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Cute kids, car-washing trolls: Best & worst tech commercials of 2013

Dec. 31, 2013 at 5:06 PM ET

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When Samsung alone spends $14 billion in 2013 on marketing, you know it was a big year for tech commercials. From smartphones and tablets to carriers and new devices like smartwatches, the ad war in 2013 was fierce, with giants and upstarts fighting for our shopping dollars. And as is often the case, that war is won or lost in just 30 seconds of airtime.

The most successful TV spots delight, inspire, surprise, or make us laugh—and then often go viral. The ones that bomb make us scratch our head, groan, or just tune out completely. An unsuccessful campaign can even help doom a product (cough, BlackBerry Z10). Without further ado, here are the 10 best and worst tech commercials of 2013.

BEST TECH ADS

1. Microsoft: “Meet the Windows Phone Nokia Lumia 1020″

Normally, I despise negative ads that poke fun of the competition, which can come off as too defensive. But this spot was different. Microsoft’s Meet the Nokia Lumia 1020 commercial demonstrated why having 41 megapixels is a worthy feature while dismissing the Galaxy S4 and iPhone. As other parents claw and head-butt one another to get closer to a school play stage, a calmer and hipper Lumia 1020 owner captures the action from a distance and zooms in after the fact. My favorite line during the fracas — an obvious reference to the iPhone: “2007 called. It wants its camera phone back back.”

MORE: iPhone 5s vs Nokia Lumia 1020: Camera Shootout

2. Google: “Chromecast: For bigger fun”

Erasing any lingering bad vibes from the Google TV fiasco, this Chromecast commercial is the perfect showpiece for Google’s $35 set-top box on a stick. It’s not about the product, but what it allows people to do, and in this case it’s easily flinging videos from your tablet, phone or laptop to the big screen. The quickening pace of the upbeat music, the one-touch ease of use and the wide range of people (of varying ages) all perfectly coalesce into a good time you want to be a part of. Well done.

MORE: Chromecast FAQ

AT&T: “It’s Not Complicated Cutest Grape”

Host: “Are you competing for cutest kid right now?”

Little Girl: “Yes.”

Host: “What place are you in?”

Little Girl: “Kindergarten.”

Yes, AT&T could do a better job of tying the kids-in-a-classroom motif to why they claim to have the fastest and most reliable network. But if this commercial doesn’t make you feel warm and fuzzy, you have no soul.

MORE: 5 Best AT&T Smartphones

4. Samsung: “Galaxy S4 Grad Photo”

You know mom is officially cool when she gets an approving fist bump from her daughter. That’s her reward for erasing a photobomber from an otherwise great graduation photo with the Galaxy S4′s nifty Eraser mode feature. Samsung simultaneously managed to paint its flagship phone as aspirational and intuitive, complete with the brand’s usual plucky background music. 

MORE: Best Mobile Products 2013

5. Microsoft: “Xbox One: Invitation”

If you’re going to convince gamers that they need a new $499 console, you better make sure your ad makes them feel special. Microsoft’s Xbox One commercial starts with a bang as a giant robot crashes into an office building and invites a young exec to abandon his PowerPoint for a controller. But this spot is at its best when it shows how easy it is to use voice controls and multitask, such as answering a Skype call as you watch TV. Sony’s PS4 ads lack this level of excitement. 

MORE: PS4 vs. Xbox One — Which Console Wins? 

6. Samsung: “Samsung Galaxy Gear: Evolution”

Any commercial that combines communicators from “Dick Tracy,” “The Jetsons,” “Knight Rider” and “Inspector Gadget” just wins on nostalgia value alone. The Galaxy Gear itself doesn’t wow as a smartwatch, but Samsung deserves credit for lending the impression that the next big thing is here.

MORE: 10 Greatest Smartwatches in TV and Film

7. Google: “Nexus 7: Fear Less”

Apple fanboys are not going to like this, but Google is doing a better job marketing, especially when it comes to tugging at those heartstrings. In this “Fear Less” ad, a boy uses the Google voice search feature in the Nexus 7 tablet to help him overcome his fear of public speaking. Then he uses trace typing to look up how to ask a girl out. Cute and very effective.

MORE: Amazon Kindle Fire HDX vs. Google Nexus 7

WORST TECH ADS

1. BlackBerry: “What BlackBerry 10 Can’t Do”

Someone at BlackBerry thought it would be a great idea to blow $3.8 million on a Super Bowl ad that shows a dude on fire and growing elephant legs. Seriously? If you were looking for the one thing BlackBerry 10 couldn’t do — sell — this was a pretty good clue. 

MORE: 25 Worst Gadget Flops of All Time

2. HTC: “Here’s to Change”

Despite HTC One being one of the best smartphones of the year, the first ads didn’t move the needle. Then the company recruited Robert Downey Jr. for a reported $12 million to star in a bizarre commercial beside car-washing trolls. The message? Here’s to Change. Yes, and HTC should definitely change ad agencies.

3. MetroPCS: “Period Power”


“At MetroPCS, we believe in the power of the period.” I’ll let this reaction from my wife speak for itself: “MetroPCS obviously has no females employed in the marketing department.”

MORE: Best No Contract Phone Deals

4. Sony PS4 “Perfect Day”

Maybe it’s because I’m a parent, but the juxtaposition of buddies destroying each other violently set to a melancholy remake of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” rubs me the wrong way. You also don’t see a single second of game footage. If this is a next-gen console, why am I only seeing live-action shots?

MORE: Top PS4 Launch Titles

5. Apple iPhone 5c: “Greetings”

Did you know smartphones could make calls? You did after watching this spot, in which a series of culturally diverse characters — wait for it — answer the phone (with the iPhone 5c)! Apple can do much better than this, and it did with the later “Plastic Perfected” commercial.

MORE: 7 Ways Apple Should Fix iOS 7

6. Sprint: “At Sprint, Everything’s Important: Friend Request”

Maybe it sounded funny to someone on paper. Have the gravitas-laden voices of James Earl Jones and Malcom McDowell recite lines from inane texts and Facebook messages. But this commercial missed the mark. While somewhat unexpected, watching these two guys in tuxes doesn’t say anything about what differentiates Sprint from other carriers. Next.

MORE: Sprint Spark vs. AT&T LTE: Which Network is Faster?

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