9 best ‘90s commercials and why they worked

best 90s commercials

Furbies. Fanny packs. Big Mouth Billy Bass. Filled with all things weird and wild, it’s no wonder we can’t get enough ‘90s nostalgia nowadays. 

Often fondly remembered as a simpler and sparklier time, the 1990s is having a real impact on modern pop culture. And with the widespread use of cable TV, few things reflect the trends of the decade better than its iconic TV commercials. These ads didn’t just sell products. They introduced us to a world of characters, catchphrases, and catchy jingles that still linger on some 30 years later. 

Let’s take a trip down memory lane to see what tricks we can pick up to inspire your next video ad

Here’s a sneak peek:

  1. California Milk Processor Board – Got Milk?
  2. Budweiser – Whassup? 
  3. Apple – Think Different 
  4. Tango – Orange Man 
  5. Guinness – Surfer 
  6. Reese’s – There’s No Wrong Way To Eat A Reese’s 
  7. Jaffa Cakes – Total Eclipse 
  8. Coca Cola – Holidays Are Coming 
  9. Budweiser – Budweiser Frogs

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1. California Milk Processor Board – Got Milk? 

In the early ‘90s, American milk sales had declined to an all time low. In response, the California Milk Processor Board launched a 1993 TV ad showing a distressed historian struggling to swallow a peanut butter sandwich so he can answer a phone-in radio competition worth $10,000. And it went on to become one of the most iconic commercials of all time. 

This ad was smart, creative, and unlike any government-sponsored ads America had ever seen. The catchy, open-ended tagline was designed to encourage people to imagine their own scenarios. This helped reposition milk as a household staple while creating a cultural phenomenon that lived on for years. 

Key tip

Sometimes, it’s important to boost brand loyalty by reminding people about how good your product is. Winning new customers is great, but keeping the customers you have is what really matters. 

2. Budweiser – Whassup? 

Here’s another example of an advertising commercial becoming a cultural phenomenon. Interestingly, Budweiser’s “Whassup?” ad was actually based on the short film by Charles Stone III, which shows a group of African-American men calling each other while watching sports.

The campaign ran on the commercial break during Monday Night Football from 1999-2002 and became one of the most-watched TV ads of all time. It was even parodied in Scary Movie, and its catchphrase “Whassup?” appeared on popular talk shows, and more. This is one of the ads that marks the dawn of viral content. 

Key tip

Understanding your audience is everything. This is what inspires a solid marketing strategy that hits home with your customers while staying true to your brand. 

Budweiser wanted to communicate with young men in their 20s and 30s. Their aim was to position their beer as a source of connection and quality time between friends. When you dig deeper into the thinking behind this ad, the idea and execution are bang on. 

3. Apple – Think Different

Oooft. Got goosebumps rewatching this one. Launched in 1997, this iconic commercial aimed to rebrand Apple and position it as a company that celebrated innovation, creativity, and those who dared to challenge the status quo in a bid to grow an aligned and loyal audience. 

From the iconic figures to the powerful script, everything about this campaign is aimed to inspire. Almost like watching a music video, it was this departure from the conventional that led the brand all the way to the top of tech. Without a doubt one of the best Apple ads of all time.  

Key tip 

This ‘90s commercial was successful for so many reasons. But the key takeaway that marketers can apply today, is the importance of telling a compelling story that represents your brand’s values. 

Instead of focusing solely on product features, this campaign centered around broader brand ethos to create a more emotional and lasting connection with their consumers. 

4. Tango – Orange Man 

A UK classic. This soft drink commercial was created with the goal of making Tango famous in a world of high-impact ads. And it succeeded, giving birth to the “You’ve Been Tango’d” catchphrase which played on the intense hit of flavor you get from drinking a Tango.

The ad got so much notoriety that kids took the iconic “Tango Slap” into their schoolyards across the country, which eventually resulted in the ad getting banned! 

One of the creatives at the advertising agency, Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury, shared their strategy behind the ingenious idea.

“The actual idea started out as a joke. We said how brilliant it would be if you had a drink and something shocking happened, but so quickly that nobody else saw it.” – Trevor Robinson

Bloody brilliant.

Key tip 

Don’t take things too seriously. Almost every piece of creative work tries to be clever in some way. But there’s a lot to be said for throwing out the rulebook and doing something bonkers to bring a bit of unfiltered silliness to your audience’s day. When done right, it could cut through to create a more positive connotation with your brand. 

