- Lego: Rebuild it. First it was posted on various adblogs as if Saatchi & Saatchi, Guangzhou, China really had Lego approval on this image. But they didn't - and Lego was furious. The team that created it, Black Wu and Darren Cheung, crafted an apology letter in both English and Chinese stating that they were very sorry for causing the brand damage with their "naive and irresponsible behavior", before getting the sack from Saatchi China. Where they are now is anybodies guess.
- The Bic Wite Out ads. Yeah, there, I said the name. SO SUE ME! First we had these terrible Bic ads submitted by the creative team Miguel Angel Barahona and Gabriel Gomez at TBWA Chile. Then, Bic's US Headquarters tells us to take them down. When that didn't work, the agencies creative director begged us to remove the ads. OK, fine, so the images were removed. But that wasn't good enough, as BIC Headquarters in the United States were pissed and the agency risked a lot of business, so the CD asked me again to please remove the brand name. Everywhere. Not happy until I had whited out every single mention of BIC® even in the comments, which of course bought these ads more blog mentions elsewhere on the web not to mention pissed off adgrunts. You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube folks.
- Ford Ka "cat decapitation" which went around the interwebs faster than a truck running on jet fuel. Since Ford Ka had killed a pigeon the previous year, everyone thought that this ad was simply part of the campaign, but as everyone including the agency insisted, it was only an internal joke that was never meant to be seen by the hoi polloi we call consumers.
- Truth In advertising - one of the first virals we've had on the site this film just keeps bouncing back, once a run around the web has died out and been forgotten, it simply starts again and makes another run two years later. Zooma films even sold a DVD with all the films in the series. At one point people tried to stop the spread of these films as this was around the SAG strike and none of the actors had been paid for web appearances. What makes it keep coming back is that some things in advertising never change, we all wish we could say what we really meant and if we did, it would be hilarious.
- PUMA "splooge" a.k.a blowjob ads. I was minding my own business posting flirt, squirt and sex sells in Badland just to compare two blowjob idea ads, then all hell broke loose. Way back before we realized the importance of watermarking exclusive stuff, the puma ads spread like a veneralial disease throughout the web, and soon Puma came a knocking on our door. Well, they didn't knock as much as call us and then send a C&D. It wasn't our first (our first came from Universal studios but that's another story), so we simply blurred out the trademark on the images and posted our reply in public. The Puma ads were in fact spec work done in a pitch by an agency I promised never to name (even if Peter Kim has), and the result of the web-fever was an actual rush to puma webstores, where these shoes weren't available at the time. In short, even outrageous advertising works. The creators are still working in advertising, coming up with nuttier things for braver clients.
- Sprite: Blowjob ad. The Huffington Post ('s anything that is popular on the web without checking what it really is) and other major news outlets in the states fell for this spec ad hook line and sinker. They honestly thought that it was a "Banned German Sprite" commercial, and what's worse they thought it was the interracial rather than the BJ that caused the ban. What the hell do Americans think about us over here in Europe, honestly? No, it was a joke, a spec job wanting to be "some kind of commentary on the overuse of sexuality in advertising" according to the creator Max "it was only meant to be seen by friends" Isaacson at Greencard Pictures. Greencard pictures did not endorse it, and naturally I got another phonecall from a nice lawyer as soon as the ad was up. Coca Cola really don't like when people mess with their trademarks.
- NutriGrain - I feel great. Who could forget Babies everywhere which practically the whole planet laughed at back in 2003. Turnpike films had scored a viral hit, that hit them hard, slowing down their server to a crawl, and once they were over that technical glitch they were served with C&D orders from all brands involved. "I feel Great" was never an ad for NutriGrain, Magic Beer was never approved by Budweiser and as funny as it was Save the Pinata was never a Nintendo ad. The films were picked down one by one from their website, the URL is now owned by a linkfarmer. Justin Reardon from Turnpike films did win young directors award in Cannes for "I feel great" that following summer and you can now find him at Anonymous content, still making us laugh.
- Volkswagens suicide bomber ad - he didn't feel great at all, he got in his car, went to blow up a café, but sadly he had chosen the "small but tough" vehicle to get him there and his plan failed. Lee&Dan may not have planned it, but the ad catapulted them to fame as well as got them in seriously hot water with VW who threatened to sue them, but settled for an apology. Around this point in time, adgrunts got ever more cynical and thought the whole VW-threat was part of the plan to make the viral even more so. Like Nutrigrain, this ad will never leave the web. And how did it work out for its creators? Very well, Lee&Dan have most recently shot some lovely looking Adidas commercials for 180.
- Spoof of Monster. com's Super Bowl spot "When I grow up" modified for the ad world, naturally meant that the ad world couldn't stop loving it - and so did everyone else who felt they were stuck in terrible jobs. Which is everybody - this is the ad that all office dwellers recognized and suddenly us adfolks had some sympathy from the punters who usually hate us. Yeay.
- Why yes, it's the DDB Brazil WWF poster ad that caused award shows to change the rules and ended up on Keith Olbermann's shitlist and was talked about so much we had to make recap post just trying to keep track of all the web mentions and twists in the story. Was it approved? Yes! Then no. Then Okay, maybe by someone in Brazil but they weren't really allowed to approve it. I guess we can count this approved-by-someone ad as pure spec work then, even if it did win a One Show award. I give you the commercial version of the WWF 9/11 ad.
And the number one viral spec ad in the past ten years . . . . .
We've talked about spec work a lot here on adland over the years, and the best discussion can be found in spec work going around the web as real ads where many adgrunts voice the pro and cons for showing off your spec work on the web, even if you're hijacking someone elses brand to do it. It's risky business, you might get fired, but then again you might get hired.
I'm sure that you, dear adgrunts have suggestions of ads that should be on this list, it's hard to whittle ten years down to ten points. Which ones deserve an honorable mention?