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

The Maze for HBO’s Westworld topped the list

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.

“Women and men the world over felt a collective hunger for ways to recognize and honor women who’d been held back, unrecognized, for far too long. And along came this beautiful campaign that so beautifully, so simply, brought deserving women out of the shadows for their moment in the sun,” said Sariah Dorbin, executive creative director at Quigley-Simpson.

Olay, “We Are Never ‘Too’ Anything
Agency: Badger & Winters

Honing in on the insight that being called “too” something—ambitious, emotional, for example—is roundly pejorative, yet common for women, Badger & Winters created a powerful campaign for Olay that encourages the importance of self-expression.

Films featuring Olympian Aly Raisman, comedian Lily Singh, sportscaster Kay Adams, model and diversity advocate Jillian Mercado, filmmaker Elyse Fox and others provided the foundation for a wide-ranging, inspiring and hugely authentic campaign.

“We’ve talked to a lot of women, across many different ages and mindsets, and the commonality we’ve heard is that women are tired of being judged,” Sara Diepenbrock, Olay senior brand manager, told Adweek. “That’s the underlying theme throughout all of the creative, whether it’s too this or too that.”

“2018 has already been referred to as the ‘Year of Me Too,’” said Misty Bell Stiers, creative director at Isobar. “But this ad—when I saw it—took the sadness and loss and overwhelming-ness of what was surrounding that movement and filled it with empowerment. It took the ‘too’ and showed that we ARE often ‘too’ but not always in a negative way. I am also THIS ‘too’ and PROUD. I am thankful to the team who made this for reminding me of that.”

Tide, “It’s a Tide Ad”
Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi

The word “clever” may be a gross understatement when referring to Saatchi & Saatchi New York’s “It’s a Tide Ad” Super Bowl campaign. Taking the salt out of the predictable themes of car ads, beer ads, deodorant ads and others, actor David Harbour masterfully steered the work for the brand and reenergized the notion of surprise and anticipation in Super Bowl advertising.

“They effectively co-opted every ad in the Super Bowl,” said Deacon Webster, chief creative officer at Walrus. “By the third quarter, any ad that came on felt like it might just be a Tide ad. People were thinking, ‘Wait, is this another one … nope, it’s real.’ It was genius.”

“It’s wildly self-aware,” Harbour told Adweek on set earlier this year. “The fact that you have this character who’s sort of this Rod Serling of The Twilight Zone of advertising, sort of coming in and being like, ‘Wow, maybe every ad is like a Tide ad,’ and then he pops up in all of these different ads to kind of reveal to you that what you think you’re watching is not actually what you’re watching.”

Ikea, The Pee Ad
Agency: Åkestam Holst

Adweek’s 2017 International Agency of the Year, Åkestam Holst, created one of the most buzzworthy print ads in recent memory. The short form is that their client Ikea encouraged women to pee on the ad. If they’re pregnant, the ad reveals invisible text offering a discounted price on a crib—and is one heck of a free pregnancy test.

The reaction was generally positive and the story behind the idea is fascinating, yet there was something undeniably … strange about the idea.

“I am a huge fan of smart direct communications—especially the weird ones, as long as they are weird for a reason. And here we can definitely say they had good reasons,” said Moa Netto, Rapp’s chief creative officer. “What I love about this is that it takes personalization to the next level, changing the message based on a very intimate experience that really connects with the emotions of every mom to be. Kudos to the crazy minds who thought about it and to the brave clients who made it happen.”

Vodafone, “Seniors For Seniors”
Agency: McCann Prague

This campaign for Vodafone in the Czech Republic helped raise awareness of a societal issue. Retirees (known as ‘pensioners’ in Europe) feel deserted and, at times, useless. Further insight from McCann Prague indicated that technology further alienates the older population. To that end, the brand not only launched a program to explain technology to seniors but hired seniors to provide the education. There were only two requirements: to be over 65 and to know nothing about modern tech.

“Rarely does a purpose-forward campaign achieve the trifecta of measurable social impact, vibrant experiential-based storytelling, and meaningful incremental revenue,” said Max Lenderman, CEO of School.

Burger King, “Whopper Detour”
Agency: FCB New York

The Burger King stunt buffet was plentiful this year. Awards and positive coverage flowed in for the likes of Whoppper Neutrality and the “Pink Tax,” further ensconcing the brand as a cultural force in addressing issues while getting a substantial number of eyeballs at the same time.

Oh, and they’re pretty good at trolling their main rival in McDonald’s. A more recent stunt, from FCB New York, sent customers scrambling for a 1-cent Whopper. But there was one small catch: People had to drive within 600 feet of a McDonald’s location. It was a successful way to promote the order ahead function of their app.

