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The 5 Best Ads of 2021 (And the Absolute Worst)

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Well, here we are at the end of the year. That means it’s time for another best-of list that packs 12 months of advertising and marketing into one nifty little package. Now, when we say “advertising,” we don’t just mean commercials. In fact, only one of our top 5 could even be categorized as such, reflecting how creatively branding has progressed to keep up with our media consumption, culture and fixation. Obviously there were a lot more than five great ads this year, but those were the few that caught our attention in fun and unexpected ways — along with the one ad we really could have done without and wished we had, us they just couldn’t see.

Heinz: “pull ketchup”

Close your eyes and imagine this: ketchup. What do you see? Is it a Heinz bottle or a logo? That was the premise of one of the most serious branding initiatives of the year, agency Rethink Canada’s Draw Ketchup campaign for Heinz. The brand asked people to do just that — pull ketchup — and it turns out a fair amount of people wrote down some serious brand awareness.

Wendy’s: “Super Wendy’s World”

Back in 2019, Wendy’s dropped its namesake character Fourteen days Destroy all the freezers in a special “Food Fight” edition of Epic’s hit battle royale game. Over the past year, the brand has stepped up a few notches to redefine what it means to play with your food – and set a new standard for how brands engage in gaming.

Super Wendy’s World was a campaign that worked throughout the year to infiltrate a variety of popular video games and stream everything on the brand’s Twitch channel. Wendy was there Minecraft smash blocks of ice. In animal crossing, she sold freezers to the lowest bidder. she was in street fighter, Super Mario Maker 2, and Super Smash brothers. Overall, players spent more than 9.8 million minutes exploring the Wendy’s video game universe. Wendy’s became the first verified restaurant on Twitch, ranking in the top 1% of all streamers on the platform.

Kiyan Prince Foundation: “Long Live the Prince”

Kiyan Prince was arguably the brightest young footballer in England before he was stabbed 15 years ago. The Kiyan Prince Foundation (KPF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to ending knife crime and improving support systems to prevent it.

The foundation has partnered with EA Sports to develop Long Live the Prince, which will bring Kiyan back to life in EA Sports’ FIFA 21 video game and allow players to choose Prince for their teams or him as a member of his youth club Queens to play parking attendant. Players were also able to access contact information for the foundation and learn more about their in-game services. The campaign garnered global media attention and raised awareness of an organization fighting to ensure what happened to Kiyan doesn’t happen to more children.

Jif Peanut Butter: “#JifRapChallenge”

The brand found a way to enter the cultural discourse by getting Ludacris to update his rap style and sound more modern with the help of. . . a spoonful of peanut butter. Ludacris then released the #JifRapChallenge on TikTok, giving users the chance to rhyme with Luda herself in a TikTok duet. TikTokers have created their own challenge videos which have garnered more than 7 billion views.

Visit Iceland: “Islandverse”

Back in October, when Facebook rebranded itself to Meta, part of that announcement was a long, infomercial-like fevered gaze in Mark Zuckerberg’s head. In a week, with the news cycle still revolving around the implications surrounding meta, Visit Iceland dropped one of the funniest and most timely parodies of the year. This was an absolutely perfect place in a completely natural setting, which exemplified the power to keep up with culture, but in a way that’s not super weird or borderline creepy.

Which brings us to our pick for Worst Ad of 2021. . . .

Facebook: “Introducing Meta”

Back to Meta, the Facebook founder and CEO presented a six-minute walkthrough on why the company changed its name and his overall agenda. The new name? Meta. The new agenda? The Metaverse. The atmosphere? An episode of Black Mirror intersected with a seemingly endless Magic Bullet commercial.

The presentation was awkward enough, but perhaps most puzzling was why the company “agreed” to have Zuckerberg — arguably its most controversial character — as its new mascot. As Vann Graves, Executive Director of VCU Brandcenter, told me at the time, “You change the name, not the perception, when it’s still at the top.”

And – surprise, surprise – brand trust in the company actually fell after the name change. According to Harris Brand Platform, Facebook’s trustworthiness dropped to 6.2% when Facebook announced its renaming to Meta. I can’t imagine that the video has anything to do with it.

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