We take our job seriously here at Pocketnow. In a world of manufacturers suing other manufacturers, companies (maybe) ripping off other companies, and rampant fanboyism destroying goodwill among technology geeks, there’s a lot to report and comment on. We do our best to do so diligently, promptly, and with a minimum of snark– most of the time, anyway.
But once in a while, you’ve got to let your hair down. They can’t all be hard-hitting investigative pieces on trusting your phone salesman, in-depth reviews of top smartphones, or speculative articles on air-interface technologies. There’s a lot of fun out there in the mobile space. To paraphrase international slacker-hero Ferris Bueller, “if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
That fun comes in many forms, but perhaps none so visible as mobile-phone advertisements– specifically, TV ads. From hilarious to absurd to charming to heartwarming, these spots remind us not just to go out and buy the latest from our favorite manufacturer or carrier, but to laugh or cry a little (on the inside) when we do so.
Here, then, are the ten best American mobile-phone TV commercials ever, which we culled from thousands, using the highly scientific method of browsing YouTube until we LoLed. If you haven’t figured out by now that the “best ever” language is hyperbolic, consider this your notice. If you disagree, have other videos to add, or just want to say “LOL,” drop your feedback in them comments. Your call is important to us, and will be answered in the order it was received.
Who’s Agitatin’ My Dots? (Nextel, 2006)
From the grey-washed, slightly dystopian warehouse world of the meddlesome dot-agitators, to the casual intimidation of the cake-eater, this commercial features a wide variety of WTF, mixed with some concisely presented information on how former US wireless carrier Nextel could help your business with its GPS tracking solutions. This mix of humor with product education, a staple of advertising for decades, was something of a Nextel specialty during the short period of optimism following its merger with Sprint. And the cake-eating guy was on Night Court, so that’s awesome.
Crime Deterrent (Sprint, 2006)
Speaking of Sprint. This commercial debuted as a halftime spot during the 2006 Superbowl, and its sudden violence would have seemed brutal if it weren’t so hilarious. The commercial does little to educate consumers about the benefits of Sprint products, not because they’re not mentioned, but because everything that happens in the latter half of the spot instantly obliterates any memory of the first portion. Even so, this is a spot that stayed in people’s minds for years after its original air date. I worked at Sprint at the time, so that’s first-hand knowledge, right there. Straight from the customer’s mouth. Believe it.
You (HTC, 2010)
This commercial was part of a series of ads, HTC’s first real effort to establish itself in the minds of American consumers following years of manufacturing products for other brands. The “You” campaign employed a catchy remix of Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” along with a congenial voiceover describing the various ways we’re all different, and how each of us needs a smartphone that suits our own unique needs. In the able hands of advertising firm Deutsch LA Inc., a concept that might have come off mawkish or saccharine instead became poignant, almost touching. It holds up even today, after two years of smartphone inundation, reminding us just how personal these devices can be despite their near-ubiquity. In all seriousness, this is probably my favorite technology ad of all time.
Antennalope (Nextel, 2003)
To shake off that sentimentality, let’s trek back to Nextel for the requisite early-21st-century absurdity. The company was rolling out its nationwide push-to-talk service at the time, and this was perhaps the most absurd of three similar ads “explaining” how Nextel, America’s only national iDEN provider, had achieved such a herculean task.
Watching You, All The Time (T-Mobile USA, 2007)
T-Mobile USA has for years been the struggling last-place contender in the American wireless market, but that unenviable position has resulted in some of the most aggressive marketing in the landscape. Often, that means T-Mobile ends up trying too hard, and some of its commercials come off either painfully un-funny or dull and expository. Here, though, the mix of blank-faced creepiness from the father, abject terror in the teenager, and the memorable message that “being in someone’s [top] 5 [calling circle]” is quite a significant thing, combine to make an ad that’s memorable for the right reasons.
Butt Dialing (T-Mobile USA/RIM, 2009)
One of those ads that’s recently enjoyed a slight internet renaissance due to the “HEY! It’s that guy from that thing!” effect (see the video’s title), I remember this ad being talked about quite a lot when it was still regularly airing in my market a few years back. That, though, probably says more about the universally recognized “butt-dialing” phenomenon than the popularity of either T-Mobile USA or the BlackBerry Pearl Flip.
Taco Party (AT&T, 2011)
Whether or not you agree with AT&T‘s tactics in the Great 4G Advertising War Of Not Too Long Ago, you’ve got to admit that some of the ads that sprang from the conflict were pretty funny. This was one of a series of such spots, showing non-4G-equipped phone owners getting “left behind” in message-receipt lists, with the predictable hilarity ensuing. Not only did the ads maintain an even, lighthearted tone, but they played a crucial part in equating “4G” with “fast” in the American consumer’s mind. Never mind that it was never really 4G in the first place. But that argument’s time has passed. So let’s all just LoL together at the “heyy” at the end of this spot.
Your Fat Wife (AT&T/Cingular, 2007)
Before AT&T was focused on 4G -indeed, before it was even known as AT&T- the company then known as Cingular focused on differentiating itself on the merits of its voice network. These commercials, featuring phones from other carriers succumbing to the most-hated malady of the day, the dropped call, were the result. And they were hilarious.
Really? (Microsoft, 2010)
“In, out, and back to life.” That was the motto of the revamped, re-imagined, completely rebuilt Windows Phone, and that’s how Microsoft wanted people to think of it: a glanceable OS that would let you get your head out of your smartphone and back to what’s important in the real world. The platform itself enjoys almost no screen time in this ad, one of many in a series more focused on conveying a philosophy than any specific feature set. While Windows Phone didn’t -and still hasn’t- taken off like Microsoft might’ve hoped, the commercial wins big points for its bold, brassy tone, unconventional approach, and tongue-in-cheek humor.
iPhone (Apple Computer, 2007)
Love it or hate it, the original iPhone changed the game, thanks in no small part to Apple’s legendary marketing. This was one of the first official iPhone commercials to air following the device’s release, and it features all of the characteristics that would define the device’s positioning going forward: a catchy, inoffensive soundtrack, mellow and friendly narrator, featureless background with the device front-and-center, and most important: a focused, narrow overview of just a few small features. The ad isn’t pretentious, over-the-top, or flashy; just a brief tour of one or two things the iPhone can do for you. On its own, the commercial might not be too impressive, but in concert with the avalanche of similar ads that followed, along with the very obvious positive effect they’ve had on the iPhone’s market share, it’s easily one of the most notable in the whole bunch.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this round up of what’s kept us Americans laughing and paying attention in the mobile world for the past decade or so. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go eat some calamari at 4G speeds, while using my crime deterrent to guard against butt dials. And don’t agitate my dots, or I’ll sick my Antennalope on you.