Great ads evoke emotion and connect potential customers with brands. Whether an ad is inspiring, heart-warming, funny, clever, or even heartbreaking, by telling a story that’s pleasurable to watch over and over, you can send a product or service into the stratosphere.
Creative director and writer Ray Smiling specializes in achieving exactly that, through problem solving and storytelling. He has collaborated with clients including Amazon Music, Beats by Dre, and adidas.
Here, he shares 10 effective TV commercials that will leave you feeling nostalgic and inspired to create your own visual narratives in advertising. “Try and pick out the insights that drive the work,” he says in his course, “the way the ideas position the product, and the techniques used to tell their stories.”Creative projects by Ray Smiling.
1. “Like Mike”, Gatorade commercial
This first commercial is a quiet, simple start to the selection, but through its touching sense of community and visual storytelling, it is very effective. It uses no voiceover, only a catchy song that features a chorus of children’s voices. We see basketball player Michael Jordan scoring amazing baskets from real games, combined with him playing casually alongside friends and kids. All the while, it subtly hints that to be “Like Mike”, Gatorade is the drink to choose.
2. “Double Life”, Playstation commercial
With the strong slogan, “Don’t underestimate the power of Playstation”, this ad features a series of interlinking characters who each address the camera directly. They describe how, despite living normal lives during the day, they have commanded armies and changed worlds by night. It manages to be both funny and inspiring, while capturing the diverse audiences games can appeal to.
3. “Parisian Love”, Google commercial
In this love story told entirely through the Google search bar and results pages, we follow our protagonist as they move to France, fall in love, and reinvent their life in order to be with the person they love. Laced with funny mistakes, typos, and misdirections, the ending just might make you well up. Google still makes commercials in this style today.
4. “Find Your Greatness”, Nike commercial
Here, the camera pans up in a cinematic, wide shot that focuses on a young boy, simply running down an empty road. With no backing track, only poetic narration that reflects on what “greatness” even means, the ad feels sparse yet powerful, and viewers are left feeling inspired.
5. “Nothing Beats a Londoner”, Nike commercial
In total contrast, Nike made this UK market-focused commercial featuring in-jokes that only makes sense to someone who knows London well, and yet the ad received international praise and is considered one of their most iconic. In it, a selection of Londoners continually one-up each other, battling it out to decide which sport is hardest to compete in. With quick cuts and tons of action, viewers are left feeling energized.
6. “Everything You Touch”, Skittles commercial
Skittles is known for its short, skit-like commercials based around their slogan, “touch the rainbow, taste the rainbow”. In this one, a couple of office workers question their colleague, who has the unusual ability to turn everything he touches into Skittles—which is played for comedy and tragedy at the same time.
7. “Mr. W”, Epuron commercial
If you haven’t seen this commercial before, prepare for a wild ride. In a reflective, interview-style video, a man reveals his struggle with loneliness and connection with others, due to his inability to stop pranking and disturbing those around him. His true identity, revealed at the end, is both a twist and a punchline to this surreal ad.
8. “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”, Old Spice commercial
The rebranding of Old Spice has gone down in history as an iconic advertising achievement. By pivoting their target to the female partners of the men the product is for, Old Spice were able to make tongue-in-cheek claims about how the deodorant could revolutionize their man’s life, and breathe new life into what was perceived as an old-fashioned brand.
9. “Lamp”, IKEA commercial
Through camera angles, a piano track, and lighting, this IKEA commercial demonstrates how to control “point of view”, or the character perspective we’re seeing. In this case, until a brilliant twist at the end, we see the “sad” story of a lamp, replaced in its owner’s home by a new, fancier lamp.
10. “1984”, Apple commercial
Perhaps one of the best-known ads in the world, Apple aired this commercial during the Super Bowl and revealed its upcoming Macintosh computer. Though the product isn’t actually featured, its grand ambitions of empowering people to think for themselves are very clear. The overall message is of revolution and freedom from being like everyone else.
When you find a commercial you love and want to emulate it in your own work, Ray recommends analyzing its various aspects to locate the exact ways you can do so. Pay attention to mood, color, music, characters, dialogue, and narration, so you can translate your learning into powerful visual stories.
John an experienced IT specialist with over a decade of experience in the industry. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and has worked in various positions, including software developer, system administrator, and network engineer. John’s expertise includes cloud computing, cybersecurity, and data analytics. He has completed numerous certifications in these areas and is highly knowledgeable in the latest technologies and trends.