In many ways, defining what is funny is like trying to nail jelly to a wall. So, hammer in hand, Campaign asked a cross-section of ad industry luminaries to suggest the most side-splitting TV ads of all time. Perhaps surprisingly, a few names cropped up a number of times, and, from these, we produced a shortlist of nominations. Some of the ads on the list, such as the John Smith's spots featuring Peter Kaye, were part of a campaign consisting of a number of executions. In some cases, there was little to choose between the individual ads in each group. In these instances, we picked what we judged to be the funniest and most representative of each group.
Visitors to the Campaign website have been voting on this list for the past two months, and today we can reveal our top ten funniest TV ads of all time.
As you can see from the list, UK TV ads dominate, with classic US spots managing a couple of places. There is a fair spread of dates, and the fact that four are from the 80s perhaps shows that the creative from that golden age of advertising is standing the test of time. Or maybe it's because a large number of voters were children during that decade.
Website users were also invited to submit their own suggestions for the ads they thought were the most funny. Sadly, none of these gained enough nominations to make it to our shortlist, but a few of them are worthy of honourable mentions. Among those nominated are Holsten Pils "Marilyn Monroe", Grolsch "blue movie", Egg "guinea pig" and the Abbey National ads starring Alan Davies.
As with all such subjective lists, it is more than possible you disagree with our choices and those of the voters.
To view the top ten, comment on the selections and list the ads you think should have made the cut, visit www.brandrepublic.com/campaign
1. John West Salmon 'bear'
Our top funny is one of two in the list to come from the combination of Paul Silburn and Danny Kleinman. The ad became so popular that it turned into one of the world's first internet virals. It starts, tamely enough, in the style of a nature documentary, showing a group of bears catching salmon at the mouth of a river. But things take a turn for the downright bizarre when a John West fisherman enters the fray and starts fighting one of the bears, kung-fu style. The entertaining bout ends when the fisherman distracts the bear by pointing to an imaginary eagle and kicks his adversary in the balls. The ad was viewed online by more than 300 million people by 2006 and Leo Burnett picked up the BTAA Commercial of the Year in 2001 for the ad.
Agency: Leo Burnett
Writer: Paul Silburn
Art director: Paul Silburn
Director: Danny Kleinman
Production company: Spectre
2. Blackcurrant Tango 'St George'
This delightfully over-the-top spot for Blackcurrant Tango starts in corporate video-style, with Tango's "spokesman" Ray Gardner reading out a letter from a disgruntled French exchange student named Sebastien. Fired up, Gardner leaves the office, followed by a retinue of Tango employees. As he walks, he strips off to reveal a pair of purple boxing shorts, and ends up in a boxing ring at the edge of the White Cliffs of Dover, with Harrier jets hovering overhead. To a cheering crowd, Gardner maniacally offers to take on France, Europe and the rest of the world. The ad appears to be shot in one take, although it was actually done in three. It picked up a number of awards in 1997, notably a Cannes gold Lion and a silver Pencil from D&AD.
Agency: HHCL & Partners
Writer: Chas Bayfield
Art director: Jim Bolton
Director: Colin Gregg
Production company: Eclipse
3. Hamlet 'photo booth'
Collett Dickenson Pearce's series of ads for the Hamlet cigar brand stand as some of the most iconic in UK TV history. Perhaps the most famous of the lot, this 1989 spot features Gregor Fisher (later to star in Rab C Nesbitt) sitting for a picture in a photo booth. The ad plays on the familiar feeling that the photo booth camera always captures you when you are least expecting it. After carefully straightening his comedy comb-over, Fisher's character wastes his three chances at capturing his mugshot. After his chair collapses, Fisher's bald pate is seen poking above the bottom of the screen with a puff of smoke rising above it. The ad won more gold awards for CDP than almost any other, and was voted the ad of the century by a special jury at Cannes in 1997.
Agency: Collett Dickenson Pearce
Writers: Philip Differ, Rowan Dean
Art director: Garry Horner
Director: Graham Rose
Production company: Rose Hackney Barber
4. John Smith's 'wardrobe monsters'
After the difficulties surrounding Jack Dee's last days as John Smith's No Nonsense man, it would have been understandable if the beer brand had chosen to avoid using another celebrity in its TV ads. However, the introduction of Peter Kaye in a series of 2002 spots was inspired. In this ad, Paul Silburn's marvellous script sees Kaye enjoying a meal down his local Indian restaurant with his wife and a couple of friends. The occasion is interrupted by a call from his daughter, who has gone to bed and become frightened of the "wardrobe monsters" in her room. Matter-of-fact, Kaye tells her that "it's the burglars that break in through the windows" that she needs to be worried about.
