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PH Picks: the best ads of 2017

Posted by Symon Dickinson - Creative Director at PHMG on

2017 marks another year of creative advertising – and as it draws to a close, we’ll be wrapping things up by taking a look at some of this year’s most powerful and popular campaigns.

One of this year’s most memorable ads was born from a case of life imitating art. In a 2013 episode of Mad Men, Don Draper pitched a campaign to a fictional agency – selling the idea that Heinz didn’t need fancy print or fancy aesthetics… what they needed was much simpler. Rather than showing images of the bottle or logo, instead the fictional mogul presented the brand executives with visuals of a burger, chips and a sliver of steak – all with the caption, “pass the Heinz”. Four years later, this fictional ad has become a reality. And while it’s not a brand-new concept, it’s by no means outdated. Like Nicole Kulwicki – Head of the Heinz brand – says, “Mr. Draper really understood the one thing every Heinz fan knows, which is to never settle for the foods you love without the great taste of Heinz. It doesn’t require paragraphs of copy to explain it […] all that’s missing is the Heinz’. And even without knowing the Mad Men reference, it’s a campaign that’ll be remembered for years to come for its effective application of product absentia.

Data has been hot on the lips of marketers in 2017, and Spotify’s ads demonstrated how their user data can be transformed into an effective advertising tool. They created a series of films based on playlists from users across the globe, with pop artists commenting on their song’s obscure addition to titles such as ‘Play This At My Funeral’ (including DNCE’s Body Moves) They followed this up with a series of clever billboards, which used listening figures from the year to celebrate 2017. We’re told to “be as loving as the person who put 48 Ed Sheeran songs on their ‘I Love Gingers’ playlist”, and to “exercise more conventionally than the 46 people who put ‘Slow Hands’ on their running playlist”. Both these examples perfectly capture the playfulness of not just their brand, but their users – and made a real impact in the process.

When we think of New York, we think of Times Square’s spectacular billboards and a town focused on the hard sell – so it’s no surprise that this advertisers’ playground has given birth to two of last year’s most powerful ads. The first was State Street Global Advisors’ ‘Fearless Girl’ – a crafted bronze sculpture placed in front of Wall Street’s famous charging bull. This bold stunt was designed to signify female leadership and promote gender diversity, and the agency behind it – McCann – has shown how effective a traditional premise can be when combined with a modern message. Hailed as a conceptual and cultural breakthrough, ‘Fearless Girl’ has been consistently named as 2017’s best – but it’s challenged by the first ever advert from NYC institution, The New York Times. In response to Donald Trumps “fake news” tweet, the paper released a 30-second clip – entirely in black and white – that combines an array of voiceovers from people explaining their view on what “the truth is”. Simple, powerful and a little unconventional, it became engrained in the public’s mind and celebrated across the globe.

Whether it’s Heinz bringing fictional ads into the real world… The New York Times questioning the concept of truth… or Spotify taking a humorous twist on user data – advertising has been bolder and more creative than ever this year, and this is only set to continue in 2018.


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