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Canada's advertising elite share their picks for the best ads of 2016

A trip to outer space, a kerfuffle over nipples, and a twist ending that will make you see a story from a whole new light: Some of the top minds in Canadian advertising told us which ads stopped them in their tracks this year.

'Evan'

Ad agency: BBDO New York

Advertiser: Sandy Hook Promise

Chosen by: Sue Kohm, Associate creative director at Grey Canada

A sweet high-school love story ends with a shooting – but this PSA is not just about shock value. The twist ending makes the story impossible to watch in the same way twice. It was the perfect message for this organization, which provides educational programs for people to recognize the signs of potential violence before it happens.

"No other ad this year left me feeling so rattled or so stunned," Ms. Kohm said. "If you take the time to really craft storytelling, it goes a long way." With social media in particular, there is so much disposable content – much of it generated by advertisers attempting to connect with people – but a quality story could go much further than all that quantity, she added.

'Are You My Grandma?'

Agency: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

Advertiser: Frito-Lay – Grandma's Cookies

Chosen by: Jonathan Careless, creative director at Cossette

Cookies just like grandma used to make – there's a sales pitch we've all heard before. These ads took that idea to its most absurd extreme, with cookies so scrumptious that they make passers-by think the person eating them is literally their grandma. And then they ask for bedtime songs, and cuddles. After so much earnest, tearjerker advertising, humour can be refreshing.

"Humour is the most difficult thing, because you either pull it off or you don't. You can't rely on emotion. You have nothing else to fall back on," Mr. Careless said. "You see so much stuff that's expected and normal, the kind of ads that are on TV one after another. These really stood out as a bit weird and strange. … They make you smile."

'#texastetas/#ManBoobs4Boobs'

Agency: David Buenos Aires

Advertiser: MACMA Argentina

Chosen by: Ryan Spelliscy, chief creative officer at J. Walter Thompson Toronto

Social-media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram restrict images of nudity, including female breasts that show the nipple. Some have objected to this standard, and this breast-cancer charity decided to get into the conversation: an instructional video on self-exams asserted that they wouldn't be able to show one on a woman, so they used a man's torso. (Facebook does allow some nudity for educational content – and also allows images of breastfeeding and mastectomy scars – so there's no way to know for sure that it would have been censored, but the larger discussion about censorship remains.) Not only did it get more attention than a dry instructional video would have – it drew in 48 million views online in its first week alone. But it also helpfully highlighted that men need to do self-checks too; an often overlooked point in the pink-saturated world of breast cancer.

"I love it when people find ways to hack the system and get their message across," Mr. Spelliscy said. "At the end of the day, it got a hell of a lot of people talking about breast exams."

'Thanks, 2016. It's been weird.'

Agency: Company's in-house creative team

Advertiser: Spotify

Chosen by: Karine Courtemanche, president at Touché! PHD

The music we listen to can tell stories about our lives; and music streaming services have a unique lens on those stories. In a recent global campaign it bid farewell to 2016 with billboards inspired by its user data. Messages included, "Dear person in LA who listened to the 'Forever Alone' playlist for 4 hours on Valentine's Day, you OK?" and "Dear 3,749 people who streamed 'It's the End of the World As We Know It' the day of the Brexit vote, hang in there." For Ms. Courtemanche, it proved that data are not just useful for practical purposes such as consumer research or online ad targeting.

"There is such a strong perception that if a campaign is based on data, it's not creative. Data can be used as much to inspire and bring about creativity, as it is used for targeting a message," Ms. Courtemanche said. "There is such a need for training. Right now, if we were to post a job for a creative data analyst, it's difficult to turn to a university and ask for that. We have a role to play as an industry to train these kinds of thinkers."

'The Contours Baby Stroller Test-Ride'

Agency: FCB Chicago

Advertiser: Kolcraft Enterprises Inc. – Contours strollersv

Chosen by: Steve Persico, group creative director at Leo Burnett Canada

You can test drive a car. You can lie on a mattress in a showroom. You can make sure your shoes fit right. But with products that you buy for your baby – whose comfort parents often place ahead of their own – it's hard to know what they'll like best. This campaign decided to change that, by building an adult-sized version of a stroller to offer test rides to parents. "This was a really smart idea, and just a delight – the footage was ridiculous," Mr. Persico said. "And it's something you could really see making a difference in sales, and in the minds of parents. … If you think about the way people market baby strollers, it doesn't seem like it would be a huge creative opportunity. It's a great reminder that there's a chance to do something brilliant in any category."

'Field Trip to Mars'

Agency: McCann New York

Advertiser: Lockheed Martin

Chosen by: Adrian Belina, partner and executive creative director at Jam3

The aerospace company wanted to promote not only its work to build a capsule to bring people to Mars, but also its philanthropic work for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs in schools. It created what looked like a normal school bus that from the inside, looked like a virtual-reality driving tour of 200 square miles of Mars. Then it took students for a ride. Framestore, the studio that handled the VR technology, had to create glass that looked like windows but could transform into screens to make it look like the red planet was outside. It also had to fine-tune the experience so that when the bus turned, it looked like it was turning on Mars; and when the bus hit a bump, the images responded. "It's definitely the most ambitious thing I've seen done in VR or on any technical project I saw an agency produce this year," Mr. Belina said.

"Everyone is interested in where VR is going to go. … Right now, it's very expensive to produce, and you're not targeting a lot of people. Once all the headsets come out – from PlayStation, the new Oculus – when they're more commonplace in people's homes, I'm curious to see how this new form of branded content evolves."

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