The best and worst of the weird YouTube Ads Leaderboard: August Edition

Rob Walker

Every month, Google publishes a “YouTube Ads Leaderboard,” ranking the “most engaging” commercial content that people have been watching on the platform. The ranking algorithm includes various factors, but the view-count numbers are eye-popping: Every month, there are ads with millions and millions of views. Apparently, the Internet likes to watch commercials!

So here you go, Internet: The best and worst of the most popular ads on YouTube.

Best Ad That Proves Advertising Hasn’t Changed All That Much

Nike Presents: Just Do It – Possibilities

If you’ve spent the last 20 years on a desert island, here’s what you didn’t miss: Nike has amazing advertising. Flawless production values, sense of humor, intimidating array of Nike-endorsing sports stars: check, check, check. The push-yourself message smartly ends with an aspiring athlete getting bested: That sounds counterintuitive (is he a loser?) but in fact the Nike brand works best when it suggests individual best (and not its evil twin, win at all costs). No wonder this is the most popular ad of the month, with 8.7 millionviews.

Worst Ad That Proves The Same Thing

Honda Civic 2013 Nick Cannon #BestYourself

Hey, remember every car ad you’ve ever seen? If not, this rote exercise will remind you. A celebrity delivers a bland sermon about working hard and being yourself, against soaring music and lush cinematography, and so anyway buy a Civic, or whatever. Somehow this pap racked up 1.1 million views.

Best Ad That Is Actually A Terrible Ad

An American Coach in London: NBC Sports Premier League

This promo for NBC’s coverage of Premier League soccer (5.4 million views) is in effect a Saturday Night Live sketch, starring Jason Sudeikis as an American football coach learning how English football works. (“Ties, and no playoffs. Why do you even do this?”) It’s fairly solid comedy, but a dubious pitch — suggesting that American sports fans are idiots, or that actually soccer really is sort of pointless. Or both.

Best Ad That Was Almost Certainly A Waste of the Client’s Money

Pandhandler Pranks Entire Subway Car

Produced by, this alleged ad for VitaminWater starts with a guy entering a subway car, carrying an empty cup, and demanding everyone’s attention. Other passengers cringe, waiting for a sob story and an appeal for money. Instead, the man explains that his family has been forced out of their apartment — because they wanted more space, and got a bigger one. And that he no longer has his good job — because he got promoted. Plus, his daughter got a scholarship, and the family recently enjoyed a nice visit to the Grand Canyon. He closes by asking for high fives. All very clever. Then, at the end — cut to a totally random VitaminWater product shot. Really? This video actually deserves more than the 440,000 it got in August, but nobody is going buy VitaminWater as a result.

Worst Ad About Technology

Moto X -- Always Ready

This old-school 30-second spot demonstrates the Google Now voice-command feature, a pitch most of us would respond to with “Yeah, like Siri,” articulated through a stifled yawn. Then there’s a nonsensical cut to a fast montage of Moto X color choices, and the slogans “Designed by You. Assembled in USA.” Somehow this boring hash of an ad for a not-very-popular phone has more than a million views. Why? Turns out the YouTube Ad Leaderboard always include ads for tech products — proving yet again that our obsession with gadgetry transcends rational behavior.

Best Ad About Technology

Madden 25: Summer Camp

This ad for Madden 25 tells the fake story of childhood friends who have grown up together sharing a Madden-improvement pact, which leads to amusingly absurd “training” regimens (including one involving strapping on a preposterous set of weights while tossing a football). It’s funny, and strikes the right note of nostalgia for Madden vets, while showing off the latest graphics, suggesting a classic that’s still cutting edge. (That may not be true, but it’s a good pitch! Probably Madden loyalists explain a good chunk of the 550,000-plus views.)

Best Ad That Proves That, Actually, Advertising Has Changed

Wet Dog

Cute animals have been deployed to sell things for ages, but the Internet did get something done while you were on that desert island for 20 years: It made cute animals way, way more popular. (That’s not a complaint, by the way; it could be modern technology’s supreme achievement.) Obviously, then, there’s an ad with an adorable talking dog on the most-watched list, with 650,000 views. He rants at his owner about the indignity of being subjected to a bath, and demands that “we need another dog,” so someone will empathize with him. It may not be the best animal — or even talking dog — video you’ve ever seen, but it’s not bad. Plus it’s a perfectly on-message appeal from a pro-pet organization called Pets Add Life, which I had never heard of, and sounds like a good thing. Total win.