The Mighty List — Our favourite 2022 creative

After 20 months of pandemic hardships, we emerged blinking into the new year ready to live again—and then 2022 happened.

The past 12 months have delivered a whole host of challenges: war, broken supply chains, skyrocketing prices… and then Elon bought Twitter. We just can’t catch a break.

But advertising, as it always does, carried on—albeit with brands trying to find the right tone and message to match the moment. Most, we’re glad to report, did so with aplomb. In fact, as we set about reviewing the more than 800 articles we published this year to assemble our third annual Mighty List, the quality of the work from Canadian agencies and clients was evident.

Our preliminary search led to a long list of 40 or so contenders, which we painstakingly whittled down to the 10 you see below. Believe us when we say it was NOT an easy process.

In fact, a late-night call to cut our shortlist of 13 down to the final 10 actually ended up with the list growing to 15. And we actually wrote 11 winners, with the final one cut from the list earlier today. (See the work that was oh-so-close at the bottom.)

As in previous years, there are no categories or ranked order. Instead, we determined our 10 favourite creative ideas by taking into account factors like the quality of the execution, originality, degree of difficulty in the category and, in some cases, how much they made us smile.

And so, here are the 10 pieces of creative we would show to friends and family members and say “this is cool, right?”

“Mr. Modem” — Shaw Communications

I understand that the fundamental role of advertising is to convince people to try a particular brand of brand, test drive a car, or support a particular cause, etc. But I would argue that the best way to achieve any of those objectives, is to be interesting and/or entertaining, and ideally funny.

There’s not much incentive for companies in a low-engagement category like home internet to worry about wooing customers, especially since a handful of Canadian providers offering essentially the same level of service basically have consumers at their mercy. The result tends to be safe, often cheerily jaunty advertising leaning heavily on promotional offers.

So I can appreciate when a brand in the sector makes a legitimate effort to appeal to people. Which brings me to Rethink Vancouver’s “Mr. Modem” spot for Shaw, which humorously demonstrates the pitfalls of having home internet that’s always acting up.

It shows a cranky old man, played with wonderful mean-spirited verve by Al Maini, walking around a house and making its various inhabitants unhappy—whether it’s standing in front of the TV, slapping phones out of people’s hands, slamming laptops closed, or sending gaming computers crashing to the floor.

The payoff comes when we see the man disappear into a hall cupboard, which the homeowner opens to reveal an archaic modem.

Ad geeks might point out the similarity to the famous “Mr. W” spot for Epuron, but the average Canadian has never seen nor cares about that ad. To them, it probably feels like a fun, fresh way to communicate Shaw’s enhanced internet offering. And you know what, they’re right. — C.P.

“Here’s the Bacon?” — Wendys Canada 

In an industry that reveres creativity and originality, this campaign stood out because it was a remake of one of the most famous ads of all time.

To promote Wendy’s new breakfast menu, the McCann creative team of Amy O’Neill and Bill Schaefer came up with “Here’s the Bacon,” a virtual shot-for-shot recreation of the iconic “Where’s the Beef” spot from 1984. It was a smart, simple, fun way to leverage an existing (ie. very old) brand asset to deliver a modern message in a memorable way.

The performances were, for me, as good or better than the original (with apologies to Clara Peller), and the art direction—including what the creative team called the “undercooked bacon” colour tones—is spot on.

“The great thing about the work is that it’s fun, and a little bit of an easter egg if you remember ‘Where’s the Beef?’ or have heard of it,” Wendy’s CMO Liz Geraghty told us. “But if you haven’t, that’s okay too, because it stands alone.” And it does. There’s a whole lot of QSR advertising every year, and “Here’s the Bacon” really did stand apart from the rest in 2022. — D.B.

“Cheetle Statue” — Cheetos 

Whether it’s the Big Nickel in Sudbury, the Big Apple in Colborne, Ont., or the giant lobster in Shediac, N.B., I’m a longtime fan of Big Things By the Side of the Road.

Much to my family’s chagrin, this often results in unplanned detours to see giant balls of twine, oversized chairs, guitars, etc.

So when Cheetos, working with Citizen Public Relations, announced that it had erected a 17-foot-tall statue in the Alberta hamlet of Cheadle that celebrated “cheetle” dust (the sticky residue left on fingers when eating the snack food), I was on the story like, well, cheetle dust on fingers.

It feels like marketing has taken a hard turn towards the serious in recent years, leading some brands that don’t exactly have earnestness in their DNA to adopt a more sombre, serious approach to communications. Cheetos is an inherently fun product, and the statue—three fingers holding a Cheeto aloft—felt entirely on brand: Goofy, a little garish, and entirely unnatural (I mean, what’s in those things anyway?).

Not everyone was a fan, of course. “This is awful,” said one comment on our LinkedIn post about the statue. “Horrific,” agreed another. But as an avowed fan of the frivolously absurd, I have no choice but to give this one two (cheetle-dusted) thumbs up. — C.P.

