A Breakdown of Advertising on TV: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Advertising has been on TV since July of 1941, when Bulova paid a hilarious $4 to a New York TV station to have an ad run before a Dodgers’ game. TV ads have come a long way since that monumental day, and now we have to deal with the consequences. These ads are a mixed bag; some are rotten, some are decent and some are actually entertaining and memorable, but when it comes down to it the one solidifying factor they all have in common is that they’re everywhere — they’re a part of life at this point. The following 15 ads exemplify the good, the bad, and the ugly of TV advertisements as we know them.

The Good

Car Companies

Of all the car companies funding adverts on TV today, Volkswagen has to be the one with the best sense of humor. This ad, complete with iconically playful VW sarcasm, is one of a series featuring none other than Peter Stormare playing an all too fashionable German engineer. He’s hell-bent on getting the misguided youth of the world to replace their gaudy wannabe-tuner cars and buy a Volkswagen, and does a pretty good job of it — with tongue-in-cheek. This isn’t the only VW ad campaign that’s proved entertaining and novel, either; there’s the heavily-accented talking vintage Beetle, who’s become a fan-favorite on his own while playing the role of spokes-car for the company.

Car Insurance Done Right

Geico struck gold when they paid the Martin Agency to create the Caveman series of ads to sell insurance in a completely non-sequiter way. The campaign, which began in 2004, was actually so successful that it earned a place in Madison Avenue’s walk of fame, and even got its own TV show in 2007 — which was extremely short-lived due in large part to the writers’ strike. The ads were nothing short of genius, since instead of attempting to sell car insurance, they simply set out to entertain people for a few seconds in the most cleverly ridiculous fashion they could come up with. It worked, and more people went to Geico for insurance because the company had become more likable than competitors.

Fast Food Done Right

When it comes to fast food, there is no shortage of options in any given town or city. The only real choice to be made when you’re hungry and in a hurry (or craving food that’s obviously not too great for you) is what kind of burger you want, who makes it the way you like it, and who’s the most expensive at the moment. Smarter companies know this, so they aim to make their ad campaigns into miniature wars with competitors, fought with comedy. Burger King and Jack in the Box do it best.

Beer Ads

Beer ads have a stigma attached to them that’s a bit difficult to shake off — decades of lame ad campaigns. The Budweiser frogs were immensely popular for their time, as was the “Wassap” series, but they were quick to lose their steam and become horribly annoying. Heineken’s moved in the last few years to concentrate on focused ad campaigns that keep their brand looking hip, personable, and to the point. Above is the extremely effective “Meet you there” ad, featuring the dancing of David “Elsewhere” Bernal. There are many more, with the Robot Keg Girl being another major favorite.


Candy’s always been a heavy-hitter in the ad business, but it could become somewhat subdued for years at a time. The late 80’s saw some upswings in candy ads (like the Kit-Kat song… which we never want to hear again), but it’s only recently that we’re seeing a huge upsurge in candy ads — targeting adults. Dark humor, completely ridiculous characters, deliciously bad puns and massive hyperbole have become the new vehicles for candy companies to get their ancient products out to the current market. These ads don’t have to be ridiculous or slapstick to work, either; Reese’s has been doing extremely well with a series of extremely simple ads that show off some great graphic design talent while selling candy.

Technology Done Right

When Intel began exploding some 20 years ago, they hit hard with an ad campaign that would make them one of the most recognizable brands in the world — like the Coca-Cola of the tech world. They’ve come a long way since we first started seeing stickers with Intel Inside proudly emblazoned, and now the company has begun a new campaign that — very intelligently — makes use of the nostalgia built up from the last 20 years of ad presence. The all too familiar jingle has matured over the years from a flat set of five notes to a fully reworked, THX-like set of tones. They’ve gone from heavy whiz-bang ads (a bit like the Britney Spears Pepsi era of advertising) to a subtler, more personable approach to brand-awareness. The newest ads capitalize on not only the company’s history, but the public’s awareness that the brand is always moving forward — but never losing its sense of humor.

The Bad

Fast Food Done Wrong

While Jack in the Box and Burger King have been cranking out ad campaigns that make people laugh and feel slightly better about their fast food cravings, McDonald’s has been working tirelessly to drag their entire brand image into the dirt by going completely overboard with racial stereotypes and “urban” themes. They’ve turned their jingle into something that causes spontaneous vomiting, banished Ronald & friends to the history books, and somehow managed to make the simplest of marketing concepts into the single most offensive ad scheme ever concocted. The above ad is just the tip of the iceberg, featuring the vocals of complete no-name Lavish Mikell in an R&B music video facsimile that leaves most viewers wondering whether or not the last 30 seconds of their lives really happened.

Male Grooming

Apparently the age-old tactic of getting sports “phenoms” to schlep products to the worshipping masses has never really gone out of style. Gillette takes it to the max with their Fusion Power razors, and triples down with not only Tiger Woods, but Roger Federer and Thierry Henry as well. This commercial typifies the whole tired genre of bad advertising, not to mention how ridiculous their naming schemes are getting these days. It wasn’t long ago that they debuted the first Fusion Power razor, but they somehow thought that tacking on Phenom to the end of it would make it even more marketable. As if that weren’t bad enough, they’re now peddling a second version — called Gamer. Yeah, it’s the same thing but dressed up like an XBox.

