Ads of the Year

The year's most entertaining, intriguing, powerful and beautiful spots

Headshot of Tim Nudd

After three decades, Sir John Hegarty and Dan Wieden are still trying to one-up each other. That was immediately clear at Cannes this summer when they took the stage together to celebrate the 30th anniversaries of Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Wieden + Kennedy, founded within weeks of each other in 1982.

Wieden took the first shot, showing an amusing video in which he earns various degrees and ordainments through the Internet that give him the title Lord Rev. Dr. Dan Wieden—to equal, or perhaps even eclipse, the (actually) knighted Hegarty. Later, Sir John freely admitted to hating much of Wieden's work—because it's so good.

Playful ribbing between legendary creatives whose place in advertising history is secure? Sure. But it also revealed two men still passionately striving for more, feeding off their rivalry—and a good old-fashioned jealousy of each other's work—as their agencies vie to produce the great advertising of the new century.

In 2012, BBH and W+K did just that—creating between them five of the year's 10 best commercials, including the top two, as chosen here by Adweek. Their work is joined by an assortment of other brilliant spots covering a wide range of products, styles, ideas and executions. There are death-defying stunts and political manifestos; fairy tales and magic tricks; heroic women and utterly foolish men. There's the daring and the goofy; the inspirational and the indelible; the outsized and the obscure. All the spots reaffirm the joy in commercials that are meant to be savored, not sidestepped.

For Hegarty, it was a particularly special year—his last as BBH's global creative chief. (He sold his remaining stake in the agency to Publicis Groupe the month after Cannes.) And what a swan song it was, as "Three Little Pigs," BBH's masterpiece of craft and storytelling for The Guardian, edges out W+K's "Jogger" for Nike as our pick for the year's best ad.

Yes, Hegarty won this round. But you can bet the Lord Rev. Dr. Wieden is out there somewhere, plotting his revenge.

Carlton Draught, "Beer Chase"

Agency: Clemenger BBDO, Melbourne, Australia

Director: Steve Ayson, The Sweet Shop

Beer advertising has a long, proud history of inspired stupidity. This year, few ads in the category were as moronic—in a good way!—as this instant classic from Australia's Carlton Draught. Following literally in the footsteps of the brewer's previous faux-epic crowd pleasers like "Big Ad" (2005) and "Slo Mo" (2010), "Beer Chase" opens with four bros celebrating a heist with a cheeky pint. These blokes are so endearingly dumb that they almost fail to notice that the pub is full of police. The ad quickly and humorously cuts to a chase scene, though it takes place entirely on foot, as the guys decide not to drink and drive their getaway car. As a cheesy '80s anthem plays, the boys hoof it through city streets, down alleys and over hills, losing the cops one by one until they eventually blast their way through a roadblock—well, actually, they climb gingerly over it, as the police absurdly duck and cover. Finally, our heroes—pints still precariously in hand—leap from a bridge and land on a booze cruise, where they party on. The ad wraps with the tagline "Made from beer," a wonderfully half-witted ending to 90 seconds of pure entertaining silliness.

Full credits here.

Axe, "Susan Glenn"

Agency: BBH, New York

Director: Ringan Ledwidge, Rattling Stick

Perhaps no spot this year felt as refreshingly out of character for a brand as Axe's "Susan Glenn." For years, the meat-heady marketer has painted its customers as dweeby chick magnets who miraculously, and frankly inexplicably, attract buxom beauties. Suddenly changing course, this spot from BBH New York was a sophisticated, nostalgic ode to the proverbial girl who got away. Peter Rosch's poetic copy has a timeless quality. Ringan Ledwidge—the only director to appear twice on this list—brings it masterfully to life with surreal, stylish visions of fond yet tortured memories from high school. The dream sequences are as romantic as any advertising put to film this year, proving that getting the girl isn't half as interesting as longing for her (and perhaps undermining Axe's traditional brand promise along the way). Kiefer Sutherland's rich narration helps build the delicate atmosphere, and his appearance in the final scene doesn't swamp it. "Everybody has had that person who renders them useless," BBH's Ari Weiss told Adweek in July. This spot, likewise, is irresistible with a charm that lingers.

Full credits here.

Procter & Gamble, "Best Job"

Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore.

