The new year is coming, and for many companies that means a spanking new advertising budget as well. Before they move on to persuading consumers in the year ahead, however, here's a look back at the best in advertising from 2013.
The Globe asked some of Canada's sharpest advertising minds for their picks. Here are five campaigns that got their attention.
Advertiser: Daimler AG's Smart car
Ad agency: BBDO Germany
Chosen by: Aaron Starkman, partner and creative director at Rethink
Any commercial can show how well a product works; this one does the opposite. A tiny Smart car tries to navigate some of the tropes used in commercials for more rugged vehicles – careening up a dirt hill, driving over boulders, speeding through a creek – and fails. Miserably.
The message? Taking this little compact into the wilderness makes about as much sense as city dwellers who drive hulking sport utility vehicles.
It's not only an intelligent joke, it also revitalizes what has become a stale category: car commercials.
"It's a revolutionary approach," Mr. Starkman said. "Car ads all seem to be the same. The SUV ads are the same, sedan ads are similar, luxury ads are similar. They all have a style. This one has never been done."
Mr. Starkman also praised the ad's production values. The one scene in the spot that shows the Smart car performing well is on a posh downtown street, squeezing into a tight parking space.
"It's smart, and it really sells the car."
"Climate Name Change"
Advertiser: 350 Action
Ad agency: Barton F. Graf 9000, New York
Chosen by: Linda Carte, vice-president and associate creative director, BBDO Toronto
The nomenclature around tropical storms follows a pattern: It goes in alphabetical order starting at "A" every year so that it's easy to keep track of storms as they happen. The World Meterological Organization has committees for naming storms in every region. (In 2014, get ready for Arthur, Bertha and Cristobal in the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and North Atlantic; and for Amanda, Boris and Cristina in the Eastern North Pacific, for example.)
This year, environmental activist organization 350 Action proposed changing those names so that they would be somewhat less random. It set up a petition to the WMO to name storms after politicians who vote against certain environmental policies. The ad for the campaign envisions news reports warning that "Marco Rubio threatens everything in its path," and "John Boehner is destroying this town."
"The tone of it is really smart, and funny, but the humour doesn't undercut the seriousness of the message," Ms. Carte said.
She saw the online campaign because a number of her friends on Facebook were sharing it.
"You want that type of behaviour. You want it to be so shareable that it takes off on its own – there doesn't need to be media weight behind it," she said. "...The trick for marketers is to have that same kind of integration."
Advertiser: Paramount Pictures and Will Ferrell
Ad agency: Mr. Ferrell and his team at Funny or Die; Wieden + Kennedy for Dodge
Chosen by: Dave Chiavegato, partner at Grip Limited
You have not been able to avoid Ron Burgundy, the fictional anchorman and professional blowhard played by Will Ferrell, in the last few months. He filmed dozens of commercials for the Dodge Durango to roll out online; Ben & Jerry's named a flavour for him; he has anchored the news in North Dakota and contributed to TSN's coverage of curling in Winnipeg. If anyone was hoping for a Burgundy comeback, they got it long before the release of the sequel Mr. Ferrell has been promoting.
Mr. Chiavegato believes the Dodge campaign in particular offers a model for a new kind of co-promotion; not just slapping a movie title on a product but actually integrating a character into advertising in a way that makes the advertising itself feel like entertainment.
"This is setting a standard for cross-platform branding," he said.
Advertiser: Google India
Ad agency: Ogilvy India
Chosen by: David Leonard, president and chief operating officer, DDB Canada
Two childhood friends are separated by the partition of India and Pakistan; 66 years later a granddaughter decides to orchestrate a reunion. It all comes together – how else? – through Google.
But it is more than an ad: High production values and a deft touch with an emotional plot put the storytelling front and centre here. The spot speaks to a rising trend of advertisers appealing to our emotions.
"In an overly messaged world, where everything is soundbites and shorthand, it's the only way that you captivate people again. There's so much crass, commercial, offensive, in-your-face, shove-it-down-your-throat work out there," Mr. Leonard said. "This didn't feel commercial at all. I didn't feel like I was being advertised to."
The emotional strategy can backfire; if it is not executed well it can come across as manipulative. But when it is pulled off, it's "pure magic," he said.
"I've got goosebumps even now, talking about it. ... Having been in this business for 27 years, it takes a lot to blow me away."
Ad agency: BBH, London
Chosen by: Helen Pak, Creative Strategist at Facebook Canada and former executive vice-president and co-executive creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi Toronto
Speaking of goosebumps: Two little boys have a day of fun together throwing rocks, playing Star Wars, and goofing off at the playground. Out of breath, they chug some juice and collapse in front of the TV. When one boy falls asleep, the other carries him up to bed and tucks him in. Only then is it revealed that the one who was playmate and pal through the boy's eyes was actually his dad.
The advertising industry is often dazzled by technology, and Ms. Pak said while innovation is important, the obsession with 3D printing or shiny new tools sometimes leaves out the emotional connection.
"It's a beautiful, beautiful spot. It just goes back to beautiful storytelling," Ms. Pak said. "...As a jaded creative person, there are few times in your career when you say, 'I wish I did that.'"
Technology does play a part here, however: The spot is designed to reward multiple viewings, and that's perfectly constructed for an age of social media sharing. Viewers who know the plot twist might notice that the "boy" who turns out to be the dad is wearing a rather grown-up wristwatch; that he utters the line "Luke, I am your father"; that he gets a little winded after running on the playground.
"I've watched it probably 30 times. It's absolutely delightful," Ms. Pak said. "...In an environment where there are so many things trying to grab our attention, I love that this goes back to heartwarming storytelling."
Everyone is making their New Years resolutions – including the people responsible for the advertising you see every day.
Do you wish there were more ads like the ones on this list?
Are there things advertisers do that drive you crazy, and that you wish they'd resolve never to do in 2014?
Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org and they could be on our upcoming list of resolutions for marketing executives and ad agencies for the year ahead.