With digital arguably superseding traditional TV advertising as the most relevant and cost-effective way-forward for the industry this year, it's surprising that we actually enjoyed such a banner year for great, 30-90 second creative content. Of course, many of the spots including below found their audiences online, but the lion's share of them still stuck somewhat rigidly to the same formula that has been keeping adland afloat for decades.
2017 was the year where politics went mainstream (in a big and bad way) and right or left-leaning bias began to colour almost every piece of creative content, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. In my list, I've chosen to largely steer clear of politics, however, instead, I've reached towards the spots that moved me, delighted me and, in some cases, comforted me, throughout what has been a very tumultuous 12 months.
Please note that these 20 spots are my own choices and do not reflect the opinions of Creativepool.
20. Recipe – Birds Eye Fish Fingers (#Solidaritea)
A silly one this, but there needed to be at least one. Birds Eye Fish Fingers launched an online film to show support for mums and dads around Britain to celebrate the sometimes thankless parenting moments they face, and to stand with them in #Solidaritea. The film featured a group of mums (the so-called “fish finger five”) who originally came together to support their parenting choices and stand in #solidaritea. The film celebrates the positive roles that these women play in supporting the honest views of parenting on social media. The film, created by Recipe, features our parents, amongst them, the ‘fish finger five’ standing outside their homes with an emotive monologue supporting the daily challenges mums and dads face being a parent.
19. BBH London – KFC (Lunchtime is Coming)
Coinciding with the latest series of Game Of Thrones, MindsEye director Ben Taylor helped fans re-live one of the most heartbreaking scenes from the show. The spot saw Hodor (played by Kristian Nairn) spending his days far away from Westeros in KFC Romford. Happy days. Before long though, the lunch rush arrives and Hodor is overwhelmed by ravenous customers, with more than a subtle nod to the iconic scene where he holds back a horde of zombies. So there you have it. All in the name of chicken and rice!
18. McCann New York – Nespresso (Comin’ Home)
George Clooney shone without saying a single word in this entertaining road-trip romp for Nespresso, in which the actor popped up in scenes from classic films like Psycho, Easy Rider, Smokey and the Bandit, the first Muppets movie, Planes, Trains & Automobiles and Seabiscuit. Yes, this one is tinged with nostalgia that relies solely on Clooney's leading man charm, but sometimes a good idea and decent execution are enough.
17. adam&eveDDB – Great Western Railway (Five go on a Great Western Adventure)
Great Western Railway launched a new brand campaign to re-ignite people’s love of rail travel by reminding them that “adventures start as soon as they step onto a GWR train.” The animated campaign, created by adam&eveDDB, featured Enid Blyton’s Famous Five – that quintessentially British quintet with an uncanny knack for finding adventures wherever they travel. The launch film saw The Famous Five embark on an unexpected adventure across the GWR network when the gang is accidentally separated from Timmy the dog. The ensuing romp saw Julian, George, Dick and Anne taking advantage of GWR’s new high-speed Intercity Express trains as they chase Timmy on an adventure that takes them all across the stunning scenery of the South-West. Enid Blyton’s much-loved characters were re-imagined and brought to life by award-winning animator, Pete Candeland (Friends Electric), in partnership with Enid Blyton Entertainment, part of Hachette Children’s Group. It's cheesy, I know, but the animation is spot-on and I needed to feature at least one adam&eve spot this year because they really are on fire of late.
16. Droga5 – Secret Escapes (Incarcerated)
Droga5 London created a dramatic campaign for Secret Escapes, the members-only flash-sale site for four and five-star hotels and holidays, to reinforce their “Luxury Travel for Less” positioning. The campaign comprised of three separate films set in beautiful holiday locations, where two strangers sitting next to each other discuss how lucky they are to be there. Starting with the line, “I shouldn't even be here,” people regale their tales of overcoming adversity, from fighting to the death with a wolf, getting rescued after being captured by pirates and being wrongfully imprisoned. The holidaymakers listening to these stories then vehemently agree that they shouldn't be in their luxurious situation either, but they are with up to 70% off at Secret Escapes. It's a simple idea that's well acted and engaging in all three instances, though, for me, the “Incarcerated” spot (above) was the one that really nailed what the campaign is trying to achieve.
15. Officer & Gentleman – Pornhub (Sex Instruments)
In order to promote the launch of a new line of sex toys, Pornhub (as is their way) wanted to do something entirely unique. Partnering with creative shop Officer & Gentleman and the electro-pop band Perlita, they composed “Sex Instruments,” the first ever song made entirely out of sounds produced by sex toys, including guitars played with vibrators, bass notes from anal beads and 'strokers' for the rhythm to name but a few. If that wasn’t enough, they also added another layer of sonic bliss by combining the rhythm of the toys with the sounds of moans, orgasms and sex, creating a genuine one-of-a-kind song. The music video, which features adult actors Carolina Abril and Jesus Reyes, serves a metaphor for the numerous ways in which a couple can enjoy the large selection of toys by telling the story of a young couple that is not only experimenting with music, but with the toys themselves. It really needs to be seen (and heard) to be believed and cements Pornhub as one of the most inventive brands going.
14. Gravity Road – Sainsbury's (Your Nightmare Halloween)
Sainsbury’s obviously caters for those that love Halloween, but what about those that don’t? Every year there are people who actively avoid having to deal with trick-or-treaters. It’s a fact. 70% of Brits say they prefer that trick-or-treaters don’t come to their door. The genuinely hilarious film, born from this insight, showcases the ludicrous antics of an unprepared Halloween couple as they attempt to hide from an advancing group of trick or treaters. Because no-one wants to disappoint the neighbourhood kids.
13. McCann Manchester – Smyths (Snot)
Of all the Christmas spots this year, this was the one that stuck with me for sheer joyful imagination. Yes I know it was contrived to sell a toy, but there's a real heart to the story of “Snot” that I think rang truer than the John Lewis monster this year. Shot by director Chris Palmer, “Snot, the Toy No-one Wanted” is a classic Christmas story told with a modern twist that gave me the warm fuzzies throughout December.
12. Karmarama – The British Army (This is Belonging)
“This is Belonging” is significantly more subtle and emotionally involving than the usual flash, bang, wallop, approach we're used to seeing in similar campaigns. Instead of inferring everyone who joins the Army is going to become an action hero, it focuses on inspiring more people to 'belong' to one of the most respected organisations in the world, and think about it as a job that will make a positive difference. It's this sense of duty and belonging that they've really chosen to double-down on, and it's resulted in some very effective work.
11. Leo Burnett – Samsung (The New Normal)
In my view, Samsung outshone Apple this year with the stunning “New Normal” spot for the Samsung S8. The soundtrack, which saw Rufus Wainwright covering The Beatles classic “Across the Universe,” was an inspired choice and the visuals were a little scattershot, but joyfully so. Not as stylish as Apple, perhaps, but significantly more likeable.
10. Wieden+Kennedy – Equinox (LGBTQA Alphabet)
“LGBTQAlphabet: Six Letters Will Never Be Enough” from lifestyle brand Equinox is a short film that expands the definition of “LGBTQA” into a full alphabet with 26 distinct opportunities to proudly communicate who you are and how you love. Conceived as a continuation of Equinox's “Commit to Something” narrative, the work further explores the theme of identity addressed in the 2017 advertising campaign and reflects the incredible diversity of the LGBTQA community. Developed in close collaboration with The LGBT Community Centre, director Jordan Bahat, choreographer Andrew Winghart, the film was a celebration of Pride Month that also intended to evolve the definition of the term “LGBTQA” and inspire conversation.
9. Publicis London – Renault (The Ultimate Test Drive)
At 79 years-old, Rosemary Smith proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that age is just a number, as she fulfilled her lifelong dream of driving an 800bhp car. Rosemary initially trained as a seamstress and opened her own dress shop, which unexpectedly became her route into the world of motorsport when one of her clients invited her to navigate in a rally. The Irish racer competed in some of the most iconic rallies around the world, taking home many trophies despite disqualifications and people looking to hold her back in the notoriously male-dominated sport. After years competing and winning at the highest level in world rallying, Rosemary set up her own driving school using Renault Clios and for the past two decades has campaigned for young driver education to be introduced in schools across the country. Despite these achievements, Rosemary never got the chance to partake in arguably the greatest motorsport experience, driving an 800bhp car, until now. With encouragement from long-term friend and navigator, Pauline Gullick, in addition to Palmer, Rosemary soon got to grips with the notoriously-hard-to-drive race car, increasing her confidence with every lap of the renowned Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet, southern France. Genuinely inspiring.
8. Havas – Jurys Inn (The Trolley)
Havas London unveiled its first work for hotel chain Jurys Inn. Introducing the brand’s new proposition “Stay Happy” the charming, surprisingly emotive film at the centre of the campaign followed the journey of a lonely trolley on its mission to find happiness. We witness the trolley’s melancholy journey as it rolls through a dimly-lit and unwelcoming city in the rain, before its ‘light bulb moment’: overseeing an advert for Jurys Inn. The soundtrack, up until now piano-led and sombre, picks up in tempo with a buccaneering string section as the trolley dashes to its nearest Jurys Inn, where the hotel’s warm and welcoming offering is showcased.
