Television has the magical X factor – it is exciting, engaging and empathetic. Unlike any other media television is a complete sensory feast, bringing people and communities together. As a nation we enjoy watching TV adverts more than those on any other media, and great TV ads really stick in the mind and become conversation pieces. We’ve all got our favourites…

Perhaps it’s Melanie Sykes with her Boddingtons and back-to-front “Trollies”, or Nick Kamen taking off his Levi's in the launderette to Marvin Gaye's “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”, or the young Indian Romeo creating his dream car, a Peugeot 206, with the help of a hammer and an obliging elephant.

But what do the public think? “ITV’s Best Ever Adverts” took the temperature of the nation in September, 2005. You can read all about the programme’s findings below, or visit the player above to watch them again.

So, in the best traditions of television, counting down from 20, here are “The Best Ever Adverts”:

The love story that all started over a cup of coffee between Sharon Maughan and Anthony Head began in 1987, and today the two actors remain good friends.  After six ads, the nation was gripped as they waited for the couple’s first screen kiss – a moment that made the front page of The Sun.

For more than 30 years the Milky Bar Kid was the cowboy every child dreamed of being – the youngest gunslinger in the West.  Down the years 13 different lads played him, after Terry Brookes launched the product to TV viewers in 1961. 

One that viewers loved to loath: In 1979 Jenny Logan enthusiastically put the freshness back into her carpet and the product cleaned up the market place as a result.  Jenny talks about the ad that was reviled at the time but which thrust her into the limelight, and which today is viewed rather nostalgically. 

It was no more Mr Nice Guy for clean-cut sporting icon Gary Lineker when this series of ads pitched his crisp-handling skills against famous faces including Gazza, Vinnie Jones, Michael Owen (Cheese and Owen) and posh girls Victoria Beckham and Tara Palmer-Tomkinson. Since the ads began in 1995, Gary’s been dressed as a devil, a nun, a punk rocker, a headmistresses.

The ‘Chimp’ adverts for this household brand of tea are the longest running ad campaign of the last 50 years and have produced over a hundred chimp ads in 45 years.  It was inspired by the chimp’s tea party at London Zoo and was first voiced in 1956 by Peter Sellers. 

The haunting and emotive images and music of the British Airways ‘Face’ advert, bringing people together from around the world, was a million pound commercial made by Chariots of Fire director Hugh Hudson in 1989.

14) NIKE
Footballing dreams came true in this 1997 advert ‘Park Life’ when pub league players turned up one Sunday at Hackney Marshes and were suddenly joined by four top Premiership players who appeared out of the blue – Eric Cantona, Ian Wright, David Seaman and Robbie Fowler. The result: an ad that truly captured the spirit of football and the universal appeal of sport.

In 2000 a mild-mannered customer service advisor at the Halifax, Howard Brown, amazingly shot to fame as the all-singing, all-dancing star of the company who promised to give you extra.  The company decided they wanted a real employee to front a new series of musical ads and Howard was chosen from the thousand who auditioned. It made Howard a national celebrity and he released a single that charted in the Top 20

The ‘I Bet He Drinks…’ series of lager adverts that started in 1965 occasionally poked fun at Anglo-German rivalry, including the most memorable advert when directors used the famous Dambusters theme with a classic scene from the 1954 film.  This 1989 ad wittily spoofed the old movie when the bouncing bomb dropped on the German dam was saved by a Nazi sentry wearing goalkeeping gloves.

They skied across mountains, fought man-eating crocodiles and scaled huge cliffs … just to deliver a box of chocolates.  And all because the lady loves Milk Tray. Since the Milk Tray Man first burst on to screens in 1968, six different actors have played the famous man in black, including James Coombes (1987) and Ben Porter (2000).  But we never got to see whether any of the ladies were worth all this bother: until 2000 when the mysterious lady got her first line!