So, next time your creatives have an idea that seems absolutely nuts, don’t be so quick to kill it. Because, who knows, it could be your smartest marketing move yet.

5. Guinness – Surfer 

Guinness has a pretty impressive advertising history dating back as far as the 1930s. But this one is still regarded as their most memorable commercial. 

The advert uses a Polynesian surfer waiting for the perfect wave as a metaphor for waiting for the perfect pint of Guinness. Both need patience, but the experience is well worth it.

This piece is a true lesson in craft, from the script and visual style, to the pace and the suspenseful track. Every detail was meticulously considered – and it shows. 

Key tip

Don’t shy away from the potential barriers of your product or service. 

Folk need to wait for their Guinness to settle before taking that first sip. While this could be perceived as an inconvenience, Guinness turned this into their greatest asset. Dramatizing the wait and what it says about the consumer was a clever way to create a sense of exclusivity around the drink. It became even more desirable. 

This approach is honest, authentic, and can help you resonate with your audience on a more authentic level. 

6. Reese’s – There’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s 

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups have been enjoyed by the masses for an age (since 1928, to be exact). Throughout the 1990s, the brand created its tagline and long-running campaign series on the insight that everyone likes to eat this treat their own way (it’s around the edges for me). 

This example features domino champ and child prodigy, Charlie Armstrong, and race car icon, Bill Elliot. But there are so many scenarios, from boomeranging cowboys to peanut butter-sucking vampires. This versatility made the campaign a success for years to come, running on cartoon networks and other popular TV stations.

Key tip 

In your advertising efforts, try for 80% familiar and 20% new. 

The long-standing nature of this campaign is something a lot of consumers grew to love. Each example was familiar and fresh at the same time. Spotting what resonates with your audience and building on it can help build brand loyalty and in this case, a very memorable campaign.

7. Jaffa Cakes – Total Eclipse 

This ad takes me back to a simpler time. Truth be told, I still recite this in my head whenever I have Jaffa. I have fond memories of my parents chuckling whenever this commercial came on the telly too. What a gem! 

Key tip

Keep it simple. 

A strong, single-minded idea will always resonate better with your audience than six different messages in one. 

This rings true now more than ever, with marketing and media all around us from the moment we wake until the time we go to sleep at night. If you can simplify your thinking to create something instantly gettable and entertaining, you’ll have a better chance of getting into your target audience’s good books.  

8. Coca-Cola – Holidays are coming 

Our roundup of the most memorable ‘90s commercials wouldn’t be complete without this iconic ad from Coca-Cola.

The Coca-Cola truck first drove across our screens back in 1995, and its accompanying catchy jingle has marked the start of the holidays for so many people since then. The truck itself continues to be a symbol of joy, togetherness, and giving for audiences all over the world. And it’s this emotional connection that makes the campaign so unforgettable. 

Key tip

Find a balance between branded and human marketing. Coke’s branding is everywhere in this campaign, but it’s the story and sense of place that makes it so emotive. When you merge authentic emotions with brand colors, logos, and taglines, your audience will have more of a meaningful connection with your product or service.

9. Budweiser – Budweiser Frogs

The ‘90s really was the Golden Age of Budweiser advertising. So much so that it just about beat Bagel Bites and the Doublemint Gum commercial to take the last spot on the list!

This 1995 Super Bowl ad shows three frogs sitting on a pond. But instead of letting out an expected “ribbit,” each frog croaks out one syllable of the word “Budweiser” to create a theme song of sorts. This universally understood behavior of frogs combined with an unexpected twist is what makes this ‘90s commercial so entertaining. 

Key tip

Creativity is your biggest tool for surprising and engaging audiences. While this Budweiser commercial was super simple, it takes a lot of fresh thinking to come up with an idea that stands out and strikes a chord with consumers. 

This example gets creative with sound in particular, but you can play around with any subject or medium to make something new. 

How to speed up creative collaboration on your next commercial

Getting to a killer concept for your commercials can often take many rounds of reviews and feedback between teammates and clients. That’s before you even begin to think about the execution. 

But unlike the ‘90s, you have a wide range of innovative tools available to help iron out any kinks in your process. Tools like marketing approval software

Filestage is a review and approval software that lets you share ideas, discuss feedback, and track changes all in one place. Which means your team can focus on nailing the creative side of things. 

If this sounds like something you could use for your next advertising commercial, start your free trial today.