17 Campaigns So Good, They Made Other Agencies Jealous in 2018

The Maze for HBO’s Westworld topped the list

Jeffrey Wright as Bernard Lowe in Westworld
Westworld star Jeffrey Wright in 360i's "The Maze" for HBO HBO

Asking an agency to pick its favorite 2018 work from its own catalog is a pretty easy task. Slightly more daunting, however, is asking one to select the best ads or campaigns other agencies created throughout the year. There are thousands to choose from and, in 2018, there was a wide range of opinion on peers’ work.

Some were traditional ads, others were campaigns and activations that moved (and sometimes made fun of) culture. There were Cannes Lion winners and creative that we may see take home a Lion or two next June.

With that in mind, we asked the highly competitive agency community to take a moment to pat each other on the back and share some of their favorites that other shops produced in 2018:

Westworld: The Maze
Agency: 360i

Perhaps surprisingly, considering all the buzz around Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad this year, this Alexa skill for HBO’s wildly popular Westworld was the runaway choice from several agency professionals when asked by Adweek to name their favorite of the year.

“This is the kind of work every creative should strive to make,” said Greg Kissler, ACD at Ogilvy. “[It’s] smart, entertaining and current.”

At its core, The Maze is a choose-your-own-adventure game that has more than 60 storylines and 400 choices for people to make, creating the greatest 2-hour audio wormhole in history (so far). Jeffrey Wright and Angela Sarafyan lend their voices and characters to the impressively massive effort that had the show’s true fans eating from their hands.

While one could see how the execution might be considered a gimmick, the sheer scope and depth of the project—created in partnership with Westworld’s production team Kilter Films—showed some of the possibilities of voice and, specifically, the platform.

“[It’s] an excellent use case for Alexa,” said Mary Callaghan, marketing manager of the Harvard Business Review. “The game seamlessly translated the ultra-high-quality one associates with HBO and Westworld. [It’s the] first high-value execution I’ve seen on the platform.”

“This isn’t just a smart idea for technology’s sake,” added Julia Neumann, ECD at TBWA\Chiat\Day. “It’s an insightful execution that connected with the inner Westworld-watching geek.”

“It was ballsy,” noted Evan Dunn, a copywriter at AKQA. “It took a meta-concept that is mainly visual and beyond complicated—The Maze itself—and created something that’s just as immersive through voice.

Nike, “Dream Crazy”
Agency: Wieden + Kennedy Portland

Likely the “ad heard around the world” in 2018, it started as a social media post and, from there, caught fire and became the launching pad for Nike’s 30th anniversary of its iconic “Just Do It” position.

But for all of the emotions that the ad and campaign from Wieden + Kennedy Portland elicited, there was one key component to its execution.

“It is an exercise in restraint in an industry that all too often chases innovation over insight,” noted Ari Weiss, DDB North America’s chief creative officer. “It created the single largest brand lead conversation of the year by speaking in a voice that Nike has been speaking in for 30-plus years.”

“It’s the most human idea of the year, maybe of the last 10 years,” added Marie Rockett, vp and group creative director at Allen & Gerritsen. “The best part was watching much of the social universe say ‘this will ruin Nike,’ then just as sneakers burned all over the internet, Nike’s stock rose over 6 percent, online sales grew over 30 percent, and engagement with the brand rose to record levels. Like all great advertising, it changed behavior, made people think, and sold more stuff. It showed us that doing the right thing can be the perfect thing for a brand.”

Bud Light Victory Fridges
Agency: Wieden + Kennedy New York, 3PM and Weber Shandwick

There was a long stretch where people started to feel sorry for the Cleveland Browns. For two seasons, the team had one win in 32 tries. Yikes. Taking the opposite approach celebrating the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl win offering free beer to the city, Bud Light created a malted and hopped salve for the denizens of Cleveland when the streak was broken.

The Cleveland Browns “Victory Fridges” were peppered around the city and, finally, after the first win this year over the New York Jets, the doors broke open. Not only did the suds pour, but Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield invoked an enthusiastic “Dilly Dilly” to underscore the moment.