Women’s Beauty

OK, so forgetting the fact that even women think that Sarah Jessica Parker is an overpaid, horse-faced, talentless hag, this little gimmick of women’s beauty product manufacturers of paying famous women to endorse their hair dyes and facial creams is nothing new. The problem is that, when it all started decades ago, famous women and middle-class ladies alike used the same products, because there just weren’t that many on the market. These days there are so many products that it’s almost impossible to catalog them all, and women like Sarah Jessica Parker don’t use any of them, because they have personal stylists and salons that use professional grade goods to make them look half presentable. No woman alive (at least, no woman alive who is more intelligent than a cucumber) would think that Parker actually uses this product herself.

Car Insurance Done Wrong

Nobody seems to know what the execs at Geico were thinking when they began running their “eyes on the money” ads, especially after the marked success they had with not only the talking gecko, but the Geico Cavemen as well. These ads are so horrifyingly bad that it’s almost impossible to imagine that a paid professional had any part in creating them. They seem like the sort of moronic failure that a group of 3rd-graders might come up with if they were given a camera, props, and a handful of adult actors who promised to do what they were told. This ad in particular has got to be the worst of the bunch, since not only does it make absolutely no sense story-wise, but the waiter was forced for some reason to blurt out “Geico!” again just as he starts to walk away — for no reason what so ever.

Technology Done Wrong

Though they’re in the same close family of tech firms that have more or less run the market for 20 solid years now, Microsoft is nothing like Intel. The “Laptop Hunters” campaign that ran recently was only one of several grating series that ran in recent years, and none of them made Microsoft look very good after all was said and done. This ad in particular shows “Lauren,” an overly typical young professional looking for a laptop she can get for under $1000 — which any conscious person can easily find out is the average price for windows-based laptops in any store across the country. They couldn’t just have a girl walk into a store and buy a laptop for $700 bucks though; they first had to have her say that since the cheapest Mac didn’t have a screen big enough for her (she had to have a 17″ screen), that “she wasn’t cool enough to be a Mac person.” Guess what Lauren, you aren’t, because you’re too dim-witted to find your way into an electronics store and buy a laptop. A laptop that you’re obviously going to spill coffee on within three weeks of purchasing. Basically, companies shouldn’t attempt to fool consumers into thinking they’re watching “real” people when the people aren’t just obvious fakes, but also annoying and easily-disliked.

The Ugly

Feminine Hygiene & Birth Control

This happens to you all the time, right? You’re hanging out at the local rooftop bar with the girls, and your friend shows up who should obviously be at home in the fetal position because — gasp! — she’s on her period. At least, she would have been, but after about 12 years of only partially safe-sex she’s finally been goaded into taking birth control by her doctor. Don’t worry, one of your other friends present that night is a pretentious intern, so she can lecture you and your other friends about the newest pill available that fights the newest feminine burden. You know the one, PMDD. It recently replaced PMS as what every girl has for three weeks out of every month. Ads like this one probably cause more broken remote controls than prescription orders, and we won’t even talk about others, like this Kotex ad.

Political Ads

The above ad could have been any political advert, from any political campaign in any state in any decade. It really doesn’t matter what the message is, because it’s always going to come across as really douchy. Sooner or later, politicians are going to learn that attempting to slander their opponents on TV is a bad idea. Not only does it never work (because there’s never been a political ad that didn’t have a rebuttal), but it costs a fortune, and the ads usually end up back-firing as the TV-watching populace begins to hate the candidate who funded the ridiculously annoying ads in the first place.

PSA’s & Informatives

PSA’s and their not-so-official funded-informatives have gotten so obnoxiously bad that many people are starting to miss the good old days of “this is your brain on drugs.” Take the above ad for example (because it’s a doozy): A perfect-looking girl lounges on antique furniture in a dimly-lit reading room in a gorgeous mansion, worried about nothing because she was born into tremendous amounts of money (obviously). Suddenly, magical wisps start appearing, beckoning her to follow the extraordinarily long and picturesque staircase toward a curious, glowing light. What could it be? It appears to be some fantastical new perfume — surely a fragrance that a modern princess such as she should deserve to wear to the next ball — but no, it’s just cervical cancer. The likelihood of women actually taking this ad to heart is hopelessly slim to them instantly hating the people who made it for so being so transparent in their beliefs that women only care about the newest Britney Spears fragrance.

Local Businesses

This video from Augusta, Georgia exemplifies just how bad local businesses are at self-promotion. Granted, these gems of awesomely terrible “ads” are hugely entertaining — at least, in the same way that fights between large drunk women are fun to watch. That being said, they’re easily the worst commercials on TV, and always have been. These ads usually don’t have an ounce of quality in them, and they usually end up doing as much harm to the local business as they bring in customers, but they never seem to stop and they never get any better, either. Every town big enough to have competition usually has at least one, and if any of yours are as good (read: bad) as this one, then you’ve got some hometown bragging rights. Used car lots are usually some of the most egregious offenders, but this little slice of advertising mayhem shows that furniture guys have what it takes too.

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