Writers: Paul Silburn, Chris Kelly, Rob Webster
Art directors: Paul Silburn, Chris Kelly, Rob Webster
Director: Danny Kleinman
Production company: Spectre
5. Carling Black Label 'Dam Busters'
This affectionate spoof of the 1955 World War II movie The Dam Busters continued the successful "I bet he drinks Carling Black Label" campaign. The black-and-white spot was one in a line of patriotic ads aimed at highlighting the beer's UK origins - often at the expense of our German friends. Carling ad regulars, the comedy duo Mark Arden and Stephen Frost, play two RAF pilots delivering bouncing bombs to a German target. As their payload splashes off the surface of the lake, a worried-looking German sentry steels himself to defend his fortress. When the spherical missiles reach their target, the soldier turns goalkeeper, leaping like a salmon to keep out the bombs.
Writer: Kes Grey
Art director: Jonathan Greenhalgh
Director: Roger Woodburn
Production company: Park Village
6. FedEx 'fast-paced world'
Perhaps more clever than side-splittingly funny, "fast-paced world" consistently appears in best ads lists. It features John Moschitta Jr as Mr Spleen, an executive who speed-talks his way through his business day. Talking at more than 450 words per minute, he manages to conduct a board meeting, hire a new employee, complete a deal over the phone and eat his lunch. It finishes with a voiceover, which says: "In this fast-moving, high-pressure, get-it-done yesterday world ... aren't you glad there's a company that can keep up with it all?" The spot boosted Moschitta's career, and he went on to star in more than 80 ads with ad agency Ally & Gargano.
Agency: Ally & Gargano
Writers: Patrick Kelly, Mike Tesch
Art director: Mike Tesch
Director: Joe Sedelmaier
Production company: Sedelmaier Productions
7. Orange 'Snoop Gold Spot'
We could have picked any number of ads from Orange's series of Gold Spots, which run before films in UK cinemas. However, Snoop Dogg's appearance, earlier this year, managed to make the regular film executives look more out of touch than they ever had before. Mr Dresden and his assistant Elliot interrupt the rap star in his recording studio and ask him to consider changing the theme of his lyrics to focus less on sex and more on phone calls. After a brief stand-off with Snoop Dogg's posse, Dresden decides the only option is to record the vocal himself. Cue toe-curling rapping from the ultimate suit. The ad is one of the last Gold Spots to be produced by Mother - Orange transferred the account to Fallon in August.
Art director: Mother
Director: Brian Buckley
Production company: Hungry Man
8. Budget Rent a Car 'jet propulsion'
"Jet propulsion" is part of an award-winning series that opens with a bunch of marketing executives indulging in a spot of blue-sky thinking. One suggests a new gimmick to help customers reach their cars quicker - a jet pack. The ad cuts to a shot of a renter, who lifts off and shoots straight into an overhead power line. After a brief pause, the marketers decide to ditch the idea.
Agency: Cliff Freeman & Partners
Writer: Steve Doppelt
Art director: Jason Gaboriau
Director: Dante Ariola
Production company: Propaganda Films
9. Heineken 'Majorca'
This 1985 reversal of the Pygmalion story depicts a bepearled Sloane Ranger receiving an elocution lesson at the School of Street Credibility. Her dismal attempts to shed her posh accent provoke growing frustration from her tutor. It is only when assistant Del arrives with a six-pack of Heineken that the pupil starts getting the hang of things. Within seconds of taking a swig of the lager, she is sounding as Cockney as Barbara Windsor.
Agency: Lowe Howard-Spink
Writer: Adrian Holmes
Art director: Alan Waldie
Director: Paul Weiland
Production company: Weilands
10. Castlemaine XXXX 'wife'
"Wife" was one in a series of Saatchi & Saatchi ads that did little to dispel the stereotype of the hard-drinking, misogynist male from Down Under. This spot depicts two mates transporting crates of XXXX, which are guarded by the wife of one in the back of their ute. When the truck gets stuck over a ravine, the wife calls out: "I reckon we'll be alright if we lose some weight off the back." The man in the passenger seat turns to the driver and says, dryly: "She's a good sport, your missus."
Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi
Writer: James Lowther
Art director: Peter Gibb
Director: John Marles
Production company: RSA Films