Remember that time when tv commercials was just a cue for putting the kettle on? Not anymore. Modern ads are becoming so much more than a necessary evil. With the advent of online advertising changing the landscape forever it’s fair to say we’re entering something of a Golden Age for video marketing. Not only do we have targeted advertising with the likes of Sky’s AdSmart initiative, but people are actually choosing to watch their favourite ads online, over and over again. We’re even promoting hundreds of brands free of charge by sharing videos on social media, creating new viral sensations every day. It’s never been a better time to produce an advert.

So what are the ingredients of a hit advertising campaign? Taking a look at some of the stand-out examples of 2015 identifies emotion as the key to a consumer’s heart, and ultimately their wallet. Ad tech company Unruly Co-CEO and co-founder Sarah Wood said: “Data analysis of 1,300 ads proves that 2015 was a highly emotional year for video ads. On the one hand, warmth and happiness shone through, with brands using fluffy pets and simple storylines to melt our hearts and amplify sharing.” Not only that, recognizing the changing attitudes and social concerns of ‘Generation Y’, Wood observes that advertisers have started to align themselves with social causes. “It’s not that Adland has lost its sense of humour this year; it’s just that it’s found a sense of higher purpose.” Viral successes like Sport England’s “This Girl Can” and Ad Council’s “Love Has No Labels” reveal that many people are looking for more than just light entertainment. They are looking for inspiration.

Demonstrating these new approaches to advertising, here’s a round-up of our favourites from the last 12 months.

1. John Lewis, Tiny Dancer

Who’d have thought that an advert for home insurance would end up making the list? Advertising a life-essential is no easy task, but John Lewis are seasoned professionals. They’ve turned their epic Christmas campaigns in to a highly anticipated yearly event, and, with this new advert about a little girl in a tutu dancing to Elton John whilst reeking havoc around the house, they once again combine the winning formula of a cute kid and a classic pop song to warm our hearts.

“The best thing on TV at the moment,” was the general consensus on social media upon its release, scoring over 3 million views on Youtube.

Margaret Burke, Head of marketing & Financial services at John Lewis, believes that part of the success of the ad is not only the entertainment factor, but the way it remains firmly on message: “Most importantly it reminds viewers that John Lewis Home Insurance can offer peace of mind, allowing them to enjoy family life – knowing that they have protection in place, they can simply let life happen. Our campaign encapsulates this perfectly.”

2. Android, Friends Furever

Smashing all records, this advert for Android has become the most shared video of all time, attracting over 6,432,921 shares across Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere since its launch in February 2015. If there was ever a doubt as to the appeal of cute animal home videos, this campaign didn’t even need to record a single frame of original footage, gathering all its material from popular videos already published on YouTube. User generated content can be a powerful tool if used well, portraying a message of inclusivity and collaboration. Combined with a classic Disney song Android were on to a winner, further emphasizing the compatibility of their software (a subtle dig at Apple’s inflexible devices). Are they cheating? Maybe. But there’s no denying it’s memorable. The current tally on YouTube is over 23 million, and counting.

3. Always, #LikeAGirl

This ongoing campaign for challenging gender stereotypes goes from strength to strength. Since debuting in June 2014 the “Like a Girl” series has become so much more than just a way of selling more feminine hygiene products, it is now an anthem for female empowerment.

With the 2015 campaign London-based agency Leo Burnett and documentary filmmaker Lauren Greenfield continue to tread the fine line between cheesy and inspirational. We certainly think they pull it off with this latest exploration of the obstacles facing young women.

“We set out to champion the girls who were the future of the brand,” says Judy John, Chief Executive Officer/Chief Creative Officer of Leo Burnett Canada. Always #LikeAGirl has not only proved a massive global success achieving more than 85 million views on YouTube from over 150 countries, it has also become an online phenomenon in changing the way people think about the phrase.

Two out of three men who watched it said they’d now think twice before using ‘like a girl’ as an insult.

