Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Grey Poupon?--70 Years of the Best and Worst TV Commercials

Kwei Quartey--Wednesday 

70 Years of the Best and Worst TV Commercials

I don’t know about you, but my eyes glaze over at some of the TV commercials nowadays that lack creativity or ingenuity. Here’s a generic woman who uses Skyrizi for Crohn’s Disease and psoriatic arthritis joining a generic afternoon barbecue to prove she looks great--or is it Tepezza for thyroid eye disease? That’s the point. Some TV commercials aren’t memorable enough to make you associate them with the product. 

Was there ever a time when TV commercials would hold your attention and were better than they are now? I decided to do a quick historical search of commercials from the early TV days to the 2010s and early 2023. I asked Chat GPT to recall a “heyday” of TV commercials from the beginning of TV broadcasting, and although it didn’t define a heyday as such, it categorized commercials in the following way:

  1. 1950s and 1960s: Early Television Era - With the advent of TV, advertisers were exploring the new medium and often sponsored entire shows. The commercials were often simple, but they were a novelty, and therefore engaging at the time. Here’s one example.
  1. Kool-Aid

    Okay, that was pretty bad, but hey, it was the 1950s for goodness sake. But watch this one from the same era and prepare to be shocked.

    Oh. My. God. Unbelievable.

  2. 1970s: The Creative Revolution - According to GPT, this era saw more targeted and creative commercials, often fueled by the social changes of the time. Ads began to focus on storytelling and emotional resonance, rather than just presenting the product. I don’t know if that’s quite correct, GPT. Watch this awful gem:


    From a modern point of view, this is offensive--full of appalling double entendre and the portrayal of stereotyped, giggly, flirtatious women. True, the viewer would never forget there was a deodorant called Tickle, but it’s for the wrong reasons.

  3. 1980s: The Rise of the Jingle - This era was known for catchy jingles and iconic characters (like Tony the Tiger or the Energizer Bunny) that made commercials more engaging and memorable. Consumer culture was booming, and advertisers took advantage of this to create some of the most iconic ads to date.


    I like this because it takes the mickey out of the pomposity of the so-called upper class. Very nice.


    Played for the first time at Super Bowl XVIII in 1984, this Apple commercial is recognized as one of the most effective ever.

  4. Grey Poupon

    I guess the message is “mustard for the masses.” One of the best, in my opinion.


    I think this could still be funny in the present day if updated and tweaked a little.

    1990s and Early 2000s: The Super Bowl Era - Commercials aired during the Super Bowl became events in themselves, with companies spending large amounts of money for a 30-second spot. Budweiser Clydesdales became cultural touchstones.


    As a horse-lover, this gives me goosebumps. Totally brilliant.

  5. Late 2000s to Early 2010s: The Viral Age - With the advent of social media, commercials that could "go viral" online became the new benchmark for engagement. Old Spice's "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like" is an example of a TV commercial that gained massive online traction. This series of Old Spice commercials was played sublimely by American football player Isaiah Amir Mustafa. 

    The original iconic spot with a shirtless, towel-wrapped Mustafa is often cited as the first branded, viral ad sensation with more than 105 million online views and an Emmy Award in 2010. It helped Old Spice become the No.1 selling antiperspirant and deodorant brand for men in the United States.

    Terry Crews also did versions of Old Spice with a completely different vibe!

    2010s: Nostalgia and Self-Awareness - Brands started using nostalgic elements and self-aware humor to engage audiences. Geico's cavemen, Dos Equis' "Most Interesting Man in the World," and the return of older commercial characters are examples of this trend.

    Dos Equis

    Coming up to 2023, Ben Affleck has a series of commercials with Dunkin’ Donuts I’ve never seen but are really quite well done. The first one premiered at the 2023 Super Bowl LVII. I’ve always liked Ben Affleck and he does have a flair for comedy.

    Dunkin’ Donuts

    Old Spice commercials in 2023 have been with Gabrielle Denis and Deon Cole. Although pleasantly amusing, they have little of the charm or magnetic quality of Isaiah Amir Mustafa’s clips.

    What’s your opinion of TV commercials, in general? Do you walk out of the room and ignore them? Except for a very few brilliant ones, they don’t strike a chord in me and I mostly feel they are boring and uninspiring, but then since the only commercial TV I watch is CNN/Al Jazeera, that might be a reason. Apart from that, all my television is Netflix, Prime, Dekko, and Britbox. I pay for the peace of mind of no commercials.


  1. Thank you so much, Kwei!! I had never seen any of them before. You filled a huge gap. All the ones I have seen lately are for cars and medications. Not entertaining AT ALL!

  2. Interesting to see the way commercials have changed since the 1950s; thanks for this review, Kwei. I imagine we all agree that 98% of commercials are boring or even awful, but my husband and I watch an annual program showing award-winning commercials, and some of them are brilliant. Here's one voted best in Europe (it's French):

    1. Oh, super! That is so good--and that’s Bjorn Borg, right? Actually the French have quite a great collection. I was trying to find one that was voted the best commercial internationally, but it was some time ago and I haven’t been able to locate it.

  3. Oh the Clydesdales! As you probably know, the game is now on to ensure their survival as a pure breed of horse - so gentle in nature, so strong and should always look as if they've been splattered with a whitewash brush underneath. They are still used here, cross bred with Irish draughts for police horses due to their calm, intelligent nature.

  4. You’re so right, Caro! Such gentle giants with such serene dispositions.

  5. The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis has an annual event, the British Arrows Awards, showing the best of British commercials. Some are superb and subtle. See some at

  6. Super, let me check that out. In general, just like in the movies, Europeans and Scandinavians are more subtle with their ads, instead of the hard sell.

    1. And we brits don't allow advertising for prescription drugs so there's a lot of air time going.... c

  7. Kwei, this post just shot to my best of all time list! Terrific. I remember the Kool Aid ads--and how the Jonestown massacre of 1978 spawned the phrase "drank the Kool aid" -- a brand nightmare as it was actually Flavor Aid (a British brand that was served). I love the ads, but in watching the Tickle ad I somehow ended up watching a contemporary one for a different antiperspirant that blew my mind at so many levels. It's definitely not in the Clydesdale class--and even exceeds the most bizarre of the current medicine ads I mute at every opportunity...though this one I watched to its stinky end. Here's the link. -- Jeff

  8. I've not seen any of these ads before so this was very interesting!

  9. I remember so many of these from my childhood and onward, so it was great to revisit them and I loved this whistle stop tour through capitalism! All the pharmaceutical ads make it seem that every American has a condition, and the only ads of late that have made me laugh are the ones in this Progressive Insurance series.,vid:hsUxvMO-rq8,st:0

  10. And, my favorite ever: