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The 15 Best Ads of 2012

From live spectacles that were brand content blockbusters to useful products, here are your best moments in brand creativity from 2012.

  • <p>Is it wrong to taint a beautiful, human act of kindness by placing it in a bucket labeled advertising? Maybe. But, in a year of terrible PR for cops, this was a redeeming moment--a <a href="" target="_self">real moment that went viral.</a> And maybe we’re making a broader point about advertising here. The best advertising stems from your product--IS your product. Officer Lawrence DePrimo (whose parents should give some kind mandatory-attendance clinic on how to raise a human being), is the product here, shown working perfectly. And this non-ad for the NYPD did more for the brand than any recruitment or public outreach ad campaign could.</p>
  • 01 /15 | AMC "Zombie Experiment"

    Frankly, the whole AMC/Dish tussle was a tiresome drama that we could have done with hearing less about, particularly while we were watching The Walking Dead. But if there was one upside to the now-settled contretemps, it was this stunt, orchestrated by Thinkmodo, the New York company that’s become a go-to creative resource for pulling out real-world-leaning spectacles designed to go viral. The really priceless thing about the video though, are some of the classic New York reactions--the people who didn’t scream but whose faces read annoyance or "whaddaya kidding me with this?"

  • 02 /15 | Guinness “Round Up Your Mates”

    It didn’t change the course of advertising but this Guinness ad from AMV BBDO London for St. Patrick’s Day was pure joy, the kind that bears repeat viewing. And, in the end, it’s a video that stands up to the best content of any kind online.

  • 03 /15 | Prometheus Campaign/TED Talk

    Everything about this slick campaign worked to whip up maximum anticipation about the film--even the trailers. One of the early executions--which reimagines a TED Talk delivered by Guy Pearce from the future--was also the best (the merits of the film itself, on the other hand, were more debatable).

  • 04 /15 | NYPD Boot Cop

    Is it wrong to taint a beautiful, human act of kindness by placing it in a bucket labeled advertising? Maybe. But, in a year of terrible PR for cops, this was a redeeming moment--a real moment that went viral. And maybe we’re making a broader point about advertising here. The best advertising stems from your product--IS your product. Officer Lawrence DePrimo (whose parents should give some kind mandatory-attendance clinic on how to raise a human being), is the product here, shown working perfectly. And this non-ad for the NYPD did more for the brand than any recruitment or public outreach ad campaign could.

  • 05 /15 | Channel 4 Paralympics "Meet The Superhumans"

    An inspiring highlight of the 2012 Olympics ad madness.

  • 06 /15 | AT&T "The New Possible" Olympics Campaign

    There were flashier ads this year, but this campaign represented the upside of marketers and agencies operating at the speed of real life. AT&T’s Olympics campaign from BBDO New York featured TV spots that incorporated real results from events that had just taken place. A great idea that also showed a capacity for a new kind of creative and production process. Read more about how they did it here.

  • 07 /15 | Dollar Shave Club "Our Blades Are F*cking Great"

    A famous 2010 IBM study said that creativity was the most important quality of the modern CEO. Meet Michael Dubin, living embodiment of that premise. Dubin is CEO of Dollar Shave Club and a comedy enthusiast and he wrote, produced and starred in one of the breakout startup promo videos of the year--one of the breakout videos of the year, period--"Our Blades Are F*cking Great." “The world is filled with bad commercials and people who are marketing too hard," Dubin told Co.Create. "I think what we wanted to do is not take ourselves too seriously, and deliver an irreverent smart tone." 7+ million views and $9.8 million in funding later, Dubin’s approach seems to have been right on f*cking track.

  • 08 /15 | Help Remedies “Help I’ve Cut Myself And I Want To Save A Life”

    Help Remedies has crafted an admirable product-first brand persona, but it’s also supplemented that distinctive packaging and overall identity with some interesting--sometimes downright weird--communications efforts. "Help i’ve Cut Myself And I Want To Save A Life" combined some inspired brand utility with some signature strangeness. The useful part--Help supplemented its Help I’ve Cut Myself bandages with a blood swab bone marrow registry kit (why let that spilled blood go to waste). The strange part--the supporting ad which delivers a message of thanks to the cats, cacti and other objects that rend flesh. The project was the creation of Graham Douglas, a creative at agency Droga5 who was inspired by his twin brother who recovered from leukemia with a life-saving bone-marrow transplant.

  • 09 /15 | Sick Kids Pain Squad Mobile App

    Given its over- and ill-use, the word gamification might put you off a little, but here’s something that stands up to the label. Toronto agency Cundari got the challenging assignment to help the Hospital for Sick Children (or SickKids, a leading pediatric oncology facility) to update the pain journals that patients fill out every day to help doctors track cancer treatment efficacy. Obviously, for children who have just undergone chemotherapy pain diaries are not a huge priority. Enter Cundari and its solution: the Pain Squad Mobile App, an iPhone touchscreen interface that makes it a little easier for patients to fill out the journals, and gives them a sense of purpose. The app’s in-game promotions and rewards were heralded by Canadian TV celebrities (don’t start with the jokes) providing further impetus for the kids to engage with the task. The project picked up two Gold Lions at the Cannes Ad Fest.

