Adweek’s 21 Most Popular Stories of 2019

Burger King, Aviation Gin and Bud Light among year's brand stars

hand grabbing books off a shelf
Our most-read stories spanned scandals, pop culture the Super Bowl and Cannes Lions.
Illustration: Trent Joaquin; Sources: Adweek, Getty Images, Bud Light, Burger King, Aviation Gin

Here we are, at the end of a seismic year for the advertising and marketing world, from the creeping death of the chief marketer role to #MeToo and every company scrambling to find its purpose.

says adweek 2019 in review in a blue sparkly diamond

While those are important, ongoing stories, they weren’t the headlines that really grabbed the attention of our readers. Out of the millions of pageviews we racked up in 2019, Adweek’s most popular stories of the year spanned scandals and pop culture, extremely local news and the two biggest advertising events on the calendar every year: the Super Bowl and Cannes Lions.

So enjoy this retrospective of the biggest headlines of the year that was, and maybe find some lessons to carry into 2020. All hail the Popeyes Chicken Sandwich, and may Twitter be ever in your favor

21. How a 46-Person Agency Managed to Create 3 of the Year’s Biggest Super Bowl Ads

Still shots from Super Bowl LIII ads by David Miami

When a small agency is punching above its weight, as David Miami did during the Super Bowl, we all want to know what they’re doing right. Co-founders Anselmo Ramos and Gaston Bigio have since moved on to found their own independent agency, Gut—and ignited a South Florida talent war in the process.

20. Cats Movie Trailer Unites the Internet Under One Shared Message: ‘WTF Did I Just Watch?’ 

There’s nothing like singing cats with the faces of stars who should know better, like Taylor Swift and Idris Elba, to unite the internet in horror. We all sought solace together that day.

19. Ryan Reynolds Sneaks an Aviation Gin Ad Into a Movie Ad Inside a Samsung Ad 

Some of the audacity of Ryan Reynolds’ Marvel alter ego, Deadpool, must have rubbed off on the Aviation Gin marketing team, who made one of their two appearances on this list with a turducken of an ad—right before Thanksgiving.

18. 5 Super Bowl Moments That Didn’t Land Well With the Internet 

Adam Levine is shown performing at Super Bowl LIII.

Just as there was a losing team on the field, some companies missed the mark with their Big Game ads. We rounded up the increasingly expensive missteps, accompanied by some of the best social media slams.

17. Hertz Sues Accenture for Breach of Contract Over ‘Seriously Deficient’ Web Design Work 

The Hertz logo and the Accenture logo are positioned side by side.

Admit it: You felt a little glee clicking on this dunk-filled story about a user interface so awful that the developer is accused of failing to deliver even a “viable product,” despite being paid $32 million.

16. Every Super Bowl LIII Ad In Under 2 Minutes 

In case you were actually paying more attention to the action on the field than the ads, we edited down the Big Game to its real highlights. Service journalism!

15. Why Targeting Millennial Consumers Might Not Be Such a Hot Idea After All 

A woman sits hunched over, looking upset, and staring at piggy banks.

Millennials’ alleged murder spree of the classic brands and traditions beloved by previous generations might have a very simple explanation

14. Here’s Every Grand Prix Winner From the 2019 Cannes Lions 

The first hint that the McCann family of agencies was having a breakthrough year—McCann Worldgroup would go on to be named our International Agency of the Year—was its dominant performance at the 2019 Cannes Lions

13. Apple’s Ad About a Scrappy Group of Coworkers Is Honestly Better Than Most Sitcoms 

A cluster of co-workers gather around an Apple computer.

Adweek TV editor Jason Lynch recently named Parks and Recreation one of the best TV shows of the 2010s, but it’s far from the only workplace comedy that’s broken through in recent years: The Office, Superstore, even Silicon Valley technically counts. So when Apple tried to strike gold with the genre in a short produced by Smuggler, we were all curious to see the results

12. Burger King Built Ads From X-Rays of Customers Who Hurt Their Jaws Eating Whoppers 

An X-ray of a jaw injured by eating a Whopper is shown.

This is one of Burger King’s three appearances on this list, in case you needed proof that the fast-food chain is backing industry-leading creative work. David São Paulo created a print campaign featuring what the agency claims are real X-rays of real customers who really injured their jaws while eating at Burger King. Not usually a selling point, but BK doesn’t play by the rules.

