Originally published in Adweek by Doug Zanger
In 2019, the agency world created a great deal of outstanding work. Soon, we’ll start seeing which creative work stood out among the world’s creative juries.
In the meantime, and to get a head start on the awards circuit Adweek, like last year, asked the agency community to weigh in on the work created by their peers, that stood out most in 2019. As expected, the cream of the crop came from long-standing agencies, but some came from unexpected places and, in the cases of Aviation Gin and Bud Light and HBO, seemingly out of nowhere.
Below is some of the creative work deemed the best of the best by agency professionals in 2019.
Aviation Gin: Gift Responsibly
Agency: Maximum Effort
A little over a year ago, a Colin Kaepernick tweet flipped culture on its head. This year, the world lost its collective mind again but this time it was a tweet came from Ryan Reynolds which included Aviation Gin’s brilliant clap back to a much-derided Peloton ad.
“It was a great and simple idea. I was undoubtedly impressed with the turnaround time for production,” said Melany Esfeld, vp and director of integrated production at Barkley. “Moving swiftly to track down Monica Ruiz (the actor in the original Peloton ad), plan a shoot and immediately move into edit and post-production—it was perfectly orchestrated. Timing is everything, and Aviation Gin nailed it.”
But this ad was far from a one-trick pony. Throughout the year, Reynolds and his Maximum Effort partner George Dewey created must-see moments including a video squashing a “squabble” with Hugh Jackman and the “Turducken” of ads promoting a film, a Samsung OLED TV and Aviation Gin (of which he is owner)—all in one ad.
“The work is funny, self-deprecating in all the right ways, and shows off Reynolds’ finely-crafted sense of timing,” said Mike Gatti, ecd at GYK Antler. “Not since Orson Welles’ free verse take on Paul Masson has a celebrity endorsement of an alcoholic beverage delivered such entertainment. [It] might be my goofy inner bro speaking here [but], all of a sudden, I’m thinking about buying some gin; juniper taste be damned.”
Halo Top: Ice Cream for Adults
In the first national campaign for the brand from 72andSunny, an ice cream truck becomes an unexpected—and hilariously depressing—venue for life lessons. Instead of serving sweet treats, the work’s anti-hero dishes on the harsh realities of the world: mortgages, love, online dating and the rigors of work.
“What do kids do to deserve ice cream? Not a whole lot,” said Rick Utzinger, ecd at Fallon. “Adults, however, we work so hard, pay mortgages and valiantly move forward in life while our youthful good-looks remain in the past.”
“The humor is twisted and dark, but totally relatable, which is fresh and fun for the ice cream category,” added Jordan Chouteau, creative at Forsman & Bodenfors. “I love how they incorporate the innocence of children to push the humor even farther. It reminds me that there are still some clients out there brave enough to be honest about their product, and honest with their consumer—honest enough to make some standout work.”
The ads are not only funny but retain their freshness after several watchings. That’s code for: they never get old.
“The tone is refreshingly real and relatable and stands out for not trying so hard to be funny. It just is,” noted David Olsen, ecd at Mythic. “These almost felt like a throwback of sorts as 30-second commercials, but the comedy is timeless. I almost couldn’t believe they got made in the times we’re living in.”
“I’ve been working my buff ass off all year, and the only reward I got was ice cream,” Justin Morrison, creative at North said, perhaps ironically. “These ads made me cry inside.”
Nike: Dream Crazier and Never Stop Winning
Agency: Wieden + Kennedy Portland
Any list of top creative work likely includes the venerable, independent Wieden + Kennedy, Adweek’s 2019 U.S. Agency of the Year. And, as a general rule, people tend to pay closer attention when the agency and long-standing client Nike launch work into the world.
2018 was the year of Kaepernick, but W+K and Nike smartly continued to extend the concept. A new ad featuring Serena Williams as narrator that aired on the Oscars leading up to International Women’s Day was classic fare from the agency and brand.
“[It’s] simply and powerfully communicates Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ message in a way that was new and culturally hyper-relevant,” said Stephen Clements, CCO at Y Media Labs. “It perfectly treads the line in a way that isn’t saccharine sweet, or at all condescending or lame unlike Gillette’s ‘The Best A Man Can Be.’ Quite simply, it gives me goosebumps, and only great advertising does that.”
Later in the year, Nike and W+K hit another home run. This time, it celebrated the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team’s fourth World Cup championship.
The anthemic spot, launched seconds after the World Cup was securely in the U.S. team’s hands, heralded a bright new era.
“The chant [in the ad] gave me chills,” said Irena Milev, cd at B-Reel. “[it was] so moving, real and simple.”
“It completely captured the magnitude of the moment on and off the field,” added Bill Oberlander, co-founder and ECD of Oberland. “It was the perfect purpose-driven message from a brand that has always behaved purposefully, and from agency Wieden + Kennedy, whose partnership with Nike always seems to hit the right note. Nike isn’t selling athletic wear. It is selling hope and the steadfast belief in the human spirit.”
The New York Times: The Truth Is Worth It
Though the campaign debuted in 2018, The New York Times and Droga5 continued to espouse the gravity and importance of investigative journalism in a series of new ads. A darling on the awards circuit, it’s hard to look away from the hard work done by journalists around the world seeking the truth in a world in desperate need of it.
“In an era where the truth has become subjective, this work asserts that the truth is singular, worth pursuing and risking everything for,” said Hart Rusen, CCO at Socialdeviant. “This campaign is much larger than advertising. It’s more than a salvo against cries of fake news. It’s a bold defense for journalism as a whole and the dedication it takes to bring the truth to light.”
What makes this work so compelling is, in large part, how the agency approached the creative. It’s not over the top, and it’s not trying too hard.
“The idea behind the campaign from Droga5 is smart and simple,” said Dan Kelleher, CCO at Deutsch New York. “It was then executed with incredible skill and care.”
“Each piece is a masterclass in advertising that speaks to the soul of a brand,” added Gavin Milner, group creative director at TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles. “The writing is deceptively simple, yet so elegant. The craft is always out of this world – every detail is pitch-perfect.”
Argos: The Book of Dreams
The British holiday ad is a thing of legend. Between John Lewis & Partners, Harvey Nichols, Sainsbury’s and others, audiences wait with bated breath for each year’s creative haul. Perhaps surprisingly, catalog retailer Argos pipped them all with an ad that Adweek considered an instant classic.
Made by The&Partnership, it’s three minutes of unbridled joy as a father and daughter dream of greatness playing along with the Simple Minds super-song “Don’t You (Forget About Me).” Created without the use of CGI, it’s a masterful re-imagination of what people dream about as gifts for the holiday.
“I applaud them for making a film—let alone a holiday spot—that is funny and heartfelt without being overly sentimental or artificially sappy,” said Heather English, creative director at Deutsch New York. “It’s refreshing to see work that is both fun and well-executed. There is no weak link in this film. From the casting to the art direction to the song choice that works on so many levels—all of it perfect choices.”
“I dare anyone not to love this ad. A simple idea, executed to perfection, tailored to the holiday spirit,” added Joe Calabrese, director of integrated production at Deutsch New York. “I must have watched it 20 times.”
Agency: BBDO New York
Thinx is no stranger to controversy. Four years ago, the underwear brand placed provocative ads on New York’s subway system, using eggs and grapefruits to suggest menstruation.
In its first national campaign, Thinx imagined a world where men have periods, putting them in situations that are all-too-familiar to women. The goals were to drive more empathy and keep opening up the conversation about normalizing menstruation (something that has progressed well by others, including Essity with #BloodNormal and Viva La Vulva).
“Each scene was so well-chosen to reflect the real experiences women have,” said Stevie Archer, ecd at SS+K. “I felt the truth in every scene. And I really loved that it never crossed the line into absurdity. The performances were perfectly calibrated to show just how nonchalant we would all be if we all experienced periods. In a category that has historically resorted to stereotypical, and clinically hygienic messaging, it feels like progress in so many ways.”
Black and Abroad: #GoBacktoAfrica
Black-owned travel and lifestyle platform Black & Abroad took the racist term “go back to Africa” used on social media, and spun the divisive language into a call to visit the continent. But the integrated campaign isn’t merely about travel but shifting a narrative of hate.
“One of the campaign’s goals is to effectively strip the perceived power away from those who use the phrase ‘Go back to Africa’ with derogatory intent,” Eric Martin, co-founder of Black & Abroad told Adweek. “If we can strip the expression of its impact, then we can debunk the age-old narrative that Africa is a desolate, disease-ridden wasteland undeserving of our time and travels.”
“It was everything a great creative campaign should be: provocative, emotionally resonate and culturally relevant,” said Leo Leone, ecd at Barbarian. “The execution behind the scenes was layered and complicated, but what viewers experienced was focused and simple. In the wrong storyteller’s hands, it could have been a landmine, but the execution was so well thought through that it landed wonderfully.”
Tinder: Swipe Night
There was a great deal of hype about Tinder’s Swipe Night. And the interactive digital experience that ran each Sunday in October delivered. In a new-age “choose your own adventure,” users were placed in a party that devolved into chaos. Oh, and people were only given seven seconds to make a decision on what to do next, adding a layer of frenetic energy to the mix.
The interactive experience had all kinds of layers and was not an easy lift for the agency, showing that ambition and a ready-to-go-for-it client can create something unique and meaningful.
“A welcome and much-needed return to interactive storytelling. What made this a giant win for Tinder is that it existed in their own app instead of a separate experience,” said Adrian Belina, co-founder and ecd at Jam3. “I’m excited that to see brands experimenting with hyper-targeted creative experiences that live in their own platforms and apps. This opens a whole new world of possibilities and brand engagement that meets users where they are and more likely to choose to engage.”
Xfinity: E.T. Holiday Reunion
Agency: Goodby Silverstein & Partners
Sometimes, good old-fashioned nostalgia is a good thing. That’s precisely the direction Goodby Silverstein & Partners took in reenacting some of the most iconic moments in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial for Xfinity. The ad stars the eponymous character and Henry Thomas, who played Elliot in the film. This time, it’s about how technology can bring people together. Interestingly, director Stephen Spielberg was consulted on the project.
“It’s not every day that a brand and a creative team align on trespassing sacred pop culture territory. And definitely not every day that if the sacred territory belongs to Spielberg,” said Rushil Nadkami, art director at The Martin Agency. “We wait for opportune moments to respond to social and cultural moments to drive PR, [yet] we often overlook creating evergreen pieces that can stand strong even after years. We’re scared of going into the emotion-land. But, Xfinity pulled those strings and sent you on a journey back into your childhood to reminisce about what you grew up on.”
Spotify: Listen Like You Used To, For the Ride and The Offline Playlist
Agencies: Who Wot Why, Epoch Films and 360i (work includes Spotify’s in-house teams)
If anything, Spotify is pretty darn good at getting to some relatable truths, and two campaigns were called out as exceptionally good. A third reminded people that it’s good to bridge the digital and physical worlds.
For Gen Xers, Listen Like You Used To was a clever homage to the generation. The outdoor campaign from Who Wot Why that ran in London was classic Spotify: a wink and, due to some outstanding use of data, highly specific.
“[It was] built out of simplest and oldest construct there is, just a headline and a tagline (but, hey, brilliant ones),” said Andy Bird, CCO at Publicis New York. “It proves that that old and trusted construct still can transport you somewhere. Also, I’m guessing it’s bang on, based on the brief, if jolting 40-something music snobs and slobs to get on Spotify was the desired outcome. It worked on me.”
The second ad that stood out was, once again, based on human behavior. The 80-second charmer from Epoch Films and the brand’s internal team is certainly relatable. When a good song plays while ending a drive, one stays in the car, being late be damned.
“This is a perfect way for Spotify to share insights about their audience and encourage users to make the platform their go-to app for every occasion, including those that involve listening to your favorite Taylor Swift song in the car. Even if you can’t Shake It Off and have to hit repeat to hear it one more time,” quipped Leonel Martinez, associate art director at T3.
Finally, Spotify and 360i, one of the darlings of last year’s list, brought the digital and real worlds together with a campaign for New Orleans Tourism. “The Offline Playlist” was, at its heart, a collection of music from the Crescent City. The brand, agency and tourism partner sweetened the deal with a trip to see each artist perform live at legendary Preservation Hall. The concert in May was filmed and will result in a film next year.
“To an outsider, what is so appealing about New Orleans is its ability to bring people together. It seems to emanate connection and hold the promise of community,” said Allie Guggenheimer, client engagement manager at co:collective. “This campaign delivers on that in spades, both digitally and physically.”
BCF: Camp Pain
Agency: The Monkeys
There are two types of people in the world: those who are good at camping and those who are not. To help Aussies get ready for the season, outdoor retailer BCF and The Monkeys—oft of interesting, sometimes odd work—put together a catchy musical number that outlines the, er, challenges that can come with camping. There are possum attacks, allergic reactions to berries and swarms of bees.
“Strategically, it’s smart, appealing to the weekend warrior who may not know what he/she is doing,” said John Kovacevich, ecd at Duncan Channon. “While lots of outdoor brands are touting what they’re doing to save the planet, this campaign has a more modest, practical goal: our expertise and products can help you enjoy the outdoors.”
Billie: Red, White and You Do You
Facebook’s algorithms might not be that great at spotting the difference between adult material and just plain, good old advertising. Then again, they’re not too awesome at spotting the difference between fake news and … we digress.
In the instance of DTC shaving brand Billie, the “Big F” bounced their ad featuring body hair.
“It was interesting to us [that] body hair is considered sensitive material, and therefore we can’t promote the video,” Billie co-founder Georgina Golley told Adweek. “It almost feels like it’s a little bit arbitrary.”
Regardless, the work took a stand and stood out.
“Billie, after all, ‘simply’ sells razors, but their insight about women, their disruptive tone and powerful aesthetic makes this brand culturally meaningful,” said Libby DeLana, co-founder and cd of Mechanica. “It is impressive to see a brand with such a powerful commitment to changing the conversation, redefining ‘normal.’ It is wildly refreshing and super real. I think most women (as I’m sure many men) find the realities of shaving to be overwhelming at times.”
Diesel: Be a Follower
Agency: Publicis Milan
Poor influencers. They get a (sometimes deserved) bad rap. Then again, the world isn’t one big Insta-playground, and the reality is that being an influencer might not be filled with glamour and cheap shoes. Diesel, with Publicis Milan, took a humorous swipe at the influencer set and reminded people that it’s perfectly ok to be a follower.
“I love how the fashion brand subverted the obsession with being an influencer and growing a following on social media through this campaign,” said PJ Pereira, co-founder and creative chairman at Pereira O’Dell. “The idea that followers have more fun (and sex) is insightful, naughty, and super tight.”
The Female Company: The Tampon Book
Agency: Scholz & Friends Berlin
As a protest to Germany’s 19% absurd luxury tax on feminine hygiene products, The Female Company started selling The Tampon Book, an actual book (which is only taxed at 7%) that was packaging for the brand’s organic tampons.
Along with 15 tampons, the book, created by Scholz & Friends Berlin, included 46 pages of stories and illustrations about menstruation. It sold out quickly and caught the eyes and ears of German lawmakers. Due to a successful petition drive, the debated issue ultimately ended the tax rate, though it’s not clear what it will be reduced to.
“I’m happy (and slightly surprised) when advertising actually creates measurable positive change in the world,” said Erica Fite, founding partner and co-CCO of Fancy. “This campaign, born out of an insane sexist situation, the taxation of female sanitary products, could have easily taken the angry route. Instead, they chose the smart path and figured out a way to dupe the system, demonstrating how ridiculous the law was, leading to actual progress.”
Bud Light X HBO: Game of Thrones Super Bowl ad
Agencies: Wieden + Kennedy New York and Droga5
It came out of nowhere. At first, everyone thought “another Bud Light ad.” Then? Chaos! The GoT dragon incinerated the Bud Knight! Not only were two brands getting together, but two agencies, too.
“It was entertaining from beginning to end. It took two smart, brave clients and two smart, brave agencies working together and not getting caught up in the weeds of why it ‘wasn’t right,’ said Steve Red, president and CCO of Red Tettemer O’Connell & Partners. “They concentrated on making an awesome piece of entertainment and trusted the audience to love it for just that. It made me a bit more of a fan of both brands, even though I was not really a fan of either. And I never saw it coming.”
The U.K.’s outsized influence on music demanded an ad worthy of its heritage and impact on culture today. The result was a 60-second montage of some of the most prominent artists who call the U.K. home. From the late David Bowie to Sir Paul McCartney and FKA Twigs (who starred in one of the brand’s best ads ever), it is a compelling look at Apple’s influence.
“As an addition to the ongoing ‘Behind the Mac’ campaign, this spot shows that a great campaign idea is lasting—that the impact doesn’t necessarily diminish over time and multiple executions,” said Carter Weitz, chairman and CCO of Bailey Lauerman. “In an age when the average shelf-life of an advertising campaign seems to get shorter and shorter, that just might be what I appreciate most about this spot.”
While there can be some level of formula in sports brand advertising (which isn’t a bad thing; it just is), Reebok and Venables Bell & Partners chucked that right out the window. Mashing up streetball, EDM and even inspiration from the popular late 90s Korean sci-fi/horror genre, it’s 90-seconds one can’t ignore.
“Nothing is easier to ignore than an ad whose strategy is showing, and nothing is more wasteful than an entertaining ad without a strategy in sight,” said Yama Rahyar, creative director at RPA. “Venables somehow managed the perfect balance between product positioning and human interest. They were helped by cultural trends and the parallels between their client’s history and the rebirth of the 90s aesthetic, but ‘Sport the Unexpected’ wasn’t a simple case of bandwagon-jumping. They were really smart and thoughtful, and the work was delicious-looking and so highly engaging.”
Rustlers: The Seas Between Us
Agency: Droga5 London
We’ll let the words of Eric Helin, cd at Wieden + Kennedy New York do the work here:
“Why would anyone eat a microwaveable hamburger? It’s a question worth asking but seems beside the point when faced with a 70-minute, German art-house film about the origin story of the burger, for the U.K. based microwaveable hamburger concern Rustlers. Created by Droga5 London and entitled ‘The Seas Between Us,’ the poster alone is worthy of praise. One could get caught up in an argument about the self-indulgence of this (the soundtrack, it’s jazz, is available on Spotify. Dear God, no.)—but that misses something more fundamental—that because it exists we have considered and thought about, if even for a second, a British, microwaveable hamburger. This thing seems to operate completely outside of the sober best practices, fake ad science data, and unrelated good causes that dominate most of our advertising. What a dang treat.”
And here are a few other campaigns that agency people thought were pretty nifty as well:
Burger King: Traffic Jam Whopper
Agency: We Believers, New York
“We Believers successfully combined data and technology to elevate creativity rather than detract from it. They combined creative thinking with IoT technology and turned it into an unexpected experience, unlike anything we’ve seen before.”—Jamie Vernosky, CCO, Marcus Thomas
Squarespace: Oscar the Grouch
“Most advertising tells you how happy-happy-happy Brand X’s product will make you. Squarespace flipping that script with Oscar was really clever and refreshing. And then to sell the trash packs as art and donate proceeds to Sesame Workshop …[chef’s kiss!]. That’s the kind of stellar work that my 3-year-old daughter and I can get behind.”—Neel Williams, svp, creative director, The Martin Agency
Skittles: Broadway the Rainbow
“Many brands try to “hijack the Super Bowl” every year, and Skittles pulled it off in an incredible way. Everything about this program was ridiculous and hilarious, and I loved it all from the therapy session that ends up on stage in front of a live audience to the ‘Advertising Ruins Everything’ theme song, to the cat posters that promoted the event. Casting Michael C Hall was a great decision too, and he played the humor perfectly.”—Will McGinness, partner, CCO, Venables Bell & Partners
Postmates: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Agency: Amazon, In-House
“Maybe it’s the little divorced Jewish lady in me, but Amazon’s Emmy campaign for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was a perfect example of a brand marketing campaign this year. This was a campaign that lived right in my neighborhood–with goods and services in my neighborhood in Los Angeles offered at 1950’s prices that brought me into the world of Mrs. Maisel. It showed the dedication of Amazon – how much they were invested in their viewers.”—Talia Arnold, head of media strategy and planning, Exverus
REI: Pattie Gonia
“The campaign celebrates diversity and individuality, while also highlighting one of the biggest issues on people’s minds right now – saving our planet. While I suspect we’ll see a lot of brands trying to connect with modern consumers by associating themselves with diversity and popular causes, this is authentic to REI.”—Jessica Reznick Martin, president, We’re Magnetic
Sephora: Identity as We
“Sephora found a truly authentic way to engage in a conversation about inclusion through this campaign. The spot celebrates a community that has, for years, used makeup as a way to express identity, but more importantly, Sephora backed up the messaging with a commitment to making their stores more inclusive.”—Liz Furze, associate creative director, AMP Agency