  • 10 /15 | McDonald’s Our Food Your Questions

    In June, those prone to seeing web videos (i.e. just about everyone) were likely to have seen a video showing the director of marketing for McDonald’s Canada addressing this question from an unseen commentator: "Why does your food look different in the advertising than what’s in the store?” The remainder of the video is devoted to illustrating the answer to that question--a real Quarter Pounder is purchased and we see a side-by-side comparison between it and the burgers shows in the company’s ads, while getting a behind the scenes look at the hows and whys of burger photography. Ensuing videos addressed the questions of how McDonald’s fries come out like that and how what goes into a Big Mac.
    Did McDonald’s lay everything out on the table here? No--one imagines many uncomfortable questions that it’d be hard to picture McDonald’s addressing in fun videos. But you have to give the team--McDonald’s Canada working with Tribal DDB Toronto--props for embracing some challenging and important marketing practices (social listening, transparency) and making compelling content out of them. "There was a lot of discussion taking place in the digital landscape," McDonald’s Canada CMO Joel Yashinsky told Co.Create. "There were myths, misinformation, and rumors about our brand, particularly about our food. "We weren’t part of that narrative…We needed to get involved in a dialogue with our customers, particularly online." Read more about the campaign here.

  • 11 /15 | SPCA/MINI "Dogs Driving"

    We love big, ambitious ideas. We love them even more when they are for a good cause and still more when they feature dogs. And when those dogs are driving cars? Well, Christmas came early with this crazy, cute and meaningful campaign from DraftFCB New Zealand. Read about it here and see how it turned out here.

  • 12 /15 | Samsung Galaxy S III "The Next Big Thing"

    The Next Big Thing in advertising in 2012 was Samsung’s campaign for the Galaxy SIII from agency 72AndSunny. The campaign, anchored by the anthem spot, “The Next Big Thing Is Already Here,” achieved three key feats--it was buzzed about, it was creatively respected and it worked. The buzz: there was no disputing the talk value generated when the spot debuted in September and sure enough, the campaign landed atop Visible Measures’ list of the Most Viral Tech Ads of 2012, with 71 million views (that’s based on VM’s “true reach” calculus which factors in paid, owned and earned media). The spot, which expertly smites misguided Apple devotees, was also fun to watch and well made, especially considering that, according to the agency, it was turned around within a breakneck production time frame. And, as of last month, Samsung had sold 30 million devices and, for a time at least, has been the best-selling phone around. And in the end, the ad worked because there’s a credible product story to tell. This campaign wasn’t in the service of a vague brand promise; the Galaxy S III is a badass phone, and "The Next Big Thing" was a great example of product and marketing working in harmony.

  • 13 /15 | Chrysler "Halftime in America"

    Pre-chair Clint Eastwood promised that the world would hear the roar of America’s engines in this riveting spot, and we believed him. Continuing the excellent, and successful, "Imported From Detroit" campaign, this bombshell of a Super Bowl spot from Wieden + Kennedy became a major cultural moment, generating parody, praise and debate (well, debate in the form of cable news types getting all in a tizzy about imaginary political agendas). Read more about it here.

  • 14 /15 | Nike Fuelband

    Fuelband, created by Nike in partnership with R/GA, is, of course, a simple, sleek wristband that tracks wearers’ daily activity, whether that’s a tennis match or a walk to the subway. It’s also a symbol of a shift in brand thinking. That is, the shift from conveying your brand identity through messages--things that tell people who you and tell them what they should do--to creating things that get people actually doing things. These things enable behaviors while taking the relationship with a consumer to another, perhaps more meaningful level. Judges at this year’s Cannes ad festival, where Fuelband won a Grand Prix, noted the shift, saying that the product was "about brands behaving a certain way…not about what they say and noisy messages, (but) about what brands do.”
    Read more about Fuelband here.

  • 15 /15 | Red Bull Stratos

    Last year, Red Bull headlined our Best Ads roundup with its blockbuster feature film, Art of Flight. And what do you know? The content king is back, topping our 2012 list by taking brand content to a whole nother level--space. We don’t have stock in the company. What we do have is an affinity for big, ambitious brand initiatives and marketers who translate their unwavering identity into content that audiences care about. The Stratos event saw daredevil Felix Baumgartner freefall from 128,000 feet wearing a purpose built space suit. But that wasn’t the only spectacular thing about this initiative--there was also the massive, maybe unprecedented, amount of media coverage and just plain conversation that a piece of brand content provoked. To those who ask: well, does this sell Red Bull? The answer is probably yes, given the sales that the brand has built on the back of years of content marketing. But that question is becoming further and further beside the point. Red Bull is walking the "brand as media company" talk and producing content now as an end in itself through its Media House arm. Read more about Stratos here and more about Red Bull’s content strategy here.
    Here, a visualization of Baumgartner’s jump.

This list, called Best Ads on purpose, is intended to showcase what brand creativity can be beyond advertising, or, if you like, demonstrate that advertising means many more things today than paid ad units.

The ideas on this list include achievements in content marketing, one of advertising’s most important, still-developing disciplines. But the list also includes developments in brand utility, that other critical, long-term mandate—for brands to create things that make people’s lives better, easier, or more fun. If Red Bull Stratos represented the pinnacle of brand content, Nike Fuelband is the premium example of brand utility.

Nike+ Fuelband

Nike has demonstrated an ongoing virtuosity in communicating its essence through great stories. But the brand has also evolved such that it’s made a priority of producing things, like Fuelband and Nike+ before it, that give new form and new purpose to that essence. Fuelband isn’t a perfect product. But it’s an important one, in that it not only shows the payoff of building actual tools that people can use. It also shows, like Red Bull Stratos, what happens when brands have a holistic vision and identity and a view of marketing that isn’t limited to one isolated department in a company.

Elsewhere on the list, we’ve got a meaningful mobile app, an exercise in transparency, a human moment that became a social media sensation, and, yes, some great ads in the form of film and video stories.

Check them out (in reverse order—the top pick is the last slide) in the slide show above.

Slideshow Credits: 15 / Design Made In Germany;