Advertising can be scary, and not always on purpose. Sometimes a commercial just ages poorly, other times it was so ill-conceived as to actually be upsetting. To make your Halloween just a little more terrifying, here are eight of the creepiest ads of all time.
8. Sugar Rice Krinkles, early 1960s, Benton & Bowles
In the 1960s, Benton & Bowles – later renamed D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, then DMB&B, then acquired by Publicis Groupe and euthanized in 2002 — produced about a dozen commercials for Post Sugar Rice Krinkles cereal. Some of the spots featured Krinkles, a textbook example of a creepy clown. Of course, compared to the painfully racist So-Hi, the other mascot the agency dreamed up for the brand, Krinkles is pretty innocuous. But try telling that to your nightmares.
7. Folgers, "Coming Home," 2009, Saatchi & Saatchi NY
Folgers is a first-round draft pick for the Advertising Hall of Fame. Mrs. Olson. That jingle. "Let’s see if they can tell the difference!" All classics. But in 2009, an innocent attempt to bask in the affection between a long-absent brother and his adoring sister at Christmas turned out so creepy it spawned an article on how to explain it to your children. And is it any wonder? Check out the look on the sister’s face, the soft focus, the too-tight shot that lingers a beat too long. Now popularly known as "the Folgers incest ad," the spot has inspired parody upon parody. Still, nothing beats the original for pure, unadulterated horror.
6. Kewpie Tarako Spaghetti, 2008
This series of ads for a brand of bagged spaghetti is apparently a national obsession in Japan (no word on how people actually feel about the product). Some say that the commercials are more catchy than creepy, and it’s true that this song will worm its way into your head. But the army of marching kewpie … things are worse than a human centipede. Better be quick with that knife, little girl.
5. McDonalds, "Hamburglar Returns," 2015, Golin Harris, Chicago
First introduced in the 1970s, the Hamburglar was a cherubic, mischievous, but ultimately harmless character who simply couldn’t resist McDonald’s burgers. Think Wimpy with less of a home life. The character’s 2015 rebirth — this time as a hunky suburban dad with a secret — emerged from a brainstorm with PR shop Golin Harris on how to modernize the brand. Judgment was swift and unkind, meaning we will probably see the McDLT again before we see more of this weirdo.
4. Levi’s, "Evolution," early 1970s, Chris Blum (Animator)
The early 1970s were a weird time for Levis. In the second half of the decade, the brand, with help from McCann-Erickson and director Adrian Lyne, would be producing classic Americana like "Route 66," an object lesson in wordless, story-driven advertising. But in the years prior, Levis’ was trying hard (too hard?) to endear itself to the hippie generation with ads scored by Jefferson Airplane and this bit of Pink Floyd-esque psychedelia from animator Chris Blum (also responsible for 1972 Clio winner "The Stranger").
3. Remco Laughing Doll, 1971
It’s hard to believe there was a time when dolls that laughed maniacally weren’t considered terrifying. It’s also hard to believe this is a legitimate commercial and not a monster movie spoof, given all the reaction shots of young girls making insane faces. But yeah, this is horrific.
2. Little Baby's Ice Cream, "This Is a Special Time," 2012, Doug Garth Williams (director)
Ok, this time the brand was trying to be creepy. But this spot is too good not to include. As director Doug Garth Williams explained to Little Black Book, the commercial stars a "wide eyed androgynous anthropomorphic ice cream creature, confronted with an existential dilemma. The creature has all of the normal self-preservation instincts, but at the same time is made of this unimaginably delicious and addictive ice cream. The question is, 'Would you eat yourself?' And the answer is, 'Yes. You would. You just taste too damn good.' "
1. Nationwide "Make Safe Happen," 2015, Ogilvy and Mather.
There you were, enjoying your Super Bowl party, briefly forgetting your own dwindling mortality, when this seemingly upbeat commercial came on and ruined everything. Literally everything. Both the public and adland had — and still have — only one question: "What the hell were they thinking?" Unlike the other ads on this list, this one left actual destruction in its wake: Nationwide CMO Matt Jauchius was ousted by May.