The 20 strongest brand ideas of 2019
Apple put out a lot of standout work in 2019, including splashy films and bold outdoor efforts promoting Air Pods, a snarky CES dig at its competitors and a design-minded show opener. But what tops our list in 2019 was its story centered on a real-world Apple invention that the everyday consumer may not have known about—a round pizza box. Directed by Mark Molloy of Smuggler, “Underdogs” was pure entertainment, but it also doubled as a demo of how Apple products can help to make your big ideas a reality.
Ryan Reynold’s “Aviation Gin” amused us with its unpredictable moves. Early in the year, the “Deadpool” star and Hugh Jackman, fellow actor and Laughing Man Coffee founder, made ads for each other’s products.
Aviation then made an unexpected cameo while Reynolds was serving as pitchman for Samsung and, in its final coup de grace of the year, the brand came out to support the beleaguered mom from the controversial Peloton ad.
Baskin-Robbins stepped into the Upside Down for one of the year’s most intriguing brand tie-ups. To promote the third season of Netflix’s popular series “Stranger Things,” the brands, working with agency 22Squared and production company M ss ng P eces, transformed one of the ice cream shop’s most trafficked locations in Burbank, California, into a real-world version of the show’s Scoops Ahoy store, complete with new themed offerings like the USS Butterscotch flavor and a Demogorgon Sundae.
Another two unrelated brands unexpectedly came together to deliver a Super Bowl surprise. Bud Light’s “Dilly Dilly” universe collided with Westeros of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” ahead of the popular show’s finale. The mashup, courtesy of Droga5 and Wieden & Kennedy, saw the demise of the brand’s mascot, the Bud Knight, at the hands of GoT villain The Mountain, followed by a massive dragon torchfest.
This year, the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team ruled on the pitch—but struggled in their fight for equal pay. Both Procter & Gamble and Anheuser-Busch came out to support their cause. P&G’s Secret, an official team sponsor, ran a full-page ad in the New York Times out of DeVries Global and Berlin Cameron urging the U.S. soccer federation to be “on the right side of history,” and made a major donation to the World Cup-winning players to help make up for the wage gap with male counterparts. Later in the year, it bought 9,000 tickets to National Women’s Soccer League games
Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser, official beer sponsor of the Women’s League, carried on the fight in October with the “Future Official” campaign from VaynerMedia, calling on more big brands to sign on as the league's corporate sponsors.
Burger King grabbed a ton of hardware at Cannes this year with its “Whopper Detour” stunt from 2018. It followed that up with another tech-driven idea, “Traffic Jam Whopper” from We Believers. It leveraged real-time data on the streets of Mexico City to bring burgers straight to the cars of consumers stuck in gridlock. Though the brand had strong ideas throughout the year (it caught people in food comas and bite back at McDonalds), this stood out for being both useful and entertaining.
In 2019, it seems U.K. holiday ads in general didn’t live up to the sentimental bar set by John Lewis, but Wunderman Thompson in the Philippines stepped things up with this Star Wars-themed film for Globe Telecom. It stars a pair of industrious kids who try to recreate the franchise’s latest film as a multi-dimensional in-home experience. But this isn’t just about playtime fun, and the reason behind all their hard work will charm you.
The premise of this brilliant print idea was simple: recreate famous pop culture living rooms (from "The Simpsons," "Friends," "Stranger Things") entirely in Ikea furniture and products. After sifting through tons of product, Publicis Spain pulled it off for this Middle East campaign that went viral around the world.
Ikea is known for its playful ideas, but this innovative campaign is a lesson in how inclusivity really does pay off. The product idea comprises extensions that can be added to Ikea goods in order to make them more accessible to consumers with disabilities. It was conceived by Eldar Yusupov, a McCann Tel Aviv creative with cerebral palsy whose own interactions with Ikea products inspired him to come up with the idea.
If Colonel Sanders’ many iterations (as celebrities like Rob Lowe, Jason Alexander and Reba McIntyre) weren’t enough to inspire fan love, in 2019 he became the object of desire in a dating simulator video game from Wieden & Kennedy Portland. “I Love You, Colonel Sanders” challenges players to a series of physical, mental and social trials in order to win the Colonel’s heart. Available on Steam, it’s earned a 9 out of 10 rating from gamers.