“The Unburnable Book” — Penguin Random House  

At a time when book banning is (astonishingly) making a comeback, a fireproof edition of the often-banned book The Handmaid’s Tale delivered a powerful message about the rising spectre of censorship. The book was auctioned off for American free-speech champions PEN, but the idea came from Rethink and Penguin Canada and was brought to life by iconic Canadian author Margaret Atwood.

Many of the works being banned of late are about racism, gender, and sexual orientation, used to teach students about social inequality and sexuality. “We are at an urgent moment in our history, with ideas and truth—the foundations of our democracy—under attack,” said Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle.

This could have easily made our more cause-focused “People and Brands” Mighty List (out Monday), but we love the power of the creative idea itself: a video of Margaret Atwood with a flamethrower torching a book about controlling women (in a year in which we were reminded that powerful people in modern democracies oppose the idea of women having bodily autonomy), yet the book endures.

There was no paid media behind this, but when you have Atwood brandishing a flamethrower, you don’t need it. The story generated plenty of earned media coverage, proving that, like any great book, the true power comes from the story itself. — D.B.

“That Fiction” — Visa/Tiff, Publicis Canada

Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is a top 10 movie for me, so it’s probably no surprise that I found the “That Fiction” spot promoting the new TIFF program “Visa Sharing the Screen” tastier than a Big Kahuna Burger. And as anyone who’s seen the movie can attest, that’s a tasty MF’ing burger.

TIFF insists that all ads running prior to screenings have a relationship to film, so Publicis creatives Tina Vahn and Tricia Piasecki used that as a springboard for this 30-second spot directed by Partners Films’ Michael Downing. They selected Pulp Fiction (which is never specifically mentioned by name) because so many of its scenes have a strong visual style that translated well to this project.

The ad’s premise is simple: A man describing Pulp Fiction to co-workers who’ve never seen it, based on the insight that no matter how enthusiastic and faithful someone’s recreation, it’s still not the same as seeing it on the big screen.

Much of its fun factor is down to lead actor Michael Rylander, who wholeheartedly throws himself into recreating iconic scenes like Tim Roth’s “This is a robbery”; the famous John Travolta/Uma Thurman dance scene (and her subsequent overdose); and provides a possible explanation for the mysterious golden glow emanating from the briefcase (TPS reports).

His physicality throughout the spot is impressive, but perhaps my favourite moment is his repeated use of the phrase “swear word, swear word, swear word” to translate just a few of the film’s plethora of F-bombs (265 in total). “Mike was awesome,” agreed Downing when I asked him about the spot this week. “[It’s the] first time I’ve ever wrapped a shoot and had the entire crew applaud.” It was a spot that was cool like Fonzie. — C.P.

“Early Adopters” — Wealthsimple 

This is a tricky one, so bear with me… Wealthsimple’s “Early Adopters” is one of my favourite ads of the year, but it made me think less of the brand. Debuting during The Oscars, and just a few weeks after the “Crypto Bowl,” the ad, developed in-house, was for Wealthsimple Crypto.

The idea was to go back in time to the invention of the wheel to watch wheel skeptics mock wheel enthusiasts—a metaphor for a society divided over the crypto gold rush hysteria. In the 60-second version there’s at least a dozen lines or moments I found genuinely funny. It was certainly similar to the Larry David Super Bowl spot, which had Larry David going for it.

This is good writing and strong performances by unknown commercial actors, delivering a message about cryptocurrency itself and, by extension, Wealthsimple Crypto. And therein lies the predicament: Loved the ad, hated the message.

You see I am absolutely a skeptic. I wasn’t offended by the ad, even though it mocked me. But it did feel like a perfect celebration of the worst excesses of a financial system we know is deeply flawed: If you’re making money, don’t ask questions. And this at a time when we need to be asking more questions about where our money goes and who it supports, not less. I also know that’s not the point of the spot.

“Early Adopters” is a great ad—one of the best of the year for me. But I wish they never made it. — D.B.

“Bill it to Bezos” — Jane/Finch Centre

While Elon has lately been grabbing all the attention as the world’s the most tiresome billionaire, Jeff Bezos had a pretty good run—what with his phallus-shaped rocket, and his (ultimately aborted) plans to dismantle a Rotterdam bridge so that his $500 million super-yacht could pass under it.

So, when Toronto’s Jane/Finch Centre and its agency Angry Butterfly took direct aim at one of the world’s wealthiest men with “Bill it to Bezos,” a campaign both audacious and genius, I had to applaud their moxie.

The initiative took advantage of a loophole in the Amazon Prime membership in which users are given a $3.50 credit each month that can be sent to their favourite gamer on the streaming service Twitch. If it goes unused, the money stays with Bezos. Angry Butterfly created a Twitch channel for Jane/Finch Centre and urged consumers to divert that monthly fee to them instead.

