James Maxwell picks his Desert Island Ads

By James Maxwell on Thursday, 12 January 2017

What ads would I take on my desert island?

If I were stranded on a desert island, logically, an ad seems like something that would be way down my list of must have items. So I tried taking another approach and looked at ads that would entertain me, or that I can watch over and over again.

Some of these informed my love of advertising while growing up in South Africa. Others have inspired me to keep pushing for financial services ads that are more emotive, wittier and more entertaining. All of them however, I can put on repeat and appreciate something more ever time.

Dial Direct SA – Sad music

The performance in this is what makes it for me. I love that countries like New Zealand, Australia (and yes South Africa) are happy to be just that little bit blunter. Barbara from Bank world is a genius creation that recognises all the things about banks we detest and brought it to life in one woman. To personify an abstract series of issues is a great way to be able to work with them creatively. Plus it’s just great fun to watch her.

MetLife – My dad is a liar

In the last few years I’ve been struck again and again by how Thailand, Vietnamese and a range of other Asian markets are embracing emotional advertising with such vigour. There are a range of Thai ads just like this one that are really sophisticated and use long form video, drawing you in. And they make no bones about tugging at your heart strings.

VISA – Life flows

This ad for me, is the pinnacle of the theory, use the product as part of the story. You’re just sucked into it so quickly (nudity tends to do that). But the evolution of the story is genius. Essentially the product helps him on his journey. The quick glance at the best man brings the whole thing together – I love it!

BA – Flower Duet

A spectacle and a musical event. Possibly the best combination to make people stop channel hopping and just watch. I remember actually getting excited as a kid when this came on. The music was like nothing I’d ever heard on TV and the visuals, colours and logistics just blew me away. It felt momentous. To this day I’m desperately trying to get an aria into an ad!

Barclays- Big

As a writer, I’m a big fan of the script. Letting a writer lose to use rhythm, structure and flair with language. This ad is all about the script – and obviously its delivery. It’s a masterclass in tempo.


Nando’s is the best brand in the world for using humour in its communications – IMHO. There is a new world sense of fun and wit about their ads, press, TV, direct mail and even menus. And they are not afraid of commenting on real world issues and events. This for me is one of the best. But I recommend you going and looking up all the rest.

Volkswagen South Africa – Memories

This probably ranks as my favourite commercial of all time. When I tell my team to make the product part of the story, I always refer them to this. The music, the narrative, the use of product is faultless. And it helps that my dad gave me the keys to a VW at age 18 too! Show this to any Saffa over the age of about 30 and they will be able to sing along.

Peter Stuyvesant

Oh for the heady days of the 80s and the budgets that seem endless! This is just pure, cinematic pow! It’s so over the top that I can’t help but love it. I remember being a six year old (going to watch Police Academy at the cinema) and thinking..I want to do all of that. It took me three years more to realise these were adverts for cigarettes though!

Nando’s vs Santam

Ok. So a little bit of a cheat here. This is in essence a few ads. HOWEVER, he says in screaming defiance, they are a brilliant back and forth between two brands culminating in brilliant bit of CSR. Wonderfully done, a combination of Nandos (again!) and Santam, a financial services brand that shows it has a sense of humour and personality.

Originally appeared on moreaboutadvertising.com

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