From fraughtly shouting fruit bowls to frozen fish shavings, ad makers have had to cook up new ways of catching the eyes of locked down consumers this year, here’s our pick of the best
ale & stout
Crystal clear, witty and on brand, Guinness was widely praised for its ‘Stay at Home’ poster, which proved a worldwide hit. But the reverence was initially misdirected, since this wasn’t the work of Guinness at all, but rather freelance copywriter and designer, Luke O’Reilly. Entered as part of regular Twitter creative competition @oneminutebriefs and with “not much thinking to be honest”, O’Reilly tells The Grocer, the poster was one of the most impactful drinks ads of the year. “I got some really lovely messages from people who said it lifted their spirits, which was incredible to hear,” O’Reilly says. Guinness sensibly adopted the poster and ran with it. “I was really happy they did,” O’Reilly says. “It meant the ‘stay at home’ message was being boosted some more, and in a creative way.”
With wide-eyed wonder, characters take in the huge – well, two times bigger – Wotsits before them. A bite of the new Wotsits Giants results in some frankly ecstatic reactions, playing into the innuendo-laden ‘size matters’ tagline. The launch also came with Walkers setting a new world record for the longest puff corn snack (10.66m long and weighing 250g). Probably not the most fiercely contended title, but one that scored the brand plenty of national newspaper coverage.
In this series of ads, the highly personal backstories of three British rising stars – future Team GB rower Josh Bugajski, drummer Moses Boyd and dancer Georgie Rose Connolly – are told in their own words over home footage of their journey to date. In each case it’s taken dedication and perspiration, quenched with Buxton of course, to get there. It’s a bit of a stretch to link it to the water’s own “journey up through a mile of British rock” but it’s nevertheless inspiring stuff.
butter, spreads and margarine
Heavenly choirs sound at a steaming baked potato, a bubbling stew and other butter-laden dishes in this ad for Lurpak’s new butter boxes. But it’s the opening of the box – and tagline ‘Open sesame’ – that really gets the angels singing. It even casts the chef’s face in golden rays, reminiscent of the MacGuffin briefcase in Pulp Fiction. The ad has the look and feel of the M&S ‘This is not just…’ ads, but swifter editing turns it into a more enjoyable bombardment of tasty footage.
The beans brand this year backed Magic Breakfast, a charity that provides healthy breakfasts to vulnerable schoolchildren. In this animated ad, hunger takes the form of a dark ghoul that haunts a young girl. It illustrated a hot topic this year, as the government looked to withdraw food vouchers for families that qualified for free meals during the summer holidays. While Marcus Rashford did the hard yards on the policy front, this ad brought an emotive edge to the issue.
John West’s sponsorship of swimming events across the country this year was left stuck on dry land due to Covid cancellations. But the brand’s partnership with former Olympian Rebecca Adlington still proved hugely beneficial. She is part of John West’s ‘Shipshape Crew’, which helps consumers improve their health via some “small changes”. It’s a multi-platform, multi-personality campaign, anchored by Adlington, who comes over as more working mum than elite athlete.
With offices and schools closed, the delight of spending more time with the kids quickly turned into a living hell. Dole put a humorous spin on these frustrations with its series of ads for Fruit Bowls. To get through the day, the parent characters in this documentary-style ad explain how they use the product name in place of something far, far ruder. With the parents’ highly relatable sighs and expressions, no wonder it was a viral smash. Fruit Bowl-ing great.
When the pandemic’s all over, should we just go back to normal? That’s the question posed by George the Poet in Coca-Cola’s ‘Open Like Never Before’ ad, which proved one of the most memorable of the year. The poem is a series of questions, delivered like a rousing manifesto for a better world. The overarching message: be nicer to others and happier in ourselves. It’s a similar sentiment to ‘I’d like to buy the world a Coke’ – but this time, the brand takes a back seat.
A dramatic movie-style submarine scene opens this ad, all red lights, ominous sonar pings and people calling out “200 feet”. “What the devil’s going on?” asks the worried-looking captain character as the submarine lurches alarmingly. It’s all quite serious until they open the hatch and pull out the binoculars for the punchline – a box of Weetabix on the beach. A girl has accidentally fished the sub from the sea, resulting in a fantastic shot of the huge vessel stuck on the shore. Two bemused fishermen sum up the scene: “She’s had her Weetabix,” notes one. It’s an entertaining, funny and fully-formed piece with memorable visuals to bang home the tagline, which was only revived a couple of years ago after its initial run in the 1990s. Here’s to many more ads that pick at its wealth of possibilities.
In this big-budget live action and CGI movie trailer-style ad, Babybels become superheroes tasked with ridding a dystopian near-future world of sugary snacks, where “everything was made to be appealing”. Happily, Babybels fly in to save us from the confectionery conspiracy, while ‘Join the goodness’ proves a nifty tagline for the wax-jacketed dairy pucks. Online calls for a full-length movie of this US-made ad will surely have got Bel Group execs thinking.
“How you getting on with this lockdown business?” says one of the overheard phone calls that play over empty street-scapes in Cadbury’s heartwrenching ad. It plays out like an incredibly well-crafted mini-documentary of how our lives changed earlier this year. In one conversation, the phone rings and a young man says “Hello Grandad?” – giving you just enough to realise the crisis probably prompted him to make a call he wouldn’t have otherwise. In another, an older woman recounts the kindness she’s received from neighbours. There are scenes of home haircuts, people exercising in their gardens, home baking and family games nights. The piece – which will tickle the tear ducts of even the most cynical viewer – ends with “When lockdown is over, all this doesn’t need to be over”. Powerful stuff.
It’s hard to watch Strongbow’s 2020 effort without feeling mournful for the fun summer we were denied. The packed pubs, crowded trains and japes in the park that feature seem like another age already. There’s even a plane jetting away to some holiday destination, as if the ad is trying to tick off everything we weren’t able to do this year. While pubs suffered, drinks sales boomed, thanks no doubt to ads like this prompting us to re-enact the good times in our homes.
The voice of Come Dine With Me me presenter Dave Lamb is a sound choice for any ad, but doubly so if his namesake meat is the main subject. “Sorry Kiwis” is the starting line, as Lamb celebrates “the best of British” meat in this mint sauce ad. “If it’s grass-fed and locally sourced, we’re all over it,” is a great piece of punning. The ad was part of a wider campaign in which Colman’s partnered with the NFU to ‘Back British Farming’, which included a spread in The Sun.
With an opening shot reminiscent of the Hovis ‘boy on the bike’ ad – and why not given it was voted the most iconic of all time? – Patak’s ‘Start a New Family Tradition’ series tells the brand’s origin story through a young Kirit Pathak, the company’s owner. The boy recounts how his parents started selling their special curry paste recipe on arrival in the UK from India. It’s a lively, colourful piece, but it’s young Kirit’s cross-eyed response to the smell of the curry that really seals the deal.
Self-tanning is fraught with peril. Smears, lines, orange tones and unnatural-looking outcomes are just an over-generous splodge of the product away. It’s a fact faced head-on in Dove’s self-tanning mousse ad, which opens with humorous Instagram posts of attempts gone wrong, indicating just how common bottled-sun shockers can be. Dove allows you to ‘take control of your tan’, depicting a woman easily applying the product, which results instead in a perfect, even covering.
Gym scenes weren’t an option for deodorant ads this year, given they were all closed due to Covid. Sure hit upon a nifty new approach called ‘Your World, Your Workout’, in which immediate surroundings became the fitness centre instead. A woman wakes up early to get going on her living room workout routine. Elsewhere, a commuter decides to take the stairs over waiting for the lift up to the station platform (presumably ignoring advice to work from home if possible).
Just what we need: another overly earnest, acoustic version of Stand By Me to join the million others clogging up YouTube. Played over shots of empty streets and tired nurses, the ad hits all the expected tropes of pandemic-themed commercials this year. But come the chorus, the footage switches to more upbeat scenes. Friends meeting – at a safe distance – in the street, an older lady receiving post, a Zoom cookery class. It’s a bit cloying, sure, but undeniably uplifting.
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Memes remain a much misunderstood format for major brands. Their ephemeral nature, in-jokiness and complete disregard for creative ownership (and copyright) is enough to put most corporates off. But not all. Yazoo has embraced the form on its social media channels, winning it solid awareness scores through the year. Some of the gags take a certain level of internet savviness to make sense of, but Yazoo’s core demographic have plenty of it to make the approach pay off.
