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The Most Unforgettable Ad Campaigns Of 2018

Truly memorable ad campaigns create a visceral response — one of joy, wonder, shock, inspiration, motivation, compassion or surprise. “If this is achieved, chances are the message will break through and stay with you,” says Lori Senecal, chairman and chief executive of kbs+. But to accomplish this, advertisers first need to grab people’s fragmented attention. However, in today’s digitally enabled, DVR-controlled, multiplatform ad universe, this is an increasingly elusive goal.

Yet some ads do manage to break through. The authentic, transcendent, storytelling works of art are the ones that grab consumers’ attention; create that visceral response; and lodge themselves in your collective consciousness just long enough to spur dialog and debate in the Twitterverse and beyond.

“The holy grail for advertising today is the same as it’s always been: to rise above the fray of soulless sales pitches and become part of culture. Not just being recalled or remembered but hitting a nerve and becoming both share-worthy and meaningful,” says William Gelner, chief creative officer at 180LA. “The best brands get that. They aim higher.”

Derek Rucker, a professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, says he doesn’t think there is “one magic bullet that succeeds in making an advertisement truly memorable.” But he believes it’s mostly about “being different from one’s peers and finding a way to engage the consumer’s psyche.”

“The most memorable spots don’t just make us laugh or cry,” adds Susan Credle, chief creative officer at ad agency Leo Burnett. “They change a conversation.”

Take the “Dove Real Beauty Sketches” campaign. Knowing that only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful, Dove decided to conduct a “compelling social experiment that proves to women something very important: You are more beautiful than you think,” the website says.

Several women were invited to a San Francisco loft, where they were asked to describe themselves (specifically their facial features) to Gill Zamora, an FBI-trained forensic artist who could not see his subjects. After Zamora sketched each woman, he did another drawing of the same subject–this time based on how a stranger described her.

The two sketches were later shown to the subjects, revealing that the second sketch was in all cases more flattering than the first.

Their reactions were recorded and the experiment was made into an online video, produced by the Ogilvy & Mather ad agency and presented in three- and six-minute versions, entitled “Dove Real Beauty Sketches.”

“This is a powerful evolution of the ‘Dove Real Beauty Campaign,’” Senecal says. “It is a simple idea centered around a core insight that resonates with women globally. When it comes to beauty we are our own worst critics. The blind experiment creates storytelling that deepens with each reveal and the highly emotional moment of understanding that each woman experiences. They are infinitely more beautiful than they think they are.”

Rucker agrees. He says the campaign “is a simple but powerful ad that showcased not only the brand’s insight of the consumer, but demonstrated to the consumer that she may not be aware of her own beauty.”

“The brand clearly articulates that women may not recognize their true beauty and instead see themselves as less beautiful than strangers. It is an emotionally powerful ad that has the potential to connect with the consumer in an important way,” he adds.

Gelner says that more than ever before, brands have to realize they aren’t just competing with other brands, they are competing with things in culture that are deemed share-worthy at that moment in time. “Things that entertain us. Things that connect,” he says. “Dove’s ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ is clearly the one piece of work that embodies that. It tapped into a powerful, global insight about beauty and about how women are tougher on themselves than others. It hit a nerve. It was one of the most shared videos of all time.”

Creative executives say that an ad that tells a story in an authentic and compelling way is more likely to grab your attention and stay with you for a long time. “I don’t think a brand can exist today without some degree of empathy,” says one expert. “Timing is one thing, but unless you strike a chord emotionally with the audience, it falls on deaf ears and cold hearts.”

A perfect example of this is Extra Gum’s “Origami.” The heartwarming spot, created by Energy BBDO Chicago, shows a father teaching his daughter to make origami cranes using gum wrappers. As the girl grows up, the father continues giving her these birds. At the end of the 60-second spot—as the parents are packing the car to send their daughter off to college—the father accidentally drops a box to find that it’s full of his paper cranes. The ad closes with a voiceover saying: “Sometimes the little things last the longest.”

“I didn’t expect that level of emotion for a gum ad,” says Jeff Gabel, chief creative officer at Partners + Napier. “You have this beautiful, touching story about a father and his daughter that grows up, and the bond the two of them share–and the ad is for gum. I didn’t see that coming. I thought it was really well done. It did a good job of capturing real sentiment and emotion and then employing that to share a story about the brand. I would’ve never associated a spot like that with Wrigley.”

Marketers not only tried to make us all feel good this year; they also tried to do good themselves.

In Chipotle’s “The Scarecrow,” a three-minute-plus animated short film, a scarecrow goes to work at the “Crow Foods Incorporated” factory, where he’s visibly upset after witnessing chickens being injected with a green fluid, packages being labeled as a “100% Beef-ish,” and cows in too-small metal crates.

Upon going home to his farm after work that day, he gets the idea to harvest vegetables; to “cultivate a better world.” Fiona Apple’s cover of “Pure Imagination” plays in the background.

“Having been a big fan of Chipotle’s 2011 ‘Back to the Start’ viral spot, seeing a reprisal of the strategy with the scarecrow was a delight,” Rucker says. “While many probably wouldn’t see it as having the same punch as the 2011 spot, a point I won’t dispute, it had a beautiful rendition of Fiona Apple singing a classic tune from Willie Wonka. Mixing together the animation, the music, and Fiona were a few of my favorite things that made it stand out to me. The execution itself was linked to an app game, but I have not had the time to delve into that yet.”

Guinness also had one of the most memorable spots of the year. Its poignant “Friendship” commercial created by BBDO New York features six men playing an intense game of wheelchair basketball. As they finish their game toward the end of the 60-second spot, five of the men stand up, revealing that only one of them actually has a physically disability and needs the mobility device to participate. While the six friends enjoy a few post-game beers, the voiceover says: “The choices we make reveal the true nature of our character.”

