The 25 finest advertisements of 2020
While 2020 may have felt like two decades in terms of marketing, it was actually two different years rolled into one: the pre-pandemic 2020 and the post-pandemic.
In the first few months when creative production almost came to a standstill in the early days of the quarantine, a lot of high-profile creative work had already started, and after creative production had almost stalled in the early days of quarantine – like Burger Kings Moldy Whopper and several Super Bowl spots – continued to dominate the remnants of the 2020 Awards Show.
The advertising that emerged after Covid-19 hit global markets came from a completely different time than January and February. Brands and agencies adapted in real time to challenges for which absolutely no one had been trained or prepared.
As you'd expect, Adweek's annual list of the best ads of the year is a sonically diverse list that changes occasionally in an order that is not chronological. But just like the industries Adweek covers, we did our best to understand everything.
Here are the 25 best ads of the year, selected by Adweek's editors:
25. Quiet sponsorship of CNN's election night coverage
Outside of Covid-19, nothing was more central to the American conversation in 2020 than the presidential election. With Donald Trump hoping (and ultimately failing) to secure a second term in his race against former Vice President Joe Biden, the political rhetoric that lasted through November 3 reached an unprecedented level of fear-inducing intensity.
So it was either really weird or extraordinarily fitting to see the calming meditation app Calm, which sponsored CNN's coverage of Election Night. As part of a huge push by the app, which increased its advertising by about 220% in the first half of 2020 compared to 2019, Calm made sure the logo was the center of attention while the country watched the election results – although it would ultimately be Days before a winner was determined.
The @Calm sponsorship of CNN election coverage was a perfect example of the role your brand can play at any given time and keeping them committed to their value proposition.
Great time for a free one-week trial for all Americans.
– Avish Sood (@AvishSood) November 4, 2020
24. Doritos | "The Cool Ranch"
| Agency: Goodby Silverstein & Partners
A classic Super Bowl formula for success – but one that's deceptively difficult to find – is to strike a balance between pop culture's hottest new talent and their old-school favorites. Doritos and the agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners, who are a frequent power player on the Super Bowl set thanks to their relationship with Doritos parent company PepsiCo, have made it with this year's "The Cool Ranch", a dance-off between country rap and Crossover stars included Lil Nas X and the beloved western actor Sam Elliott.
A digital extension of the campaign offered an app with AI support that fans can use to recreate the (physically impossible) dance movements themselves. The spot was a crowd-pleaser and landed fourth on the USA Today Ad Meter, which measures audience response on game day.
23. Mtn Dew Zero Sugar | "As good as the original"
| Agency: TBWA Chiat Day New York
If you're facing a task like re-creating the horror classic The Shining and you're looking to turn it into a Super Bowl ad that somehow still shines in the product, you'd better get it right. And TBWA Chiat Day New York did it with the agency's precise replica of Stanley Kubrick's intense Stephen King adaptation.
While viewers may not have loved it as much as we did (it landed # 19 on today's US ad), “As Good As The Original” was still one of the best uses of it in a star performing year For once, celebrities in the big game were actually used quite well. This was also a year that was understandably the lack of a lot of darkly humorous ads, and the overall creepiness of the Mtn Dew Zero Sugar opening ad was definitely notable on a sugary Super Bowl night.
22. Xbox's Twitter response to the S series leak.
The stakes for the console game giants Microsoft and Sony will not be higher than this year. Marketing product releases was a carefully coordinated aspect of any brand's go-to-market strategy, and a leak could affect months of planning. When a picture of an unannounced Xbox console surfaced, Microsoft made a rare and difficult decision: just roll with it.
In a light-hearted tweet that quickly and tacitly confirmed the leak, the brand released a popular meme for moments of uncomfortable observation. The September 8 tweet was followed by an official announcement of the Xbox Series S, a slimmed-down and more affordable sibling of the previously announced Series X – at 3:13 a.m. CET.
???? Let's make it official!
Xbox Series S | Next generation performance in the ever Xbox ever. $ 299 (ERP).
I look forward to sharing more! Soon. Promise. pic.twitter.com/8wIEpLPVEq
– Xbox (@Xbox) September 8, 2020
21. Essity Brands | "Womb Stories"
| Agency: AMV BBDO
No marketer has challenged the scars raised against women and their bodies more boldly and consistently than Essity, a feminine products company whose brands include Bodyform and Libresse. The company's #BloodNormal campaign, which aimed to normalize promotional displays of realistic menstrual situations such as red blood, painful cramps, and intermittent sex, sparked global reformation shock waves across the category. A subsequent campaign, "Viva La Vulva", celebrated that all vulva are beautiful and should never be a source of shame or insecurity.
This year, Essity again partnered with London agency AMV BBDO to release Womb Stories, a powerful and multi-dimensional campaign that brought new levels of nuance and emotional reach to an industry that relied on shy, condescending metaphors for decades . The resulting stories are sometimes joyous, sometimes heartbreaking, and the agency has partnered with a diverse pool of artists to bring these powerful memories to life.
20. Hyundai | "Smaht Pahk"
| Agency: Innocean
Hyundai's “Smaht Pahk” is a delightful reminder that not every creative concept has to be sophisticated or even so eventful. The Innocean Super Bowl ad was one of the easiest in the game. It only showed actors Rachel Dratch and Chris Evans in chat as they watched John Krasinski use the automaker's new Smart Park feature.
Returning to the accents of their Boston area homes, the stars watch with mounting awe as the parking lot itself and Krasinski describe all of the local hangouts he's "pahked" at. While such a repetitive premise might quickly become old in less skilled hands, the actors and agency manage to keep it charming thanks to the fast-moving and borderline, indecipherable dialogue.
19. Amazon | "Before Alexa"
| Agency: Droga5 London
Elaborate and brilliantly detailed, “Before Alexa” was the Droga5 London agency's debut on the Super Bowl stage. This is always a difficult task for an overseas business, but one that is even more daunting given that the Droga5 satellite has been following crowd-pleasing Amazon Big Game spots by other London-based Lucky Generals for two years in a row.
The result is both ridiculously fantastic and charmingly understandable, and shows people throughout history playing the roles that we are now assigning to our voice-activated devices. When the spot kicks off it seems easy at first, but that goes out of the window when Alexa, the housekeeper, sends a fire log … out the window. From then on, it's an odd and wild ride, complete with the pitcher rendition of Usher's "yes" that we didn't know we needed.
18. Wendy | "Super Wendy's World"
| Agency: VMLY & R Kansas City
In an absolute coup of sophisticated digital thinking, Wendy & # 39; s took home the first Cannes Lions Grand Prix in the festival's Social and Influencer category, which debuted in 2019. In a stunt called "Keeping Fortnite Fresh" the agency VMLY & R Kansas City had created a Fortnite character. They dressed roughly like Wendy's mascot and then got into the multiplayer game to free the freezers in the burger restaurants of the Smash the game world (which underscores the chain's commitment to never freezing their beef).
That year, the agency built on that high-profile (but one-off) success by developing an ongoing strategy of adapting a wide range of games to Wendy-like characters or designing brand-inspired levels. Wendy got into just about every popular game this year and has made good use of Animal Crossing, Tony Hawks Pro Skater, Ultra Street Fighter IV, Minecraft, and more. The brand's preferred medium for sharing all of these branded experiences was Twitch, where Wendy rose to become one of the top 1% streamers on the platform.
17th Icelandic Football Association | New national team identity
| Agency: Brandenburg
If your logo redesign doesn't capture 1,000 years of national history and mythology, do you even try it?
While branding designers love to explain even the most basic logo updates as if they reflect the rise and fall of human civilization, Icelandic agency Brandenburg actually proved this year that it can be worth the backstory behind a new one hearing visual identity. On behalf of the Icelandic Football Association KSI, the agency created a bold, fascinating and effective new look for the country's national football team.
As you can see in the video explainer below, the logo is made up of four symbols, which can stand alone or together, depicting the four defenders of the Icelandic people: the giant, the bull, the dragon and the eagle. The new identity looks both minimalist and detailed and is an absolute master class in creating a truly original visual brand.
16. Ocean Spray and TikTok | The phenomenon of "dreams"
"Social media phenomenon" is not a phrase that you can lightly use in an age where countless videos are viewed millions of times – and then seem to fade from the collective consciousness as quickly as they appear. But the title certainly applies to the unexpected situation Ocean Spray found itself in on September 25th when TikTok user Nathan Apodaca posted a video of him riding down a hill on a longboard while drinking the brand's cranberry juice drank and "Dreams" by Fleetwood lip-synced Mac.
It's a humble and uplifting video, so early viewers may be forgiven if they didn't expect it to explode across all social media platforms and mainstream media. Apodaca's original clip has now been viewed 73 million times on TikTok and sparked a fractal explosion of reenactments, including Mick Fleetwood's. (Full disclosure: I did one too.)
After it took Ocean Spray a few days to formulate his answer, he announced that he had bought a cranberry red truck for Apodaca that had been skateboarding because its ride was out of order. Tom Hayes, CEO of Ocean Spray, also made his own version of the video. TikTok, which saw a huge surge in mainstream visibility thanks to the situation, took a perfect bow by creating an ad about how "it starts on TikTok".
15. (TIE) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez plays among us
In a year when it was more important than ever to attract the attention of young voters – and likely determined the outcome of the presidential race – US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez managed to achieve one of the greatest marketing masterpieces, by simply playing a video game.
It wasn't just any game, of course – it was Among Us, one of the biggest surprise hits of the year. Ocasio-Cortez, who broadcast the game live along with fellow Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar, drew a phenomenal 439,000 viewers on Twitch in a stream that collectively drew an audience of more than 5 million viewers. Thanks to their own dedicated audience and the involvement of several high profile Twitch streamers, Ocasio-Cortez set a new benchmark for how candidates can grab the attention of key voters while having a good time.
15. (TIE) Wisconsin Democrats | "A Virtual Princess Bride Reunion"
While the Ocasio-Cortez game streaming event described above is likely to have a long-term impact on how savvy politicians connect with young voters in terms of short-term effectiveness, the Virtual Princess Bride Reunion is tough to beat. The one-time event raised more than $ 4 million in donations for the Wisconsin Democratic Party and used Zoom to reunite much of the original cast of the popular film.
The event came after the Wisconsin Democrats won a reunion in the west wing. When the group reached out to British actor Cary Elwes, he was quick to agree to attend and collect expenses, including Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal and Carol Kane. The hugely successful event, which could only be watched by donors, took place at a crucial time for Democrats in Wisconsin, where Biden won by just 20,000 votes.
14. Oreo | "The Global Oreo Vault"
| Agencies: 360i and the community
When a potentially devastating asteroid hit Earth this fall, an organization rose to the challenge of protecting civilization. But it wasn't NASA or any other government agency. It was Oreo.
OK, maybe the cookie brand operated by Mondelez didn't want to protect civilization as much as their own recipe. And maybe this was less of actual contingency prep than a responsive marketing stunt. Fortunately, the world didn't need the Global Oreo Vault, and as an advertisement, the project proved extremely popular with Oreo fans and a powerful source of coverage for the brand.
Inspired by a fan tweet asking who will save the Oreos, the Global Oreo Vault – located in remote Norway, much like the Svalbard International Seed Vault, which is supposed to protect global agriculture in the event of a disaster – was created by agencies 360i and The Developed New York Community Office. The move was in response to an ongoing client assignment that Justin Parnell, senior director of Oreo, identified as a means of providing "a little relief from all of the worries and divisions in the world right now."
In Adweek's Readers & # 39; Choice: Marketing Moments of the Year tournament with brackets held on social media this month, The Global Oreo Vault won top awards thanks to strong participation from Oreo fans.
13. Mumbai Police | "The Punishment Signal"
| Agency: FCB interface
In New York, a light turns green every millisecond and the horn starts to sound. In Mumbai's crowded intersections, the color of the light doesn't matter and the honking never stops. So the city police decided to try a new tactic to get drivers to go easy on the horn. In cooperation with the agency FCB Interface, part of FCB India, the police used "The Punishing Signal".
The concept is so simple that you wonder why this is not used everywhere: if sound sensors detect too much volume when honking during a red light, the stop signal will be extended even longer. The more you honk, the longer you wait. It was just a one day experiment, but the innovative thinking made it clear why FCB was Adweek's 2020 global agency of the year.
12. (TIE) DoorDash | "#OpenForDelivery"
| Agency: The Martin Agency
When lockdowns hit American cities in the first few weeks of the surge in the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the first brands to run a crisis-specific ad was the food delivery company DoorDash. Responding to news reports highlighting restaurant closings while downplaying the availability of takeout options, DoorDash and The Martin Agency launched an ad encouraging Americans to order from their favorite restaurants in order to get them in store hold.
Such a message has obvious advantages for a company like DoorDash, but the brand's #OpenForDelivery campaign was soon adopted by thousands of other companies, including direct competitors like Uber Eats and Postmates, which DoorDash tagged in a tweet of 900 supportive responses triggered. Large restaurant chains took the opportunity to provide their competitors with healthy support notes:
Celebrities like Justin and Hailey Bieber also helped boost the #OpenForDelivery campaign, which generated around 100,000 social posts related to the hashtag.
12. (TIE) Burger King Great Britain and France | "Order from McDonald & # 39; s"
| Agency: Buzzman
While Burger King has been known for its somewhat incessant nudges at arch-rivals McDonald's in recent years, one of its most-embraced campaigns of 2020 went in an entirely different direction. Similar to the DoorDash campaign above, Burger King's activities in France and the UK showed they were ready to break rivalries to keep restaurant workers busy in yet another round of bans.
The "Order From McDonald & # 39; s" print ad created by the Buzzman agency and made up of text only showed modern copywriting at its best: chatty, humble and direct.
11. State Farm | "Kenny Mayne Predictions"
| Agencies: ESPN CreativeWorks, Translation and ArtClass
In a year when reality often seemed stranger than fiction, no marketing head fake has been more effective than State Farm's hilarious deepfake, which aired as a sponsorship message during the mega-popular sports documentary The Last Dance. State Farm, one of the few sponsors approved for the ESPN broadcast (which satisfied a massive appetite for sports content in multiple league shifts), used cutting-edge technology to show Kenny Mayne predicting the 2020 documentary scary.
While the ad was a product of the Covid-19 pandemic's production restrictions, it also showed how deepfake technology can be used in ways that are still annoying, but at least not maliciously deceiving. To learn more about how the spot came together, check out Adweek's Adnatomy episode, which details how it came about:
10. McDonald & # 39; s | The Travis Scott Meal
| Agency: Wieden + Kennedy New York
How can a simple change to a basic menu item lead to national product defects for a sprawling chain like McDonald & # 39; s? By putting Travis Scott's seal of approval on it. Building on the McDonald’s Super Bowl ad on “Famous Orders” before the game, the Wieden + Kennedy New York agency helped develop The Travis Scott Meal, an official advertising combination that included a quarter pounder with cheese, bacon, onions and lettuce. a sprite; and french fries with BBQ sauce.
Scott & # 39; s Signature Menu was the first celebrity-themed menu item since Michael Jordan's McJordan Special in 1992 and was hugely popular. McDonald & # 39; s made every effort to keep the ingredients in stock. You can bet McDonald & # 39; s and its competitors have since put a lot of thought into how to bring more celebrity-centric menu items to market.
9. Apple | "Working from home"
Can't say I ever wanted an ad sequel until I saw "Underdogs" in 2019, an Apple ad about a seedy team of underdogs racing to launch a new product. And this year my wish was granted when the team reunited – remotely, of course – in “The Whole Working From Home Thing”.
With a time of 7 minutes, the short film is a disturbing, but still very enjoyable cross-section of working life in the quarantine period. While Apple launched a number of excellent ads this year, including the touching “Creativity Goes On” from TBWA Media Arts Lab, this long-form commercial developed by the brand itself was an almost unbeatable example of digital storytelling in 2020. Some were justified Questions raised whether the spot fetishized an unhealthy work-life balance. It is clear that Apple is not so much celebrating overwork as it is just recognizing how our work and personal lives have influenced one another over the endless months of quarantine.
8. Travis Scott x Fortnite | "Astronomic"
What happens when you combine one of the hottest music stars of the year with a multiplayer gaming phenomenon? If you get it right, you get “Astronomical,” a digital event that sets a new standard in how an artist and a highly innovative brand can work together to create something truly amazing. Fortnite's "Astronomical" experience, while technically a release event for Travis Scott's new song, a collaboration with Kid Cudi called "The Scotts," goes way beyond what any musician has done to bring new content into a digital space to publish.