Italian actor Riccardo Acerbi, who has been the frozen fish brand’s captain since 2018, is certainly dishy, but not exactly relatable: more suited to a fashion mag spread than the freezer aisle. Enter foster-mum-of-two, 24-year-old Charlotte Carter-Dunn from Gloucestershire, who became his temporary replacement this year after winning a competition in which hopefuls got to share frozen food tips and dress up as the famous seafarer. The competition itself was a marketing masterstroke, with the 500-plus wannabe captains sharing food and penny-saving tips on their own social media channels. And so was Charlotte’s appointment. As the first female captain in the brand’s half-century history, her win generated much media attention. Her face will remain on packs of fish fingers sold in Iceland while stocks last.
McCain’s multi-year ‘We Are Family’ series of ads gets a pandemic version, which celebrates the trials and tribulations of love in the time of lockdown. Ricky Tomlinson returns to give a voiceover of rhyming verse, which describes bonding moments in the mundanity, with “fall-outs over housework forgotten”. The families featured are all mixed-race, disabled or same-sex and why not? Kudos to McCain for maintaining the diversity of its casting, Twitter trolls be damned.
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“I’ve going to brave it and colour my own hair,” states Stacey Dooley at the start of her ad for Nice’n Easy, with whom she signed a two-year deal this year. The big reveal soon follows with Dooley emerging from the bathroom, looking faultless (and surely not achieved without a team of professional stylists). Dooley is relatable enough, and the fact a recent fringe cut was worthy of coverage in all the major celeb gossip sites suggests she was a savvy choice of ambassador for the brand.
*COMPETITION NOW CLOSED*To celebrate Peter Rabbit hopping back onto the big screen this Spring, we’re giving away a…Posted by Homepride Flour on Friday, 6 March 2020
Homepride had a treasure chest bursting with Peter Rabbit 2 related merchandise and competitions, lined up for the sequel’s cinema release date in spring. But along came Covid, meaning the movie’s premiere has now been pushed into next year. All was not lost for Homepride, however, which leant on its slew of celebrity and influencer chef partnerships – several former GBBO’ers among them – to ensure it was thought of by consumers during the home-baking boom.
Ben & Jerry’s
A popular personality calling your product “over-priced junk food” would spell disaster for many brands. But when the quote comes from home secretary Priti Patel – actually, a ‘department source’ – the effect can be quite the opposite. After criticising Patel on Twitter for her migrant boat-blocking policy push, Ben & Jerry’s UK saw push back from several Tories. The politicians came off as vindictive while a light was shone on the ice cream brand’s long-running support for refugees.
It’s not entirely clear what’s happened to prompt Dad into making his grown-up daughter a coffee, but “some moments call for Nescafé Gold blend”. Whatever, she’s certainly grateful for the cup he hands her. He then, unprompted, passes on the wise words: “My advice? Drink your coffee while it’s still hot.” At least it sounds wise. Again, it’s not clear what he means exactly, or why he’s saying it. Perhaps he’s being literal. No matter; it’s stuck in our minds ever since first shown.
juices & smoothies
Innocent launched a new smoothie this year. A blue one. Or possibly green. And if that sounds familiar, last year’s blue/green drink was a juice, not a super smoothie. Confused? So is Duncan “Duncan from Blue? Remember Blue?” James, who is here to promote Innocent again. Struggling through multiple takes, he’s eventually replaced by former bandmate Lee Ryan, who nails his lines first time. James’ comic timing and self-deprecation is to be commended and results in a genuinely funny ad. Confusion seems to be a sense Innocent is comfortable to sow among its fans. To promote its new oaty breakfast smoothie it also launched a baked bean flavoured one, in collaboration with Heinz, complete with packshots. Chins wagged as people tried to figure out if it was real. It wasn’t.
Last year, Carlsberg’s so-called ‘brand philosopher’ Mads Mikkelsen admitted the brand “pursued being the biggest, not the best, and the beer suffered”. Now reformulated, how has the new recipe gone down with the public? In a series of ads this year, Mikkelsen and Carlsberg employees are presented with tweets from drinkers which at first glance – thanks to all the asterisks – appear extremely negative. Cue funny moments where the exact choice of rude words is guessed at. But wait: ‘A******* c****’ is revealed to be ‘Actually class’. A great take on the mean tweet micro-genre.
A Mikkelsen-less ad celebrating the reopening of pubs in July saw ad awareness soar, particularly among those who ‘drink lager in a pub at least once a month’ – and presumably missed the occasion most – according to YouGov data.
No need to get too clever when trying to shift sausages in a lockdown. Perhaps nothing will prompt people to buy a pack quicker than seeing a delicious looking one sizzling in the pan or floating in puffy toad-in-the hole batter. That’s the main thrust of Richmond’s ad, but it packs plenty of additional information along with the food porn. Via the narrator’s rhyming lines, viewers learn there are chicken, pork and meat-free options, they’re the nation’s favourite and they taste great.
The meat-free movement has entered the mainstream in recent years, and Quorn has been a key driver of the trend, striking up collaborations with high street chains in launching vegan products. The brand’s ad this year is hardly adventurous, but maybe that’s the point. A mum explains her family cares about climate change, so she’s swapping her spag bol mince for a Quorn alternative. Making the switch is everyday and easy, rather than an all-encompassing ideological stand.
A woman walks along the street and eats a Fridge Raider. So far, so whatever. But with every step, things get more and more surreal. First she shakes off her casual clothes to reveal a pink power suit. Next she’s playing power ballads on a keytar. Power walking on a treadmill. On a power boat. ‘Powered by protein’ goes the tagline for this memorable absurdist ad, suitably narrated by comedian Matt Berry, which positions the product as both a confidence and energy booster.
Manchester City striker Raheem Sterling gives sound advice to young men in this rousing ad from Gillette. Football is the focus, but his wise words – “If someone asks you what you’re made of, don’t just tell them, show them” – have broader relevance. Scenes of boys showing kindness and resolve as well as their skills bring home the message. It’s essentially an updated version of Rudyard Kipling’s If– poem, reimagined and retold by a star footballer. It shoots. And it scores.
It’s brave of a brand to even acknowledge International Men’s Day, let alone base a campaign around it. While the day has worthy origins, it has often attracted criticism, given the struggles women continue to face around the world. Few could argue with the intention or effectiveness of Nivea’s effort to mark the event, however. It plays out like a man-to-man conversation, set in an empty chicken shop, with spoken word artist Alika Agidi-Jeffs telling the viewer, in rhyming verse, it’s OK to be afraid, cry, and reach out for help. “You’re not alone, it’s important you know,” he says. Agidi-Jeffs is a great choice of star, not just because of his evident poetry talent, but his frankness about his own mental health issues. The ad closes with a stat on male loneliness, which really brings the point home.
Shot of a bathroom. Person brushes teeth or swigs mouthwash to reveal glistening bright whites. It’s a trope so overused, all brand efforts merge into one another. How to stand out? With a life-size CGI Scottish donkey of course! That’s the approach Listerine takes in its latest ads, and it actually works, securing the brand solid ad awareness scores. The pushy equine explains brushing is only partly effective, prompting the baffled male character to ‘complete the clean’ with mouthwash.
In the wake of the protests triggered by George Floyd’s death, Mars was one of several companies that pledged to review its brands. A few months later it was announced Uncle Ben’s Rice would change its name to Ben’s Original, and remove the image of the character from all its packaging, prompting global coverage. Its statement was straightforward and sound: “We’ve listened. We’ve learned. We’re changing.” A shame the same wasn’t said by other institutions.
Smirnoff Seltzers have landed. Made with the world’s no.1 vodka, sparkling water and natural fruit flavour.— Smirnoff (@SmirnoffEurope) August 14, 2020
Orange and Grapefruit or Raspberry and Rhubarb. Which one are you trying first? pic.twitter.com/L5zbxRdgI7
Smirnoff is no stranger to the RTD game, having characterised the late ‘90s with Smirnoff Ice. But this year alcopops grew up, taking the form of hard seltzers or ‘spiked’ sparkling waters. To introduce its new range, Smirnoff drew on spy novel themes – a continuation of its Infamous Since 1864 campaign. To a James Bond-esque soundtrack, two uber-chic characters wait in the desert as a light plane parachutes down a mystery package – full of refreshing Smirnoff Seltzer.
