Best Ad Campaigns of 2021
It’s no secret that 2021 has been an unusual year. From a global pandemic to a supply chain shortage to the “Great Resignation,” brands had to think way outside the box to grab our attention amidst so much chaos. Fortunately, several brands not only rose to the challenge but totally smashed our expectations by developing ad campaigns that were bold, creative, unorthodox…and sometimes just flat-out weird. Here are five of my favorites:
Swedish brand Oatly has taken the rebel brand archetype to new levels in its campaigns across the globe. It’s persistent in fighting for a more sustainable world. In the meantime, it’s earning itself more and more profits and fans with its strong stance against dairy production and consumption as well as its irreverent, self-aware advertising.
Its ‘21 Superbowl commercial typifies that anti-establishment mindset with a lo-fi, off-key song — sung by its CEO. But I love how its personality also really stands out in outdoor ads and now social media, where its “unpredictable and unrelenting oat punks” share their love for an oatsome life. Oatly often references one channel in another, which it recently pulled off in its “meta” campaign that featured ads inside ads inside ads inside…you get the message.
Consistent winners at international award shows, Burger King stood out for me this year with a retro rebrand — its first in over 20 years. “Inspired by real and delicious food, the more modern look marks the first complete rebrand in over 20 years and will more authentically represent Burger King values,” the company said. Among the many appealing elements of the new identity, its icon stands out for the reward of seeing a B, K and a burger all at once, entirely true to its proposition of simple yet tasty meals.
That honest to goodness feel carries through with its illustration style by Spanish duo Cachetejack. Since the rebrand, the chain has pulled off yet more stunning collaborations, including cryptocurrency promotions with Robinhood and its Fall Collection clothing line with fashion designer Kate Eary.
A global brand that’s managed to extend its purposeful mission from toy bricks to video games and films loved by millions, Lego gave us its first global campaign in 30 years, Rebuild The World. Its play for ethical consumerism goes far beyond innocent fun. Now three years old, they continue to entertain and inspire creators everywhere with their AI-driven app, called Brickit, which scans piles of random bricks and gives them ideas for what to build.
And now it’s released “The Damp Knight’s Tale,” arriving just in time for the holidays. Filled with tributes to classic Lego pieces, we see villagers find creative ways to help the knight cross a river to meet his friend on the other side. I admire Lego’s commitment to its fanbase and the craft involved, with every scene teeming with rewards for the eagle-eyed viewer.
A smart, modern, data-driven public health campaign by an Australian condom brand, Lifestyles, has drawn admiration from award judges around the world this year. “Publicly Traded” connects STI-related search data to the price of Lifestyles’ product: its index fluctuated in real time, and consumers were enticed to sign up for promotional notifications that improved the discount if STI transmission rates rose across the country.
A strategic fit for a third party cookie-less future, Lifestyles’ partnership with creative data & CRM agency FCB/SIX created a value exchange with young adults that made sharing their first party data an attractive proposal. I’ve always been a fan of data-inspired creativity, and this campaign excels at combining technologies across search, CRM, mobile, AI and hyper-personalized social media, all wrapped in rich data visualizations and vibrant art direction.
And to finish us off, an idea that tickles me for all sorts of reasons. Even though it’s a self-promotion campaign for a competitor, it’s just one of those ideas you wish you could come up with if the brief came to you. Agency DDB FTW specializes in esports and gaming campaigns, and when it launched, it created a Linkedin profile after it “hired” Jerry Smith, the fictional father in adult animated sitcom Rick and Morty.
Very much built to announce its arrival to the industry, using the character’s career — a failing one at that — smashes the boundaries between the real world and TV. The gag didn’t end with the social network profile, as the agency also created a portfolio site for Jerry featuring his infamous “Hungry For Apples” campaign.
Alan Kittle is creative director of Summer Friday, a new Edinburgh-based strategy, creative and content boutique.