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu,

Anonymous Content

The feel-good commercial of this summer's London Olympics wasn't about the athletes at all. It was about their mothers. Wieden + Kennedy hired Babel director Alejandro González Iñárritu to tell the story of "Best Job," P&G's latest salute to moms, whose dedication makes the world's top athletes possible. It's easy to think of the spot as schmaltzy. Indeed, the conceit is sentimental. But watching frame by frame, you see that it's remarkably varied and skillfully interwoven, traveling from continent to continent, from homes to sporting arenas, from black to white. Yet every scene celebrates the single relationship—the ultimate one, in the end—that has helped so many young Olympians realize their dreams. Moms have a supporting role, not the starring one. This spot gave them the spotlight, returning the love they so freely give. And it was received with open arms—by mothers everywhere, by their children and by the Emmy Awards, which named "Best Job" the best spot of 2012.

Full credits here.

Chrysler, "It's Halftime in America"

Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore.

Director: David Gordon Green, Chelsea Pictures

It's a rare commercial that can stop a rowdy Super Bowl party in its tracks. Yet Chrysler managed just that in homes and bars across the country last February with this hard-boiled two-minute manifesto from Wieden + Kennedy that dared to speak for America—in the voice of Detroit. Months before Clint Eastwood addressed an empty chair, he spoke to the people, challenging them in tough times to find hope beyond despair and to see Detroit not as a black eye but as an inspiration. "This country can't be knocked out with one punch," he says gruffly. "We get right back up again. And when we do, the world's going to hear the roar of our engines." The actor's odd furniture scolding at the Republican National Convention belatedly took some of the sheen off this spot, revealing the depth of its artifice. Still, it was the one Super Bowl ad that dared to go beyond advertising and join a larger national conversation. It did so with muscle and style. In the end, it was the game's best national ad, and a worthy successor to Chrysler's Emmy-winning "Born of Fire" spot from the year before.

Full credits here.

Red Bull, "Red Bull Stratos"

Partners: Riedel Communications,

FlightLine Films

It takes a special kind of nerve to plan a stunt that could cause a human being to explode 24 miles above the Earth as millions watched live. Red Bull took that risk with Stratos, a months-long project that culminated on Oct. 14 with Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner leaping safely from the edge of space to the New Mexican desert below. In doing so, the energy drink rewrote the rules of content marketing, sponsorships and PR. With the heavens as a singular backdrop, the stunt tapped into a basic craving to test the limits of human potential. As Baumgartner made the longest and fastest free fall ever, Red Bull set its own record—with 8 million people watching live on YouTube. Though not a traditional commercial, the 90-second mission-highlights video is a stunning piece of film with several iconic images, including the leap from the capsule. "I'm coming home now," Baumgartner says before plunging into the void, landing eight minutes later, then dropping to his knees in triumph. With more than 30 million views, the montage may lack the craft of our other top 10 ads, but it powers into our list by sheer force of will—Baumgartner's and Red Bull's.

Full credits here.

Old Milwaukee, "Field Cut Off"

Director: Jake Szymanski

Production Company: Gifted Youth

The best ad of Super Bowl XLVI didn't air nationally or even regionally. It aired in one town—North Platte, Neb., the country's second-smallest TV market. Comedian Will Ferrell had popped up a few months earlier in low-budget Old Milwaukee commercials in other Midwestern towns, waxing poetic about the joys of the heartland and no-nonsense beer. Now, he was back in what would be the pinnacle of a wonderfully peculiar and at times flat-out brilliant campaign. The Super Bowl spot was grander than the others—and exquisitely stupid. As Ferrell walks through a field in blue plaid shorts while stirring music plays, someone tosses him a beer. He pops it open and begins to say "Old…" when the scene abruptly ends with a fast splice. Subversive and hilarious, the ad lampooned advertising on its biggest night. The quirky and inspired media buy cost just $1,500—four ten-thousands the price of a national Super Bowl spot—to broadcast to a city of 25,000. Yet it vastly outperformed most of the night's national ads in Twitter mentions and YouTube views. Funny, innovative and socially smart, this kind of content points to the future. Just because you can still bludgeon Super Bowl viewers into submission doesn't mean you have to.

Full credits here.

