The Good, The Bad and the Ugly of 2018

2018 was a big and exciting year.

There was a Royal Wedding, a World Cup, and a whole host of holidays to keep up with. Plenty of opportunities for fun and exciting advertising campaigns. As the fog of the holiday season fades away and the January Blues start to sink in, sometimes you need a helping hand to get the creative juices flowing – be that by looking at some truly great campaigns or learning from others mistakes.

So, grab a cup of tea, put your headphones in, and mute your emails for 10 minutes so you can get some inspiration from the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of 2018 in relative peace. Be warned: this is definitely a bumper edition. It’s been a long year.  

The Good

There are two categories of “good” ads I want to call out in this yearly review: the funny, and the powerful.

My personal favourite of the year had us all questioning whether the ad we were watching was a Tide ad. Airing during the Superbowl, each spot was a parody of every ad under the sun. From Old Spice to Alexa, nothing was safe, and it made a mockery of every brand who had paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for a spot in the most coveted of all advertising days.

The campaign was so popular that it’s hashtag – #TideAd – is still popular today, with people continuing asking the important question: “Is this a Tide ad?”. It has fully ingrained itself in the public consciousness and for that, I must applaud them. It was also really funny.

But while we all need a laugh every now and then, our next two ads are here for a very different reason. Both Nike and Iceland made headlines this year for showing that you can use your platform as a big name brand to raise awareness for serious issues.

Nike’s 30th anniversary of the “Just Do It” motto was a landmark moment, but when they released the ad featuring ex-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the sportswear brand made some very different waves. Back in late 2016, Kaepernick was responsible for leading the NFL protests which saw players kneeling during the US National Anthem to highlight and protest against racial injustice. He later opted out of the last year of his contract with the 49-ers, and since then has not been able to find work with an NFL team.

Impressed by his actions, he became the face of the 30th-anniversary campaign which featured his black-and-white headshop, overlaid with the quote: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything”. This piece was exceptionally powerful: acknowledging that Kaepernick had lost his career to stand up for something incredibly important to not just him but thousands of people around the US and the globe.

On a similar vein, Iceland’s recently banned Christmas ad has been heralded by many as the campaign of the year. This powerfully emotional campaign highlights the devastation that farming Palm Oil is having on the environment and pledges to remove Palm Oil from their products. The ad never went on the air though, being banned by Clearcast, but Iceland still got theeir message out there with it going viral across the web. To date, the official video on YouTube has almost 6 million views and 87,000 likes.

Social and political responsibility is now, more than ever, an incredibly important factor in consumer purchasing decisions, particularly for Millennials. They’re even willing to pay more for sustainability.

Iceland and Nike serve as a masterclass in how to make a stand and come across as geniune in their attempts, unlike some others we have seen in the Good, Bad and Ugly series.

The Bad

Social responsibility is a tactic doesn’t always work, a lesson learned the hard way by MasterCard. During the World Cup, the finance brand promised that for every goal scored by their Brand Ambassadors Messi or Neymar Junior in the next two years, they would donate the equivalent of 10,000 meals to the World Food Programme. Sounds great right?

Wrong.

The issue is, Mastercard clearly has the money to fund this kind of stunt regardless of how well these footballers performed. Why did they need to make it more complicated? Couldn’t they just donate the food? On top of this, there was literally nothing anyone could do to change the outcome. This isn’t the same as when you buy a product and a company donates a percentage of sales, like Toms. No-one can make Messi score more goals.

There was such universal backlash to this campaign that Mastercard ended up dropping it, electing to donate a flat 2 million meals along with the 400,000 already pledged. The Times journalist, Henry Winter got it right: “Compassion should never be a competition”. A lesson that Mastercard apparently learned the hard way.

Starbucks learned a very different lesson when they launched their Blonde Espresso: the importance of good ad copy. We have no idea who signed-off this campaign, and I am absolutely baffled that it made it to the public eye.

Now read it again. Still stumped?

I understand the gist of this campaign, as do the many people who have written about it and made fun of it online. What cannot be denied is the fact that this copy is an absolute mess.

The Ugly

I can’t discuss the ugly of 2018 without quickly mentioning the Diet Coke “Because I Can” campaign. I’m still really mad about it.

Anyway, moving on.

There has been a trend of late that has really angered me, and that is digital agencies buying up space in newsprint to talk about how bad newsprint is as an advertising avenue. Every time I see one of these pieces, my eyes roll so much they nearly get stuck in the back of my head.

OOH, TV and print all have their place in the advertising world, much like digital has its place. They all do different things, and we would be remiss to believe that we are the only one worth investing in. PPC may not be able to tell a brand story like TV ads can, but PPC is much better at being there when the user needs them. OOH might be more expensive, but it has a much greater guarantee of viewership. Whilst it is a lot easier to prove the effectiveness of your digital campaigns, it is ignorant to think they are the best and only option.

It’s been a year of some real highs and some shocking lows in the advertising game, and with them come many lessons to learn. Don’t be afraid to stand for something, but think about the message you’re putting out there.