Ah, The Simpsons, America’s favourite family. Or, as it's known nowadays, The Simpsonsisnotasgoodasitusedtobe. Which of course is true, but it's fair to say that most new episodes at least contain a good several minutes of sniggerworthy content, mainly at the start of episodes where the writing team throw in jokes that only need to be on nodding terms at best with the plot of each episode. Problem is, the rest of each episode is often filled in with pointless celebrity cameos where a famous celebrity gets to appear, mention who they are, disappear again without really having contributed anything, and then get used all over the publicity for that week's episode so that fans of that celebrity watch it.
However, the Simpsons writing team's ability to keep things cracking along in sporadic thirty-second bursts means that the Simpson clan are still suited to one form of media - the world of corporate nadcupping that is television advertising. Join us now as we take a look at the ten best television commercials starring The Simpsons from the last twenty years. That we could find. On YouTube.
DISCLAIMER: Some of the quoted years are, in some cases, our best guess. All adverts from the USA unless stated otherwise.
10. Renault Kangoo (Continental Europe, 2008)
What better to start off with than a commercial not in the English language? This ad for the Renault Kangoo seems to date from 2008 (at least, that’s the earliest date on the clips of it we can find), and sees the Simpsons inserted into The Real World. There, they visit a Renault showroom, and wave away a mute salesman, preferring to take a look at the shiny new people carrier for themselves.
To be fair, this is included more for curiosity value than anything else, with the comedy therein hardly proving to the the family’s finest hour (er, 59 seconds). We do get to marvel at a rare chance to see the family in such a setting (the only in-episode instances we can think of where members of the family appear in the ‘real world’ are in the Treehouse Of Horror episodes with the radioactive remote control, and with 3D-Homer). Also noteworthy is the chance to see the family overdubbed into various wrong-sounding voices for each locality. The French voices (as above) seem vaguely accurate for Homer and Bart, but with Grandpa and Marge coming out of it quite badly (Lisa doesn’t really speak in this advert). The German voices are nowhere near correct, the Flemish advert sees the voices of Marge and Bart hold out best, while the Czech version… all the voices are done by the same bloke, which is clearly all wrong.
Sadly, it doesn’t seem they bothered troubling the original voice artists for these adverts, presumably because they would have cost a lot more to hire. Or maybe they just saw the rubbish script for it.
9. CC Lemon (Japan, Year Unknown)
From one foreign language commercial to another. It’s from Japan, and as you might expect, it’s reliably weird. An almost offensively Japanese-accented Homer stands naked in the Simpsons kitchen, seemingly too busy gulping from a refreshing bottle of CC Lemon to put any trousers on. Marge squeals loudly at Homer to cover his modesty with a towel, only to be distracted upon noticing Bart also too engrossed in lemony refreshment to re-robe. Cut to a shot of the father and son, both naked with their respective offence zones shielded from the camera by a bottle and a can of CC Lemon. At this point, Homer boasts cheerily about something to Bart, presumably the larger size of the drink receptacle needed to cover his, er, ‘yellow peril’.
8. Coca-Cola (2010)
Here’s one that should be easy to hate. It’s from 2010, at which point it’s universally accepted that The Simpsons Is Rubbish (which is wholly unfair, but that’s an argument for another time). It’s for Coca-Cola. And quite noticeably, despite being made for the English-speaking market, barely any of the original Simpsons voice artists have anything to do with it.
But hey, that’d all be a bit harsh. The premise of the advert sees C. Montgomery Burns fall victim to the economic downturn, as announced by a gloating newsreader at the start of the commercial. Dejectedly walking from his mansion as all his prized possessions (including Smithers) are auctioned off to the other Springfield townsfolk, a lonely Burns can’t help but notice how happy everyone else seems to be with their friends and loved ones, who all happen to be enjoying bottles of Sugary Teeth Ruiner. Noting the despair of the former tyrant, Apu walks over to Burns, and offers him a bottle of Dentist’s Pension. Lifted by the generosity (and possibly a sucrose rush), Burns joins in the fun as the camera pans upwards, where the Brave Corporate Slogan is revealed.
Tellingly, Mr Burns remains mute throughout this commercial, almost certainly due to the fact that the actor who provides his voice – one Harry Shearer – has voiced his displeasure at such cheapening of the Simpsons brand over the years before now. It’s also hard not to notice that the newsreader at the start of the commercial is not Kent Brockman (another character voiced by Shearer), but rather a generic newscaster, voiced by Maurice LaMarche*. Indeed, the only proper Simpsons character to be heard at all in the minute-long spot is Milhouse (voiced by Pamela Hayden), who apologises for bumping into the Coke logo at the end of the ad (“Sorry Coke!”). Indeed, it certainly doesn’t hurt that the minimal speech in the advert makes it a lot easier to re-dub into other languages.
