Few things galvanize the country like the Olympic Games. On any given day, we’re a country richly divided by political ideology, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and a dozen other things that drive us apart. But for two weeks every two years, we magically find ourselves cheering for the same team. For the love of sport. For the love of competition. For the love of country.
This Friday, the world turns its attention to Pyeongchang, South Korea for the XXIII Winter Olympiad and in honor of the 2018 Games, we’re counting down the 18 best Olympic commercials of all time. Sacrifice, discipline, competition, fate, and love make for a rich creative palette. Let the chills begin.
No. 18 – Omega “Recording Olympic Dreams Since 1932”
Gorgeous art direction, a cool arrangement of will.i.am’s “Hall of Fame” and perfect lyrics combine to lift up both the official timekeeper of the Olympics and the incredible athletes competing in the games.
No. 17 – McDonald’s “Staying Up”
Great stories make great commercials and this spot taps into a wellspring of emotional touchpoints—our childlike fascination with the Olympics and world records, adolescent persistence, and special time with parents.
No. 16 – VISA “Bob Beamon”
More often than not, Olympic records are broken by mere seconds, or inches. In 1968, Bob Beamon took his run down the long jump and exploded into history breaking the previous world record by 21.75 inches—a record that stood for nearly 23 years.
No. 15 – VISA “One Hundredth of A Second”
In 2008, Michael Phelps won a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Summer Games including a win in the 100m Butterfly by one one-hundredth of a second. This spot pulls out every stop to dramatize that incredible win.
No. 14 – VISA “Dan Jansen”
If the Olympics are about anything, they’re about heartbreak and redemption and no Olympic athlete embodies that more than Dan Jansen. While every athlete thinks of their events as life and death, for Jansen it was. Literally.
No. 13 – Samsung “The Olympic Anthem”
The Olympics are all about bringing the world together regardless of where we’re from, the languages we speak, and the cultures surrounding us. This spot does a beautiful job of showing how the power of music and athletic competition can truly unite us.
No. 12 – Channel 4 Rio Paralympics “We’re The Superhumans”
Watch this spot and then ask yourself two questions, “Is there really anything I can’t do?” and “Why am I complaining about anything?” An incredible testament to the human spirit and the refusal to give up.
No. 11 – Under Armour “Rule Yourself” USA Gymnastics
This is the first of two spots we chose from this Under Armour campaign. The end line is both beautiful and inspiring, just like the young women in this spot. In light of the recent Larry Nassar trial, it’s clear the only thing greater than the physical strength of these young women is their inner strength.
No. 10 – BBC “Rio”
Not since Coca-Cola had their animated polar bears sliding down the luge track had a brand taken on animation for the Olympics, but for the Rio games, the BBC did it incredibly well. The personalities of the animals mixed with the beauty of the animation to put this spot in our top 10.
No. 9 – Coca-Cola “Special Olympics”
This spot is simple, heartfelt, and completely unexpected. It’s also beautiful, moving, and as the talent says, “fantastic!”
No. 8 – Dick’s Sporting Goods “Gold In Us”
We love spots that take a little nugget of information nobody knows to create something relevant, engaging, and moving. This spot does exactly that with great performances and stunning cinematography.
No. 7 – VISA “Carpool”
OK Creative team—you have access to a dozen Olympic hopefuls from team USA and other countries and you have to use all of them in one spot. Go! What could have been a clunky, stilted, boring spot is anything but. This spot for VISA from the Rio games is fun, clever, and incorporates great product relevance. It was the perfect prelude to the start of the games.
No. 6 – Team Canada “Ice In Our Veins”
This spot combines the Olympic spirit and the spirit of Canada to create a cool, edgy spot that’s stunningly beautiful and relentlessly inspiring to Canadians everywhere. (Not to mention everyone who wishes they were Canadian).
No. 5 – P&G “Thank You Mom”
No company has done more consistently brilliant spots for the Olympics than Proctor & Gamble. Their spots are beautifully shot, tell wonderful stories, and tap into visceral emotion unlike any other spots out there. Watch this spot from 2016 and then go call your Mom.
No. 4 – John Hancock “Sarajevo”
This haunting spot from John Hancock reminds us why we need the Olympics in the first place. While ultimately, the spot is a plea for financial help, it’s also a plea for the world to embrace the Olympic spirit—not just every two years—but every day and always. Backed by Samuel Barber’s haunting “Adagio For Strings,” this spot is sobering, heartbreaking and ultimately, hopeful.
The Bronze – Canadian Tire “Pedestal”
The copy in this spot is beautiful and as perfect as the art direction. There is not a citizen on the planet who wouldn’t watch this spot and wish their country’s logo would be the one that comes up at the end. O Canada. This is awesome!
The Silver – Under Armour “Rule Yourself” Phelps
Without question, Michael Phelps is the greatest Olympian in the history of the Games. 28 total medals. 23 Gold. 14 Gold in individual events. In 2008 in Beijing, Phelps won eight Gold medals in a single Olympiad. How does that happen? Not by sleeping in. This spot mixes stunning art direction and a haunting music track to give us a glimpse into Phelps comeback after retiring from competitive swimming after the 2012 Olympics in London. Apparently, it worked. In Rio in 2016, Phelps won six more medals—five of them Gold.
The Gold – P&G “Best Job”
Of the 40 commercials we reviewed, this spot above all others deserved to stand on the top of the podium. With laser-sharp awareness of who their target is, the team behind this spot crafted a gorgeous commercial that both inspires the way we all feel about Moms and the way they feel about themselves. Watch any Olympic Games and you’ll see stories about athletes and coaches. Athletes and trainers. Athletes and teammates. Athletes at the pinnacle. What you won’t see is everything that went into getting them there—until you watch this spot. Grab the Kleenex and enjoy the stunning performances of the Moms in this spot. This is advertising at its best.
Agree with our list? Disagree? We’d love to hear what you think. Share your comments below and share the list with your friends. We’d love to hear from them, too.
AIMEE HERRON and TINA TACKETT are the Media Director and Executive Creative Director at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency. For more about challenger branding, subscribe to our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog