The vast majority of today’s ads are not good. In fact, advertising sucks more now than it has ever sucked before, which is saying something when you think back to those floating-head abominations of the 1950s. While horrifying and maybe an offense to God, at least they were earnest. Part of the problem is that creativity is a dying concern in the industry. Viral marketing stunts and a click-bait mentality has led companies to prioritize cheap, mindless ads aimed at tricking people into looking at their product over standout campaigns that assume a given brand’s target audience is not brain-dead zombies clicking on anything with tits or a cat in it.
Nobody in the world lives deeper in this dark advertising hole of the internet than I do, but occasionally a spark of brilliance lights up this terrible place and, at least for a moment, makes this ad-critiquing gig worthwhile. Here are some examples of things that did not make me want to poke out my eyes with a Dixie knife.
Released around the same as the Super Bowl, this South African spot was better than all of the game ads combined. The music is a bit over-the-top, but the ad feels real, as does the warmth it evokes. And isn’t that what a stiff drink is about?
Ad agency: King James, Cape Town
Combantrin Worming Products
Absolutely fucking hilarious. No overproduced digital bullshit, not even a voice-over. Great product lock-up, too. Hard to believe a stodgy company like Johnson & Johnson approved this, but this is Australia. It is one of my favorite commercials of the last few years. Goddamn perfect.
Ad agency: JWT Sydney
Kit Kat, at least in the UK, has been killing it for years with its long-time agency, JWT London. Of course, when you have a mantra as clear as “Have a break,” the great ads should come fast and easy.
Gym ads have a well-earned reputation as some of the worst things on the planet, thanks to their tendency to fat-shame or spout bullshit like “non-judgment zone.” But this spot from January, shot in Calvinia, South Africa, is quite unique.
“We had very little time or money, which is always difficult, but sometimes it makes you more resourceful and single-minded," says Karmarama creative director Sam Walker (who also directed). "But when we landed in South Africa there happened to be the biggest biker rally of the year on at the same time. So we went straight from the airport down to the bike festival and started street-casting. The guy we chose in the end was just a guy running a T-shirt company. He had a really cinematic face and a confident, self-assured aura. We just asked him, 'How would you feel about riding a bike at high speed through the desert in your pants?' 'I'd love to,' he said.”
Read more about the shoot, and see some behind-the-scenes shots, at Creative Review.
Apotek Hjärtat (the Heart Pharmacy)
And here’s the best ambient ad of the year so far.
From the ad agency press note:
"To introduce a new line of hair products, the pharmacy Apotek Hjärtat decided to give the subway commuters in Stockholm a bit of a surprise: We equipped the digital screens on the platform with ultra sonic sensors—smart little devices that abled us to monitor the train’s arrival. Upon arrival, the short film clip on the screen changed from beauty pic to hair blowing in the wind. A shampoo truly bringing hair to life."
Ad agency: Åkestam Holst, Stockholm
N-TV News Channel Mobile App
Unmistakable message: Get closer to the news.
You’re in, you’re out, you’re sold. Production budget: about $100.
Ad agency: Havas Worldwide, Düsseldorf
HILTL Vegetarian Restaurant
Images via HILTL
Simply brilliant ads for a vegetarian restaurant in Zurich. For you cultureless people, the campaign references René Magritte’s 1948 painting The Treachery of Images, which features an image of a pipe above the caption "Ceci n'est pas une pipe," or "This is not a pipe."
Colorado Department of Transportation
Government ads, especially in the United States, are always terrible, largely because too many people have to sign off on them. So while on its own this PSA isn’t a great ad, the fact that it got through all the political red tape unscathed is remarkable. It really is a nice low-key (and truthful, if you’ve ever played sports high) way to get the message out without preaching. The other two spots in the campaign are a couple notches lower than this one.
Ad agency: Amélie Company of Denver
Another government ad, but this one is via Norway, a country with a sense of whimsy. It is the best recycling commercial ever made. Period. Produced by Bacon Production, which also helped create these wonderfully bizarre Dutch fashion commercials featuring Christopher Walken.
How do you make an Olympics spot when you’re not an official Olympics sponsor? BBDO of New York and Guinness posted this inspiring ad two weeks before the start of the Games, with the understanding that it would have to be pulled as soon as the festivities started. But of course, rogue postings of the video persisted throughout the Games, going up faster than they could be taken down. Brilliant move. Agency and client also produced one of the best ads of 2013, “Basketball.”
Fit’s LINK Gum
Japan, forever the home of the best cat videos, has been sitting back for a couple years now, watching other countries try their hands at trendy “CatVertising.” Last week, they emerged from the shadows to deliver the coup de grâce to everybody else’s lame-ass cat ads.
It’s the second-best gum ad I’ve ever seen. Here’s the best, from 2012, by JWT New York (warning: It’s quite disgusting).
Lastly, there are these 15 seconds of dark brilliance via New Zealand, home of the best ads and PSAs in the world. This particular spot inspired whiny cries of “ageism” and “sexism” on BK’s NZ Facebook. I have no problem with the ad because the comic tone is perfect, but you can go ahead and throw it on the pile of great ads that will never ever air in the “Land of the Free.”
Ad agency: Colenso BBDO, Auckland
See you in three months with more of the best of 2014.