Kenzo World Spike Jonze

Creative Review’s Ads of the Year for 2016

Is your favourite on the list?

The advertising industry might be in the middle of a period of great, often difficult, change at the moment – as new ‘content creators’ trample on the territory of traditional agencies, and clients tighten their belts while expecting more than ever for their money – but it’s still capable of producing fantastic, creative work.

As our list of the ten best ads of the year shows in spades. With work spanning from film to social, installation to art, it demonstrates that advertising, at its best, can still be a creative force to be reckoned with.

We’ve decided to list the ten projects we’ve picked in no particular order, as, well, we think they are all equally blooming great. Instead, we have listed them in date order. So let’s get on with it:

Van Gogh’s Bedroom, Airbnb and the Art Institute of Chicago; agency: Leo Burnett Chicago

Van Gogh Bedroom

To promote the Art Institute of Chicago’s Vincent Van Gogh show in February this year, the museum joined forces with Airbnb to create a brilliant piece of experiential marketing: a temporary installation that brought to life the artist’s Bedroom in Arles painting in a Chicago apartment. And yes, you could stay in it too, see the Airbnb listing here.

Deutsche Telekom: Sea Hero Quest; agency: Saatchi & Saatchi London

Sea Hero Quest

There has been a trend in advertising for the last few years for brands to use marketing to emphasise the ‘good’ they give to the world. These messages come with degrees of authenticity, however, and at times they can feel like just another way for big corporations to try and pull the wool over our eyes. In the spring though, Deutsche Telekom delivered a project that was the real deal.

Working with Alzheimer’s UK and a team of scientists from UCL and the University of East Anglia, the phone network created a specially designed mobile game where players’ actions aided Alzheimer’s research. With the game designed by Glitchers and featuring imagery inspired by animator Bibo Bergeron, it has proved highly appealing: the team’s ambition was to secure information from 100,000 players by the end of the year, but by November had already achieved 2.4 million players. This has contributed 63 years of gameplay, which in turn has generated over 9,400 years’ worth of equivalent lab-based research – making it the biggest dementia study in history. Read more on Sea Hero Quest here.

Skittles Pride campaign, agency: adam&eveDDB

Skittles Pride

The annual Pride events around the world have become increasingly co-opted by brands, which all suddenly appear wearing rainbow colours for the celebrations. This year though, Skittles threw a bit of a creative surprise into the mix, by removing its usual rainbow packaging for the London Pride. “This Pride, only one rainbow deserves to be the centre of attention – yours,” the brand wrote in an open letter. Skittles in black-and-white packaging were then given out to Pride supporters, while a monochrome float formed part of the Pride parade. The brands might still be at Pride, but at least some are becoming more interesting in their approach to it.

Tourism Ireland: The Doors of Thrones; agency: Publicis London

Door of Thrones Tourism Ireland

The HBO series Game of Thrones has been a huge boon for Northern Ireland, giving a boost to both its film and TV industry (read our interview with Richard Williams of Northern Ireland Screen here) and its tourism too. When one of the country’s tourist attractions, The Dark Hedges, which had appeared in the show, was felled in a storm last winter, Tourism Ireland turned a disaster into an opportunity. With Publicis London, it commissioned The Doors of Thrones, a set of ten beautifully carved wooden doors made from trees from The Dark Hedges. The doors all feature references to Game of Thrones and are now installed in pubs across the country, giving pleasure to locals while providing a new ready-made tour for fans.

Channel 4: We’re The Superhumans; agency: 4Creative, director: Dougal Wilson

4Creative had a big act to follow in its ad campaign for Channel 4’s Paralympics coverage from Rio this summer. It was one of its own making – the Meet The Superheroes spot for the London Paralympic Games was hugely popular and seen as the driver for a huge rise in viewers for the event. The in-house team at the channel delivered however, with this hugely charming film, which featured athletes alongside regular disabled people, all showing off their skills.

TAC: Meet Graham; agency: Clemenger BBDO Melbourne; artist: Patricia Piccinini

TAC Graham

This ad campaign, which aims to raise awareness of the need for road safety, uses shock tactics in a different way to those we are attuned to. Instead of terrifying us by showing footage of a young child being hit by a car, say, it features a sculpture, created by Australian artist Patricia Piccinini, which imagines – via input from a trauma surgeon and a crash investigation expert – the kind of physique we need to survive the forces sustained in crashes. It is a grotesque vision, because it is a grotesque problem. The campaign was created for the TAC, a government body in Victoria, Australia, but it was reported on all over the world.

Kenzo World: The New Fragrance; writer and director: Spike Jonze

Spike Jonze’s quirky, brilliant short film for Kenzo arrived in late summer and immediately flew around the internet. It’s easy to see why: the short, which stars Margaret Qualley and is set to a perfect soundtrack titled Mutant Brain by Sam Spiegel and Ape Drums (feat. Assassin), is hugely entertaining, and bears repeat viewing with ease. Ok, creatively it’s a bit too similar to Jonze’s Weapon of Choice video for Fatboy Slim from 2001 to be entirely comfortable, but I wonder if that really stopped anyone’s enjoyment of it (letters on a postcard, please). A fine example of how a usually boring sector can be given a shake up via a fun, creative approach.

Addict Aide: Like My Addiction; agency: BETC Paris

Like My Addiction Addict Aide

It’s difficult to find inventive uses of social media channels by ad agencies, so this campaign for French charity Addict Aide stood out. Its premise was fairly simple – ad agency BETC Paris created a fake Instagram account for a beautiful young woman called Louise Delage, who, on the surface of it, seemed to have a pretty perfect life, full of parties and glamour. She quickly racked up thousands of likes and followers, only for the account to then be revealed as fake, and for the addiction charity to point out that while her followers were admiring her photos, they had missed one common feature: the constant presence of an alcoholic beverage. The reveal sparked think pieces across French media and beyond and sparked wide discussion about what social media does and doesn’t show of our real lives.

H&M: Come Together; agency: adam&eveDDB, director: Wes Anderson

The annual Christmas ad wars rumble on, with very popular work delivered this year by Sainsbury’s and, of course, John Lewis. But surprising us all was a bit of a coup for H&M, which secured Wes Anderson to make a Christmas film for the brand. It is charmingly shot in the Anderson style, and stars actor Adrien Brody. And yes, it does all get a bit schlocky at the end, but, hey, it’s Christmas…

Ikea: Retail Therapy, agency: Åkestam Holst

Ikea Retail Therapy

This campaign caps off another great year of advertising for Ikea, which has included ads that tackle modern family living and a tie-up with the Norwegian Red Cross which saw a replica of a Syrian home built in an Ikea in Norway. A constantly inventive brand, it saved its best for the end of the year, putting out this hugely popular campaign, which sees its products renamed after common Google searches for relationship dilemmas. Thus, an ornate dressing table mirror becomes My Friend Only Talks About Himself, and a set of champagne flutes becomes When Children Leave Home. A brilliant way of gaming SEO while charming customers along the way.

What's the story?

The Storytelling issue, Oct/Nov 2017, is out now.
We invited writers to respond to our cover image
this month: read their stories inside.
PLUS: Tom Gauld, Oliver Jeffers, Giphy & S-Town

Buy the issue

The Annual 2018

The Creative Review Annual is one of the most
respected and trusted awards for the creative
industry. We celebrate the best creative work from
the past year, those who create it and commission it.

Enter now


South East London


Burnley, Lancashire (GB)