The 30 Freakiest Ads of 2009

Roller-skating babies, Hitler, 9/11 exploitation, rat poison and more

Headshot of Tim Nudd

It's the most wonderful time of the year—time to look back at the oddest, creepiest, quirkiest and downright freakiest ads that we covered on AdFreak this year. We've selected 30 spots from all over the world that truly left us with that not-peaceful, uneasy feeling. The majority are PSAs—their freaky means apparently justified by humanitarian ends. The list is also heavy on the U.K., another reminder that we can always count on the English (and the Welsh) for a solid dose of depravity. So, here's to the freakiest of 2009, and more of the same in 2010.

  1. White Castle

    "Exotic Dancer"

    Zimmerman, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

    Click to view. Mmm, White Castle pulled-pork sandwiches. Just what you crave after watching a female pig dancing suggestively on a stage and then pulling a lever that douses her in an explosion of tangy barbecue sauce.

  2. Dentyne Ice


    McCann Erickson, Bangkok, Thailand

    Click to view. This unsettling spot has it all: a cheating husband, a jealous wife and a giant, horrible squid. The sea beast represents the man's sushi-breath from a secret after-work dinner. The wife smells it when he gets home and flies into a rage. So, the man pops a Dentyne Ice and, with more anger than seems appropriate, breathes a big "Ahhhhh" into the woman's face. Weird.

  3. Lay's


    Juniper Park, Toronto, Canada

    Click to view. With its catchy song and playful attitude, this Lay's spot seems harmless enough. Until the end, when our hero gives up the struggle to remain a human being and becomes a mindless dancing balloon like everyone else.

  4. Diesel helmets

    "Quique the Head"

    Shackleton, Madrid, Spain

    Click to view. Freaky in a fun way, this Diesel video tells the poignant tale of Quique the Head, an Argentinean man born without a body but with plenty of hope and attitude—and a Diesel helmet that protects him when he rolls off tables and down stairs. The tabloid-style announcer outdoes himself with lines like: "Quique's head is not only full of strangely arranged organs, it's also full of dreams." How true.

  5. McDonald's

    "Are We There Yet?"

    DDB, Stockholm, Sweden

    Click to view. DDB Stockholm remained king of the weird McDonald's commercials with this spot, in which the prototypical childhood car-trip question takes on a sinister aspect.

  6. New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation


    Colenso BBDO, Auckland, New Zealand

    Click to view. An expanding, grody pink blob takes over a suburban home and eventually smashes through the windows in this breast-cancer awareness spot.

  7. Palm

    "Déjà Vu"

    Modernista!, Boston

    Click to view. Actress Tamara Hope creeped out plenty of viewers with her ghostly turn in this Palm campaign. Luckily, she's trapped on a rock and worshipped by a dancing orange cult, and can't come hunting for you.

  8. Tabasco

    "Singing Pepperonis"

    TracyLocke, Dallas

    Click to view. If you put Tabasco sauce on pizza, you're in for a real treat, as small faces will erupt from the pieces of pepperoni and sing for you like a barbershop quartet. Bizarre entertainment right on your dining-room table.


    "Polar Bears"

    Mother, London, U.K.

    Click to view. Polar bears fall from the sky to splattery deaths in this PSA, which tries to make some point about airplane emissions. For extra discomfort, how about a blatant 9/11 Falling Man reference?

  10. Apoliva


    Forsman & Bodenfors, Gothenburg, Sweden

    Click to view. Sure, this spot for Apoliva personal-care products was a little eerie. But Swedish people lost their minds over it. More than 100,000 people joined a Facebook group called "I am scared of the girl in the Apoliva commercial." A rep for the company told a Swedish newspaper: "We definitely weren't prepared for this reaction. It was never our intention to scare people."

  1. New Mexico Department of Transportation

    "Some Things Can't Be Reversed"

    VWK, Albuquerque, United States

    Click to view. This powerful drunk-driving PSA begins at the story's end—with the pale dead girl whispering to her guilt-ridden father in prison—and proceeds backwards in time, a technique that freshens up the material and accentuates the sense of loss.

  2. Israel AIDS Task Force


    Shalmor Avnon Amichay/Y&R, Tel Aviv, Israel

    Click to view. The slippery, shrimpy, inconsiderate imp in this safe-sex PSA was meant to personify the doubt you won't be able to shake after having unprotected sex. "With any unsafe sex, a new doubt is born," says the on-screen copy, meaning there's probably an Orc-like army of these guys around somewhere.

  3. U.K. Department for Transport


    Leo Burnett, London, U.K.

    Click to view. The U.K. launched a campaign this year warning young people not to do drugs and drive. In this spot, a pack of friends cruise around town, high on something or other, with their freaky big eyes evidently a dead giveaway for police.