The campaign not only led to the creation of an entirely new communications channel for the Jane/Finch Centre, but it also helped the organization reach its two-month donation goal of $20,000 goal (probably Bezos’ monthly caviar budget) in less than a week.

“That means money that would otherwise have been a drop in Amazon’s balance sheet went to things like after-school programs and mental health services,” said Angry Butterfly’s Erin Kawalecki.  —C.P.

“Imagination Included” — Toys R Us Canada 

If I was elevator pitching “Imagination Included,” here’s what I would say:

  • A very of-the-moment and accurate insight certain to evoke a visceral emotional reaction for many parents (aka toy shoppers);
  • Well-crafted, engaging creative that will resonate with a large audience;
  • It’s an attempt to create an emotional connection with consumers who could be shopping at Amazon;
  • Fart noises.

At a time when society is putting more value on creativity and imaginative thinking, parents are worried that screen time and too many scheduled activities leave kids without enough idle time to be, well, bored. “It’s when you’re bored and you have free time to yourself that you are encouraged to use your imagination,” said Kristy Pleckaitis, SVP of strategy at Broken Heart Love Affair.

The agency captured the essence of that concern by literally depicting the death of imagination: Mr. Robertson, a bored young boy’s imaginary friend who looks like a Jim Henson masterpiece, sprawled out on the living room floor and near death due to best-buddy indifference. The cure? Silly, wonderful, beautiful childish play. Exactly what Toys ‘R’ Us specializes in.

The final dose of medicine is a whoopie cushion beneath Mr. Robertson’s backside, reigniting the young boy’s imagination and reviving the sick patient. The ad and the brand strategy is about bringing a special kind joy to the lives of children, and every parent knows nothing makes young kids happier than fart noises. It’s hopeful and human and real, and BHLA and Toys R Us captured it all with perfection. — D.B.

“Dream Drop” — OLG (Lotto Max) 

From McCain, to Heinz, to Tims, branded clothing drops were a bit of a thing this year. But it was FCB Canada’s “Dream Drop” for OLG’s Lotto Max brand that stood out for being a perfect fit with its intended audience.

Lotteries give back to the community, but with less than 14% of young adults playing, those contributions have been steadily falling. To draw young players back, FCB partnered with the hot Toronto fashion designer Mr. Saturday to create a capsule collection of hoodies, jackets and sweat pants—with each $200 piece featuring a scannable lottery ticket that could be redeemed weekly for one year.

Each item featured the message “Thank you for dreaming,” building on Lotto Max’s “Dream to the Max” positioning.” All of the sales went to Black House, a non-profit providing mentorship, tools, learning opportunities and networking for the BIPOC community.

The 400 pieces sold out within minutes, with items being going for five times their original price on resale platforms like Poshmark. It also received extensive media coverage from fashion and culture sites like Complex and Hypebeast. More importantly, it led to a 194% increase in young adults registered to play, and a 200% lift in ticket sales in the first three weeks.

That, plus four Lions in Cannes, made it “Dream Drop” an unqualified success for OLG and FCB, but they probably still put their (Mr. Saturday) sweatpants on one leg at time. —C.P.

“24 Hours of Care” — CareMakers Foundation (Petro-Canada ) 

In a time-starved world where most of us feel overstimulated by media and content, it may seem overly ambitious to suggest a 24-hour long documentary, but that’s what McCann did for Petro-Canada’s CareMakers Foundation, which raises money and awareness for caregivers in Canada.

While more than eight million Canadians provide some care for a loved one, many others don’t understand what that entails since it often happens at home and in private. “24 hours of care,” is a fly-on-the-wall documentary that takes viewers inside the lives of 10 caregivers over the course of a full day.

The intent is for viewers—upon visiting the website that hosts the film—to see exactly what is going on at that moment of the day. “This is an awareness campaign,” McCann CCO Josh Stein told us. “They want people to know this world of caregiving and the role of the caregiver.”

It’s the heart-breaking truth of the human condition that we all break down eventually. But throughout the film, that simple hard truth is juxtaposed with another, more beautiful, one: the human capacity to give and give and give for the ones we love—the ones we care for.

So yes, 24 hours is a lot of content. But I realized that the more time I spent with it, the more engaged I became. And so you can watch a mother and her two kids, one of whom is autistic and non-verbal, peacefully watch TV for several minutes just grateful that she got to rest, and slightly anxious something will happen to end it (it does). And you realize that you don’t know her, but you care about what she’s going through. That’s a good day’s work, McCann. — D.B.

The mighty-just-not-top-10-mighty list: We had a really, really tough time settling on just 10 creative ideas for our Mighty List this year. We thought long and hard, and talked a great deal about work for Ford, ROM, Black Diamond Cheese, Pizza Pizza, Casey House, Black & Abroad, theScore Bet, BMO, and Harry Rosen.

Chris Powell