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When ads are good, they don't feel like an interruption. The best allow marketers to speak to people without arousing their animosity, they can affect purchasing decisions in subtle ways, and they make other ad people think, "I wish I'd made that."
The Globe asked some of Canada's top advertising minds for their favourite campaigns of the year. Here are their picks:
A universal story:"Ser Padres" ("Parenting")
Advertiser: Coca-Cola Argentina
Ad agency: Santo Buenos Aires
Chosen by: Aaron Starkman, partner and creative director, Rethink
A hip young couple has their first child, and we watch time lapse as dad’s record collection is defiled with some nameless goo, a love life becomes nearly impossible, and the stylishly appointed house descends into clutter and chaos. At the end, when the woman announces she is pregnant again, her husband begins to scream.
But in a beautiful performance twist, that scream turns from horror to joy. The parents embrace with a slightly panicky elation.
Not only is the insight universal, but so is the commercial itself: there is no dialogue whatsoever.
“As brands become more global, nailing this is becoming really important. Coke can air this all over the world, if they want,” said Mr. Starkman, who has three children of his own.
“The magic is the range of emotions it takes you on. It’s funny, it’s awful. An then, pow, I’m crying, thinking about my own kids,” he said. “...It’s relying on some of the old-school things we’ve kind of lost sight of in advertising: It’s not about the latest gadget or making the best use of a new medium. It’s about storytelling.”
(This one’s a bit of a cheat, since it was technically released in Dec. 2013, but since the ad ran heavily into the new year, we’ll allow it.)
Commerce and creativity find a perfect match: “Monty the Penguin”
Advertiser: John Lewis department stores
Ad agency: adam&eveDDB
Chosen by: Christina Yu, executive creative director, Red Urban
U.K. retailer John Lewis is known for its Christmas ads and this year’s didn’t disappoint. A little boy has the best imaginary friend: a playful penguin named Monty. But the boy notices Monty is glum, especially when he sees couples in love. (Adélie penguins, Monty’s species, usually mate for life.) On Christmas morning, the boy surprises his friend with the ultimate gift: a lady bird named Mabel. The boy’s mother peeks in; we see through her eyes that the boy is sitting under the tree, playing with a pair of toy penguins, absorbed in his imagined love story.
Not only is the story lovely, but it had a real impact on the business: Monty and Mabel dolls sold out, as did 10 other items in John Lewis’s penguin-themed product line.
“How amazing is it when people are looking forward to seeing your commercial? That’s a marketer’s dream come true,” Ms. Yu said. “Especially nowadays, when there’s so much skepticism. You go to focus groups, and they talk about brand positioning, they’re so savvy. ... This is a holiday ad, but it seems like such a memorable one that it will resonate throughout the year.”
The power of simplicity: “The Social Swipe”
Advertiser: Misereor – the German Catholic Bishops’ Organisation for Development Cooperation
Ad agency: Kolle Rebbe, Hamburg, Germany
Chosen by: Anthony Chelvanathan, group creative director and art director, Leo Burnett Toronto
It’s difficult to ask for donations. If people say yes, they may feel railroaded into giving. If they say no, they feel guilty. It’s a problem Mr. Chelvanathan has faced doing work for not-for-profit causes at his agency.
This campaign made the ad itself the medium for donations that were seductively small: just €2. Digitized posters were installed with a slot to swipe a credit card. As people swiped, the picture on the poster changed to show the effect of the donation. The card might appear to slice a piece of bread for a hungry family, for example.
“Actually seeing the video playing shows you what you can do. It pushes it to the next level,” Mr. Chelvanathan said.
When his agency analyzes ideas, they look for “the lazy ask.” That means the simpler the request, the more likely people are to respond to it.
“Taking a credit card and swiping is a lazy ask,” he said. “There’s nothing more to it, you don’t have to sign up, you don’t have to do anything.”
And the campaign went a step further: When poster donors received their credit card statements, they saw a thank-you for their donation and a request to make it a monthly habit.
A Canadian contender “Like a Girl”
Advertiser: Always feminine products, owned by Procter & Gamble Co.
Ad agency: Leo Burnett Toronto, Chicago and London
Chosen by: Luc Du Sault, partner, vice-president and creative director, lg2
Standing in front of a camera, people were asked to perform activities – running, fighting, throwing – “like a girl.” Older girls responded with weak body language that mocks girls’ abilities (a man and a boy did the same). Meanwhile, the youngest girls, who had not yet reached the confidence-crushing stage of puberty, responded with more gumption.
All the participants in the video were then asked to reflect on what it means to do something “like a girl” – and why that became an insult.
This campaign has attracted more than 53 million views on YouTube, and Mr. Du Sault believes it will be a strong contender for the industry’s top awards. He said he’s proud to see work like this come out of Canada. (While the ad was filmed in Los Angeles, Leo Burnett Canada CEO Judy John was the chief creative officer on the campaign, working with two of the agency’s other offices in the U.S.
“Right now, advertising is more about values. It’s about true human insight,” Mr. Du Sault said. “People are ready to hear and see things that will make them think a little more. And brands are more aware that you won’t be loved by your target audience unless you do something for them. It elevates the standard.”
Ad agency: Geometry Global, Bucharest, Romania
Chosen by: Cosmo Campbell, senior vice-president and chief creative officer, DDB Canada
Romania ranks last in Europe for blood donations, with only 1.4 per cent of people who give. TV station Antena 1 drew attention to the issue by broadcasting a report on its evening news program, Observator, for a week. During the three minutes the report ran, the red went missing from the RGB (red, green and blue) colour spectrum, rendering the program in unusual colours.
Nearly 33,000 people removed the red from their Facebook profile pictures in support of the campaign. Blood donations increased 80 per cent in just six weeks. The Romanian government also responded, quadrupling the budget for blood donations in 2015.
Even for-profit marketers could learn from the campaign, Mr. Campbell said.
“You start with a problem, and you say, ‘How much money do we need to solve it?’ ‘Who is the target audience?’ ‘What will the media be?’ It’s a deductive process that runs you down this path you’ve been down 100,000 times before,” he said. “But when something like this comes up, it’s a complete game changer. This is not based on a media spreadsheet ... it’s just a brilliant insight about how to connect to people’s lives.”