  4. Land Transport New Zealand

    "Trapped (Bloody Idiot)"

    Clemenger BBDO, Wellington, New Zealand

    Click to view. New Zealand road-safety ads are always high on the freakometer. Here, a dead guy flops around and terrifies his injured buddy after their drunk-driving accident. A bit of unintentional comedy seeps in, as the dead guy's body looks a bit like a dummy.

  5. Lastenklinikan Kummit

    "Child as a Mirror"

    King, Helsinki, Finland

    Click to view. This PSA for the Children's Hospitals of Finland focused on the mental health of abused children, and went for the all-out horror-movie vibe. There's the sinister music and even a frightening-looking doll, which the girl treats badly, as she herself has obviously been treated.

  6. Lustgarten Foundation

    "Dan's Pancreatic Cancer"

    Gardner Nelson + Partners, New York, United States

    Click to view. Personifying death and disease is old hat, but this spot, with pancreatic cancer looming like a serial killer in the back seat, wields a particularly sharp scythe. The driver, of course, doesn't see the threat, and you want to shout at the screen: Death's in the back seat, you moron!

  7. Evian

    "Roller Babies"

    BETC Euro RSCG, Paris, France

    Click to view. A worldwide phenomenon. Animated babies doing adult stuff. Always freaky.

  8. Wakker Dier (Animals Awake)

    "Ancilla Tilla Strips"

    Revolver Media, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

    Click to view. Festish model/Playboy Playmate/sexy vegetarian Ancilla Tilia strips naked in this spot, but is then gutted like a trout by some dowdy fisherman. The point is to discourage stripping fish while they're still alive. Fish, Ancilla Tilia—it's all the same.

  9. Women's Aid


    Grey, London, U.K.

    Click to view. Keira Knightley became a punching bag in this heavy spot, designed to raise awareness of domestic violence.

  10. Victoria Transport Accident Commission


    Grey, Melbourne, Australia

    Click to view. This PSA cautioned against smoking dope and driving, and featured an appropriately grisly ending. The message was confusing, though, as the man gets run down by fate after doing the right thing—letting his sober wife take the wheel.

  1. World AIDS Day

    "Mass Murderer"

    Das Comitee, Hamburg, Germany

    Click to view. Warning: Video is sexually explicit and NSFW. Sleeping with Adolf Hitler: never a good idea. An Adolf impersonator did his best John Holmes impression in this steamy mini-epic from Germany—to make the point that AIDS is a mass murderer.

  2. NHS Birmingham East and North


    Dr. Foster, London, U.K.

    Click to view. This English PSA compared the physical effects of smoking to that of getting beat up in a back alley. Nice directing work by Rankin & Chris.

  3. Parkinson Society Canada


    Taxi, Toronto, Canada

    Click to view. A truly terrifying depiction of the nightmare of Parkinson's disease. When you fight against yourself, you lose. Awesome ending, too.

  4. U.K. Department of Health

    "Act F.A.S.T."

    DLKW, London, U.K.

    Click to view. More PSA shock tactics from England—this time, the depiction of a stoke, as it happens. Many Britons found the campaign upsetting. Others said the warning signs are confusingly similar to the faces their friends make late Saturday night at the pub.

  5. U.K. Department for Transport

    "Always There"

    AMV BBDO, London, U.K.

    Click to view. In this harrowing road-safety PSA, a man goes through life haunted by a boy he killed while speeding. Depressing to the max!

  6. Casa de Menor


    McCann Erickson, Milan, Italy

    Click to view. This devastating PSA about sexual abuse showed a boy struggling for normalcy as he carries a dying version of himself through his daily life.

  7. Leicester Teenage Pregnancy Partnership

    "Teenage Kicks"

    The Rocket Science Group, London v, U.K.

    Click to view. What appears to be a schoolyard fight turns out to be a lot worse in this hard-hitting British PSA. Presumably not based on actual events.

  8. World Wildlife Fund


    DDB, São Paulo, Brazil

    Click to view. The most controversial campaign of the year, it exploited images of 9/11 to make a point about the environment. ("The tsunami killed 100 times more people than 9/11. The planet is brutally powerful. Respect it. Preserve it.") This is the video version of the infamous print ad.

  9. Gwent Police Department

    "Texting and Driving"

    Director: Peter Watkins-Hughes, U.K.

    Click to view. This video from a small police department in Wales went viral all over the world, thanks to its depiction of the bloody consequences of texting and driving. Impressively gruesome.

  10. Pfizer


    Langland, Windsor, U.K.

    Click to view. Got something in your throat? We won't spoil this commercial for you, in case you haven't seen it. Let's just say it's utterly distressing—a worthy winner as the freakiest commercial of 2009.

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.
Publish date: April 13, 2011 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT