On July 1st, 1941, viewers seen the world’s first TV commercial, a 20-second spot for Bulova watches. It isn’t on YouTube yet, but you’re not missing much: just a clock superimposed on a US map while an announcer says, “America runs on Bulova time.” Thankfully, commercials got a lot more interesting throughout the years, so here’s a look at some of the most unforgettable.
1959: The First Ever Barbie Commercial
Introducing a new type of doll for its time, this originally aired during the hottest show for kids at the time, The Mickey Mouse Club.
1965: The Oscar Mayer Wiener Jingle
How many of you know the words to this one? Oscar Mayer occasionally holds singing contests for kids based on this and its 1971 b-o-l-o-g-n-a song.
1970: Tootsie Roll Tootsie Roll Pop
How many licks does it take to get the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop? Mr. Owl is too impatient to find out. This simple line drawing animation still airs on TV after all these years. (But why isn’t that kid wearing clothes?)
1971: Coca-Cola “Hilltop”
It was a big year for ads, and Coca-Cola’s ode to world peace through soda later became a hit song by the New Seekers. (“I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”) As a testament to its legacy, the company filmed a remake starring the original actors and their children in 1990. Today, the message “Teach the world to sing… please.” occasionally appears during commercial breaks on American Idol.
1971: Keep America Beautiful’s “Crying Indian”
A rare example of a memorable public service message that was put together well, it starred actor Iron Eyes Cody (Espera Oscar de Corti). He wasn’t of Native American descent, but his wife and their adopted children were.
1971: Life Cereal “Three Brothers”
Hey Mikey! If Mikey likes it, it has to be good. Don’t believe those rumors, the original Mikey (John Gilchrist) is alive and well, working as an advertising manager for a local radio station.
1979: Coca-Cola “Mean Joe Greene”
One of earliest big-time “Super Bowl commercials”, this is also one of the best. Viewers usually name it as their all-time favorite, while various remakes and spoofs have spawned from it.
1984: Apple Computer “1984”
Also showing up often in “best commercials of all time” lists, this ad for an early personal computer was inspired by George Orwell’s futuristic novel. Yeah, I don’t really get it, either.
1984: Wendy’s “Fluffy Bun”
Thanks to Clara Peller, “Where’s the Beef?” became an instant 1980’s catchphrase.
1986: California Raisins “Lunchbox”
Those claymation R&B raisins became popular enough to star in their own TV specials and series and sold a slew of official merchandise along the way.
1987: The Partnership for a Drug-Free America “Fried Egg”
The best anti-drug message is a simple anti-drug message. Why isn’t this still on TV? I can think of at least 20 celebrities that need to heed its words right now!
1990s to present
1993: California Milk Board “Aaron Burr”
Part of the ongoing “Got Milk?” campaign, this ad was directed by future Transformers director Michael Bay.
1996: Nissan “Toys”
Winner of many advertising awards, this Van Halen-soundtracked G.I. Joe meets Barbie caper led to a lawsuit from Mattel. I remembered this from when I was a kid, but I could have sworn it was an ad for batteries.
2000: EDS Cat Herders
The tradition of ridiculously expensive Super Bowl commercials continued with this funny sight gag. Ironically, most viewers didn’t have the slightest idea what was being advertised here.
2006: Geico “Cavemen”
Someone hoping to cash in on the next big thing later turned the amusing characters in these popular commercials into an uninspired TV series.
The worst part about this is that the real TV star of the company is obviously the adorable lizard! Who wouldn’t watch that?
2011: Aflac “Dancing Duck”
In what will probably be the biggest advertising news of the year, the company spokesduck received a new voice (Daniel McKeague) after actor Gilbert Gottfried was fired due to a really stupid joke he tweeted about the Japanese earthquake.
What did I miss? Tell me what your favorite commercials are below!