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Companies pay billions each year to advertise their products for a reason: Nobody wants to sit through promotional messages, so ads are shoehorned in with TV shows, news articles and other content that people want to see.

But when advertising is at its best, it is worth watching.

The Globe's Susan Krashinsky asked some of the top minds in Canadian advertising to choose their favourite campaigns of the year.

Rewarding viewers for sitting through an ad: "Unskippable"

Advertiser: Geico Corp.
Ad agency: The Martin Agency
Chosen by: Jon Flannery, chief creative officer, FCB Toronto

Given the choice, most people prefer to skip ads and get to the thing they were trying to watch. Rather than fighting against those habits, Geico created ads so short, they were finished before the "skip" button appeared on the online videos. Then, while the commercial actors were stuck in freeze-frame, it introduced humour to keep people from clicking that "skip" button: an adorable, misbehaving dog, for example, or a runaway vacuum cleaner. And all the action happened with the Geico logo prominently displayed.

"It's really brilliant thinking of inside of the box," Mr. Flannery said. "Everybody moans that nobody's going to pay attention to advertising, the more choices technology affords people. The answer is, we need better work. Make people not want to skip. That's the genius of it: You want to watch."

A powerful message: "Not Allowed"

Advertiser: Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America
Ad agency: Grey Toronto
Chosen by: David Kennedy, chief operating officer, Leo Burnett Toronto

A skateboard, a dog, a squirt gun: What all these items have in common is that they are banned from Kroger grocery stores because of safety concerns. This video showed people being asked to leave Kroger stores when they brought these things in; while a man with an assault rifle strapped to his back was allowed to shop in peace. The campaign organized a petition and letters to pressure Kroger, which still has not amended its open-carry rules in its stores. But this strategy has worked in the past: Its "Skip Starbucks Saturday" was part of public pressure that convinced the coffee chain to tighten its rules around open carry, and campaigns like this increase awareness about the issue in general.

"Because [at Grey] they're Canadian, it gave them a unique perspective on gun culture in the U.S.," Mr. Kennedy said. "What I loved about the campaign was seeing this juxtaposition of telling people you can't have a watergun, or your pet, in the store; but then there's someone with an assault rifle. It's crazy. I remember we all sat there looking at each other saying, 'I wish we did that.' That's the ultimate compliment in advertising."

Ditching the car ad clichés: "British Villains 'Master Plan'"

Advertiser: Jaguar Ltd.
Ad agency: Spark44
Chosen by: Maxine Thomas, partner and head of strategy, Rethink

During last year's Super Bowl, an ad aired starring Ben Kingsley, Mark Strong and Tom Hiddleston, observing that all the best movie villains are British – and promoting the luxury car maker with oodles of panache and the message, "It's good to be bad." This year, the brand unveiled a new instalment, which suggested that Mr. Hiddleston's character had done away with Mr. Kingsley's. The commercial stands out for its commitment to an unusual brand identity (villainy) and the cinematic production values of a Bond film. In fact, it was partly shot at the 007 Stage at Pinewood Studios, west of London.

"Car advertising has some of the most me-too work out there," Ms. Thomas said. "You can't tell one from the other. Here they've created something completely unique, and a story that is entirely their own. … They're creating that mystique and cachet for the brand. As an industry now, we're so often doing things that are quick and dirty, it's exhilarating to see an ad where the quality of the production reflects the quality of the product."

Advertising that pokes fun at advertising: "Newcastle presents Band of Brands"

Advertiser: Newcastle Brown Ale
Ad agency: Droga5
Chosen by: Alan Madill, founding partner and chief creative officer, Juniper Park

While owned by Heineken NV, the beer brand has cultivated the image of a small upstart through clever advertising that flouts conventions. For this year's Super Bowl, it mocked wildly expensive big-game ad prices by proposing that 20 to 30 brands pool their resources to cram their advertising into a single commercial (which was aired alongside the game in some local markets, not nationally.) "Let's team up to blow all of our marketing budgets, together," comedian Aubrey Plaza said in the video appeal for contributors. The commercial featured 37 brands.

"Super Bowl ads aren't what they used to be. The body of work lately has been formulaic and so-so at best … The execution [of the Newcastle ad] is ridiculous, chaotic and highly entertaining to watch: everything a Super Bowl ad should be," Mr. Madill said. "And because most of the press surrounding Super Bowl advertising is about the incredible cost … Newcastle's spot was covered extensively."

And in an age where marketing budgets are constricting, it's something others could learn from.

"You can deliver great creative to any budget," he said. "You have to be smarter with what you're doing."

Don't just raise awareness – solve a problem: "Life Saving Dot"

Advertiser: Talwar Bindi, a bindi producer
Ad agency: Grey Group Singapore
Chosen by: Patrick Scissons, chief creative officer, Grey Canada

Soil that is low in iodine makes the Indian population vulnerable to iodine deficiency and its attendant health problems, particularly in rural, remote areas where not everyone has access to iodized salt helps to combat it. The campaign distributed free, iodine-coated bindis which provided some of the required iodine consumption by absorbing it through the skin. It also spread the word about iodine deficiency, its risks and solutions.

"We've seen a lot of growth in social cause advertising," Mr. Scissons said. "Now, a lot of agencies are asking what we can do creatively to help, versus looking at it in the traditional sense where advertising raises awareness to drive interest and donations."

Other examples of this new approach include the " Lucky Iron Fish," a metal fish that when dropped into a pot while cooking can help to combat iron deficiencies; and "Life Paint," a glow-in-the-dark spray coating designed by Volvo to keep cyclists safe.

"Solve-ertising is going to grow," he said.

Listening to customers, and making change that matters: "Nike Flyease Story"

Advertiser: Nike Inc.
Ad agency: N/A (produced in-house)
Chosen by: Niall Kelly, creative director, John St.

In 2012, a high-schooler named Matthew Walzer posted an open letter to Nike, outlining a problem: He has cerebral palsy, and was facing the difficulty of living independently as he anticipated going to college. He wore the brand's basketball shoes, for ankle support, but lacing them by himself would be difficult.

A designer at the company, Tobie Hatfield, saw the letter and began working with the teenager to test prototypes for a more accessible shoe. The final version – which zips in the back and is easier to slip on – was added to Nike's LeBron James shoe line this summer. And it produced a video to tell the story. It was a different focus for a brand that usually ties itself to elite athletes. At a time when more brands are running feel-good campaigns emphasizing philanthropic activities, Mr. Kelly enjoyed seeing a company making a change that was relevant to its own work, as opposed to just embracing a cause.

"It's a great piece of branded content, but also product innovation," Mr. Kelly said. "It's a brand that is doing something that has always been part of their philosophy – [the company's co-founder said:] 'If you have a body, you're an athlete' – and it's just the next logical step."

Want to see more ads worth watching? See last year's picks here.