More than 28 million Fortnite players watched "Astronomical" at five events scheduled for different time zones. The in-game concert mixed soaring, surreal visuals with a variety of animations, in which Scott performed several hit tracks in addition to his new single. Epic Games also marked the moment with the release of Travis Scott skins and other customizable content for players to use in Fortnite. The event was repeated more than 119 million times on Scott's YouTube channel. While this may not top his 2018 video for Sicko with 740 million views, it's still an audience number that's hard to understand when it comes to a brand partnership.
7. Steak-umm's campaign against misinformation
| Agency: Allebach Communications
If you're looking for a cool voice of sanity and maturity this year, you probably won't find it in government halls or social media feeds – unless you've checked out the beef leaves. Frozen beef brand Steak-umm, which has had surprisingly in-depth, often quite meta-conversational conversations about the nature of the social connections between businesses and consumers for years, has doubled its unique content strategy this year by adding at most one persistent Fighting misinformation has been a vital time in American history.
A tweet from Steak-umm on April 6th confirmed the brand's status from respected niche marketer to nationally hip thought leader:
friendly reminder in times of uncertainty and misinformation: anecdotes are not data. (Good) data are carefully measured and information is gathered based on a number of subject-dependent factors including, but not limited to, controlled variables, meta-analysis, and randomization
– Steak-umm (@steak_umm) April 7, 2020
A follow-up thread delved deeper into the nature of critical thinking:
critical thinking beef tips, a thread
critical thinking is not a singular skill. It's a constant state of metacognition, measuring evidence and realizing when to call in experts. It analyzes the substance, motivation, credibility, and source of that tweet, rather than just reading it
– Steak-umm (@steak_umm) April 24, 2020
Behind the fascinating feed from Steak-umm is the Pennsylvania agency Allebach Communications, whose social media manager Nathan Allebach has been named this year's Adweek Creative 100. The approach has built an extremely passionate following for a relatively small CPG brand, which includes supporters of the tens of thousands who support Steak-umm in the semi-finals of Adweek's # AdOfTheYear-staple, where it's only through a very concerted effort by the far larger Oreo was overthrown.
6. Hennessy | Maurice Ashley and the Black Bear School
| Agency: Droga5
With their September campaign for Maurice Ashley, the world's first black chess grandmaster, Hennessy and the Droga5 agency managed to double the line of masterful storytelling. In the cinematic and visually explosive 2-minute commercial, Droga5 recreated Ashley's beginnings with the game, studying in Brooklyn in the 1980s as part of a highly competitive group of black gamers called The Black Bear School.
For those who are intrigued by the ad narrated by rapper Nas, the brand also made a 5-minute documentary on Ashley, and this simpler report is equally fascinating. The work continues the cognac brand "What’s Your Wild Rabbit?" Ad series and shows that the nearly ten-year-old campaign still has the potential to recharge and educate.
5th jeep | "Groundhog Day"
| Agency: Highdive
If you missed this one in 2020, I'm not entirely sure what you're doing towards the end of a lengthy, self-indulgent ad nerdery article. What can we say about this Super Bowl spot for Jeep aside from the fact that 10 months later it's just as delightful? "Groundhog Day", which took first place in the US, lured Bill Murray into repeating one of his most famous roles and starring in his first (and, he warned, last) national ad.
It also spawned the global reputation of Highdive agency, which also produced the popular Rocket Mortgage Super Bowl, which Jason Momoa found uncomfortable at home. Highdive was later named Adweek's Fastest Growing Agency of the Year and Adweek's Groundbreaking Agency of the Year 2020.
4th match | "Match Made in Hell"
| Maximum effort
It's been a year when dark humor was often the only way to dispel our fears and insecurities, but you never knew that from advertising that came from the time of the pandemic. Predominantly (and wisely) designed to reflect the gravity of the times, brand marketers generally eschewed humor in favor of sincere messages of solidarity and optimism for a better tomorrow. All is well and good, but sometimes you just have to laugh at the raging garbage fire of a year that we lived through together.
