The 15 Best TV Advertisements Directed By Famous Modern Filmmakers

8. Jonathan Glazer – Dreamer (Guiness, 2001)

Jonathan Glazer’s ad is part of an integrated campaign launched by Diageo in 2001 to promote Guiness’ draught stout in the United Kingdom. It’s part of a four-part campaign that’s based on the phrase ‘good things come to those who wait’. Three of those four ads are directed by Jonathan Glazer, but Dreamer is the most striking of the bunch.

Sporting an austere black and white cinematography, and some beautifully animated talking-squirrels, the television spot offers a comedic take on alcoholism and its psychotic-infused dream states. Of special note is the main music of the ad and the overall sound design, which works as a subconscious reminder that the images we’re seeing may seem completely nonsensical despite their pretty obvious meaning.

Dreamer is yet another piece of Glazer’s overall oeuvre, which shrouds its straightforwardness with disturbing visual imagery and an often confusing narrative.


7. David Lynch – The Third Place (Playstation 2, 2000)

David Lynch is a guy with his hand in everything. He’s literally everywhere: from television to cinema, from painting to music, from music videos to commercials; there’s no art form which the surrealist director hasn’t yet explored.

Part of the wide-array of publicity for the new Playstation console that Sony rolled out on the turn of the century, The Third Place is, without surprise, the most freaky and mouth gaping of them all. Shot on a two day shoot in LA, it’s the result of eighteen months of research, where it was the only one that reportedly captured the test groups’ imaginations.

It’s actually not a wonder that happened: the surrealist and nonsensical nature of the commercial is a clear metaphor for the never ending and genre breaking multitude that the gaming medium is capable of. It’s beautiful on its lynchian sort of way, and unlike anything that usually airs on television.


6. Alejandro González Iñárritu – Write the Future (Nike, 2010)

Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu’s foray into publicity has him direct the commercial for Nike’s 19th Fifa World Cup, featuring a bunch of famous footballers and a celebration of the emotional cacophony that is the sport itself. Fast paced and tightly edited, this advertisement of a football game had people clamoring for a feature-length film way back when.

Iñárritu directs the fictional match with slow motion techniques and close-up shots that regular games aren’t able to recreate, creating a sense of added tension and conflict that are cornerstones of filmmaking in general. By intercutting the game with shots of the public’s reaction (with an emphasis on South African culture, since that year’s World Cup took place there) the director arranges an emotional spectacle that immediately connects with the viewer due to the familiarity and empathy with the situation.

Though it stars some pretty well-known football stars like Didier Drogba and Tim Howard, Iñárritu’s focus shines on Brazilian legend Ronaldinho, Portuguese wonder kid Cristiano Ronaldo and Englishman Wayne Rooney. This particular focus is of interest because of the visual way which the director tells his story.

With no dialogues whatsoever or singular narrative beats, Iñarritu transports the viewer right into the footballer’s mind, through musical cues and fast cuts that create small stories that speak of each culture’s paradigms and nuances.

It’s a great TV ad with great cinematography and great cameos. Even Homer Simpson was called on to make an appearance. Ronal-doh indeed.


5. Ang Lee – Dining Out (Visa, 2001)

After his 2000 wuxia masterpiece Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and before his 2003 monstrous flop (pun intended) Hulk, Ang Lee directed a two minute commercial for credit card company Visa, forever reframing the phrase ‘the soup is too salty’ in pop culture.

With a fast paced narrative (as is a necessity in the medium of channel surfing and constant zapping) and careful framing, Dining Out is an action packed commercial that stars Ziyi Zhang, an actress that previously worked with Ang Lee on Crouching Tiger. What’s wonderfully delightful about this ad is the way it self-parodies the director’s previous work and a scene from the movie in particular. Instead of the dramatic tension, it’s funny and lightweight, even with all the wrecking about and overall great fighting choreography.

All in all, Dining Out wouldn’t make me turn to Visa for my credit card matters, but it’s so different and well-made that it distinguishes itself from the rest of the TV ad world.


4. Darren Aronofsky – Meth: Not Even Once (Montana Meth Project, 2011)

Despite the current trend of this list, the end all be all of advertisements isn’t always to sell something. The ultimate goal, generally, is to make the viewer aware that that something exists. Well, that’s exactly what Darren Aronofsky’s ads entail. Each and every single one of the thirty second videos the Requiem for a Dream director helmed are chilling and hyper-realistic on their portrayal of meth-addiction.

