The best ads of the year 2021

As the advertising industry wrestled with the fallout of Covid, remote working, and the need to make everyone laugh in difficult times, some brilliant creative work was produced in 2021

We all thought that the world would be back to some sort of normality in 2021 – even if was the ‘new normal’ – but as we now know all too well, it’s been a difficult ride.

This is reflected in the advertising that brands created, much of which tackled the challenges presented by the pandemic head on, often with humour. Other brands used laughter to sell everything from gin to vegan food to road safety, with marketers clearly signalling that they realised that comedy was a way to get us through hard times.

Considering the restrictions that were placed on shoots and production, we also saw a surprising commitment to craft this year, with a plethora of beautifully created Christmas ads released, and plenty of blockbuster spots sprinkled across the year.

In general, in the face of adversity, brands and advertising agencies have managed to deliver memorable, distinctive and fun campaigns in 2021. Here’s our pick of ten favourites, in order of release.

Alexa’s Body, Amazon; Agency: Lucky Generals

Released to coincide with the US Super Bowl, this spot for Amazon offered an early laugh for 2021, as Michael B Jordan becomes a “beautiful vessel” to house Amazon’s virtual assistant.

Marmite Dynamite, Marmite; Agency: adam&eveDDB London

There’s something quite old school about the stunt billboards adam&eveDDB created to promote the limited edition chili-infused Marmite Dynamite, but images of them proved enormously popular on the more modern medium of social media.

Lights On, McDonald’s; Agency: Leo Burnett UK

With the UK in lockdown in the first few months of the year, food brands stepped up their delivery options. Few brands promoted their offerings as elegantly and cleverly as McDonald’s.

#FreeCuthbert, Aldi; Agency: McCann UK

Aldi has long established itself as the quiet creative genius of the UK’s supermarket wars, but it showed the power of responsive marketing on social in April, after M&S accused the brand of infringing the trademark of its iconic chocolate cake Colin the Caterpillar with discount version Cuthbert the Caterpillar. Aldi’s #FreeCuthbert campaign led to the issue going viral on social, and proved that even IP disputes can be fun.

For When It’s Time, Extra Gum; Agency: Energy BBDO

A number of brands tackled the lifting of lockdown restrictions around the world (this spot for Guinness is an especially elegant take on the subject) but few did it with the out-and-out hilarity of Extra Gum.

Play New, Nike; Agency: Wieden + Kennedy Portland

With both the postponed Olympics/Paralympics and Euros rescheduled for the summer, we might have expected a summer of sports marketing to join them but for one reason or another it didn’t come to pass. Instead the best sports ad of the year was one that celebrated those who give it their all but are still pretty rubbish.

Kiyan Prince on FIFA, Kiyan Prince Foundation; Agency: Engine

To raise awareness around knife violence, Engine worked with EA Sports to bring murdered teenager and QPR prodigy back to life virtually in the FIFA game. This was just one example of clever creative use of the football game in 2021.

A Helmet has Always Been a Good Idea, Danish Road Safety Council; Agency: &Co./NoA, Denmark

Cycling safety is usually no laughing matter, but this PSA from the Danish Road Safety Council showed otherwise, and its important message was shared around the world as a result.

Open Spaces, Burberry; Agency/Production company: Riff Raff

Burberry followed its excellent Christmas 2020 campaign with a gravity-defying spot released in the Autumn, which saw directors Megaforce reunited with choreographers (La) Horde to dazzling effect.

Introducing the Icelandverse, Inspired by Iceland; Agency: M&C Saatchi

This Iceland tourism campaign did an excellent job of mocking the obsession with the metaverse in the latter half of 2021, by wittily pointing out the charms of the real world. It followed other clever creative campaigns by Inspired by Iceland released during the 2020 lockdown, showing how creative approaches can still serve tourism, even when real travel was out of the question.