Let modern marketing joker Ryan Reynolds find the right tone to close the year. Reynolds was named to the Match Group's board of directors earlier that year, showing off his creative ad expertise for one of the company's dating services, Match, with a year-end ad titled "Match Made in Hell," in which Satan casts the Finding love for the personification of 2020 together they enjoyed many months of deserted romantic places and toilet paper shortages before seeing meteors descend to finish us off in these last days of the year. The concept may have been too bleak for many marketers to land properly, but Reynolds' content studio Maximum Effort, which also works for Reynolds-run brands Mint Mobile and Aviation Gin, makes it clear.
The spot's soundtrack, "Love Story" by Taylor Swift, even made headlines by being re-recorded by the superstar singer for commercial use only. The 2008 title saw a resurgence this year thanks to TikTok, where it was used for several popular video memes.
3. Burger King | "Moldy Whopper"
Agencies: David, Ingo and Publicis Bucharest
If you were to write the opening chapter for a textbook on the type of advertising that most advertisers would like customers to see, you'd probably spend a good portion of it talking about Moldy Whopper. The campaign, which highlighted Burger King's commitment to natural ingredients, violated almost every rule of sound marketing, namely the unspoken guideline that your signature product should not rot in fast motion, as it would in the context of a Nine Inch Nails concert from the 1990s was projected.
Three years later (as the brand waited for their supply chain to be fully committed to phasing out artificial ingredients) the campaign was developed through an unplanned partnership of three agencies, all of whom had independently developed similar ideas. The resulting work, captured with eerie beauty by Ingo from Stockholm, won almost every advertising award you can win in a year without a Cannes Lions. It won 18 gold pens at The One Show and was awarded 10 trophies by the D&AD juries, including the coveted Black Pencil.
Some might be surprised that the polarization campaign isn't # 1 on our list, while others have hoped they won't see it in Adweek's rankings at all. While Moldy Whopper certainly deserves its praise for being one of the most uninhibited campaigns by a global brand. However, looking through the lens of 2020 after Moldy Whopper's debut in February, it's hard to argue that this was the campaign that best defined the year.
2. Beats by Dre | "You love Me"
| Agencies: Translation and Prettybird
That was the year brands finally spoke out in favor of racial justice, albeit very late and two years behind Nike's campaign in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick. But while many marketers stepped forward after the excruciating aftermath of George Floyd's murder by the Minneapolis police, few kept the conversation going in their ads.
So it was doubly admirable to watch Beats by Dre launch “You Love Me,” one of the most powerful advertisements of equality and respect, in November, months after most brands tacitly shifted their newfound focus on helping black Americans. The advertisement from the translation and production company Prettybird bypasses courtesy and forces white America to face the hypocrisy with which it treats its black citizens. She loves her contributions to culture and treats them individually with contempt and even hatred.
While Covid-19 may have been the most important aspect of 2020, the struggle for real equality will have more lasting ramifications, and Beats deserves quite a bit of praise for driving and nurturing this conversation in a way that engenders the voices of the marginalized in the Foreground. Up to this point, the spot was written by Lena Waithe, directed by Melina Matsoukas, and included a score by Solange Knowles.
1. Nike | "You can't stop us"
| Agency: Wieden + Kennedy Portland
You can't describe life in 2020 without comparing it to all the years you've known before. Nothing was like before. We lived differently, worked differently, connected differently. We hurt, lost, and fought in ways we had never known, and every moment felt haunted by memories of a life from which we had been abruptly separated.
This is not an experience that an ad can capture. But Nike made an absolutely herculean attempt, and the result was one of the hardest-edited and most up-to-date ads of all time.
"They Can't Stop Us" by Wieden + Kennedy Portland uses a split-screen motif to highlight both the contrasts and shared experiences that marked a year of bans, rejections, solidarity and perseverance. More than 1,000 hours of compositing went into this feat of creative planning and editing, with US soccer star Megan Rapinoe telling.
However, the quality of the ad is not based on the star power and meticulous craftsmanship. The spot is a hymn for 2020 that shows both literally and thematically how we manage to find unity, optimism and moments of joy even when we are apart. We will need this message in 2021 and every year thereafter.