A Look at 4 Great Commercials & the Elements That Made Them So

Most 30- and 40-something-year-olds remember the catchphrase, “Where’s the beef?” from the 1984 Wendy’s TV ad campaign. The spot made 81-year-old Clara Peller an instant celebrity and boosted sales at the fast food chain by 31 percent in one year, according to Time magazine. What makes a great commercial varies, depending on your target audience and the product, service or message you’re trying to sell. Wendy’s used a catchphrase that became such a cultural phenomenon that Walter Mondale used it on the campaign trail during the 1984 presidential primaries.

But a funny catchphrase isn’t the only way to captivate an audience. These four methods also work well:

Catchy Music

There’s only one company Americans thinks of when they have a structured settlement or annuity and “need cash now.” Not only did the J.G. Wentworth “Opera” ad win two International Summit Awards in 2009, but it has been the catalyst in growing the company into America’s largest buyer of future structure settlement and annuity payments.

A catchy tune is a great way to ingrain your brand into the brains of consumers. University of London researchers concluded in a 2011 study that a “catchy” song typically has three common characteristics: male vocalists with high-pitched voices, several pitches in the chorus, and long musical phrases before a breath is taken. If that’s too complicated, just think of songs that if you hear, they’ll be stuck in your head all day. “The Hokey Pokey,” “Mickey” (Tony Basil), and “What Is Love” (Haddaway) immediately come to mind.

Animated Characters

McGruff, the anthropomorphic animated crime dog, became the face of the nonprofit National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) in 1979. With the catchphrase “Take a bite out of crime” and the signature chomp, the NCIC has been one of the nation’s top authorities in helping people build safe communities ever since. Louie the Lightning Bug similarly became the “spokesbug” for utility companies all across the country with his “Gotta play it safe around the power lines” song.

Those who lack artistic ability can use an application like GoAnimate to create a character. A freelance graphic designer can also draw your future animated spokesperson.

Powerful Message

“This is drugs…this is your brain on drugs…any questions?” The Partnership for a Drug-Free America introduced the hot frying pan/sizzling egg ad to the world in 1987, and it was subsequently recognized by several ad executives for its effectiveness. Dr. Peter Martin, of the Vanderbilt University Addiction Center, told CNN the spot perfectly described amotivational syndrome, the loss of ambition due to drug use.

Powerful messages don’t necessary have to scare people into action, either. The iPhone 5s commercial Apple debuted in April simply showed all the different tasks you can accomplish with your phone. The spot ends with the phrase “You’re more powerful than you think.”


Humor goes a long way in selling products, and Southwest Airlines nailed it with their “Wanna get away?” spots. One of the best ones featured a short guy trying to pick a tall woman in a bar; he has all the right moves on the dance floor, until he knocks over the entire DJ booth.

USA Today ranked all the Super Bowl commercials from 2007. The top 10 (based on fan votes) were all humor-based except one. But bad humor can backfire on you as well. Before launching a humor-based ad campaign, test it out with employees, family and strangers. They don’t have to fall on the ground laughing, but if there’s enough of a reaction, go with it.

One well-timed, clever ad campaign can turn a small, obscure business into a global player. Don’t be afraid to mimic some of the tried-and-true methods above.

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