It’s been a year of difficulty and strife, but also of remarkable creativity that leaned into those tensions and tried to resolve them—or at least, to inspire a way forward.
Adweek’s 10 Best Ads of 2017 tackled plenty of challenging themes—among them, journalism and politics; race and bias; and social causes including anti-bullying and gender equality. The list also includes horror and humor (in the same spot); a celebrity endorsement; a meta defictionalization of a failed 1960s ad pitch; a sports initiative that was more a test of human potential than an advertisement; a beautiful campaign from a leading social platform; and a work of art that happened to be one of the most effective PSAs ever made.
These ads didn’t save the world. But each, in its own way, made it a better place. Congrats to all the winning marketers and agencies.
10) Halo Top “Eat the Ice Cream”
Agency: Lord Danger
Director: Mike Diva
The end of the world was on everyone’s mind in 2017. And advertisers were right there with us—in epic spots like “Last Days” from Jose Cuervo and “Christmas 2117” from Edeka. But Halo Top, the ice cream brand, beat them all with its grimly amusing, Kubrick-esque robot apocalypse spot, directed by YouTuber Mike Diva.
The scene of an elderly prisoner being force-fed ice cream by a bot overlord, as a kind of postwar olive branch, was at once horrifying and hilarious—the perfect primer for horror-movie audiences who saw it before screenings of It, among other films.
The ad wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but Halo Top CEO Justin Woolverton’s instinct to try something different paid off. And so did his choice of Diva as director, a master of crazy visuals (who told Adweek he was hopped up on Four Loko when he dreamed up the plot).
“Everyone you love is gone,” the bot tells the woman, in the year’s most unexpected laugh line. “Originally it was supposed to be ‘Everyone you love is dead,'” Diva said. “Which is way more hard-core.”
9) Nespresso “Comin’ Home”
Agency: McCann New York
Director: Grant Heslov, Untitled
Nespresso turned out the year’s best celebrity spot, getting longtime spokesman George Clooney to deliver one of his best commercial performances to date—without saying a word.
The Oscar winner flees a rain-drenched movie set to rendezvous with Andy Garcia for a cup of Nespresso in some cloudless paradise, and along the way pops up in classic Hollywood road-trip scenes, from Psycho to Seabiscuit. (Clooney helped choose the movies himself.) The visual trickery, by director Grant Heslov and Framestore, is seamless. And the storytelling is charming, from Clooney’s wordless reaction shots to the goofy but winning twist at the end.
Broadly appealing and meticulously crafted, it was one of the great delights in a stellar year for McCann New York.
8) Procter & Gamble “The Talk”
Agency: BBDO New York
Director: Malik Vitthal, The Corner Shop
P&G and BBDO delivered one of corporate America’s most evocative statements on race with this two-minute spot, in which black parents through the years are seen having “the talk” with their children about the difficulties and dangers of growing up black in the U.S.
The attention to detail is remarkable, the acting sublime, and the emotions—from fear to pride—come through crystal clear.
P&G framed the ad not as a political statement but as a reflection of real life. These are, after all, conversations black families have been having for generations. Still, the goal was to expand the talk about bias beyond the black community, and inspire a world with equal voices, equal representation and equal opportunity for success.
“Great advertising opens hearts and changes minds, but doesn’t have to stop there,” a P&G rep said of the work. “We believe great advertising can inspire real, lasting change. That’s the aspiration behind ‘The Talk.'”
7) Heinz “Pass the Heinz”
Agency: David Miami
Creative Director: Don Draper
One of the 10 best ads of 2017 was created in 1968—at least, fictionally speaking.
That year, within the world of AMC’s Mad Men, Don Draper presented a campaign for Heinz ketchup that didn’t show the product at all—just close-up images of food practically begging for ketchup. “Pass the Heinz,” said the headline. This audacious idea to sell something through its absence came a full 25 years before Jeff Goodby dreamed up “Got Milk?”
Heinz rejected Don’s ads on the show, but David Miami convinced the client to run them exactly as Draper had envisioned them—a meta exercise in defictionalization which, though the ads were 50 years old, couldn’t have felt more fresh and modern.