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The best ads of 2012 (picked by those in the know)

It's the most retrospective time of the year. And who better to choose the best advertising of 2012 than the people who make the ads – and are privately awash in envy when they see one they wish they'd made? We asked some of the Canadian ad industry's influential minds for their picks. Here are their thoughts on the best of the year:

"Our Food. Your Questions."

Advertiser: McDonald's Canada

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Ad agency: TribalDDB Canada

Chosen by: Judy John, chief executive officer and chief creative officer, Leo Burnett Canada; and Allen Oke, executive creative director, TBWAToronto

McDonald's Corp. has had its share of public relations difficulties, but it scored a success in a small corner of the company this year – the Canadian operations, where a digital-only campaign launched in June with the simple proposal that the company would answer any question about its food. The resulting videos caught attention beyond Canadian borders, expanded to include a TV ad, and reached a goal that is upheld across the industry – creating "content" that customers actually want to watch. Opening up that conversation was "brave," Mr. Oke said.

Ms. John chose this campaign "because I love smart ideas that solve business problems," she said. "McDonald's had a business problem: People wondered about the food. The idea gets at the heart of the problem and solves it. And this idea is big, it goes beyond a program or promotional idea. It's a platform. It's authentic, it's social, it's getting buzz. And when I saw this idea, I thought 'That's so smart; damn, I wish I'd done that.'"

"Samsung Galaxy S III – Work Trip"

Advertiser: Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.

Ad agency: 72andSunny

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Chosen by: Ed Lee, Director of social media, TribalDDB Toronto

For years, Apple Inc. has gotten away with taking shots at its competitors while declaring its own products magical. Recently, Samsung has made waves with funny, smart advertising and a campaign declaring, "The next big thing is already here," deriding Apple fans as the kind of mindless followers Apple once mocked in its iconic 1984 Super Bowl ad. But of all of the ads that make up Samsung's campaign for the release of its Galaxy S III smartphone, Mr. Lee's favourite is an unassuming 30-second spot that showcases a feature that allows for file sharing by tapping phones together. A father leaving on a business trip is given a video from his daughters to watch on the plane, and another from his wife – not for public consumption.

"As the smartphone market continues to explode, it becomes harder and harder for products to stand out from the crowd. So many products focus on the new features but fail to convey the real benefits of those features to users," Mr. Lee said. "That's why my favourite ad of the year comes from Samsung for the S III, illustrating how the 'phone bump' file transfer can make the busy business traveller's life more enjoyable; with a twist at the end that had me laughing, sharing, and considering a Samsung S III. A very charming and surprising spot that as a side benefit may save the world from exorbitant Internet charges at hotels."

Nike+ FuelBand

Advertiser: Nike Inc.

Ad agency: R/GA New York

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Chosen by: Brent Choi, chief creative officer, Cundari Group

Mr. Choi's favourite this year was not an ad, but a device that represents a new way to engage with consumers. He chose Nike's FuelBand, the basis of an entire system for users to stay active, set fitness goals, and track their athletic lives. The company created Fuel, a points system to measure physical movement of any type. The wristband tapped into applications for mobile devices, the Web and social media to allow people to brag about their progress and compare it with others. The preorder for the device sold out in minutes. The FuelBand won an armful of awards at the Cannes Lions advertising festival this summer.

"What they've done here has elevated themselves beyond adidas and Reebok. And in turn, become a core part of their consumers' lives," he said. "There's a clear and meaningful trend occurring and it's from engagement – ads – to utility, innovation. Ads are still critical. … But the new way to touch consumers uses creativity applied in new, wonderful ways."

"Sunny Sale"

Advertiser: South Korean retailer Emart

Ad agency: Cheil Worldwide, Seoul

Chosen by: Luc Du Sault, partner, vice-president and creative director, lg2

As advertisers try to take advantage of the promise of mobile devices, there is much debate over the usefulness of QR (quick response) codes, those scrambled bar codes that allow a physical ad to give an easy link to digital extras such as coupons, websites and videos. The 141-store chain, which calls itself the "Wal-Mart of Korea," got lots of attention with this innovative use of the technology. The company had noticed that sales were down sharply during lunch hours. So it built a sculpture with white blocks on a white background that turned into a 3-D version of a QR code, but only when the light hit it just right: from noon to 1 p.m., when it formed shadows allowing it to be scanned. Passersby who did so received a $12 coupon and special offers, including home delivery of their purchases. Lunchtime sales increased 25 per cent, and store memberships went up nearly 60 per cent that month compared with the previous month.