“What I really love is the clever twist of sending customers to their biggest competitor to redeem the offer, generating tons of earned media from the activation,” said Roni Sebastian, executive creative director at Red.

It was another hit with Burger King landing in the top spot on the Apple and Google app stores and was yet another arrow in the quiver it uses to nettle McDonald’s

The Times of London, “JFK Unsilenced”
Agency: Rothco

One part of history that sometimes get lost as it relates to John F. Kennedy was the speech that he was scheduled to give at the Dallas Trade Mart in 1963. His hope, before his assassination, was to address America’s role in the world and the principles he believed were right to guide the nation.

In an ambitious campaign, U.K. news outlet The Times and Irish agency Rothco released a digital recreation of the speech that he had prepared. The project used 831 speeches and interviews totaling 116,000 sound units to cull through to assemble the final audio.

“The piece didn’t just revisit history; for a brief moment, it changed the course of it. By delivering a speech that never was, listeners had a chance to wonder: What if fate hadn’t intervened? How do these words resonate today?” notes Emily Zaborniak, ECD at Red. “The work was abundantly awarded, but the true success here is being able to make 1963 as relevant as if we were living in it right now. It achieved generational crossover and made a lasting impact on its audience.”

The Cannes Lions Creative Data jury, which awarded the campaign the Grand Prix this year, appreciated the massive effort—but also raised some ethical concerns about how such technology should be used in the future.

“Just because technology can do something, should it? That was something that was a debate at times,” said Creative Data jury president Marc Maleh, global director of Havas at Cannes. “With this body of work and JFK being so loved by the world, we felt that creatively and strategically for the brand, it made sense.”

Amazon Prime Video, “Great Shows Stay With You”
Agency: Droga5 London

As Duncan Channon ECD John Kovacevich put it: “I’m sure that on paper, it was a brief that could look like a dog: Can you promote our shows and make sure you use clips?”

Yet the first campaign for Amazon Prime Videos from Droga5 London was anything but boring. Four 60-second ads became unique microcosms of life, all driven by the themes of the shows Viking, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, Outlander and Lucifer. These weren’t the usual promos, and they placed a premium on the impact shows can have on people, ergo the “Great Shows Stay With You” positioning.

“Each [ad] is full of keenly observed human moments—office annoyances, the routines of domestic life, the relationship between parent and child—that are gloriously subverted once our heroes are exposed to Amazon’s shows,” added Kovacevich. “And none of the spots were tarted up with an unnecessary VO to over-explain anything. Smart, elegant, funny, and effective.”

OkCupid, “DTF”
Agency: Wieden + Kennedy New York

Here’s one for the OOH crowd … and those who love clever creativity, too. Wieden + Kennedy New York’s delightful twisting of the sordid dating term DTF (“down to fuck”) into more enlightened turns of phrase was equal parts surprising and effective.

Under the position of “Dating deserves better,” the campaign treated the world to a range of alternatives like “Down to Farmer’s Market,” “Down to Fire Up the Kiln” and “Down to Football vs. Futból.” There were a few political phrases, but overall the campaign was inclusive and optimistic.

“It was pure joy, rebellious and hopeful, sweet and sass,” said T3 executive creative director Chris Wooster. “And while W+K won high praise for its Colin Kaepernick/Nike work, I actually thought this effort was even more transcendent, celebrating the LGBTQ community—hell, celebrating everyone who ever wanted to love whomever they chose. I’m insanely proud that there are clients left with the guts to (neon lime) green light this kind of courageous work.”

Payless, “Palessi”
Agency: DCX Growth Accelerator

The hidden camera stunt has been done time and time again. It was a staple of the ’80s when people didn’t realize they were drinking Folgers. It was part of the Pepsi Challenge. Yet, here we were, with an elaborate hidden camera stunt that came out of nowhere to tweak the nose of the influencer set—from an agency that put itself on the radar pretty quickly.

DCX Growth Accelerator took over a former Armani store and stocked it with footwear from Payless. The shop was given a chic Italian name, Palessi, and influencers were invited to give their opinions on the shoes … and asked how much they would pay for them. Shoes ranging from $20 to $40 were going for as much as $640. In some ways, it was a (fair) dig at influencer culture, yet everyone took it all in stride—and the coverage reached Burger King-like heights.

“The campaign prayed effectively on hubris in the best possible way, whereby influencers were forced to see that hype may be just that, hype,” said David Weinstock, chief creative officer at Decoded Advertising. “This is a gift of a campaign that serves a lesson to marketers. We should be looking into the authenticity of the people we plan to engage as representatives of our brands. Hype influencers trade on fans, but also fickleness, so buyer beware.”

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