Using luchadores as the basis for a Mexican-themed product is not all that imaginative, but it has paid dividends for Mini Cheddars. Three new flavours were personified by three different wrestlers, each given their own nicknames, special moves including The Jalap-knee-No and The Lime Slam, and catchphrases like “Bring the zing!” and “Easy cheesy”. The luchadores were featured on billboards and online, where brand followers were encouraged to back their favourite.
After a five-year hiatus, the pasty-maker returned to TV this year with a prime-time spot that made the most of its Cornish credentials. A folky song about “the Cornish way” plays over rustic scenes of farmers picking potatoes, surfers in the cold sea and the county’s rugged landscape. Ginsters bakery features too, in case any ambiguity remains about the product’s provenance. A group of friends enjoys a pasty on the beach as the tagline runs: ‘From the home of great pasties.’
Head & Shoulders
Claudia Winkleman is an eminently likeable TV personality and this series of ads lets her easy charm shine, just like her beautiful barnet. “Do you have a dry scalp? I’m not flirting, it’s a genuine question,” she jokes. It’s just Winkleman surrounded by a lot of microphones as she does some tongue-in-cheek ASMR (that’s autonomous sensory meridian response) recordings – quiet ooohs, glooping shampoo and whispered descriptions of the product. “Everyone soothed?” she asks.
The gin brand returned to its talking cocktail glass format this year to introduce its new Sicilian Lemon flavour. There’s not much going on visually – just shots of two glasses – but the voice-overs give each bags of personality. One glass – filled with the new flavour – speaks in Italian, while the clear, traditional gin-filled glass acts as interpreter. “Di ottima qualità” says one, translated to “and erm… top notch”. It’s simple but offers a barrel load of fizz and fun. Bravo.
sports & energy drinks
Many sporting events were cancelled this year, or took place behind closed doors. That will have certainly clipped Red Bull’s marketing wings, but the brand nevertheless scored highly in consumer awareness. It’s testament to the sheer scale of its sports and athlete sponsorship strategy, which encompasses everything from traditional games like rugby – a new partnership with Rugby England was announced in February – to the more obscure canoe slalom and kite-surfing.
Marmite’s mind control campaign started last year – the concept being that haters of the spread can be hypnotised into lovers through ‘subliminal’ psychological tricks. Across TV and radio this year, the spread took the idea to new levels – by sandwiching pro-Marmite messaging in the middle of ads from other, genuine brands. Adverts for AA, Virgin, Foster’s, Seat and Surf were momentarily interrupted with less-than-a-second Marmite visuals and propaganda phrases like “love it”, “don’t hate” and “yum yum”. The result had viewers wondering whether they were imagining things and rewinding the ads. Quite how Marmite managed to convince the other companies to play along with its ruse is not clear, but it was surely a challenge. And the resulting ad hack was well worth the effort.
squashes & cordials
They’re not ads or podcasts. What are they? In episode one of Wander, Richard E Grant reads from Alice in Wonderland to a slideshow of the V&A collection. In another, actress Natascha McElhone reads Hermann Hesse on a virtual tour of Kew Gardens. Quentin Blake reads Jane Austen at Stonehenge. Conceived by artist Beau Kerouac, and backed by Ribena, the five-minute shorts provide a few moments of meditative escapism. It’s all slightly bonkers, but it works.
Haribo has been dubbing kids’ voices onto grown-up actors in adult situations since 2014. But this year it hit the peak of the art form. Two children voice a conversation about Starmix, which is acted out by two grown-up policemen characters – played by two British comedy favourites Victor McGuire and Mark Davison, no less – sitting bored in their car. It’s a format that can’t fail to be funny really, but this year’s ad is particularly hilarious. In what must have been a dream come true for the confectionery brand (which behind the scenes was locked in a stand-off with Tesco resulting in its sweets disappearing from shelves), the ad was recreated by two social-media-savvy real policeman in what became a viral hit – although, annoyingly for Haribo, they used M&S’s Percy Pigs as props instead of its sweet treats.