DirecTV, "Charlie Sheen"

Agency: Grey, New York

Director: Tom Kuntz, MJZ

The annoyances of cable TV may seem minor. But in fact, boring programs and poor customer service could be life threatening, setting in motion a series of unfortunate events that will send your life spiraling into the toilet, leading to misery, personal degradation and death (or at least, fake death). That was the darkly mirthful premise behind Grey's hilarious campaign this year for DirecTV. Creating compelling mass-market ads for a TV provider is harder than for cars or beer. But Grey did just that with a novel, quotable, meme-inducing structure for the voiceover narration, paired with amusingly bleak visuals from director Tom Kuntz. Particularly inspired was Charlie Sheen's cameo as "the unofficial poster child of bad decisions and life spiraling out of control," says Grey's Doug Fallon. The actor repaid the faith in him tenfold, delivering the funniest wordless performance of the year with his absurdly committed look at the end. Speaking at Cannes in June, Bill Clinton said this was his favorite ad campaign of the year. Join the club.

Full credits here.

Widerøe Airlines, "Grandpa's Magic Trick"

Agency: McCann, Oslo, Norway

Director: Marius Holst, 4½

Want to go for a ride? This sublime ad for a regional Norwegian airline will take you places. It has gorgeous scenery, fantastic acting, a tantalizingly slow build and enchanted payoff. The story begins with a farm boy imploring his grandfather to do a beloved magic trick again. Grandpa repeatedly declines until a slight rumble and breeze pick up, and his hands suddenly come together as if possessed. Turning sideways, he brings his closed palms to his lips, then appears to blow out an airplane into the sky with a whoosh. (The tiny jetliner is actually taking off over distant mountains.) Quiet, simple and beautiful, the ad recaptures the sense of wonder about flying that's been sorely missing from the industry of late. (The scene also hints more practically at the regularity of Widerøe flights to rural areas.) This far-flung gem, originally shown only in Norway, became a global Internet hit. "The local market is, of course, the most important for them," the McCann creatives say. "But the international attention is an inspirational bonus."

Full credits here.

Nike, "Jogger"

Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore.

Director: Lance Acord, Park Pictures

Leave it to Nike, which wasn't an official Olympic sponsor, to ambush this year's Games with the best spot of them all. Searching other places named London far from the Olympic Village for stories of everyday athletic struggle, Wieden + Kennedy found a great one in London, Ohio. Meet Nathan Sorrell, a 200-pound 12-year-old who would become the summer's most unlikely ad star. On an empty country road at dawn, he jogs slowly and painfully toward the gradually receding camera. "Greatness is just something we made up," says the voiceover by Tom Hardy. "Somehow we've come to believe greatness is a gift reserved for a chosen few. For prodigies. For superstars. And the rest of us can only stand by watching. You can forget that. Greatness is not some rare DNA strand. Not some precious thing. Greatness is no more unique to us than breathing. We're all capable of it. All of us." It's classic Nike—audacious and visually simple yet magnificent, with a populist message boiled down to a few short lines. Manipulative? Sure. Exploitative? Perhaps. Yet it distilled a brand's ethos like no other ad this year, in a way that got everybody talking, without spending millions on a sponsorship. Once again, Nike found greatness on its own terms—in sport and in advertising.

Full credits here.

The Guardian, "Three Little Pigs"

Agency: BBH, London

Director: Ringan Ledwidge, Rattling Stick

BBH copywriter Mark Lewis, creative director David Kolbusz, art director Matt Fitch | Photo: James Day

In another charmed creative year for BBH, the agency's greatest work was literally a fairy tale. Its brilliant two-minute spot for The Guardian reimagines the Three Little Pigs as a modern news story, beginning with the Big Bad Wolf's death in a boiling pot and a SWAT team descending on the home of the porcine suspects. All of Britain is appalled at the horrific crime. But there's more to the story. Weren't the pigs just protecting their property? How could the wolf, who had asthma, blow down two of their houses? Maybe the pigs, who were behind on their mortgage payments, framed the wolf to pick up the insurance money. The Guardian's reporters chase every twist and turn, with help from readers across social media, vividly demonstrating the paper's collaborative concept of "open journalism." Grim yet playful, mythical yet supremely modern, the spot has it all: a delightful conceit, an epic vision and deft execution from director Ringan Ledwidge. Putting The Guardian at the center of the swirl of 21st century life was a defiant rebuke to those who would question newspapers' relevance today. With a huff and a puff, BBH delivered the year's greatest mix of craft and storytelling—a rousing triumph in an industry that needed it.