11. The Inside Story of the Burger King Campaign That Changed the Brand’s Entire Outlook on Marketing 

Letters on a Burger King sign are being put up; The sign says, "Billions Served;" In the bottom a title says "The Whopper Detour

In a first-person case study, marketing wunderkind Fernando Machado pulled back the curtain on Burger King’s massively successful “Whopper Detour” campaign that, in his words, gives a glimpse into “a future where creativity is only used for (and celebrated for) responding to real, tangible business and brand goals.”

10. This Canadian Sex Toy Ad Might Be the Best-Written Billboard of 2019 

A Canadian sex toy ad is displayed on a billboard facing a popular highway.

Women still can’t get no satisfaction—when it comes to ads for female sexual health products. One notable exception was PinkCherry’s traffic-stopping billboard designed by Canadian agency The Garden on one of Toronto’s busiest highways that challenged women to “Scream your own name.”

9. Longtime WABC Weather Anchor Is Suddenly Gone 

Besides being an invaluable resource, local TV news is driven by the personalities who deliver it every morning and evening. When there’s a change at the anchor desk, it’s jarring, even more so when it happens suddenly and mysteriously, as it did with New York weatherman Bill Evans.

8. Walmart Associates Want $15 Per Hour. Instead, They’re Getting New Vests 

Walmart's new colorful vests are being promoted.

It’s been a rough year for Walmart between third-party vendors selling controversial products on its website and two shooting incidents in its stores. But it’s the corporate policies of the country’s largest retailer that got the most attention as its workers continue to fight for a $15 per hour minimum wage and additional protections from harassment. 

7. Why Volkswagen Just Moved the Beetle on the Cover of Abbey Road 

The classic VW Beetle still commands a lot of love, whether you own a car or not. Combine it with one of the most recognizable album covers of one of the best-known bands in history—the Beatles/Beetle alliteration doesn’t hurt, either—and Volkswagen and agency Nord DDB’s ad for self-parking technology proved to be a refreshing change from the usual tech-heavy spots.

6. Peloton Wife Stars as Herself in the Greatest Sequel Ever: An Aviation Gin Ad 

It’s our job to analyze advertising every day, but it seemed like everyone on the internet had opinions about Peloton’s notorious holiday ad that may or may not have tanked its stock. Aviation Gin didn’t just vent on Twitter—the Ryan Reynolds-owned brand took Peloton Wife out for a girls night to have a martini (or, likely, many martinis) about the whole thing. It’s as timely and edgy as advertising gets. 

5. Ikea Turned the Living Rooms From Simpsons, Stranger Things and Friends Into Perfect Ads 

This Ikea setup resembles the living room in Stranger Things.

Why just enjoy pop culture when you could be living in it? Ikea in the United Arab Emirates recreated three of television’s most iconic living rooms—from Stranger Things, Friends (which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2019) and The Simpsons—solely with its own furniture and decorations. 

4. The 5 Best Ads of the 2019 Super Bowl 

Game on, marketers. Our roundup of the advertising winners of Super Bowl 53 included Bud Light’s controversial corn syrup diss and The Handmaid’s Tale putting its own dystopian spin on Reagan’s “Morning in America.”

3. The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show Is Officially Canceled 

model with long blonde hair (Romee Strijd) walks the runway at the Victoria's Secret 2018 fashion show wearing strings of crystals and spiked "wings"
Getty Images

The annual lingerie show that catapulted Victoria’s Secret to iconic status has become as dated as departed CMO Ed Razek’s views on what runway models should look like. The event began in 1995, but the brand is now re-evaluating its marketing.  

2. Burger King Trolls McDonald’s Yet Again With an Entire Menu Mocking the Big Mac 

If 2019 taught the fast-food world anything, it’s that audiences love it when brands start beef—whether it’s with newcomers like the Popeyes Chicken Sandwich or icons like McDonald’s Big Mac. The Golden Arches’ EU trademark loss was Burger King’s viral gain with a menu of items with names such as Kind of Like a Big Mac But Juicier and Tastier, created by Stockholm-based agency Ingo.

1. One of the Best Holiday Ads in Years Just Kicked Off Christmas Season 

a dad and daughter sitting behind drum sets
Argos

On the day after Halloween, readers were so ready to set aside their (justified) cynicism and embrace the official start of the holiday season that a heartfelt Christmas ad became our top story of the year. U.K. catalog retailer Argos, with the help of agency The&Partnership, brought to life a father’s holiday dream of being a kid again and rocking out alongside his daughter, and we all felt that.

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