Emmet McGonagle
Oct 31, 2019

A definitive list of the scariest ads ever

Probably best not to read this at night.

Fear factor: ads are rated based on fear experienced by viewers
Fear factor: ads are rated based on fear experienced by viewers

With Fright Night upon us, brands have been scrambling to reach the terrifying heights of campaigns gone by.

Only a few have dared to launch Halloween spots this year – Direct Line and Lemon & Paeroa embraced the spooky festivities, ITV2 reprised its "Blood Squad" campaign and McDonald’s opted for the cutesy approach with a "Spookie selfie" smartphone filter.

In light of the spooky season, data-driven advertiser Unruly has compiled the 10 scariest ads of all time, featuring sinister grocers and smartphone-selling ghouls, with the odd nod to classic Hollywood horror thrown in for good measure.

10. Snickers 'Grocery lady' by BBDO New York

With a feeble 4% fear factor and 6% shock factor, Snickers’ "Grocery lady" marks the tip of the iceberg for scary spots.

Set in a dimliy lit supermarket, the ad follows Mrs Jenson’s traumatic encounter with a seven-foot unit (think André the Giant meets Mrs Doubtfire).

"You don’t have any Snickers in your shopping cart," the figure begins, before loading the unexpecting woman’s trolley with fun-sized bars.

Note the unblinking eyes and non-consensual face caress that, as it turns out, were carried out by a pair of prepubescent children.

The work was written by Alex Taylor, art directed by Jason Stefanik and directed by Guy Shelmerdine through Smuggler.

9. Metz 'Judderman' by HHCL

Taking inspiration from Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, "Judderman" depicts a spindly limbed entity living in the forests who lures unexpecting peasants into drinking Metz schnapps, like some kind of alcoholic Pied Piper.

"Beware the Judderman, my dear, when the moon is fat," the ad begins, before detailing the fabled character’s chilling method (pun intended) of luring his victims.

With a 7% fear factor and 5% shock factor, the work was written by Jonathan Burley, art directed by Ian Williamson and directed by Enda McCallion through Flame.

8. Sony PlayStation 3 'Baby' by TBWA

A baby doll sits in a desolate room, staring at its reflection in a PS3 console. What could go wrong? A lot, as it turns out.

Quaint cooing quickly descends into unhinged laughter, topped off with backward-flowing tears and apocalyptic imagery.

That's 14% fear, 12% shock and zero chance of baby dolls making their way back into mainstream culture.

The work was written by Patrick Almaguer, art directed by Blake Kidder and directed by Rupert Sanders through MJZ.

7. K-fee 'Car commercial' by Jung von Matt

One of the first viral clips to shock the internet, "Car commercial" is a prime example of just how cruel creatives can be.

A car driving through a scenic landscape is cut short by a zombie’s blood-curdling scream – enough to make someone want to break their phone, shut off the internet and start anew, far, far away from the perils of jumpscare culture.

The ad later terrified viewers when it appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, earning a 15% fear and 28% shock factor, according to Unruly.

It was written by Daniel Frericks and Eskil Puhl, art directed by Frank Aldorf and directed by Kai Stoecker through Cobblestone Filmproduktion.

6. Dirt Devil 'Exorcist' by The Raft

Taking influence from the horror hall of fame, "Exorcist" begins as a white-haired priest is invited into a rural family home.

He slowly makes his way up the stairs, floorboards creaking, and enters a seemingly empty bedroom. A bible on the bedside table moves as a petrified girl moves back and forth across the roof.

Things take a quirky turn, however, as it seems the girl is being sucked to the ceiling by a Dirt Devil hoover – a pun for the ages.

The work was created by Andre Price and directed by Andreas Roth through Filmakademie Baden-Wurttemberg, gaining a 17% fear factor and 16% shock factor.

