Images: baby in crib, making a stock trade.
Forbes.com
Few ads tickled America's funny bone better in 2010 than the E*Trade baby campaign. But this boy is no baby; the campaign actually launched nearly three years ago during the 2008 Super Bowl.
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updated 12/31/2010 1:38:05 PM ET 2010-12-31T18:38:05

We all see so many commercials each year that we quickly forget all but the very best. A few, though, remain truly memorable. We can instantly recall them because they contain larger universal human truths or insights that stay with us.

Take Gatorade's "Replay." Since January 2009 the sports drink brand has brought rival high school teams together to "replay" important, defining games in their history. There have been three replays thus far, the most recent of which reunited two Chicago high schools — Bloom and Brother Rice — to determine the outcome of a basketball game that was fouled, because of a time-clock problem, 10 years ago. Imagine stepping back into your school jersey and basketball court and competing again with all your pals a decade later.

Forbes.com slide show: The year's most unforgettable ad campaigns

The idea of reliving a cherished moment is what made Gatorade's campaign, which has been promoted through both commercials and a Fox Sports Network documentary series, memorable, says Susan Credle, chief creative officer of ad agency Leo Burnett. "The idea of Gatorade continuing to find games that people wish they could replay is such a truth, and it speaks to deeper things." She adds that the concept reaches into "past, present and future."

Sporting events have a way of bringing out human emotions in ways that make them and the advertising around them memorable, as Nike knew when it made its "Write the Future" World Cup ad, and Snickers when it aired its Betty White Super Bowl commercial. Those were also among this year's top picks.

Nike showed a scenario of fast-moving, "what if" scenarios in which soccer greats like Andres Iniesta and Theo Walcott faced imagined moments in the sport that changed their lives. We saw a whole country humbled by one of its star athlete's maneuvers, and another player catapulted to pop culture stardom by scoring a defining goal. Snickers' Betty White commercial showed transformation, too, as the actress ate a candy bar and changed into a champion athlete.

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Some of 2010's most memorable campaigns were funny. E*Trade Financial's spots, starring its famous talking "baby," were among them. In one of the newest, the baby is punished by having all his toys taken from his crib. But he has hidden away his smartphone, and he uses it to log onto the company's site.

Image: Betty White holding Snickers candy bar
Forbes.com
Actress Betty White stars in this Snickers ad that made its 2010 debut during the Super Bowl. The ad, from BBDO New York, was a resounding hit on air and online.

AT&T decided to inject a spirit of hope into consumers' lives as the nation began to recover from the deep pain of recession. The telecommunications giant launched a campaign in April, from BBDO, New York, that asked Americans to "Rethink Possible" after the economic crisis. The spots use an upbeat hit song from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, "Pure Imagination." Levi's, meanwhile, optimistically urged the American worker to "Go Forth" with its Ready to Work" ads.

Marketers not only tried to make us all feel good; they also tried to do good themselves. Pepsi, with its Refresh Project, bypassed Super Bowl advertising and used the money it saved to award grants to individuals, businesses and nonprofits that had ideas for improving their communities. The idea was particularly smart in giving consumers a new spin on the word "refresh," says Jason Baer, creative director at Interbrand, the Omnicom Group-owned brand consultancy in New York. "You can only say so much when it comes to tastes and flavors, but what about the larger notion of refreshing?" he observes.

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"Great brands have the power to do good. Those that leverage it are the ones that see the greatest return," adds Daniel Diez, a marketing strategy director, also at Interbrand.

Some brands, like Kimberly-Clark's Kotex and Domino's, made an impression by going against the grain. The former challenged convention with the brash launch of its new U by Kotex line. The pizza giant confronted consumers' complaints about its staple product by rolling out a new recipe, and it got a sales lift as a result. Domino's was brilliantly tapping into the current "reality-truth craze," says Reid Holmes, creative director at Campbell Mithun.

