A Funny Old World: the ads that made us laugh

On April Fools Day we asked some of advertising's finest for their favourite funny campaigns

By Elliot Leavy

We're used to advertising directing our feelings across the emotional spectrum; from joy to sorrow, the best ads tap right into our fundamental human responses.

So since it's April Fool's Day tomorrow, we thought we'd celebrate one thing advertising has certainly cracked over the years: jokes.

We asked agency creatives to choose their favourite funny spot of all time. Here are the results.

Helen Rhodes, executive creative director, BBH London

I've chosen Skittles 'Touch'. Hope no-one else has. It's a corker.

Skittles have a long, rich history of brilliantly funny and wonderfully weird ads. It’s hard to choose between them. But at a push I would have to go with Skittles ‘Touch’. The one where Tim shows Joel that everything he touches turns to Skittles, just like King Midas turned everything to gold.

It was 2007 when this ad came out and 15 years later it’s still amazing. Everything about it is so perfect. The idea, the casting, the performance, the setting, the writing. Especially the writing.

I love how the whole ad is funny, rather than leading up to a punchline. The scene is set in the very first line when Tim’s female colleague jauntily says “Hey Tim, show Joel how everything you touch turns to Skittles”. Tim then sadly but politely obliges by turning the stapler into the rainbow candy and it just builds beautifully from there.

I love the little touches like how the woman holds her hand under the stapler ready to catch the falling Skittles.

I love how ridiculous the concept is but the execution is played so straight. You can see the anguish in Tim’s eyes when he remembers the man on the bus whose hand he shook who will never see his family again.

This ad is very much in the sweet spot of where darkness and humour intersect. It’s extremely funny and tragic and that is why I love it so much.

Micky Tudor, chief creative officer, The&Partnership

Different people laugh at different things. My wife for example falls into hysterical fits when people accidentally hurt themselves. Me falling off a kitchen stool and taking the skin off my shin…hilarious.

So, deconstructing what makes something funny isn’t that easy. That said, there is one thing that all comedy has in common – SURPRISE! In fact, a lot of very clever bods think that laughing is just the evolutionary step on from screaming. It turns out there’s a connection between shitting ourselves with fright, and wetting ourselves with laughter.

It’s no shock, then, that my favourite all time comedy ad is packed full of surprises. So many that it throws you around and leaves you breathless. It’s Miller Lite’s 90’s classic - Evil Beaver.

Surprise 1: The ad starts off with a stark warning – Not everyone in this ad will have a Miller Time, but you might!

Surprise 2: Suddenly we hear a sweeping soundtrack that echos the visuals of the sweeping prairies of the American Midwest. A family on a horse-drawn wagon point offscreen at some trees.

Surprise 3: We realise that everything is speeded up, silent movie style, as a brilliant subtitle comes up that says — ‘Hey, let’s live in the woods’.

Surprise 4: As the little group happily work together chopping down trees to build their log cabin a furious, filthy looking man with mad eyes dressed in a beaver suit - yes, a beaver suit - watches on. He roars in rage. The subtitle says, “Thieves”. Funny.

Surprise 5: The music then shifts in a heartbeat to the revving of an engine and a high pitch glam rock soundtrack. Our Beaver man leaps into the idyllic scene on a motorbike. Of course he does. Terrorising it. Chaos ensues. The sense of community is smashed – as are our expectations of what an advert should be.

Surprise 6: The “Eeeeeeeeeevil Beaver” lyric repeats again and again (warning, it gets in your head) as our Beaver uses its teeth to destroy everything wooden, from chairs, to the cabin, to a broom used to shoo it away, to an amputee’s wooden leg. Sawdust flies.

Surprise 7: The settlers scatter in panic leaving their Miller Lites for the Evil Beaver to enjoy. Victory for animal costumes, revenge, rock’n’roll and just having a laugh.

And let’s face it, the world needs more laughs right now, so why not try making your next ad comedic? Who knows, you might just surprise yourself.

Shelley Smoler, executive creative director, Droga5

Seen any funny ads lately? Comedy’s not what it used to be.

I don’t mean Cannes ’99. I’m talking about Ancient Greek theatre here. The classical definition of comedy is two groups pitted against one another, in an amusing ‘agon’ or conflict.

And this is exactly what we see in ‘Replacement’, Gerry Graf’s divine duel between two boys whose imaginations are brought to life by a sweet snack with a novel form factor.

While the fruit content of the treat is probably questionable, everything about this advertisement nourishes my soul. The sparse, monochromatic sets and costumes simply sketch out a Saturday morning in a suburban basement while letting the colourful product perform its magic throughout the spot.

The fact that it’s over a decade old and still looks current is testament to its great aesthetic. The absence of a soundtrack draws us into the intensity of the boys’ sparring.

And, of course, the casting itself is the killer blow. No models here. Just two boys, young enough to have imaginations but with just enough fuzz on their upper lips to suggest that they’re old enough for mind games. With wit and guile, they trade imaginary blows until one cannot continue. He congratulates his vanquisher with the dignified bonhomie of a fallen knight. We are almost relieved the competition is over, such is our affection for these two. And contrary to what their classmates probably think, we can see no losers here.

