Gary Jacobs of Live & Breathe picks his Desert Island ads

I don’t like to take myself too seriously at work. Advertising isn’t brain surgery or investment banking – it should be a fun job. We should be laughing in the office. And that fun and amusement should shine through in the work we create.

I think there were a few years where we forgot that, but recently, humour has been taking a starring role in ads once again. Making audiences laugh grabs attention, creates lasting impressions, and forges emotional connections. Plus, it helps brands to stand out in a sea of sameness.

So for me, the ads that resonate most are those that use a clever blend of wit and charm. They’re not always laugh-out-loud funny, but they all take a light-hearted and humanising approach.

But, most importantly, my desert island ads are more than just funny videos. Every one of them comes back to a fundamental truth about the brand and its purpose, which is ultimately what makes for a truly effective piece of advertising.

Desert Island Ads

IKEA – ‘Silence the Critics’

First up, an excellent IKEA ad from 2019. I very clearly remember watching ‘Silence the Critics’ on my TV screen that Christmas, standing out as it did from the rest of the festive noise. The spot brings everyday household objects to life in a witty diss track about a home that needs some TLC, a culturally relevant nod to the emerging Grime scene at the time.

Humour is at the very heart of this ad, with dinosaur toys and snail ornaments adorned with angry expressions as they verbally destroy the house. But it’s not just entertaining; it effectively communicates IKEA’s wide range of products. The spot ends with the ultimate comeback – silencing the animated objects with IKEA solutions. That memorable touch leaves no possibility that you’ll forget which brand is behind the ad.

Laughing Man Coffee & Aviation Gin – ‘Truce’

Five years ago, Ryan Reynolds and Hugh Jackman tried to call a truce on their long-running social-media “feud” with a joint ad for Jackman’s Laughing Man Coffee brand and Reynolds’ Aviation Gin. In an amusing two-minute video, the two actors used their famous playful banter to not only entertain fans, but to peak interest and generate mass awareness around each of their now hugely successful brands.

The use of humour in their ad not only boosted their brand visibility but also drove significant charitable contributions, highlighting the positive impact light-hearted marketing can have.

I often reference Ryan Reynolds in conversations with clients. He’s effectively turned himself into a brand character for Aviation Gin, demonstrating the power they can have – especially when combined with a touch of comedy.

Specsavers – ‘Welcome to the Specsavers Vet’

Next up, the advertising masters at Specsavers. At the beginning of this TV spot, viewers have no idea which brand it’s going to be for. As the vet on-screen becomes alarmed that the cat on his table has no pulse, you assume the ad is for an organisation like the RSPCA, and so brace yourself for a sad story designed to pull on your heartstrings.

However, in a comical twist, the vet discovers that it’s not a cat on his table, but a faux fur hat. The ad ends with the brand’s famous tagline: ‘Should’ve gone to Specsavers’. Within 30 seconds, the ad brilliantly plays on the unexpected to get viewers laughing while doubling down on its core brand commitment to provide people with clear and accurate vision.

John Smith’s – ‘No Nonsense’

When I first joined adland, I took a course run by the industry’s association for creative advertising, the D&AD. That course taught me how effective it can be to use somebody who personifies a brand to tell its story in a way that’s easy to understand. Beer brand John Smith’s hit that nail on the head when they hired comedian Peter Kay for their iconic ‘No Nonsense’ TV ads in the early noughties.

The series is a masterclass in comedic simplicity. Renowned for its down-to-earth and straightforward approach as a brand, John Smith’s had Kay deliver witty, no-nonsense commentary on various everyday scenarios, playing into the no-frills nature of its beer.

It was a bit of a change in direction for the brand at the time, but Kay’s relatable and genius anecdotes, combined with his distinctive Northern charm, made these ads not only memorable, but relatable.

Uber Eats – ‘Best Friends’

My final desert island ad is the most recent – last year’s ‘Best Friends’, a funny piece of work from Uber Eats to promote its subscription service, Uber One. Featuring a dynamic duo in Robert De Niro and Asa Butterfield, the ad brilliantly captures life’s simplicity. De Niro’s seasoned presence and Butterfield’s youthful energy combine seamlessly to create a genuine and engaging narrative, while the scenarios that play out in the advert add a touch of awkward humour, making it all the more relatable and entertaining.

The ad’s main strength is its ability to convey a universal message about the convenience and joy Uber One provides. It hones in single-mindedly on what the service actually does – gets you food and takes you places. But because it’s funny, viewers can take in the brand message without feeling it has been forced upon them.

As I lounge about on my desert island, this ad highlights some of the things I’ll miss most: charming stories about everyday life, convenience, and those hilariously awkward moments that make you laugh for years to come. And the great food, of course.

Gary Jacobs is creative director, Live & Breathe.

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