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The concept of promotional activity around McVitie’s new VIBs – a trio of extra-layered chocolate digestives or ‘Very Important Biscuits’ – was based on their indescribable nature. Pladis put out a call on social media, prompting customers to give them a go and relate what they taste like –responses to which were later used on posters and TV. The push generated some fun descriptions like “the bougie biscuit to whip out when the mother-in-law unexpectedly pops by”.
“Ok, it’s not the summer we expected,” says the voiceover. Too right. It’s the summer few could have imagined. But that was no reason not to enjoy it – the weather was pretty good, after all. Heinz ticks off several British barbecue scenes – squeezing into tight swim shorts, grilling under an umbrella, balancing a paper plate between the knees – in this cheery ad. The copywriting is solid – “Let’s squeeze the most out of summer” with a squeeze of the sauce bottle.
So it’s been a rough weekend.— Yorkshire Tea (@YorkshireTea) February 24, 2020
On Friday, the Chancellor shared a photo of our tea. Politicians do that sometimes (Jeremy Corbyn did it in 2017). We weren’t asked or involved - and we said so the same day. Lots of people got angry with us all the same. pic.twitter.com/7uVmKDf7Jd
While Ben & Jerry’s was proactive in griping about the government, Yorkshire Tea found itself unwittingly involved in a politics spat after Chancellor Rishi Sunak posted a picture enjoying the brew prepping for the February Budget. Calls for a boycott followed. Yorkshire Tea – through its social media manager – called for civility, telling people “there’s a human on the other end of it”. Later, the brand went on to urge white supremacists: “Please don’t buy our tea again.” Impressive.
Having a clean bum is not just a basic premise of hygiene but a confidence boosting, liberating exercise in self-actualisation. More than that, “clean is a feeling” – at least according to Andrex’s 2020 ad, which shares several such statements over a parade of posteriors hitting goals. Ever forced to dance around a topic no one wants on their telly at teatime, the brand has nevertheless managed to come up with a chirpy ad, which, fear not, still features its famous cute puppy.
Is it a new Apple watch? Samsung’s sexy flip phone? No, it’s a toothbrush. But not just any toothbrush: the all-singing, all-dancing Oral-B iO. The brand is clearly channelling the slick launch events of the technology giants in this ad, while all but ignoring its teeth health benefits. The clean edges of the device are picked out on a black background as a bass-heavy, modern soundtrack booms. All signifiers that this electric brush is a swish and state-of-the-art bit of kit.
Yakutia, eastern Siberia. The coldest inhabited city on earth. A place so cold – it can get as low as –70°C – birds can freeze to death mid-flight. Sensodyne decided to visit on the strength of the fact cold air can sometimes trigger sensitive teeth. The result is an enlightening mini-documentary of life at the extremes, which only gets on to the inhabitants’ teeth trouble right at the end. It’s affectionately made, and features some real characters: “It’s warm today. Only –40°C,” says one.
Concha y Toro
The activities portrayed in this ad for Casillero del Diablo sister brand Trivento are aspirational but achievable – braving a camping trip, reaching the top of a climbing wall, getting a degree, going for a jog. And those shown doing them don’t appear particularly exceptional either. Which is the point. The “bold discoveries” that the ad encourages can be “bold of body, or bold of mind” and big or small. As small a leap, the brand hopes, as trying something new in the wine aisle.
Scheduled to air at the same time as the 2020 Summer Olympics – cancelled due to Covid – Müller’s Ancient Greek Games-themed ad doesn’t suffer too much from the vanished context. While Müller ambassador British heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson’s potential gold medal-winning appearance in Tokyo would have undoubtedly given the brand a boost, she still commands the public’s affection. She’s also at the peak of her powers – becoming a world champion and setting a British record since the last set of ads to feature her were shown last year. As a toga’ed KJT enjoys a spoonful of new Müllerlight Greek Style, a series of silly and not altogether funny pratfalls (something Müller has inexplicably long been unable to resist) occurs behind her, resulting in the emperor in his underpants.
Top Campaigns: the 50 best brand adverts of 2020
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Top Campaigns: the 50 best brand adverts of 2020