Committing itself to its cause without cynicism, Always are just one of a new surge of brands incorporating social activism into its marketing strategy. Dove’s ‘Movement for Self Esteem’ strategy has helped boost Dove sales from $2.5 billion to $4 billion since 2010. India’s Ariel #ShareTheLoad campaign was universally praised, with Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg calling it ‘one of the most powerful videos’ she has ever seen.

Leading the charge in the male arena, Axe body spray transformed their traditional masculine image with their January 2015 commercial. “Find Your Magic” champions a wide spectrum of men, with a message of embracing your own individuality rather than just a hot babe.

While risky, these campaigns can certainly hit the right emotional buttons if handled in a way that truly connects with a modern audience.

4. Transfer Wise, Shock Roulette

Going from profound to ridiculous, the Transferwise campaign is a master class in social media advertising. Visualizing the shock of hidden bank charges by terrorizing a group of individuals with the likes of smelly fish, wet willies and other unpleasant skullduggery, this campaign is simple, fun and extremely shareable. Made with Facebook and Twitter strongly in mind it is optimized to stand out from the clutter of a newsfeed: it works without sound, makes you laugh and conveys a clear message. Is it sophisticated? Nope. Is it effective? With over 7 million views on Facebook alone, definitely. The accompanying series of slow motion shock-reaction videos are perhaps even stronger:

You can’t get simpler than that. Transferwise is a great example of less is more.

5. Extra Gum: Sarah & Juan

OK let’s get emotional. Following Extra Gum’s foray into ‘dadvertising’ with touching father/daughter story “Origami,” their 2015 campaign is designed to reduce viewers to even bigger blubbering wrecks. And then presumably console themselves with a nice stick of gum.

“Sarah & Juan” continues the old adage of Wrigley’s “even better to share” slogan, tracing the love story of two high-school sweethearts who seem to spend their whole relationship subtly hinting at one another’s halitosis. It earned over 7 million YouTube views and more than 78 million Facebook views within one week of it’s October 2015 release.

“In 20 years in marketing, I’ve never seen the consumer reaction I’ve seen this early with any piece of advertising I’ve been affiliated with,”

said Wrigley’s Vice President John Starkey.

Whether you love it or hate it, there’s no denying the power of emotional storytelling when it comes to connecting with an audience. Extra’s follow-up campaign “A Second Chance” attempted to repeat the success with a real-life documentary love story. Unfortunately, it feels contrived and repetitive, scoring only 2.5 million views since its February 2016 release. Just goes to show, you can have too much of a good thing.

6.Thatchers Cider, Slow Motion

This stunning commercial, shot with a Phantom v1611 camera at 45,000 frames per second, deserves a lot more buzz around it. With under 17 thousand views on YouTube to date it hasn’t exactly set the internet alight. However, we think it’s an excellent example of a simple concept, expertly executed. The message is simple; Thatcher’s take their time to achieve perfection. What better way to visualize this than with beautiful slow motion? Blending breath-taking macro imagery of a bee flapping its wings with the humour of a woman dropping her groceries as she runs for her bus or a man taking an eternity to raise a sandwich to his mouth, this is more than just the usual beverage-porn of a standard alcohol commercial. Not to say that the extreme close ups of the cider itself don’t look completely mouth watering. Perhaps this ad, like its product, is slow to brew. We’re sure it will pay off in the long run.

So where next for 2016? Sarah Wood reckons it’ll be clobberin’ time: “Next year, we expect the advertiser focus to move away from warmth and happiness that were popular in 2015 to those of exhilaration. With its deluge of superhero, war and zombie flicks – from ‘Batman v Superman’ to ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ – being released in 2016, we can expect marketers to follow Hollywood with similar themes.”

It remains to be seen. But with advertising opening up more and more avenues for companies to explore beyond cut-and-dry product placement it guarantees to be an interesting year. I guess that kettle will have to boil itself coz we’re not going anywhere.

Jo Apr 28th, 2016

About Jo Haywood

Jo is the Managing Director at Skylark Media. Before starting Skylark in 2005, Jo ran the BBC Lifestyle website and prior to that directed science documentaries for the BBC and Channel 4. To switch off she can be found on the tennis court, at yoga, or planting trees in the forest garden.