There was no dearth of marketers pushing the envelope to create some brilliant ads in 2018. But not all brands – or rather ads – are created equal.
Several of the ads that stood out this year involved brands like Nike and McDonald’s taking a stand on a political or social issues. Beyond TV commercials, this year’s most memorable ads also took the form of outdoor and experiential stunts.
As 2018 comes to a close, we look back at some of the most creative, thought-provoking, and amusing ads by marketers, ranked from good to best. Check out the year’s worst ads here.
Doritos Blaze vs. Mountain Dew Ice “Battle” (Grade: B)
Pepsi came back strong from its disastrous protest ads in 2017 with this ad for Mountain Dew and Doritos that made its debut in the Super Bowl. Peter Dinklage and Busta Rhymes teamed up against Morgan Freeman and Missy Elliot in this epic showdown between Doritos Blaze and Mountain Dew Ice.
OKCupid’s “DTF” (Grade: B)
- Wieden + Kennedy
OKCupid and Wieden+Kennedy New York reclaimed the term “DTF” – a derogatory shorthand used to slut-shame women – for this outdoor campaign, getting people across the country to unabashedly say that they were “DTF.” Despite being rejected by Chicago Transit, the campaign won praise and helped grow the dating site’s user base by 25%.
McDonald’s “The Flip” (Grade: B)
McDonald’s flipped its Golden Arches from an M to a W at one of its locations to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8. The fast-food chain and its agency We Are Unlimited also rolled out special “W” packaging at 100 women-owned McDonald’s locations that day across the country, and changed the logo on its social channels. Some praised the move while others charged that McDonald’s was co-opting feminism without making real change, like paying its workers a living wage.
John Lewis’ “#EltonJohnLewis” (Grade: B+)
- John Lewis & Partners
This biography-style ad by adam&eveDDB tugged at the heartstrings. Featuring Elton John singing “Your Song,” the ad traces his pop stardom back to a Christmas present he received as a child.
Libresse’s “Viva La Vulva” (Grade: A-)
Last year, Sweden’s Libresse challenged a decades-old convention around marketing feminine hygiene products with its #BloodNormal campaign. This year, the brand launched an unabashed celebration of the female anatomy, specifically the vulva, to the tune of Camille Yarbrough’s “Take Yo’ Praise.”
Burger King’s “Whopper Detour” (Grade: A-)
To promote its app, Burger King did the unthinkable, directing customers to its biggest competitor. The campaign by FCB New York invited fans to unlock a 1-cent Whopper coupon on the app – but only when they were within 600 feet of a McDonald’s. The trolling stunt generated more than 1 million downloads in the first 36 hours, rocketing it to the top of the charts on the Apple App Store.
Google’s “Home Alone Again” (Grade: A-)
Google brought the holiday cheer for fans of the 1990 movie “Home Alone” when it roped in Macaulay Culkin to reprise his role of 8-year-old Kevin McCallister in its holiday spot for the Google Assistant. Culkin is “home alone” again for Christmas – except now he’s 38 and has an army of Google-enabled devices to help ward off the bad guys.
Amazon’s “Alexa Loses Her Voice” (Grade: A)
Amazon’s star-studded 90-second spot for the Super Bowl featured a host of celebrities, including Rebel Wilson, Gordon Ramsay and Sir Anthony Hopkins attempting to stand in for Alexa, with often hilarious results.
HBO’s “SXSWestworld” (Grade: A)
HBO put together an entire reality-meets-fantasy recreation of the sci-fi town of Sweetwater in “Westworld” during SXSW this year, where fans of the show could experience the sci-fi world for themselves. The promo by agency Giant Spoon featured highly detailed sets, costumes and dialogues for the actors on site – taking the pop-up concept to a whole new level.
Nike’s “Believe in Something. Even If It Means Sacrificing Everything.” (Grade: A+)
- Katie Canales/Business Insider
While a number of brands have taken stands on hot-button issues in recent years, few have been as bold as Nike. Nike kicked off the 30th anniversary of the tagline “Just Do It” with a campaign taking a firm stand in favor of controversial Colin Kaepernick and other athletes who’ve knelt in protest of police violence against black Americans. The campaign prompted reactions from awe to backlash, and Nike’s CEO credited the ad with sales boosts that reportedly added $6 billion to its valuation.