In what was a, let’s say “interesting,” year for marketing, many brands opted for sincerity and earnestness in their communications—reflecting our shared unease about the pandemic in sometimes powerful ways. Occasionally, though, the industry’s abiding fondness for humour and irreverence peeked through. While not intended to be comprehensive, these are some of the creative executions that caught our attention in 2020.
McDonald’s and Cossette, “Moving Day” — Moving Day sucks, right? The sole bright spot is lunch, a glorious 30-minute respite from lugging couches and boxes of books to sit and scarf down a burger or pizza.
Quebec’s annual Moving Day is big business for the province’s pizza purveyors and fast-food franchises, and McDonald’s and long-time agency partner Cossette have traditionally brought their A-game to advertising around the occasion.
This year’s execution was no different—built around a series of visual puns that turned the contents of a moving van (couches, chairs, blankets, etc.) into a striking representation of popular menu items like the Big Mac and Egg McMuffin. A great concept, made better by perfect execution. —CP
Telus and The Greenhouse, “Stay Hopeful” — A heartstring-tugging spot for the wireless brand timed for Mother’s Day. The one-minute ad used home video footage from a professional director to show the first few weeks of life in lockdown with a newborn baby, Leah, born March 28.
I wondered if the ad struck a chord because of time and context—still early in the pandemic when emotions were so raw and near the surface. But rewatching it now, seven months later, it still brings a smile to my face and a tear to my eye, and the closing super of “Life is different… Yet all the same” was (and is) a lovely reminder that there’s lots to be hopeful about. —DB
Pine-Sol and FCB Canada, “Give cleaning 99.9%” — Not entirely without justification, consumers are increasingly fearful of having their every movement and action being tracked these days.
I have to admit, I felt a slight twinge of unease when watching the Pine-Sol ad showing a man attempting to clean up an everyday spill with a socked foot. Wait a second, were my actions being surreptitiously monitored?
Like comedy, advertising is at its best when it reflects a previously unrecognized or unspoken truth. The ads were well written and acted, but for me it’s the strategy that’s a real winner here. —CP
Taxi, “This smells like my penis” — It’s pretty absurd that Gwyneth Paltrow made a candle called “This smells like my vagina,” that sold for $75. But it’s also really absurd that women still only make about 75 cents for every dollar a man makes.
Taxi used the first absurdity to make an important point about the second, creating a candle called “This smells like my penis.” Granted there wasn’t actually a scent— “Because that’s kind of gross,” said Taxi ECD Alexis Bronstorph—but it really does the same thing as the Paltrow candle, except it sold for $100.
“It’s a stark reminder of how ridiculous the wage gap is,” said Bronstorph. —DB
Trojan and Forsman & Bodenfors, “& Chill”— True story: My wife and I were once sitting spellbound at the end of a truly magnificent film when an unseen voice behind me opined that “only assholes watch the credits.”
That memory came to me when I saw Forsman & Bodenfors’ 49-minute credits list for the Trojan condoms brand, which eschewed traditional film credits like grip and colourist for more esoteric things like grocery lists and a rumination about the inclusion of a quirky best friend in rom-coms.
The creative idea is that it doesn’t matter what the credits say, since people are presumably engaged in some non-movie-related gripping of their own, likely requiring a Trojan condom. It was fun and quirky, and a refreshing twist in a category that tends to lean heavily on euphemisms and sight gags.
I do confess, however, that I didn’t watch the whole thing. I mean, I’m not a total asshole. —CP
Egale and Taxi, “Coming Out”— Another spot which used a montage of found video footage (which was the style at the time) about life in lockdown but with a powerful parallel about LGBTQ people feeling trapped and unable to “come out.” At a time a lot of people were feeling isolated, this video not only delivered a message of support to the LGBTQ community, but made a powerful point to straight viewers about the need for empathy and compassion. —DB
Hellmann’s and Ogilvy Canada, “Hellmann’s Island” — I grew up watching Benny Hill, which means I’m always receptive to the broad humour at which so much advertising excels. Dudes getting whacked in the junk? Pretty much guaranteed to elicit a guffaw.
But I also appreciate the type of creative thinking that comes from placing an ad in the right environment, particularly when it’s perfectly aligned with a specific brand platform and does so seamlessly and unobtrusively.
That was the case with Hellmann’s placement in the hit video game Animal Crossing. Turning the in-game currency, spoiled turnips, into real food for those in need was a particularly inspired piece of thinking, perfectly capitalizing on the natural symbiosis between the in-game mechanics and Hellmann’s brand purpose of reducing food waste. The concept proved so popular that it was recently picked up by Hellmann’s in the U.K. —CP
Knix and Heyd Saffer, “Breaking up with disposables” — This is on my list because Knix continues to be bold both in its production innovation and in its brand communications. The new product is its “Super Leakproof Underwear,” which Knix says can replace disposable hygiene products.
The launch ad adheres to Knix’s mission to destigmatize discussions and portrayals of menstruation, and features realistic portrayals of how women experience bladder leaks and their period. —DB
Dove and Ogilvy, “Courage” — This one went global, and for good reason. The ad was released in early April, just a few weeks into the pandemic here in North America.
The simple idea was to present a slide show of health care worker faces worn down, exhausted, scarred by the masks they had to wear for hours on end.
It was powerful film that also connected with Dove’s long-time brand pillar, “real beauty.” The faces represented the extraordinary human endeavour underway at hospitals where people are fighting to save lives. To Dove, this is beautiful. —DB
JAMP Pharma (Zestra) and Havas Montreal, “Time to close the pleasure gap” — If we were giving out craft awards, this ad for the female sexual enhancement product Zestra would win a Mighty for both performers.
When the man bites into the dessert he experiences an intense but short-lived orgasmic reaction. For the woman, it produces a deep, slow-building feeling of pleasure that stretches out before the super “Time to close the pleasure gap” appears.
To be honest, we debated this ad at length when covering it, but we laughed and laughed as we discussed it. Performances aside, it was one of our favourites in 2020. —DB