and starred in a decade's worth of spots (about 200!) from '54 to '64.
Alka Seltzer, Miles Laboratories
Agency: The Wade Agency (Later Wells Rich Greene for "Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz)
Director: Swift Chaplin Productions (in glorious "pixillation" animation)
Original Sculptor: Duke Russell
"Plop, Plop" Composer: Tom Dawes, Twin Star Music
1964–1980 (sporadically)


100 greatest commercials: number 57-Up/"The Uncola"

7-Up's original early 20th century name was––get this––Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda. So 7-Up was a real step up, moniker-wise. The brand really got a boost in the late 60's when J. Walter Thompson got gutsy with Coke and Pepsi by positioning it as "The Uncola." The first spots featured Peter Maxesque counterculture animation. A great touch was a typical Coke soda-fountain glass being turned upside down. 7-Up actually marketed Uncola glasses. (I bought some!) Later 7-Up campaigns never matched the smarts and sass of this ground-breaking one.
Agency: J. Walter Thompson
1967


100 greatest commercials: number 6"John Elliott"

A home movie of a newly minted Naval Academy graduate, John Elliott, as hundreds of the Middies' hats are hurled joyously into the air. We only see Ensign Elliott for a few moments. But we like him immensely. Then we're told he died a few days later, killed by a drunk driver (who had been charged with DUI but released). Raw, heartbreaking power. So strong that several states have passed "John's Laws" that require cops to impound a DUI's car so he/she won't get right back on the road.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration/The Ad Council
Agency: DDB Worldwide
2002


100 greatest commercials: number 7Eastern Airlines/"The Wings of Man"

This rises above every other airline campaign before or since. Beautiful footage and the God-like voice of Orson Welles reading some of the purplest prose ever (Come. We will be your wings...and though you were born on earth to live on earth, you will be at home here in the sky...Eastern. The wings of man.) The radio campaign was marvelous, too. Later, Eastern really blew it when former astronaut Frank Borman took over the spokesman role and the theme line became We have to earn our wings every day. Ugh. So much for poetry.
Eastern Air Lines
Agency: Young & Rubicam
Writer: Bill Waites
Art Director: Henry Holtzman
Director:
Creative Director: Alex Kroll
(I don't often credit CDs, being one myself and realizing the kudos really belong to writers and art directors. But Kroll needs to be mentioned somewhere in this list!)
1968


100 greatest commercials: number 8"Fruit of the Loom Guys"

The underwear company's venerable fruity logo comes to wonderfully goofy life. Greatest costumes since Edith Head. (There was a green grapes guy, a red grapes guy, an apple guy and a leaf guy.) Provided early gigs for future great actors, F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus) among them.
Fruit of the Loom/Union Underwear Company
Agency: Grey
1975-1990


100 greatest commercials: number 9Heinz/"The Big Production"/Ann Miller

The standard for zany, madcap Stan Frebergian fun. An homage to Busby Berkeley in which legendary hoofer Miller (who claimed to tap 500 taps a minute) encircles a gigantic soup can. There were 21 chorus girls, a 24-piece orchestra, and 4,000 geyser-like water fountains. At the time this was one of the most expensively produced spots in history. At the end of the spot, David Wilcox, who plays Miller's husband, deadpans, Emily, why do you have to make such a big production out of everything?
Heinz Great American Soups
Agency: Freberg Ltd. (But Not Very)
Agency motto: Ars Gratia Pecuniae (Art for money's sake)
Writer/Director/Composer: Stan Freberg
Choreographer: Hermes Pan
Arranger: Billy May
1970


100 greatest commercials: number 10Johnson for President/"Daisy"

A little girl plucks petals off a daisy. She counts backwards from 10. This intercuts with newsreel footage of a horrific nuclear blast. Copy: These are the stakes. To make a world in which all of God's children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die. Vote for President Johnson on November third. The stakes are too high for you to stay home. Has anyone ever matched this kind of imagery? Ran just once: on CBS, September 7, 1964. The reaction was white hot. LBJ pulled it. But it had already incinerated Barry Goldwater.
Johnson for President
Agency: Doyle Dane Bernbach
Writer: Tony Schwartz
1964

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