‘I’d like to teach the World to Sing’ was one of the first truly global adverts from the Cola giants in 1971.  British singer Linda Neary from Cheshire was chosen to sing, but the rest of the singers were shot separately so Linda never got to go to the famous hilltop in Rome where it was filmed.  The inspiration behind the ad – people from different nations coming together - came from industry executive Bill Backer whilst waiting for his flight in a busy airport departure lounge.

Cigar commercials were banned from our screens in 1991 but there’s one set of cigar ads we’ll never forget.  One of Hamlet Cigars last ads in the early 90s for their ‘Happiness Is…’ campaign featured actor Gregor Fisher, (best known as Rab C Nesbitt), as a baldy man combing his hair over in a photo booth, and it became a classic of its time. 

One of the most charming adverts in ITV’s 50 year history came in the form of three furry friends, lying in front of the warmth of a real fire in this advert in 1988.  The ad featured a bulldog, a cat, and a mouse, and the film’s most endearing moment, when the mouse appears to kiss the cat, was totally unplanned and luckily happened during filming.

This set of ‘No Nonsense’ ads for John Smiths bitter started in 2002 and featured the hugely popular comedian Peter Kay, who bizarrely is teetotal. Peter’s comedy skills are not in doubt but he is no footballer, as one advert memorably proved.   Then there were ads where Kay disrupts Englebert Humperdinck in a Las Vegas nightclub, bombs in a swimming pool, and features as an insensitive wedding DJ…

`Tick follows tock, follows tick…’ begins this amazing surfing advert that took the art form to a new level with its use of special effects in 1999.  Part of the ‘Good Things Come to Those who Wait’ campaign, the ad uses the metaphor of Hawaiian surfers waiting for the ultimate wave to reflect anticipation for the perfect pint.  They made a star out of Hawaiian surfer Dino Ching and filmed on location, but the famous horses were added in later after filming against a blue screen in the UK.

5) BT
‘Ology – you’ve got an ology you’re a scientist!’ comments Maureen Lipman over the phone to her disillusioned grandson after his exam results.  Maureen starred as Beattie in this series of ads between 1987 and 1991 and delighted millions as the archetypal Jewish mother to her son Melvyn, played by actor Linal Haft

Some classic animation came in the form of the Creature Comforts Heat Electric adverts by the award-winning makers of Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run.  The series was made between 1990-93 and proved so popular the creatures had their own series later on ITV. 

Who could forget Nick Kamen?  In 1985 the slim, brooding model walked into a laundrette and instantly became one of the world’s biggest sex symbols – and sent the sale of 501s flying through the roof.  Not only that, the choice of Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ gave the classic song a renaissance return to the Top 10 charts.

The drinks were on Joan Collins – literally - during this series of adverts for Cinzano that started in 1978, courtesy of her bumbling ‘date’ Leonard Rossiter.  Ironically, the couple were not the first choice to front the ads as Woody Allen and Sean Connery were initially on the wanted list, but the resulting ads gave the public a much loved although unlikely double act.

For over 30 years we’ve been laughing at them as they’ve been laughing at us wasting time peeling potatoes - the much-loved SMASH MARTIANS advert for instant mashed potato will be hailed as the No. 1 advert of all time.

The Smash Martians were an unlikely choice to tempt you to buy instant dried mash potato, but the advert that launched in 1974 was an instant hit and the infectious laughter and bobbling heads of the Martians has stood the test of time and is as popular and memorable today as it ever was.  Initially the Martians were cartoon animations before they were made into puppets and the ads lasted eight years – the Martians even received sacks of fanmail.

The idea of the Smash Martians came to ad creator John Webster in a pub. ‘We were talking in the pub one night and I said, you know, if someone came from another planet and saw that we’d bothered to peel those dirty things and mash them when you can just pour them out of a packet, they’d think we were barmy,’ recalls John.  And so the idea of having Martians in a spaceship joking about how stupid humans were was born.

John is delighted that his creation has stood the test of time and is the all time number one favourite advert: ‘It’s very difficult to look at the Martian commercial and not smile really.  It’s that infectious laughter and it seems to last forever.’

Classic Ads

The best creative work has always cut through and engaged the public. We’ve all got our favourites and they live long in the memory.