5. Skittles 'Floor 9.5' by Fox Digital Studios

Released as part of Mars’ "Bite size horror" series – which saw the chocolate brand create creepy spots for M&M's, Starburst, Snickers and Skittles – "Floor 9.5" and its Black Mirror-esque approach to horror earned a respectable 19% fear and 15% shock factor from the public.

Written by Simon Allen, art directed by Tim Grounds and directed by Toby Meakins, the ad shows a woman enter an office lift, only to be trapped between the ninth and 10th floors.

The doors open to show a slouched man, facing away from the woman, asking for help. "Turn around," the man asks, only to appear in front on her again. The pair engage in an unsettling back-and-forth before the woman is left stranded in the desolate office block.

In the next scene, a different man leaves the elevator on fabled floor 9.5, only to find the woman, slouched away from him, asking for help.

4. Autoway Tyres 'Scary ad' by BBDO J West

An ad that begins with a "not for the faint of heart" disclaimer is sure to be a screamer.

The dashcam spot follows a car driving through stormy weather at night, before stopping in front of a nightgown-wearing woman in the middle of the road.

Out of nowhere, the figure leaps on to the car bonnet, branding a series of gruesome facial scars. Luckily, the car’s high-quality Autoway Tyres were ideal for reversing out of the scenario. Makes perfect sense, eh?

While the ad's preface seems a bit over-the-top for its claims that Autoway Tyres will "not be responsible for any injuries, illness and damages" as a result of the spot, Unruly’s 20% fear factor and 19% shock scoring suggests the disclaimer was probably a good idea.

3. Fragile Childhood 'Monsters' by Havas Oy Helsinki

Written by Annu Terho and Paul Earl, art directed by Marko Vuorensola and directed by Mikko through Sauna @ Grilli Films, Finnish charity Fragile Childhood’s spot brings to light the terrors of living with an alcoholic parent.

The ad shows monsters, zombies and criminals waking among the masses (resulting in a 20% fear factor and 32% shock factor), bringing to light how children see their parents as a result of paternal alcohol abuse.

Adults who grew up in alcoholic households were also encouraged to share their experiences anonymously via social media as part of the campaign.

2. Deep Shiver 'Dead Island: Trailer' by Axis

This isn’t an ad; it’s a three-minute epic. Created to promote survival horror game Dead Island, the spot details a family of holidaymakers’ unfortunate demise as the zombie apocalypse gets under way, as told in reverse.

It’s hard not to get emotional as the camera zooms out at a dead child, a man on fire flailing behind her.

String instruments play in the background as the spot shows (in brutal slow motion) the girl’s struggles and her dad’s efforts to save her.

This one has 20% fear factor, 32% shock and 100% better graphics than most gamers remember from 2011. It was created by Christian Löhlein and directed by Stu Aitken through Axis Animation.

1. Phones 4u "Little girl" by Adam & Eve/DDB

Who would’ve thought the scariest ad of all time would be from a phone retailer?

Created by Aidan McClure and Laurent Simon, and directed by Garth Jennings through Hammer & Tongs, the spot pays tribute to horror classic The Ring with a suitably creepy little girl.

The four-foot ghost terrifies a shopper as she makes her way through a desolate car park, with the ad reaching a climax as the girl presses her hand against the car window.

Understandably, the petrified shopper is less than keen to hear about the new Samsung Tocco Icon, which costs just £59.95 on pay as you go.

The ad generated an impressive 659 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority, but was eventually found to be "unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence or be unduly distressing for most adults".

With a 23% fear factor and 22% shock factor, adland doesn’t get much scarier than this.

"Fear is a powerful emotion, but when you consider that most of this top 10 generated levels of brand favourability and purchase intent that were lower than average, it’s something brands have to utilise well to really make the most of the opportunity," Rebecca Waring, Unruly’s global vice-president of insight and solutions, said.

"Testing a piece of content before you launch is a simple way for brands to minimise risk and ensure they are not left hiding behind the couch when looking at the campaign results. Don’t post content based on a wing and a prayer or the results really could be terrifying."

Campaign UK

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