7. Ogilvy & Mather – Coca-Cola (A Bottle Love Story)
Coca-Cola created the first ever ad made entirely out of its 100% recyclable packaging this year. “Love Story,” created by Ogilvy and Mather Berlin, told the story of two bottles who fall in love as they meet over and over again after being disposed of properly and recycled into new bottles. The ad aimed to encourage more people to recycle and highlighted how plastic bottles can be reused to produce more plastic bottles. The ad has recycling at its heart, as the entire set was made entirely out of recyclable material – mainly Coca-Cola packaging. It was created by Berlin-based artist Lacy Barry who used more than 1,500 Coca-Cola, Fanta, Sprite, Smartwater and Honest bottles and cans during production. Smart message. Smart ad.
6. VCCP – Canon (Boundaries)
Canon launched an entirely new brand proposition this year that encouraged people to find special memories in all moments of their life, no matter where they are or what they are doing. This proposition poured through into the wonderful “Boundaries” ad, from the spotlighting style to the raw, confessional music by little-known artist Mikey Mike, titled “Doin Me.” The photography used is soft and emotional and references real, everyday moments that have stories behind them. Simple, beautiful stuff.
5. BBH – Audi (Clowns)
“Clowns,” shot by award-winning director Ringan Ledwidge, featured a troupe of the comic characters taking to their collapsing cars and causing havoc on the roads with their antics. A range of Audi models calmly saves the day with their hi-tech safety capabilities. It was the soundtrack, and the way it fits with the visuals, that really sold this one for me. A haunting reinterpretation of the classic Stephen Sondheim show tune “Send in the Clowns,” featuring singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan. There was also an element of benevolence to the campaign, as for every 'Shazam' of the song, Audi donated to the charity Brake, with the money raised from the partnership helping groups across the UK raise awareness of road safety. It was also the first ad ever to be shown at the British Film Institute (BFI) on London’s Southbank.
4. Mother – Moneysupermarket (Dirty Dancing)
This one really lit up social media for nerds of a certain age (such as myself) when it first dropped at the end of the summer. A sly and hilarious homage to Dirty Dancing, in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the film’s release, it saw He-Man and Skeletor recreating the iconic dance moves. No more needs to be said here, it's simply a wonderfully daft spot that really taps into the wave of 80s nostalgia that seems to be running rampant at the moment.
3. Anomaly – Budweiser (Born the Hard Way)
Budweiser, no stranger to the Super Bowl, used its coveted minute of advertising airtime this year to celebrate the American dream; a central theme for the brand in 2017. The result was an unashamedly cinematic piece of film titled, “Born the Hard Way,” which told Budweiser’s storied history of inception in the mid-1800’s. The visceral piece of cinematography brought viewers along for the epic journey of founder Adolphus Busch, who set out to defeat the odds by travelling to America eventually destined to become the largest brewer in the world. Wildly ambitious stuff that managed to raise the hairs on the back of my neck, despite my best efforts to resist.
2. Droga5 – The New York Times (The Truth Is Hard to Find)
In a year of taunts about fake news, journalists memorably advertised their search for the truth and it was The New York Times and Droga5 that best laid bare the political stakes and the difficulty and value of finding the truth, in their stark ad series “The Truth Is Hard To Find.” The first spot, which managed to piss off Donald Trump (well-done guys), aired during the Oscars in February. But it was Darren Aronofsky’s spots in April that brought home the visceral danger of reporting in the field through the stories, and camera rolls, of photojournalists Tyler Hicks and Bryan Denton.
1. McCann New York – State Street Global Advisors (Fearless Girl)
It's not a traditional advertising spot, but it is far and away the most breakthrough ad of the year. McCann’s statue on Wall Street was an overnight sensation, a potent symbol of female power in business, and a brilliant use of one of the world’s oldest mediums to deliver a message that couldn’t have been fresher. It also scooped up ALL of the awards this year, particularly at Cannes Lions, where it picked up numerous Grand Prix awards. All the praise was more than deserved. The bronze sculpture, crafted by Kristen Visbal, was instantly iconic and literally an overnight sensation. Dropped in New York’s Bowling Green Park before dawn on March 7, staring down the famous Charging Bull, she brilliantly embodied female leadership in business, which SSGA supports by investing in firms with women leaders through its SHE fund. Mobbed within hours, Fearless Girl became the city’s hippest tourist attraction. She’s also one of advertising’s most inspired creations ever—forged from an ancient medium, yet perfectly crafted to deliver the most modern of marketing messages.
Benjamin Hiorns is a freelance writer and musician from Kidderminster in the UK.