Ad Age 2021 Marketers of the Year

NFL leads our annual list of the best marketers of the year

In a year defined by recovery, some brands got better faster than others, while others found innovative ways to build on momentum established during the early months of the pandemic. Ad Age’s 2021 Marketers of the Year list offers examples of both, while providing best-in-class examples of modern marketing.

The list is topped by the NFL, which persevered through the first year of COVID-19 and is enjoying packed stadiums and soaring TV ratings this year, as it embraces a progressive marketing approach that has boosted its appeal with Gen Z fans. Target had a strong 2020 but got even stronger in 2021, thanks to new brand collaborations and a laser focus on customer experience.

The list includes great comeback stories: Kraft Heinz’s creative renaissance is breathing life into old brands like Velveeta and Oscar Mayer, while L’Oréal came roaring back during the pandemic stronger than analysts and investors predicted. We also spotlight brands thriving in newer categories—such as cryptocurrency (FTX) and esports (FaZe Clan)—and one brand, Tesla, that has built buzz with barely any paid media.

The list was chosen by a team of Ad Age reporters and editors based on factors that include business results driven by breakthrough advertising and smart strategic thinking. It contains plenty of branding lessons, including from LeBron James. The King cracked the list because of his stellar brand work this year, driven by an unmatched work ethic: “He’s consistent as hell,” the CEO of a tequila brand he backs told us. “He shows up, he commits, he overdelivers, he wakes up and he does it again.”

Web production by Corey Holmes.