The best ads of 2020

From Burger King’s stomach-churning Moldy Whopper to Tesco’s festive spot reassuring us that there’s no naughty list during a pandemic, here’s our top ten campaigns from the last 12 months

Along with the rest of the creative industries, the ad world has been thrown into chaos this year thanks to the arrival of the pandemic. In the wake of a series of national lockdowns across the globe, much of the early coronavirus ads were marked by sombreness and uncertainty, while production challenges and our new online lives subsequently birthed what has come to be known as the ‘Zoom aesthetic’.

Despite all of the challenges that the industry has faced in recent months, 2020 has proven that when advertising is done well it has the power to surprise, delight and inspire when people need it to the most. Below, we’ve selected our ten favourite ads from this year, listed in chronological order.

Starbucks, Every name’s a story. Agency: Iris
Cast your mind back to the beginning of this year, and you may remember that Starbucks was announced as the winner of Channel 4’s annual Diversity in Advertising award, which this time aimed to encourage more nuanced portrayals of LGBT+ experiences. Playing on the fact that its brand is well known for scrawling the names of its customers on coffee cups, the powerful spot follows the journey of James, who is transitioning, as he is finally able to try out the name that he has chosen for himself.

Burger King, Moldy Whopper. Agencies: INGO Stockholm, Publicis, David Miami
Launched in February, Burger King’s Moldy Whopper campaign swiftly went viral for showing exactly what happens to a Whopper containing no artificial preservatives over the course of a month. The stomach-churning spot subsequently cleaned up at this year’s awards circuit, and has been widely celebrated as a testament to what a truly collaborative relationship between client and agency can achieve.

KFC, KFC is Back! Agency: Mother London
With lockdowns leaving us unable to indulge our eating out habits, many restaurants opted to share their best-known dishes and recipes with customers instead (see Burger King’s instructional ad showing how to make a Quarantine Whopper here). To mark the reopening of 500 of its restaurants in May, KFC took the opportunity to thank its die-hard fans who had been making DIY KFC with this witty spot, accompanied by brilliantly simple strapline: ‘We’ll take it from here’.

ITV, Britain Get Talking. Agency: Uncommon Creative Studio
With campaigns such as its successful More Than TV proposition, the last year has seen ITV redefine its purpose as a public service broadcaster in an ultra-competitive market. One of the network’s most successful initiatives has been its ongoing mental health campaign Britain Get Talking, which took on new significance during the pandemic as it launched a series of spots that tapped into the awkwardness of striking up new conversations in lockdown. Also of note from ITV was its decision to publicly back the dance group Diversity, which received a number of complaints to Ofcom following a Black Lives Matter-themed routine on Britain’s Got Talent, via an ad campaign.

BrewDog, Barnard Castle IPA. Agency: In-house
A well-timed PR stunt following months of lockdown doom and gloom, craft beer giant BrewDog played on the uniquely British sense of humour with a limited edition release of its Barnard Castle eye test IPA. The beer was launched in response to the news that the Prime Minister’s then chief advisor Dominic Cummings decided to ‘test his eyesight’ by driving to Barnard Castle after having allegedly broken the rules during lockdown. Most importantly, all proceeds from the deliciously tongue-in-cheek stunt went to the NHS and other healthcare charities.

Nike, You Can’t Stop Us. Agency: Wieden + Kennedy Portland
Directed by the ever-brilliant Oscar Hudson, Nike’s You Can’t Stop Us spot was a powerful a reminder not only of the unifying power of sport, but also society’s collective strength when we work together. Editors sifted through thousands of clips to create the film, which uses a split screen to combine disparate moments from different times in sporting history, and shows how people around the world have managed to keep playing in spite of stadiums and pitches being closed.

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Ikea, Efterträda collection. Agency: Wieden + Kennedy Tokyo
Traditionally known for its homeware staples and iconic meatballs dish, in recent years the Ikea brand has inadvertently become something of a status symbol among hypebeasts. The Japanese branch of the retailer officially entered the streetwear game with great fanfare in August when it launched its first ever clothing and accessories range, which was directly inspired by the street style of Tokyo. The line has since also launched in Singapore.

Photo: Tom Craig

Oxfam, Second Hand September. Agency: In-house
Now in its second year, Oxfam’s Second Hand September has been a runaway success, encouraging thousands of people to change their purchasing habits for at least one month of the year. This year, the charity scored a particularly big coup in securing Michaela Coel – whose character in her hit I May Destroy You series is shown buying trousers from an Oxfam shop – to become the face of the campaign. It also opened a pop-up Oxfam store in Selfridges, where rails of second hand clothes appeared alongside the department store’s typical fodder of luxury goods.

B&Q, Build a Life. Agency: Uncommon Creative Studio
Launched in response to our newfound love of DIY during lockdown, B&Q’s Build a Life is a brilliant example of a campaign that successfully taps into the national mood. The sentimental spot features home videos captured over the years by 69 real families around the UK – one from every city – while the stylishly executed poster campaign speaks to the domestic potential that a good bit of DIY can unlock.

Tesco, No Naughty List. Agency: BBH London
While Tesco is normally a brand that plays it pretty safe at Christmas, this year it managed to eke out the funny side of 2020 with its festive ad. The film takes a gentle swipe at the various ways we might have ended up on Santa’s naughty list this year, from buying too many toilet rolls to not singing Happy Birthday when we washed our hands. Thankfully, the retailer assures us that Santa is taking a year off from the list, meaning that we can all enjoy a bit of guilt-free gifting in what has otherwise been all around terrible 2020. Merry Christmas one and all!

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