In addition to Credle, Baer, Diez and Holmes, the other agency executives who helped select this year's most unforgettable ad campaigns for Forbes were William Gelner, executive creative director of 180LA, and Sean Bryan, a group creative director at McCann Erickson.

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Explainer: The top 10 business stories of 2010

  • Image: BP CEO Tony Hayward surveys gulf spill repair work
    AP

    In 2010, the economy rebounded fitfully from the Great Recession — starting strong, wobbling at midyear but showing enough vigor by year's end to quell fears of a second recession. Yet Americans hardly felt relief under the weight of high unemployment, which began the year at 9.7 percent and is now 9.8 percent.

    An oil spill devastated the economy and environment along the Gulf Coast and hammered energy giant BP's stock price and reputation.

    China muscled past Japan to become the world's No. 2 economy, a reminder that the global economic order is shifting and America's supremacy is diminishing.

    It was a year of job shortages and swollen budget deficits that disheartened Americans and caused deep losses for incumbent Democrats on Election Day. The Federal Reserve tried with scant success to jolt the economy with record-low interest rates.

    The struggling economy was voted the top business story of the year by U.S. newspaper editors surveyed by The Associated Press. The oil spill in the Gulf came in second, followed by China's economic rise.

  • 1. Economy struggles

    Image: Unemployment brochures are seen on display at the employment training facility, JobTrain, in Menlo Park, Calif.,
    AP

    Climbing out of the deepest recession since the 1930s, the economy grows at a healthy rate in the January-March quarter. Still, the gain comes mainly from companies refilling stockpiles they had let shrink during the recession. The economy can't sustain the pace. The lingering effects of the recession slow growth.

    The benefits of an $814 billion government stimulus program fade. Consumers cut spending in favor of building savings and slashing debt. Businesses hesitate to hire. Cities and states lay off workers. Growth slows through spring and summer.

    Unemployment stays chronically high. In May, the number of people unemployed for at least six months hits 6.8 million — a record 46 percent of all the unemployed.

    Pointing to the deficits, Congress resists backing more spending to stimulate the economy. The Federal Reserve seeks to fill the void by announcing it will buy $600 billion in Treasury bonds to try to further lower interest rates, lift stocks and coax consumers to spend.

    As the year closes, the economy makes broad gains. Factories produce more. Consumers — the backbone of the economy — return to the malls. Congress passes $858 billion in tax cuts and aid to the long-term unemployed. Yet more than 15 million Americans are still unemployed. Economists say a full economic recovery remains years away.

  • 2. Gulf oil spill

    Image: Plaquemines Parish coastal zone director P.J. Hahn lifts his boot out of thick beached oil at Queen Bess Island.
    AP

    An explosion at a rig used by BP kills 11 workers and sends crude oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. The spill devastates the fishing and tourism industries along the Gulf Coast and causes environmental damage that may last for decades. BP sets up a $20 billion fund to compensate fishermen, restaurateurs and others whose livelihoods were damaged.

    The oil giant still faces civil charges and a criminal investigation by the Justice Department and lawsuits from hundreds of individuals and businesses. BP's stock market value shrinks by more than $100 billion after the April 20 disaster before bouncing about halfway back.

  • 3. China's rise

    Image: Workers install scaffolding at a construction site as a Chinese national flag flies near by in central Beijing.
    Reuters

    China passes Japan as the world's second-biggest economy. The World Bank says it could surpass the United States by 2020. China's gross domestic product is spread out over 1.3 billion people — amounting to about $3,600 per person. That compares with GDP in the U.S. of about $42,000 per person. In Japan, it's about $38,000 per person. China's thirst for raw materials and other products helps the rest of the world recover from the recession. Still, the U.S. and Europe complain that China gives its exporters an unfair competitive edge by keeping its currency artificially low.