“That would be end game, my friend.”

Ben Middleton, chief creative officer, Creature

My favourite funny ad is very old. But it is excellent (and it’s only a 30”, remember when we used to award those?)

It’s called ‘Piñata man’, it’s for Skittles, and it was made a whopping 14 years ago 

It’s perfect. From the “what-the-fuck-is-that?” opening beat of Piñata man struggling his way through the break room door, this film is funny already.

The deep gravitas of the actor's voice wrecks me every time I hear him start speaking and his hyper emotional “I’m just like everybody else” outburst at the end is not only unexpected but delivers a brilliant characterful punchline to round the scene off.

The fact that whole thing is played completely straight with no knowing winks or smiles shows the value of commitment to a joke that we rarely see nowadays, when finishing on a positive uplifting moment is often now favoured over memorability.

May Piñata man rest in delicious chocolatey (master)peace.

Franki Goodwin, executive creative director, Saatchi & Saatchi

I tried not to pick something I saw in the trades and chuckled at, or an ad I’ve referenced in a meeting about ‘tone of voice’ (we’ve all been there)… but instead something funny I remember from when ads weren’t my job. The true test of a good ad, especially a funny ad, is one that embeds itself first in your brain and then your life.

One that becomes shorthand among your mates and a ‘repeat until a funny’ punchline forever more. 2001 was my first year working as an Art Director, and I was holed up in a hotel in Venice working on a film website for Film4 with some of the funniest people I know when my choice aired.

This ad eventually became a meme in our gang and it gave me great pleasure to revisit it. It’s a piece of early noughties history - it’s 4:3, from MTV, it’s got Nokia ringtones, oiled up girls and boys in y-fronts. I hope the person that decided to call the main character Keanu got a promotion.

And so my choice is: "MTV Ringtones, Call me on my mobile".

Andy Thirsk, creative director, Publicis•Poke

Comedy… it’s a funny thing. Who doesn’t love a laugh?!

Humour has the ability to reduce stress and improve mood while also driving cut-through and memorability for a brand. For me, the funniest ads are the ones that don’t take themselves too seriously. Work like ‘Diamond Shreddies’, ‘Refreshingly Honest’ from Oasis, and the ‘None of your five a day’ work we did for Takis.

If I had to pick one though, I have a real soft spot for "Idiots are Amazing" from Fanta. An ode to the idiots of the internet. The people who put blood, sweat and tears into making short, hilarious videos, all for a small slice of internet fame. It’s Innocent, funny, well shot and daft as a brush.

Colin Booth and Ben Stilitz, creative directors, Adam&EveDDB

Being asked to pick your favourite funny ad is a tough ask, but luckily, it’s also a fun one.

As we trawled through our memories and Youtube, the work of two men kept cropping up. The reels of Paul Silburn and Gerry Graf must surely be the two most gloriously fun-filled, witty and well-loved out there. And since there are two of us, we’d thought we’d pick an ad by each of them.

First off, John Smith’s ‘Snooker Table’. It’s the highlight of a fabulous campaign that truly caught the imagination of the British public. It’s a brilliantly scripted joke that keeps building with each subtle word, gesture and expression, right down to Dennis Taylor’s appearance on the end card.

And then there’s Starburst’s “Berries and Cream”. Its combination of American hard sell and odd-ball insanity are perfection, and we’ve probably re-watched it more than any other funny spot. It’s one of those ads where you can’t work out how it got made or sold in, and it’s all the more impressive for it.

Viewed over a billion times on TikTok over the past year, it’s surely proof that there’s still a huge appetite for joyful silliness in advertising.

Sophie Cullinane, creative director, Gravity Road

Hello skateboard friend! Just when you thought Jonah Hill had become a fully paid-up member of the Hollywood intellectual elite, he showed up in a shonkily brilliant green screen cameo none of us knew we needed. I dare you not to snort water out of your nose when Jonah talks about waxing his “grab tape” and “the fastest wooden boards on the market, or off”.

Perfectly pitched imperfection and a deeply inappropriate joke about a white tiger thrown in for good measure. Palace and Jonah Hill x Reebok, you’ve found my level.

Jack Smedley and George Hackforth-Jones, creative directors, AMV BBDO

Favourite funny ad? You can’t do that! That’s like asking us to choose between someone else’s more talented, more successful, better looking children.

Ok then.

It’s this Crest campaign by Harold Einstein.

Casting. Writing. Timing. All absolute perfection.

It’s so well done it all feels effortless but it definitely won’t have been.

We were lucky enough to work with Mr Einstein a few years ago and watching his military-esque attention to detail in the pursuit of comedy was something to behold (he literally timed each shot with a stopwatch like an over zealous Bake Off judge).

This campaign is no different. The lingering seconds on the builder or husband’s smile are exquisite. Not a millisecond too long or too short. Long enough to be awkward, not so long to be indulgent. It’s a masterclass in comic timing.

But what’s really great about these ads is they’re not just sketches. They're selling toothpaste, for a big bloody brand too. With a beautiful human insight, a genuine product benefit, and a lovely memorable line.

Smiles all round.


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