Also featured in our Best of the Decade, New York Times’ “Truth”-focused ads from Droga5 continued to evolve in 2019, with spots that continued to trace the difficult and sometimes treacherous journey Times journalists take to faithfully report their stories. The campaign was one of the big winners at Cannes this year, earning multiple Grand Prix.
Where do you go after “Dream Crazy”-size success? Nike simply dreamed “Crazier” in this Oscars spot starring Serena Williams that directly addressed the hurdles female athletes face in a male-dominated world. Even as they break barriers, they still confront insults, get called things like “unhinged” or “crazy." Williams claps back: “If they want to call you crazy? Fine. Show them what crazy can do."
In August, Popeyes shook up the fast food world with the debut of its new chicken sandwich. The product itself has garnered raves from consumers, but its first campaign from Miami agency Gut helped cement the sandwich as a pop culture phenomenon. The agency dug into Popeye’s history to resurface #Popeyesgate from 2017, when a Southern California restaurant secretly resold the fast feeder’s chicken as part of its own sandwich offering. Popeye’s returned to that restaurant, Sweet Dixie Kitchen in Long Beach, to introduce its “official” sandwich, selling it there for a couple days before it hit the chain for real. That effort set the stage for more playful antics in which Popeyes poked fun at one of its main competitors, Chick-fil-A, helping to earn the brand the #2 spot on Ad Age’s Marketer of the Year list.
P&G debuted its seminal film “The Talk” in 2017, garnering accolades that included the Cannes Lion Film Grand Prix as well as an Outstanding Commercial Emmy. The film was praised for portraying harsh realities growing up black in America. Yet within the community it hoped to support, it drew criticism as well—for arguably perpetuating the stereotype of the “absent” black father in families. In 2019, P&G responded, working with creative collective Saturday Morning to tell a powerful new story—one that reflected the struggles an African-American male might face on any given day.
Oddly, urine seems to be quite the muse for creative innovation. It was the centerpiece an unusual print ad for Ikea in 2018, and in 2019 was the foundation of this remarkable outdoor campaign for Purina from McCann Paris. Digital billboards asked dog owners to let their pooches pee on them. They’d then analyze the waste for health problems and then inform the owners if their pet needed to get to the vet.
Brand anniversary ads are often self-congratulatory tributes to their colorful histories, but in this spot from Publicis celebrating the Renault Clio’s 30th birthday, the car takes the backseat to an endearing, modern love story about two longtime friends.
BBDO New York’s 2019 entry to its lineup of ads for gun safety charity Sandy Hook Promise was skillfully disguised as a typically saccharine back-to-school promo—with a tragic twist. The ad’s success could be attributed to the powerful concept along with the devoted attention that went into every aspect of the craft, from the writing to the directing to the music.
Mars’ candy brand Skittle pulled off what was arguably its most out-there stunt yet when it opted out of the Super Bowl and put on a Broadway musical instead. On game day, the brand presented a single performance of “Skittles Commercials: The Musical” starring Michael C. Hall, a heady, self-referential experiment that unabashedly thumbed its nose at advertising’s biggest day of the year—but ultimately, it was an ad too. tt was a risky idea (who wants to go to a Skittles musical on Super Bowl Sunday?) that ended up being brilliantly executed by the combined talents at agency DDB, production company Smuggler and a host of seasoned theater pros.
It’s tricky territory for a brand—especially a soda—to stand for something beyond the pure sell (sorry, Pepsi), but in South America, Sprite endeared itself to young consumers with a campaign that directly addresses their social ills. Out of Santo Argentina, the brand took on bullying with ads that sought to neutralize hate with love and followed up with a stunt that brought an online troll face-to-face with 100 of his victims. Subsequently, the brand established a Reddit platform whereby young people could help each other cope with loneliness.
In 2019, Taco Bell opened the doors to its weirdest property yet: an entire hotel. This past summer in Palm Springs, California, the brand opened "The Bell" hotel. Its biggest fans got to doze in rooms adorned with restaurant-themed decor, enjoyed upscale versions of the fast feeder’s menu items, dried off poolside with their hot sauce-packet towels and flaunted Baja manicures and bell-shaped fades (from the in-hotel salon).