  • 4. Real estate crisis

    Image: Home for sale
    AP

    Housing remains depressed despite super-low mortgage rates. The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage dips to 4.17 percent in November, the lowest in decades. But home sales and prices sink further. Nearly one in four homeowners owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, making it all but impossible for them to sell their home and buy another.

    An estimated 1 million households lose their homes to foreclosure, even though the pace slows after evidence that lenders mishandled foreclosure documents. Some did so by hiring "robo-signers" to sign paperwork without checking their accuracy.

  • 5. Toyota recall

    Image: Toyota Master Service Technician Mike Blomberg inspects a gas pedal assembly.
    AP

    Toyota's reputation for making high-quality cars is tarnished after the Japanese automaker recalls 10 million vehicles for sudden acceleration and other problems. Toyota faces hundreds of lawsuits alleging that some models can speed up suddenly, causing crashes, injuries and deaths. Toyota blames driver error, faulty floor mats and sticky accelerator pedals for the unintended acceleration. The uproar damages its business. Toyota's U.S. sales rise just 0.2 percent through November in a year when the industry's overall sales climb more than 11 percent.

  • 6. GM's comeback

    Image: GM headquarters
    AP

    General Motors stock begins trading again. It signals the rebirth of a corporate icon that fell into bankruptcy and required a $50 billion bailout from taxpayers. GM uses some proceeds from its November initial public offering to repay a portion of its bailout. (Washington still holds about a third of GM's stock.) GM's recovery helps rejuvenate the industry. Sales of cars and light trucks rise 11 percent through November compared with the same period in 2009. Shoppers who had put off replacing their old cars return to showrooms.

  • 7. Financial overhaul

    Image: Barack Obama, Christina Romer, Timothy Geithner, Barney Frank, Paul Volcker
    AP

    Congress passes the biggest rewrite of financial rules since the 1930s. The law targets the risky banking practices and lax oversight that led to the 2008 financial crisis. The law creates an agency to protect consumers from predatory loans and other abuses, empowers regulators to shut down big firms that threaten the entire system and shines more light into markets that have eluded oversight. Republican critics say the law goes too far, imposing burdensome rules that will restrict lending to consumers and small businesses.

  • 8. European bailouts

    Image: Athenians walks behind a board showing exchange rates at a foreign currency exchange shop in Athens on Wednesday.
    AP

    Greece and Ireland require emergency bailouts, raising fears that debt problems will spread and destabilize global markets. European governments and the International Monetary Fund agree to a $145 billion rescue of Greece in May and a $90 billion bailout of Ireland in November. The bailouts require both countries to slash spending, triggering protests by workers. Investors fear that debt troubles will spread to Spain, Portugal and other countries, weaken the European Union and threaten the future of the euro as its common currency.

  • 9. 500 million Facebook users

    Image: Mark Zuckerberg
    AP

    Facebook tops the 500-million-user mark. It expands its dominance of social media and further transforms how the world communicates. If it were a country, Facebook would be the world's third-largest. Facebook tightens its privacy settings after criticism that personal information is being disseminated without users' knowledge or permission. Founder Mark Zuckerberg is named Time magazine's "Person of the Year" and is the subject of a high-profile movie about Facebook's creation.

  • 10. iPad mania

    Image: Customer uses an Apple iPad
    AP file

    Apple Inc. unveils the iPad, bringing "tablet" computing into the mainstream and eroding laptop sales. Apple is expected to sell more than 13 million iPads this year. The iPads sell about twice as fast as iPhones did after their 2007 introduction. The price of Apple stock rockets more than 50 percent in 2010. Competitors scramble to try to catch up. They include the Dell Streak, BlackBerry PlayBook, the Samsung Galaxy Tag and HP Slate.

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Data: Latest rates in the US

Home equity rates View rates in your area
Home equity type Today +/- Chart
$30K HELOC FICO 1.97%
$30K home equity loan FICO 5.80%
$75K home equity loan FICO 4.54%
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Low Interest Cards 13.70%
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Source: Bankrate.com