2019 has been the year that big advertisers started to realise that it's near impossible to build a decent brand on PPC alone.
After all of the talk as to how 'brilliant' and 'trackable' Facebook and Google ads are - the reality is that you are going to struggle to build an emotional connection with an audience based on the short-term satisfaction of digital advertising alone.
There is no doubt that digital plays an important part in the overall brand promotions mix, but its usefulness does not justify the blind faith that marketers have put on it up until now.
People want a story; they want emotion and characters and suspense and intrigue and all those good things that make us smile and laugh and cry and throw things at a wall. Cringeworthy pre-roll ads on Youtube just ain't gonna cut it in this department.
So now that we emphatically know that your brand needs a story - what are the ads that stood out for us in 2019?
First a few honourable mentions...
- Aviation Gin - a masterclass in direction
Yes Ryan Reynolds owns the American gin brand, but their recent 'The Gift That Doesn't Give Back' rip-off of that Peloton ad is just sublime in its art direction and timing.
- Peloton - stupid is perfect
So it's a product for the 1% promoted awkwardly by some spectacularly awkward people. But everyone is talking about it and now we're all very well-aware of what Peloton sells. I mean even Ryan Reynolds is poking fun at it. What a win!
- Nando's - on brand
South Africa is a great country to live in if you are a politician, a comedian or the marketing manager of Nando's. Every day the new headlines kinda just write your brand narrative for you. Jeez, I'd also love to be paid a handsome sum of money to run a brand in which Julius Malema is the chief copywriter for all of your TV scripts. This year Nando's seemed pretty quiet on the ad front, but ended the innings with a big six with #Mzansipoli
- Pick n Pay - it's not chicken, it's just chicken
At the time everyone had a little chuckle at Pick n Pay and their 'It's not chicken, it's inkukhu' ad. But at least the food retailer was trying something new and fooling around a bit more with their brand. It's very easy for supermarkets to just bang out the tried-and-tested ol' script every time and only hear crickets in response. They gambled, we laughed, but ultimately I think it made them braver. We eagerly anticipate more of this ballsy brand behaviour in 2020.
- Gillette - for testing new ground
Brands are historically apprehensive about having an opinion, taking a side, holding a position. Gillette stepped out of their comfort zone in 2019 with their now infamous 'We believe' ad - and walked straight into a hell storm of hate and backlash. Men hated the sentiment so much, they stopped shaving...and proudly proclaimed that a Gillette blade will never darken their 5 o' clock shadows again.
Okay - so Gillette didn't get the 'having an opinion' thing as spot-on as they had hoped, but it's a great case study in how to detonate a brand in one easy move. Thanks Gillette.
Okay - now for our Top 3 ads of 2019:
#3: New York Times - The Truth is Worth it
In the era of 'fake news' and a relentless attack on the integrity of journalists, the New York Times responded with an ad campaign entitled 'The Truth is Worth It'.
It gives an insider's look at the process the New York Times goes through to settle on a newspaper headline and for the average newsreader, really gives a clear sense of the work that it takes too authenticate a story and get to a kernel of truth.
#2 Nike - Dream Crazier
Where would a 2019 Top 3 list be without a Nike ad? And in their ongoing push to bring about awareness of gender equality in sport, Nike won big time with their 'Dream Crazier' campaign, featuring Serena Williams, Caster Semenya and the US Women's Soccer team amongst others. This ad is just an audacious display of power from one of the world's biggest brands; and if you have that much money to throw at your brand building...why not?
#1 Microsoft - We all win
Microsoft is one of the world's most innovative brands and to demonstrate how the design of a gaming controller can change the lives of physically disabled children around the world, they made an ad called 'We all win' to tell the stories of the kids who now participate as equals because of their innovation.
It's heartwarming without being overly sentimental about it and a perfect example of how companies filled with talented individuals can really make the world a better place. It's balanced, sincere, entertaining and leads the brand perfectly in its quest to showcase its design ingenuity.