Sales & Marketing

Top TV commercials through the ages: Meerkats, cigars, robots and toothpaste

3 min read

28 September 2015

Businesses spend millions of pounds on TV advertising to capture new consumers. Here are some of the most memorable.

Earlier this week the 60th anniversary of the first television advert was celebrated. Companies have long used the forum over the decades to build existing and new brands, utilising the schedules to ensure maximum impact amongst the viewing public.

Real Business takes a look at some of the most memorable business TV ads since the 1950s.

(1) 2000s to present: 

One of the stand-out adverts from this period is the CompareTheMarket.com campaign starring Russian aristocratic meerkat Aleksandr Orlov. Frustrated that comparethemarket.com is being confused with his own comparethemeerkat.com website, the puppet stresses to viewers the “Simples” difference in the two names.

Use of humour was very important in this ad, with Comparethemarket.com also benefiting from a merchandised range of cuddly toys based on the characters.

Have a look at 10 of the most controversial adverts of all time

(2) 1980’s to 2000’s: 

 “Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet” was the tagline for a series of Hamlet adverts, with perhaps one of the most memorable known as “Baldy Man”. 

Scottish actor Gregor Fisher, later to win fame as Rab C Nesbitt, sits in a photobooth with a Bobby Charlton-style combover. He fails to get a good picture with the camera flash going off at the most inopportune moments such as a strand of hair crossing his face or his stool falling down. Eventually he gives up choosing to relax with a cigar instead. 

Again a humorous advert, but time was soon catching up with the industry with ads from big tobacco firms being banned on TV from 1991.

Visit page two to find out about clever adverts from before the 1980s.

(3) 1960s to 1980s:

Cadbury’s instant “Smash” saw a group of talking robotic martians laugh at the practices of “primitive” humans who spend so much time peeling, boiling and then smashing potatoes instead of just using instant smash.

It succeeds despite the watching public being disparaged for their timewasting habits.

Some of the most creative

(4) Before the 1960s:

Launched on ITV in 1955, the first ever British advert featured the logo “It’s Tingling Fresh”, with memorable lines including “fresh as ice” and “white as snow”. 

A toothbrush and a tube of Gibbs SR toothpaste are encased in a block of ice inside a bubbling icy brook. A model shows how to brush vigorously and then a bar chart warns the viewers about the dangers of gum disease and how it is the biggest cause of tooth loss. 

Good use of imagery and a strong public information message about teeth brushing. Very much an advert and message of its time.