Roundup: Best Ads of 2014

It’s been a memorable year for commercials, but spots that don’t quite fit the traditional definition of an “ad” were even more notable.

Newcastle’s Super Bowl ad that never was made took the top spot on AdWeek’s 2014 “Ten Best Ads of 2014. The brewer’s “If We Made It” campaign never actually shot a Super Bowl spot. Instead they poked fun at the (over) hype that surrounds many Super Bowl commercials and the ensuing media coverage.

“If We Made It” grew out of the brand’s “No Bollocks” campaign and targeted a sweet spot for them—millennial men, who do not want to consume advertising. Newcastle also used unscripted footage of focus groups reviewing phony, over-the-top story boards as part of the campaign.

The company used media buying firms to crunch the numbers to show when the brewer would get the most attention for airing the commercial. And the payoff from the spot was huge, generating a billion impressions—on par with what companies that actually aired Super Bowl spots pull in.

Last Super Bowl, Annalect crunched the numbers to find out which ads resonated with viewers, which were confusing and which were the funniest. Using crowdsourcing solutions, we were able to explore how different creative executions affect brand performance and ad virality during a big event like the Super Bowl. Those that consumers thought were the funniest included spots from Audi, Doritos and RadioShack, and Annalect predicted those would generate the highest return.

But it isn’t just the Super Bowl that hosts stand out ads. Charities and public service announcements also resonated with viewers this year. Number two on AdAge’s list was the public service announcement for Britain’s Save the Children charity addressing the war in Syria. The compilation of one-second a- day videos shows the life of a young girl falling apart as if the war were happening in the U.K. The spot helped raise awareness and more than $100,000 for the cause and earned 42 million views on YouTube.

Another runaway success this year wasn’t quite an ad, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t encounter the ALS Ice Bucket challenge. The campaign was a blockbuster success for the ALS Association, which works to raise awareness and research treatments for ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The campaign drove a 3,500% increase in donations to more than $100 million compared with the $2.8 million the ALS association raised in the same period the year before. It also attracted hundreds of celebrities and millions of impressions. This piece from Forbes includes a great chart featuring the data behind the Ice Bucket Challenge.

However, more conventional ads also found their share of acclaim this year, whether they’ve grabbed a spot on a “best of” list or one chronicling the most viral ads of the year.

Other sports and athletic themed commercials won big with the World Cup and Winter Olympics in Sochi making 2014 an extra athletic year. One stand out was Beats by Dre’s “The Game Before the Game,” which ran during the World Cup and featured several international soccer stars getting ready for the big game by listening to music.

Other well-received spots focused on empowering women, such as the Under Armour campaign featuring ballerina Misty Copeland. AdAge said the tagline “I Will What I Want” was “defiant – the howl of inner strength overcoming fate.”

The companies that generated the most attention did so in creative, unexpected ways. They took into consideration their target audiences, what they care about and tailored their campaigns to most effectively reach them. They spanned causes, and evoked many different emotions to inspire viewers.

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