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Advertising Age's 50 Best Commercials

 o 1940's  o 1950's  o 1960's  o 1970's-I  o 1970's-II  o 1980's-I  o 1980's-II  o 1990's

There's no standard in weighing TV commercials, but some really do stand out as pure as gold

By Adrienne Ward Fawcett

Ever since the Federal Communications Commission cleared the path for the development of commercial TV 50 years ago, marketers and ad agencies have been pursuing greatness in the art of television advertising.

TV viewers may sometimes wonder how far the ad world has really come, as the ratio of bad ads to good at times seems overwhelming. But for every annoying Noid there is a groundbreaking Speedy. For every actor who is not a doctor but plays one on TV, there is a real life chief executive like Chrysler's Lee Iacocca. For every forgettable, mind-numbing, dust- gathering TV spot, there is another that becomes a part of the American scene: a "Where's the beef?"; a "Just do it"; a "Yes, I am!"

For several weeks late last year, Advertising Age editors holed up in a windowless conference room reviewing hundreds of TV commercials from the past half-century. Just as agencies pursue greatness in their craft, we were pursuing the greatest of the great- the 50 Best TV spots of the past 50 years.

What does it mean to be great? There is no one standard. What was great 45 or 35 years ago might not hold the attention of today's viewers, just as today's fast-frame action-packed spots would have overwhelmed the TV audiences of yesteryear.

We judged each commercial in light of the production capabilities and creative standards of the time. While the Men from Texaco were so memorable they can be considered the epitome of the 1940s, the service-station singers likely wouldn't fly on MTV.

Many of the 50 selected commercials are so exceptional they have transcended the times from which they emerged. Chanel No. 5's surreal "Share the Fantasy" is as splendid a commercial by today's standards as when it first ran in 1979. Maxwell House still uses the percolator mnemonic and its "Good to the Last Drop" slogan (recent commercials for the coffee brand have included footage from the early b&w spot).

In January 1984, Apple Computer and agency Chiat/Day launched a revolutionary new product with a groundbreaking commercial called "1984" that ran on a national TV just once and 11 years later may still be called the greatest ever made.

What makes these commercials the 50 most significant of all time? Like the Energizer bunny, they are durable; like the Marlboro cowboy, they have longevity; like Mean Joe Green and his young fan, they are lovable. Some are novel, some funny. Many moved viewers to buy, a good number moved them to tears. Each earned the mark of greatness in its own unique way.

 o 1940's  o 1950's  o 1960's  o 1970's-I  o 1970's-II  o 1980's-I  o 1980's-II  o 1990's

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