Can a pastry ever be an ad? What about a video created with a certain brand’s product but that the brand didn’t create? A Twitter attitude?
All of those things feature in our list of the best ads of the year.
Rather than having a list for best spot, best social media thing, best brand content, etc. (like award shows do!), we assemble all the best instances of brand creativity in one list. You could argue that some of the entries on the list aren’t ads, or you could argue, as we would, that they represent the evolving notion of what an ad is.
The best ads do something useful or they tell great stories, or both. And the best work here took that mandate to a new level. On the list this year: a mega-integrated movie marketing campaign that became its own attraction, a vending machine designed to transcend geopolitical boundaries, possibly the cheekiest Twitter feed of the year, user generated videos, and yes, a pastry.
Naming a donut hybrid as one of the best ads of the year is, in part, simply a recognition of a great creative story and, in part, a statement about the nature of marketing and what constitutes brand creativity. That statement is: the best marketing is every great experience a person has with your brand, from product to packaging to customer service to communications. The cronut is the story of a company that made an innovative product, gave it a name and a brand and turned that into one of the biggest earned media phenomena in recent memory. The cronut put a small New York business on the map, but we are less concerned here with sales at Dominique Ansel Bakery (though, apparently they are still brisk) and more concerned with what Ansel and his cronut can teach any marketer, which is: don't just ask, what am I saying, but what am I making/doing?
Speaking of doing: naming a GoPro video (or two) as our top pick of the year is another recognition of a product that is at one with marketing, as well as recognition of a stellar content marketing story. Advertisers make a lot of noise about consumer control and letting consumers tell their brands’ stories, blah blah bling blah blah. But, really, hardly anyone does this. GoPro does it. The company, makers of wearable and gear-mounted cameras, has been an outstanding example of a brand that has built, and spread, its name based on the creations of its audience. The company encourages users, famous and otherwise, to share their EXTREME! outdoor content (or, in the case of "Dubstep Baby," their EXTREME! indoor content). The company has 1.4 million YouTube subscribers and an endless archive of user-created videos of all manner of people doing all manner of things (many of the videos have a million plus views, several have 10 million plus); an Instagram search for #GoPro yields more than 1.6 million photos, most of them, obviously, from users. This year, the videos got more dramatic and more watched and you were as likely to see them as you were to see the company’s "ads" on TV.
See all of our picks in the slide show above—oh, and a warning: things took a turn for the weepy this year, so be prepared to claim "allergies" if you’re watching at work.