So, must be rubbish then? Well, not really. The fairly simple plot and need to concentrate on something other than having each character say their catchphrase means that there’s ample room for the wonderful blink-and-you’ve-missed-it sight gags that you don’t get as much of nowadays. Nelson buys a chunk of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling for 49 cents at Burns’ “Treasures Of A Lifetime 2 for 99 cents” yardsale, throwing it so haphazardly into the back of an open-top truck it crumbles, Patty (or Selma) buys Smithers to use as a personal make-up slave (a job, it’s fair to say, Smithers seems happy with), Gil has found redemption as a Coca-Cola salesman, a statue of Burns is used as a maypole by the children of Springfield, and even Jimbo Jones is having fun flying a kite made from… the antique paintings he’d bought from Burns’ yard sale, inside which he’s trapped the unfortunate Milhouse.
All good fun. Even if Coca-Cola is horrid.
(*Thanks to Scissorkicks for the identification of the voice.)
7. KFC (Canada, Early 1990s?)
Coming from a time when it was still animated using traditional cel animation, this Canadian commercial doesn’t really push any boundaries, but just the sight of something we’ve not seen before from imperial phase-era Simpsons warms our stony hearts.
The plot: Homer is buying a bucket of fried chicken and a bottle of 7-Up from the Springfield KFC (a chain which seems to have lost the market penetration battle with Krusty Burger in the series itself, it has to be said). Upon receiving his change from Stock Pimple-Faced Teen, he titters to himself upon noticing that what must surely be too much change has been handed back to him. Suddenly, he spots ineffective coppers Eddie and Lou loitering outside the popular chicken franchise, causing him to panic over being caught for what must surely be considered a theft on his part. Ignoring the protestations of the teen, he scarpers for the customer restroom, where he attempts to squeeze his bulky frame through an open window. Stuck (obv), he begs a passing Abe Simpson for assistance, only to be told by his elderly father that KFC are giving away a free bottle of 7-Up with every purchase of a 15 piece bucket.
As we say, not especially shattering stuff, but nice to see. Hurrah!
6. Burger King (2007)
Released to tie in with the Simpsons Movie, this ad sees Homer attempt to record a short spot extolling the virtues of America’s Favourite Cow-Slab In A Bun (Apart From The MacDonalds Ones). Only, Homer being ho-ho-Homer, it doesn’t go quite to plan! Etc etc.
5. Burger King again (2007)
Much more like it. Again, a spot made to promote The Simpsons Movie just as much as it does Burger King, and it’s another one that sees Simpsons chars inserted into the real world.
INT. A BURGER KING IN MANHATTEN. DAY. A fat balding man in a white shirt steps up to the counter, and orders a Whopper, only to be served by drooling Martian interloper Kodos (or Kang). “Do you desire your pyrotechnically prepared beef to be customised with the addition or subtraction of key ingredients?” “No onions, extra pickles.”
Ah, just watch it. It’s good.
4. Aqua Teen Hunger Force (2007)
Well, this kinda counts. It’s actually a trailer for an advert. Of sorts. Basically, a preview for Adult Swim’s “Simpsons (movie) sneak peek”, advertised using characters from not-quite-as-good-as-everyone-says-it-is Adult Swim show Aqua Teen Hunger Force transferred to Springfield. If you’re a fan of both shows and you’ve not already seen that clip, do so NOW. Us? We’re just wishing it was a Venture Bros themed spot. Brock could have been Reiner Wolfcastle and everything.
3. The Simpsons (1992)
Yep, our brain hasn’t turned to mush after typing all this in, this is actually an advert for The Simpsons itself, but a specially-made promo rather than a compilation of scenes for the show. The action sees the members of the family inserted into classic movie scenes, so you get Bart and company inserted into live-action scenes from Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, Star Wars, Patton, and Cleopatra.
Coming from the early years of the series, the slightly annoying tendency to just have Bart saying something appended with “, man!” in order to make the programme appeal to Ver Kids is abundant here, but it’s a nice little find all the same. It seems they crop up on some of the Simpsons DVD box sets, possibly as Easter eggs (we’re not sure, we’ve never bothered buying any, considering the show is on telly at least three times every day anyway, why would we want to?). Here’s another nice promo from The Early(ish) Years.
2. Krusty Burger (2007)
Oh, okay, it’s actually for Burger King. But still.
1. Butterfinger (1993)
The product which (we think) has the longest association with The Simpsons seems to be crunchy snack bar Butterfinger, as there are absolutely loads of them on YouTube. Our favourite, out of all the Simpsons adverts, has to be the “Robbed” adverts and associated competition from 1993.
The plot: Bart’s favourite peanutbuttery treat has been STOLEN from the safe in his room, but who could be to blame? The first advert gives a list of six suspects – Otto, Lisa, Krusty, Nelson, Burns and Homer, and explains that only five of them have alibis (Homer: “What’s an alibi? <Annoyed grunt>!”). Collect wrappers to pick up scratch-off alibis for the suspects, and once you’ve identified the culprit, send in your answer to potentially win $50,000.
A lovely pair of prime-Simpson commercials, with the pace cracking along nicely in order to get the plot, the competition, a mention of the product and several jokes wrapped up within thirty seconds. The second commercial reveals the answer and the identity of the winner, along with several more gags, and a quick Silence Of The Lambs ref. This is the kind of advertising we want!