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The Most Memorable Commercial Performances by Actors in 2021


Commercials. You know I love ‘em (mostly thanks to a career spent in part working at ad agencies). But my love for ads isn’t exactly mirrored by American mainstream society. That’s why TiVo is a word; the DVR was invented; and why the “Skip Ad” button on YouTube exists.

That’s also why we have to celebrate the great ones that pop up. Commercials that catch our eye, make us laugh, cry, or grow a genuine awareness — even an affinity — for a brand. It could be the Super Bowl or a regular Sunday night. But when you see it, something just works — and we get sucked in by the art form, the ad’s message or an actor’s performance in it. Someone who shines in between our chosen fare — that makes us smile thanks to a fresh take, well-crafted creative, and a commercial casting director who knew what they were doing.

In 2021, the second year of a decade that started with a resounding stumble out the gate, there were severable eye-catching performances by actors. Some are “names” — others are hardworking actors (like you!) who landed a lead in a spot that’s been replayed over and over on TV and YouTube, much to their residual satisfaction. Let’s take a moment today to sink our teeth into those stellar bite-sized performances. And for the rest, please take note:

This article will be served up without any further commercial interruptions.

 

Michael B. Jordan: “Alexa’s Body

 

The year kicked off with a bang when it came to commercials starring big names for the Big Game. In one of the top Super Bowl spots of 2021, Amazon went all in featuring Michael B. Jordan as the male embodiment of voice-controlled virtual assistant Amazon Alexa, the ultimate female fantasy.

In this humorous ad, a married woman instantly becomes smitten when she uses her imagination to picture Jordan as the “body” of Alexa. The catch: the husband actually sees these fantasies play out with Jordan — and reacts to him in each scene. As he gets antsy about how fast his wife’s digital relationship is progressing, innuendo flows as the signature blue-circle of Alexa’s search light up in his digitized blue eyes. Things escalate to the point where Jordan is eventually sitting in the bathtub alongside his wife reading a trashy audiobook at her command. Through it all, Jordan offers an electrifying performance that’s much more than a token cameo — and anything but robotic.

 

Briana Price:  “Alexa’s Body”

Though Jordan received much of the acclaim for appearing in what many thought was the best Super Bowl spot, the woman on the other end of this fantasy relationship was excellent: Briana Price. In the spot, Price meets Jordan’s dreamy gaze punch for punch as her character takes (voice) command of this relationship. In fact, her growing infatuation is so believable, it’s hard not to feel for her hubby. According to this piece on Essence.com, Price says “she auditioned for the role like any other part,” and that once she landed the job, “no one would tell her who she’d eventually be lying with in a bubble bath, despite her many asks.” She ultimately says she “didn’t feel nervous at all. It was like working with any other actor that I’ve worked with.”

 

Timothée Chalamet: “Edgar Scissorhands

There used to be a time when it was verboten for major movie stars to do commercials – at least in the United States. But those days are gone, and Super Bowl spots are super high-stakes given the average cost of a :30-second spot is $6 million. Thanks to that expensive fact, all options are on the table — including dusting off iconic film characters to sell, well, cars.

Enter Timothée Chalamet, who became a hired hand to play Edgar Scissorhands, son of Edward Scissorhands, the character brought to life by Tim Burton in the 1990 film by the same name. This spot lends a funny twist to the Scissorhands saga, since the idea was to ultimately promote a hands-free, self-driving feature of the Cadillac Lyriq. It’s actually a pretty touching execution, in which the morose Edgar can’t catch a football without popping it, or walk past magnets without wreaking havoc. The result is a memorable spot, a “wow” pop-culture moment and sharp performance by Chalamet, who livens up once he goes scissorhands-free in the Cadillac.

 

Molly Lloyd: “Susans” for Zillow

It’s rare that a commercial actor gets to play so many roles in an ad, but Molly Lloyd, a working actor who’s also done stints in shows such as Broad City and FBI: Most Wanted got to represent all the different voices that play in our heads when we consider buying real estate. In the spot, Lloyd does a commendable job playing everyone from Lazy Susan to Negative Susan to Gullible Susan. And the whole brainstorm session is run by, surprise — Susan. To get the role, Lloyd was hired by commercial director Jim Jenkins from O Positive, who she had worked with before. This proves: Do good work with someone once — and they may choose to work with you twice.

 

Will Ferrell: America’s EV Ambassador to Norway

When it comes to giving us “more cowbell” or midnight streaking in the quad, we could all use a little more Will Ferrell in our lives. And when it comes to better things for our planet, Ferrell’s campaign for General Motors to promote electric cars was brilliant. In a comical collaboration, Ferrell shows great disdain for Norway, where reportedly over half of new cars sold are EVs. Ferrell’s hatred for this fact is palpable, and he punches a globe to prove it — also to raise awareness for GM’s push to produce more EVs. The campaign continued throughout 2021 and even inspired a few smart response ads from Audi and Game of Thrones actor Kristofer Hivju.

