Like pretty much every year before it, 2014 saw humanity soar to new heights (The comet landing! True Detective!) and commit acts that made us weep for our future (Uber's management style!).
And so it was in advertising—a fantastic year, and a wretched year.
One one hand, it’s easy to see how an ordinary Internet-using human would come away from this year with middle finger extended to every advertiser, everywhere, ever. The ad industry likes to talk about things like consumer empowerment, conversation, storytelling, engagement. And yet, in some ways this year it was more frustrating than ever to be a consumer, or target, of advertising. Everywhere there was advertising based on the old, interruption-based model, just with extra, unavoidable, digital annoyance. Many advertisers generally made the online experience worse with un-click-away-able, and yet unwatchable ad roadblocks to things you were trying to look at, ads that slowed your roll when you were just trying to get a page to load, and ads that followed you around for months even though they were never relevant even the first of the thousand times you were forced to gaze upon them. Looked at from this perspective, it's hard to regard the future of advertising as anything but a dystopian hellscape.
On the other hand, and this list, of course, is the other hand, advertising has never been better! The things in the gallery above, the things we consider the best in advertising, show what’s possible when brands risk and reach, and, simply, think of the audience instead of themselves.
As usual, there are several things on this list that don't fit a traditional definition of an ad. But they are ads in the way that all brand actions are ads. The Taco Bell entry is very plainly an app. But it’s a creative brand expression, a problem solver and a relationship builder and an indicator of what's possible as marketing shifts to mobile.
There’s also a car on the list. Totally not an ad. Including it here not only nods at the fact that every brand output is an ad, but it’s in recognition of a balls-out, complete creative act. This particular car represents a huge commitment to a risky idea where every detail, from the kind of power used in the plant in which the car was made on up, was part of a big brand story.
But even the proper ads here don’t feel like ads. They feel like—yep, here it comes—content. And whatever you think that word means, it’s used here to describe something that was made with an audience in mind. Something motivated by the question, "What might real people find useful, entertaining, informative, or meaningful?" rather than, "What’s the message we want to force people to listen to?"
Let us know what your favorites were in the comments below.