Full credits here.


10. Carlton Draught, "Beer Chase"

Agency: Clemenger BBDO, Melbourne, Australia

Creative Chairman: James McGrath

Executive Creative Director: Ant Keogh

Copywriter: Richard Williams

Art Director: Anthony Phillips

Executive Producer: Sonia von Bibra

Production Company: The Sweet Shop

Director: Steve Ayson

Production Company Executive Producer: Wilf Sweetland

Production Company Producer: Cindy Kavanagh

Cinematographer: Greig Fraser

Production Designer: Robbie Freed

Offline Editor: Jack Hutchings, The Butchery

Final Grade: Edel Rafferty, Method

Online Editor: Nicholas Ponzoni, Fin Design & Effects

Sound Design, Music Arrangers: Byron Scullin, Cornel Wilczek

Music Supervision: Karl Richter, Level Two Music

Music Track: Thunder in Your Heart

Planning Director: Michael Derepas

Planner: Sam Mackisack

Managing Partner: Paul McMillan

Account Director: Nick Cohen

Account Manager: Brendan Taylor

Carlton Draught

Chief Marketing Officer: Andy Gibson

General Manager of Marketing: Andrew Meldrum

Senior Brand Manager: Alastair McCausland

Assistant Brand Managers: Kirt Daunt, Laura King

Media Agency: Mediacom

Group Director, Client Communications Planning: Shaun Briggs

Director, Client Communication Planning: Brett Elliot

Client Communication Planner: Michael Bradley

9. Axe, "Susan Glenn"

Agency: BBH New York

Chief Creative Officer: John Patroulis

Executive Creative Director: Ari Weiss

Associate Creative Director: Nate Able

Copywriter: Peter Rosch

Art Director: Nate Able

Head of Broadcast: Lisa Setten

Agency Producer: Calleen Colburn

Business Affairs Manager: Laurie Litonjua

Business Director: Armando Turco

Account Director: Mandy Dempsey

Strategy Director: John Graham

Strategy Director: Griffin Farley

Strategist: Eric Fernandez

Production Company: Rattling Stick

Director: Ringan Ledwidge

Production Company Partner/EP: Jennifer Barrons

DP: Matthew Libatique

Line Producer: Pat Frazier

VFX Company: The Mill NY

Producer: Charlotte Arnold

VFX Supervisor: Iwan Zwarts

Colorist: Fergus McCall

Lead Flame: Iwan Zwarts

Flame Assist: Albert Cook

CG product : Isaiah Palmer

Editorial: Work (NY)

Editor: Rich Orrick

Assistant Editor: Healy Snow

Editorial EP: Jane Dilworth/Erica Thompson

Music Composer: Phil Kay

Music Company: Woodwork Music

Sound Designer: Brian Emrich

Mix Company: LIME

Mixer: Rohan Young

8. Procter & Gamble, "Best Job"

Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore.

Creative directors: Danielle Flagg, Karl Lieberman

Copywriter: Kevin Jones

Art director: Ollie Watson

Senior agency producers: Erika Madison, Matt Hunnicutt

Account team: Eric Gabrielson, Jesse Johnson

Business affairs: Cindy Lewellen

Executive creative directors: Mark Fitzloff, Susan Hoffman

Head of broadcast production: Ben Grylewicz

Production company: Anonymous Content

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Executive producers: Dave Morrison, Eric Stern, Jeff Baron

Head of production: SueEllen Clair

Line producer: John Benet

Director of photography: Rodrigo Prieto

First assistant directors: Peter Kohn, Javier Soto

Production designer: Jeremy Hindle

Costume designer: Casey Storm

Associate producer: Chris Gallagher

Production supervisor: Natalie Jacobson

7. Chrysler, "It's Halftime in America"

Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore.

