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My Favorite Ads of 2011

When I was an undergrad, one of my favorite things to do was critique ads in my classes. Usually a solid sampling of good, bad, and ugly, the ads we critiqued were great examples of what to do and what not to do in advertising. When I taught an introductory advertising class last spring, critiquing ads was a big part of what we did in class. I wanted students to have the same experience I did because the way I look at it, you learn a lot when you actually engage with something and think about it beyond the point of memorization. So many students just memorize things to get by the exam. I’d like to think that it’s more effective to actually THINK about something when it comes to learning, but hey, that’s my opinion.

So, when I was sitting down at Brent’s parents’ house in Vermont thinking about what to write, I got struck with a good idea. Well, actually, Brent’s Dad was sort of where this one came from. He was talking about how there are so many terrible commercials but every now and then, one or two come along and are really, really good. The one from 2011 that came to mind for both of us was the Volkswagen Darth Vader ad that aired during last year’s Super Bowl. If I had to pick the best ad of 2011, that would be the one. And I’m not alone on that one.

After deciding on my favorite ad of the year, I started thinking about some of the others I’ve enjoyed over the past 12 months. BAM! There was my post idea. Here are my favorite ads of 2011 as well as a few thoughts on each.

Created by Deutsch Los Angeles and entitled, “The Force” this ad was by far the best of the bunch for the year. What I loved most about the ad was the sense of fun. Appealing to a wide demographic with two of everyone’s favorite things, Star Wars and kids, this spot told a story that simple and charming. You remember what the ad was for (the VW was clearly featured) and that warm, happy feeling you got while watching it stuck with you. When it all comes down to it, the best ads are those that tell stories. This was a story I enjoyed being told.

Plus, the stats on it are pretty sweet. Adweek reports that the spot had 44 million views on YouTube, a reported 6.8 billion impressions worldwide, and more than $100 million in earned media. Wowzers.

Wieden + Kennedy’s “Born of Fire” ad for Chrysler was one of those ads that didn’t strike me as good at first. The first time I saw it during the Super Bowl, I thought it was a little overdramatic. But after seeing it a second time, I saw it for what it was: one of the best ads of the year.

This ad won the 2011 Emmy Award for best commercial and as Adweek noted, this was the “year’s toughest, proudest, most defiant advertisement.” Imported from Detroit was the tagline, blending together the two core concepts the ad wanted to convey: luxury and American heritage. It’s dramatic, yes, but not in a way that’s overdone. It comes in with a swagger and you can’t help but be impressed.

When Google came out with it’s “Parisian Love” ad for the 2010 Super Bowl, I saw one of my favorite ads of all time. I’m a sucker for sentimentality, but this was an ad that wasn’t overly sweet and sappy. It was creative and understated, telling a story of a romance through screen shots of Google searches. This was part of the Search Stories campaign (one of my favorite campaigns of all time) and was really, really badass – especially for someone who works in search.

In 2011, Google hit another one out of the park with “Dear Sophie”, a collaborative piece between Google Creative Lab and Bartle Bogle Hegarty New York. This ad showed a young father using Google tools to fill a digital scrapbook with keepsakes of his young daugher, which he wants to share with her someday. It’s a very human ad and it’s easy to get choked up.

Okay, okay. This is technically an ad from 2010, but I love the Old Spice guy and his integrated marketing campaign. Speaking of integrated marketing, how ’bout those Muppets?! The Muppets had one of the finest marketing campaigns I’ve seen all year, and I’m not the only one who thinks so:

When I heard that they were making another Muppet movie, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. For one thing, I was really disappointed with some of the Muppet movies they put out in the 1990′s. My mind was changed when I started seeing this campaign. Viral YouTube videos, media appearances, Google+ Hangouts, a powerhouse Facebook page, sweet merchandise and The Green Album? THIS was The Muppets for my generation and lately, I’ve seen a lot of crappy campaigns targeted right at my age group. This was a campaign that worked because it was grown up, not overly complicated, and best of all, fun! It reminded me of why we fell in love with The Muppets in the first place.

You know that episode of Mad Men where Don talks about nostalgia while pitching Kodak? Well, he’s right. When we look at things like Star Wars, The Muppets, digital scrapbooks, and our scrappy histories in commercials, we’re connecting with parts of our past – of our selves – that we miss. And that, in my opinion, makes a good ad.

Which ad from 2011 was your favorite?

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