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From Nike’s Kaepernick gamble to D&G’s China fumble: 2018’s best and worst ads

Originally published on BNNBloomberg.ca on Dec. 28, 2018

Advertisers opted for a lighter touch in 2018 as U.S. President Donald Trump continued to cast a cloud over many consumers, according to one marketing strategist.

“In a Trump world where everything is dark and dour and angry, some brands went the opposite way, which is to stand out and do witty, and playful, and fun,” John Yorke, president of Toronto-based strategy and digital marketing agency Rain43 told BNN Bloomberg in an interview.

Yorke said that the shift to a lighter tone accompanied a move away from long-form storytelling in the commercial landscape.

“You get back to advertising. You get back to 30 second spots,” Yorke said. “You get back to doing silly, simple things from a brand perspective.

“We saw lighthearted advertising until the election in the U.S. and then things obviously shifted to a very dark space.”

So, what worked and what didn’t this year? Here’s a look back at some of the best and worst ads in 2018, according to Yorke:

THE GOOD

‘This is a Tide ad’

“The best ad of 2018, the best campaign – for me – is the campaign that had tons of legs for the year and was launched at the Super Bowl, which was ‘This is a Tide ad,’” Yorke said. “It was everything from seven-second spots to 60-second spots. It was a ton of content, but was no longer long-form storytelling, no longer difficult.”

“It was very similar to the Snickers ‘Snickers satisfies’ campaign. You’re seeing these witty, irreverent, quick spots that play out well over the long-term.”

John Lewis’ Christmas ad, featuring Elton John

“In years past the John Lewis Christmas ads were three-minute-long stories that people fell in love with,” Yorke said of the U.K. department store, whose ad premieres have become appointed viewing across the pond.

“I haven’t liked the John Lewis ads recently,” Yorke added. “But this year they did the ad with Elton John and his story reverts back about how he got his first piano. It’s a very good story, but they benefit from a great soundtrack. It’s a brilliant ad.”

Nike’s ‘Dream Crazy,’ featuring Colin Kaepernick

“Kaepernick talks about all he sacrificed in the anthem debate and it became this huge political time-bomb, right before the U.S. election, right when tensions were high,” Yorke said. “It flew against everything else that you’d expect Nike to do. You’d have expected them to avoid that controversy and go witty and light like everybody else was doing. They did what they do best, which was when everybody else was zigging, they zagged.”

Yorke also applauded the risk Nike took in selecting Kaepernick, who has not stepped on an NFL field since his protest-filled 2016 season with the San Francisco 49ers, to star in the ad.

“Nike was willing to lose short-term with some opponents willing to burn their Nike gear in exchange for making a global stand. They took the bet that they’ll be on the right side of history on this one,” he said.

“That campaign is one people will talk about for decades.”

Hospital for Sick Children’s ‘Join Your Crew’

“The fight for Sick Kids and the evolution of their ‘Vs.’ campaign has stood out as the gold-standard for ads in Canada for a couple of years,” Yorke said.

“It’s hard to be not be on Sick Kids’ side, but they’ve done a good job of bringing that fight to the street and getting people a better awareness of that.”

THE IN-BETWEEN

Questrade’s ‘Times Have Changed’

I really like the first iteration of the Questrade ads, pointing out that brokers are in it for themselves and not for the individual,” Yorke said of the firm’s 2017 campaign targeting investment fees. “I think the business model may have its flaws, but as an ad it stood out, and I think people paid attention and noticed it. It was really well done.”

However, the shift to the millennial market with this year’s ads led Yorke to wonder why the money managers themselves didn’t respond.

“What I was surprised by, on a trend level, is that a major brokerage fund or mutual fund didn’t come back with a response,” he said. “Sometimes you need a broker to protect you from yourself, especially in the year that was with cannabis investing and everybody thinking that they could get rich real quick.”

THE BAD

Dolce & Gabbana’s China campaign

dolce-gabbana-s-controversial-china-ad-from-2018
Screengrab image courtesy of CGTN America via YouTube

The luxury fashion icon ignited a PR firestorm in China with an ad that featured a woman trying to eat pizza with chopsticks. Chinese e-commerce sites, including Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s Tmall and JD.com Inc. suspended sales of the fashion company’s products in the ad’s aftermath.

“Basically you took a significant portion of Dolce & Gabbana’s sales in the Asia-Pacific region and threw away a large portion of their investment and their business all on cultural insensitivity,” Yorke said.

‘Pepsi Generations’

Pepsi’s 2018 Super Bowl ad was a throwback to many of its campaigns from years past, making references to such spokespeople as Ray Charles, Cindy Crawford, Michael Jackson and Britney Spears.

Yorke thought the joke was a little too inside.

“Pepsi is one of those brands that does all their advertising in-house and so they don’t really have that countering voice to stop them and say: ‘Hey, this might not be a good idea,’” Yorke said.

“Their Super Bowl ad was one that looked like it was targeted at Pepsi employees. It was all about the history of Pepsi … I don’t think anybody cares. Why would I care about Cindy Crawford drinking Pepsi in the 1990s in the year 2018? It’s navel-gazing.”

SOMETHING EVERYBODY CAN GET BEHIND

Gritty

Following his interview with BNN Bloomberg, Yorke reached out via email with some of the campaigns he had neglected to mention, and it started with possibly the most ‘2018’ sentence imaginable: “I forgot Gritty.”

The new Philadelphia Flyers mascot – a giant orange monster that looks and acts like he’s seen some stuff it’s better most fans don’t know about – initially sparked some design questions, but inevitably won the hockey world over.

“What a great launch of a mascot,” Yorke wrote. “Gritty took a lot of criticism from the tough Flyer faithful – but won them over with his wonderful tweets (telling the Penguins mascot to sleep with one eye open) – and having a great edge.”

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