Creative Directors: Aaron Allen, Michael Tabtabai, Joe Staples

Copywriters: Kevin Jones, Smith Henderson, Matthew Dickman

Art Director: Jimm Lasser

Producer: Bob Wendt

Project Manager: Tamar Berk

ECDs: Mark Fitzloff, Susan Hoffman

Agency Executive Producer: Ben Grylewicz

Production Company: Chelsea Pictures

Director: David Gordon Green

Executive Producers: Allison Amon, Lisa Mehling, Patrick McGoldrick

Line Producer: Melinda Nugent

Director of Photography: Eric Treml

Editorial Company: Joint

Editor: Tommy Harden

Assistant Editor: Nicholas Davis

Post Producers: Ryan Shanholtzer, Jennifer Patterson

Post Executive Producer: Patty Brebner

VFX Company: Method Studios

VFX Executive Producer: Robert Owens

Flame Artist: Claus Hansen

VFX Producer: Colin Clarry

Titles/Graphics: Method

Music & Sound Company: Revolver Studios

Composer: Alison Ables

Producer: Collin Hegna

Mix Company: Eleven

Mixer: Jeff Payne

Producer: DJ Fox-Engstrom

6. Red Bull, "Red Bull Stratos"

Partners: Riedel Communications, FlightLine Films

See the full list of partners here.

5. Old Milwaukee, "Field Cut Off"

Ad Agency: Funny Or Die

Director: Jake Szymanski

Production Company: Gifted Youth

4. DirecTV, "Charlie Sheen"

Agency: Grey, New York

Chief Creative Officer: Tor Myhren

Executive Creative Director: Dan Kelleher

Associate Creative Directors: Doug Fallon, Steven Fogel

Agency Executive Producer: Andrew Chinich

Agency Associate Producer: Lindsay Myers

Production Company: MJZ

Director: Tom Kuntz

Director of Photography: Emmanuel Lubezki

Editorial Company: MacKenzie Cutler

Editor: Gavin Cutler

Sound Design: Sam Shaffer, MacKenzie Cutler

VFX: Method NY

Flame Artist/Lead: Martin Lazaro

Producer: Christa Cox

Nuke Artists: Ryan Leonard, David Piombino

VO: Robb Webb

3. Widerøe Airlines, "Grandpa's Magic Trick"

Agency: McCann, Oslo, Norwauy

Copywriter: Stein Simonsen

Art Director: Torstein Greni

Agency Producer: Beril Holte Rasmussen

Project Manager: Camilla von Borcke

Account Director: Janne Espevalen

Planner: Svein Saelid

Production Company: 4 1/2

Director: Marius Holst

Director of Photography: John Andreas Andersen

Producer: Magnus Castracane

Editing and Post Production Company: Storyline Studios

Music: Daughter

2. Nike, "Jogger"

Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore.

Global Creative Directors: Ryan O'Rourke, Alberto Ponte

Interactive Creative Director: Dan Hon

Copywriter: Caleb Jensen

Art Director: Aramis Israel

Senior Agency Producers: Erika Madison, Shelley Eisner

ECDs: Mark Fitzloff, Susan Hoffman

Agency Head of Production: Ben Grylewicz

Production Company: Park Pictures

Director/DP: Lance Acord

EP: Mary Ann Marino

Line Producer: David Mitchell

Production Supervisor: Jason Groves

Editorial Company: SpotWelders

Editor: Catherine Bull

Post Producers: Patrick McElroy, Carolina Wallace

Post Executive Producer: David Glean

Assistant Editor: Sophie Kornberg

VFX Company: A52

VFX Executive Producer: Jennifer Sofio Hall

VFX Producer: Scott Boyajan

2D VFX Artists: Paul Yacono, Cameron Coombs, Andy Rafael Barrios

Sound Designer: Brian Emrich

Mix Company: Lime Studios

Mixer: Loren Silber

EP: Jessica Locke

1. The Guardian, "Three Little Pigs"

Agency: BBH, London

Creative Director: David Kolbusz

Creative Team: Matt Fitch

Creative Team: Mark Lewis

Producer: Davud Karbassioun

Production Assistant: Genevieve Sheppard

Head of Strategy: Jason Gonsalves

Team Director: Ngaio Pardon

Team Manager: Alex Monger

Team Assistant: Katie Burkes

Creative Team: Carl Broadhurst

Creative Team: Peter Reid

Head of Art: Mark Reddy

Print Producer: Sally Green

Producer: Chris Harrison

Prod. Co.: Rattling Stick

Director: Ringan Ledwidge

DOP: Franz Lustig

Editor/Editing House: Richard Orrick

Post Production: The Mill – London

Sound Design: Will Cohen

Sound Design: Sam Brock

Music: Phil Kay

Music: Woodwork Music

Head of Sales and Marketing: Richard Furness

Marketing Manager: Anna Hayman

VFX: The Mill

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.