Another beer brand to release a truly memorable spot this year: Budweiser. The 60-second “Clydesdales Brotherhood” Super Bowl ad “clicked on many levels,” says Charles R. Taylor, a marketing professor at Villanova University. “The use of the Clydesdales remind the viewer of Budweiser’s strong tradition in America (the Clydesdales were introduced to the U.S. public by Anheuser Busch in 1933 to celebrate the end of Prohibition) and are a powerful symbol of the brand’s tradition. The use of a baby foal in the ad is both memorable and attention getting. The emotional appeal of the bond between the horse and trainer who raised him touched many viewers and made this a very memorable ad. Even the choice of music, the sentimental Lanslide by Fleetwood Mac, was right on the mark. This was rated as the top Super Bowl ad and was one of the most viral ads of the year.” The contest to name the baby foal was also “a nice touch that allowed for additional publicity,” he adds. Hope was the winning name based on more than 60,000 Twitter and Facebook posts.

Two funny fan favorites that went viral this year were GEICO’s “Hump Day” and Kmart’s “Ship My Pants.”

DraftFCB, the agency behind Kmart’s viral “Ship My Pants” ad, recently created a holiday-themed sequel to the extremely popular spot, featuring characters from “A Christmas Carol.” The original 60-second ad currently has over 20 million views on YouTube; while the sequel, which was released on Dec. 13, already has almost 2.5 million views.

“I was surprised by the fact that it was for Kmart,” Gabel says. “Ideas like this are so easy to kill along the way. [But] it was interesting, it was definitely shareable, it was humorous – and part of what made it humorous was that it was coming from Kmart. And buried in there is actually a product advantage about shipping. But the way they articulated it, I thought, took a certain amount of courage, and I applaud marketers – especially big marketers – for taking those kinds of risks. And I think in the case of Kmart, I think they got the attention that they were after. I’m sure there were some people that didn’t appreciate the ‘swearing,’ but I thought more highly of the brand and their products having seen that ad.”

Greg Smith, chief creative officer at The VIA Agency, agrees. “Okay, so this is totally sophomoric humor, and maybe not all that tasteful. None of which matters because it’s funny as hell. In many ways it’s a throwback to yesteryear, reminding us all that creating an entertaining ad that hammers home a key value proposition for the brand (in this case free shipping) is as valuable today as it was in years gone by. In fact even more so, because with social media it has a longer shelf life and reaches unexpected and unintended audiences in ways that might actually broaden the brand’s appeal.”

One ad campaign that crushes female stereotypes is the two-minute spot from toy company GoldieBlox. The “Princess Machine” ad, which was made in-house, shows three young girls playing with the Rube Goldberg machine they’ve assembled. The GoldieBlox website says they’re trying to “disrupt the pink aisle.” “We believe there are a million girls out there who are engineers. They just might not know it yet. We think GoldieBlox can show them the way,” the website says.

“GoldieBlox CEO Debbie Sterling isn’t making an ad; she’s trying to change the world,” Credle says. “In one piece of communication, she let us know where her brand was headed.”

Two truck ads also proved to be unforgettable this year. Volvo Trucks’ “The Epic Split” featuring Jean Claude Van Damme, and Ram Trucks’ “Farmer” Super Bowl spot were among the experts’ favorites.

Smith says Volvo’s 75-second beautifully crafted spot intrigues him (and 60 million other YouTube viewers) for a couple of reasons. “One, it is a very interesting use of celebrity. It takes something that Jean Claude Van Damme is known for (his splits), applies it to the product and does it all in a way that is not campy, hokey or nostalgic. It’s just interesting, even breathtaking. Second, this is not a sexy product. It’s essentially a B2B ad, and yet it is as exhilarating as anything we’ve seen from such brands as Nike, Pepsi, Apple or any other big consumer brand in years.”

As for Ram’s spot, he says: “In a time when data and segmentation allow advertisers to speak in specific terms to small groups or individuals, it’s rare to see an ad that is so broad in its aspirations. Obviously, Ram is not talking only to farmers here. What they are doing is talking to the farmer within us all (or we wish we had within us all). Launched on the broadest of platforms (the Super Bowl), this effort reminds us that even in this fragmented, polarized world we live in, a strong, principled stake in the ground can still galvanize consumers en masse.”

Gabel says the two-minute spot, created by The Richards Group, “gave existing dialogue new meaning by taking ownership of it.”

“That spot had that anthemic quality to it that was so much more sophisticated than anything else around it,” he says. “We typically have talking babies and dancing monkeys and all that stuff, and here was this poignant, heartfelt spot about a segment of the population that’s never celebrated. It did a lot for my perceptions of the brand. This spot really stood out, which is hard to do at the Super Bowl. Everything else seemed cheap. It was beautifully and simply executed, and well crafted. Compared to all the super pyrotechnics and CGI we see during the Super Bowl, it had an authenticity to it. It showed restraint.”

Two holiday ads that are getting a lot of attention this season: WestJet’s “Christmas Miracle: Real-time Giving” and John Lewis’ “The Bear & The Hare.”

According to the ad agency executives and Forbes readers, other campaigns that were heartwarming, compelling or simply fun to watch this year include Tide’s “Miracle Stain,” Google Maps’ “Homeward Bound,” Mimi Foundation’s “If Only for a Second,” Pantene’s “Labels Against Women,” AT&T’s “It’s Not Complicated,” Evian’s “Baby & Me,” Doritos’ “Goat 4 Sale,” and the Dodge Durango spot featuring Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy.

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