“Throughout the broadcast, the announcers talked about the fridges, and when Mayfield helped the team score 21 straight points in a comeback win, all anyone was talking about was the Bud Light fridges,” said Noel Cottrell, chief creative officer at Fitzco. “The idea resonated in culture. I didn’t see the idea on an advertising blog, or sitting in an awards jury room—I was part of it. I wasn’t in a bar in Cleveland, but that night watching football on my couch (in Atlanta) it felt a lot like I was.”

“I’m not a Cleveland fan, but even I loved seeing the fans rejoicing and the fridges being unlocked when the Browns finally won,” added Dan Kelleher, Deutsch New York’s chief creative officer. “What a great, simple, big idea.”

Google Pixel 3, “Top Shot”
Agency: In-house

Ah, the poor-quality shot from your phone—with half-blinks, sudden movements and slacked jaws. Google’s in-house agency put together a winner celebrating the all-too-familiar moments, using the perfect musical accompaniment, “Let Me Try Again” by Frank Sinatra to showcase the phone’s Top Shot feature.

“It’s both musical AND charming, and it features this technology meets humanity or ‘awkward honesty’ to it that makes it so true and in turn, so funny,” said Matt Reinhard, chief creative officer of O’Keefe Reinhard & Paul.

John Lewis & Partners, Christmas Ad 2018
Agency: adam&eveDDB

John Lewis (now John Lewis & Partners) has made a habit about creating holiday ads that go above and beyond. The iconic work from adam&eveDDB, the brand’s longtime agency, is highly anticipated and is guarded with extreme care—and trying to guess the theme is a bit of a national sport in the U.K.

This year’s ad was another winner (despite some criticism) and featured the tale of Elton John’s career told in reverse. It was beautiful work that, once again, stood among the tops of the season and honed in on a critical insight that some gifts can be transformative.

“This is what great storytelling is all about,” said Gary Greenberg, vp, executive creative director at the Brownstein Group. “It’s not about the gift, but about how it changed a boy’s life.”

MGM Resorts, Universal Love
Agency: McCann

A five-time Cannes Lions winner, this impressive piece of brand activism from MGM Resorts and McCann leveraged a roster of A-list talent like Bob Dylan, Kesha and St. Vincent. Classic, traditionally heterosexual weddings songs were reimagined by flipping gender. Dylan’s take on “She’s Funny That Way” was changed to “He’s Funny That Way,” for example—and the entire collection was artfully created and part of the brand’s long-standing commitment to the LGBTQ community.

“[It was] modern, fresh and timely,” said Frank Cartagena, executive creative director at 360i. “It would have been easy to do this project pro-bono with a small budget and no-name musicians. But they went all in with a massive client and musicians.”

Aeronaut VR Experience, Billy Corgan
Agency: Isobar

Another Cannes Lions darling—winning a Grand Prix for Digital Craft—this VR experience for the Smashing Pumpkins frontman started from a simple brief: promoting the band’s reunion tour. In the hands of Isobar, however, the sky was the limit and moved into this elaborate experience to promote Corgan’s solo album. The backstory of the project is fascinating and an example of the promise of the technology.

“It was an insane use of VR—using VR as a creation tool for filmmaking, and not just as a throwaway gimmick,” said Layne Harris, vp and head of innovation technology at 360i. “Isobar continues to push the boundaries on how to use emerging tech, such as VR, in new and innovative ways.”

Stabilo Boss, “Highlight the Remarkable”
Agency: DDB Group Düsseldorf

Notching big wins at Cannes, this print campaign from DDB Group Düsseldorf for the Stabilo Boss highlighter pen caught a second wind. After the festival, social media caught on to the inspirational idea of highlighting “remarkable” women who contributed to substantial moments in history including: Katherine Johnson, a NASA mathematician responsible for bringing Apollo 11 safely back to earth, Lise Meitner, a Nobel Prize winner and the discoverer of nuclear fusion and Edith Wilson, who assumed the duties of president after her husband, Woodrow Wilson, suffered a stroke.

@zanger doug.zanger@adweek.com Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.