 

Brad Garrett: “The King of Cold Cuts” for Jimmy John’s

As Tony Bolognavich, the “King of Cold Cuts,” seasoned comedian/Everybody Loves Raymond star Brad Garrett gives us a crazy delicious performance as the don of deplorable sandwich meats. In efforts to win his “sandwich war” with Jimmy John’s, we get mob-boss level treatment from Garrett as he goes to great lengths to protect his “turkey and ham made by science.” This cinematic campaign premiered during Super Bowl 2021 and continued throughout the year with 15 seconds designed for social media. It all goes down relatively smoothly.

 

James Schrader: “You’re Not a Dish

I’ve been seeing this guy pop up in my ad algorithm for years now, and it’s time that he got lathered up in some acclaim for peddling natural soap. The Super Bowl spot that Dr. Squatch paid for was not their best, but it did give improv-trained actor/comedian James Schrader a huge platform to look America in the eye and tell them that their “soap is f*cked” — and that men should clean themselves with something other than “detergent.” Schrader has been doing branded spots for Dr. Squatch for years now (to the tune of 500M+ views on FB, YouTube and IG) and his off-brand, in-your-face humor and delivery is rather unforgettable.

 

Ryan Reynolds: Most of Maximum Effort’s Spots

Since this piece is about “memorable” performances, let’s not forget one of the biggest disruptors to the ad game: Ryan Reynolds and his Maximum Effort. They’re the bold marketing firm co-founded by Reynolds, who voices and/or appears in most of their ads with his self-deprecating and sarcastic brand of humor. From Aviation Gin to Mint Mobile, these digital ads get quickly produced and dropped without notice, sometimes responding to events happening in the zeitgeist (i.e., “fastvertising”). They also lend the talents of one of Hollywood’s biggest stars to the ad game. My favorite spots of theirs in 2021 were these 80’s throwback ads starring Alfonso Ribiero and a depressed and emotionally destructive Kool-Aid Man for “Live in Front of a Studio Audience” hosted by Jimmy Kimmel.

 

Chevrolet “Holiday Ride” 

It’s rare that you see a commercial actor cry – and truly believe it. But that’s exactly what Grainger Hines accomplished in this gut-wrenching Chevy spot that could soften even the hardest soul. In a powerful ad that speaks to the nostalgia behind classic cars and the memories we attach to them, Hines plays a widower connecting the memories of yesteryear to the 1966 Chevy Impala he keeps in a dusty heap in his barn. By the time his daughter and a small team restore the car to surprise him, we want to adopt this man. He only has a few lines in the spot but I challenge you to find an actor who communicated more with their face during 2021 than Hines did in this soul-crushing, year-end masterpiece directed by Oscar-winner Tom Hopper.

 

Did we leave out any performances that you loved? Tell us about ’em in the comments section below!

 

This article has been edited since its original publication in part to include additional actors

Gregg Rosenzweig has been a writer, creative director and managing editor for various entertainment clients, ad agencies and digital media companies over the past 20 years. He is also a partner in the talent management/production company, The Rosenzweig Group.  

6 Comments

  • Eric Satterberg says:

    Great article but this could’ve been a great opportunity to highlight unknown actors in commercials who have done great! You still have time. Please Make a top ten list that highlights non celebrity performances. There are so many!

    • Paul Farnham says:

      They should have the king from the Bud Light commercials. He’s in everything now including the new Spectrum spokesperson. Honestly the commercial with him and Walter the cat should win an award.

    • Gregg Rosenzweig says:

      Thanks for the comment, Eric. I did highlight a few actors in the piece who aren’t “big name” celebrities but it’s good to know there’s an appetite for an update to this piece in the future. Will keep it in mind!

  • Steve Warren says:

    I didn’t love it–quite the opposite–but this is about “memorable commercial performances” and the one I won’t soon forget is Nicole Kidman touting AMC Theaters. How can I when they show it right before every movie? Dressed for the red carpet, Kidman struts into the auditorium, touting the communal experience of moviegoing. But while she says “we” at least five times, “us” and “together” once each, she’s alone in the audience.
    It’s a terrible concept and Kidman should be ashamed of herself for participating.

  • Vicki Goldsmith says:

    Yes every single one of the Jake from State Farm with Quarterbacks SPECIFICALLY the one with Mahomes, Rodgers, Paul Rudd and Drake. Best line in a Commercial ever: “Stand Ins don’t have Lines.”

  • Justin Radley says:

    I agree 100% with Eric’s comment above. While the celebrity performances noted in the article are all fine, there are a number of great performances by lesser known talents that could’ve been listed. My personal favorite from the past year has been the Progressive spots with Bill Glass as Dr. Rick. He makes me laugh every time.

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