"The operation … produced great results," Mr. Du Sault said. "It's a fresh, interactive idea that gives the consumer a great reason to shop at a time of reduced visits."

"Carlton Draught – Beer Chase"

Advertiser: Fosters Group Ltd.'s Carlton United Brewers

Ad agency: Clemenger BBDO Melbourne

Chosen by: Peter Ignazi, senior vice-president and executive creative director, BBDO Toronto

The Aussie beer brand continues a tradition of tongue-in-cheek advertising. A group of robbers go to a bar to celebrate their latest haul, but do not realize until their beers are poured that they've put down their bag of ill-gotten cash in front of a group of police officers also out for a drink. A pursuit ensues – but because not one man is willing to relinquish his pint glass, no one gets behind the wheel. A car-chase-style sequence follows, with everyone on foot trying not to spill their brew as they dodge a plate glass window, catch air coming over a steep hill, and leap a drawbridge as it opens.

"I love everything about it. It hits love of the beer, good times with your mates and, of course, social responsibility," Mr. Ignazi said. "It's executed perfectly – every chase cliché is brought to life and played up for the maximum laugh. The Survivor style song is spot on, too."

"Three Little Pigs"

Advertiser: The Guardian newspaper

Ad agency: BBH, London

Chosen by: Christina Yu, creative director, Red Urban

And the newspaper industry lived happily ever after? Well, maybe not. But this award-winner used a fairy tale to illustrate a lush vision of multimedia "open journalism." It reimagined the tale as it would be discussed on multiple platforms and reported by The Guardian, from news about the wolf's murder, to a discussion on homeowners' rights, to an investigative piece on insurance fraud and a larger reaction to the housing bubble.

"The idea of 'seeing the whole picture' is not a wholly original thought, and the Three Little Pigs is arguably one of the most well-known stories in history. But somehow, the creators of this spot found a way to illustrate a familiar concept using an even more familiar story in an original and inventive way," Ms. Yu said. "It's fantastic to see that storytelling can still be this powerful. Those cheeky little pigs!"

"Grandpa's Magic Trick"

Advertiser: Wideroe Airlines

Ad agency: McCann Oslo

Chosen by: Joseph Bonnici, creative director, Bensimon Byrne

A little boy begs his grandpa to show him his favourite magic trick – again. The adorable gramps stubbornly refuses before suddenly making a big show of it: an illusion that looks like he blows through his palms and makes a plane fly through the sky. Melts the heart of anyone who has ever had a sweet grandfather/is not dead inside.

"This ad for a small Norwegian airline captures the heart in the most memorable way possible. It's an incredibly charming story with perfect casting, beautiful cinematography and a payoff you'll never forget," Mr. Bonnici said. "If I'm in Norway, I'm flying Wideroe."

Red Bull Stratos Project

Advertiser: Red Bull

Chosen by: Steve Mykolyn, chief creative officer, Taxi

For a product whose tagline is "Red Bull gives you wings," it was a marketing match made in the heavens. In October, Felix Baumgartner strapped on a parachute and plummeted 24 miles from space, shattering world records as millions of people watched, transfixed. And all under the banner of Red Bull. If "content marketing" is the holy grail for advertisers, this is one of the best demonstrations of it ever made.

"A brand associates themselves that captures the world's attention – this made the front page of pretty well every newspaper in the world, and it was fascinating watching the counter go up of people watching in that moment. It was spectacular," Mr. Mykolyn said. "They'll be known as a brand that really pushes the limits, and does things that have never been done before. Every brand would love to do that with the products and services they offer, but also to stand for that as well. I watched that, and I just went, 'Wow.'"

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