With stark lighting, handheld cinematography and fantastic make-up, Aronofsky’s videos, like his sophomore film, offer a gut-wrenching take on drug addiction, with particular focus on the effect it has on young adults and teens. The opening voice-over is short and to the point, narrating the lengths these people will go to perpetuate their needs.

One of the ads Aronofsky directed makes use of the hypocritical stance publicity in general has on the female body. The whole ‘sex sells’ position is still hilariously one-sided, catering to the male gaze in a manipulative and exploitive way. This ad subverts that stance, panning alongside a girl’s half-naked body only to reveal she’s selling her body in order to buy meth.

All four publicity spots feel cold and overly-graphic, unafraid to depict the horrors of meth addiction as brilliantly as Requiem for a Dream once did.


3. Michel Gondry – Smarienberg (Smirnoff, 1998)

In 1999, The Wachowskis were credited as having ‘invented’ the visual style of what is now known as ‘bullet time’: freezing a scene to focus on the slow motion movement of a bullet going through space. Truth is, Gondry had already set a precedent for it a year before with his commercial for Smirnoff, Smarienberg.

The Smirnoff commercial is a melting pot of visual tricks and fast paced editing, much of it a testament to Gondry’s work in music videos and his relentless inventiveness that strives for originality wherever it’s applied (it’s a pity his most recent films lean so heavily on this that they fail in almost every other aspect).

It’s a bonkers ad that changes from scene to scene with relative cinematographic ease, that sports an incredibly rich color palette and moves through a M.C. Escher-esque dimension that makes the Smirnoff drink oh-so cool and exciting.

The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind director won the most awards for his work on Levi’s Drugstor advert, but Smarienberg is such an overlooked but visually-dazzling piece of advertisement that it needs to be, well, advertised.


2. Spike Jonze – Lamp (IKEA, 2002)

Have you ever seen a point-of-view shot of a lamp? If not, Spike Jonze is the guy to answer your lamp-related prayers. Known for being a Hollywood maverick way before this commercial, Jonze directed the first sad, then hilarious Lamp commercial for IKEA, a part of their “Unböring” campaign.

It’s a genius bit of advertisement as it tells a story of a lamp being abandoned and then replaced by another, better and newer one. We follow his brief stay at the apartment, then at the curbside, under heavy rain, parodying a bunch of film tropes in less than thirty seconds.

The lamp is like a dog or a cute pet. Jonze, through his mastery of the film medium, makes the viewer feel empathy for that unanimated being, just because his light still goes off when his owner clicks another unrelated switch.

In the final seconds, a random guy appears and calls the viewer crazy for having feelings for the lamp. After all, the object doesn’t feel like us, and the new one is much better! So why should we feel sad?

IKEA’s furniture sales increased in eight percent during the run of this commercial, which was awarded with a Grand Clio and the Grand Prix at Cannes, a much well-deserved award. Jonze is one of those rare filmmakers that are a joy to watch in whatever it is they do.


1. Ridley Scott – 1984 (Apple, 1984)

No TV advert list would be complete without this entry. Ridley Scott’s one minute opus is a brilliant exercise in intertextuality and medium transversality. In what is considered a ‘watershed event’ and a ‘masterpiece’, Scott’s spot for Apple introduced the Macintosh computer to general audiences, using the dystopian setting of George Orwell’s book as the main starting point.

But instead of an anti-hero like Winston Smith, we get a Leni Riefenstahl-like character, dressed in a white shirt and orange shorts that contrast with the drab and dark color palette of the dystopia.

The female represents humanity’s physical and mental prowess, capable of overcoming any and every obstacle that’s presented. She’s a heroine through and through, throwing her very literal hammer like an Olympic competitor and smashing the Big Brother-like nonsense spewing TV screen. She’s the symbol of a repressed nationality fighting her way over the thought police.

Steve Jobs, way back in 1983, compared the Big Brother to IBM when asked about this ad. Apple’s Macintosh was, then, the nation’s savior, signifying diversity in a world dominated technologically by the IBM brand much like Oceania was by Ingsoc. Ridley Scott expertly managed to convey this message, even if coupled with Jobs’ stance it probably wasn’t the smartest one. Nevertheless, 1984 still stands as a great cinematic accomplishment.

Author Bio: João Santos is a Portuguese cinema student and an aspiring scriptwriter. He spends most of his time devouring films and some TV series as a guilty pleasure he can’t shake off, even though he knows he should be editing his damn scripts.

Author Bio: João Santos is a Portuguese cinema student and an aspiring scriptwriter. He spends most of his time devouring films and some TV series as a guilty pleasure he can’t shake off, even though he knows he should be editing his damn scripts.