This year’s finest video campaigns spanned the sublime and the ridiculous, with advertisers inviting us to get silly, get angry, or just get dancing. With such a diverse offering one common thread weaves its merry way through the best of the best, branded films are where it’s at. So, without further ado, here are the top ads that had us talking, laughing and crying at Skylark HQ.

5. Lloyds – Get the Inside Out

These days it’s not enough for a brand to shout about themselves, they need to be seen to give something back. In our socially conscious times everyone needs a cause to champion, and this year Lloyds decided theirs was mental health. Winner of Channel 4’s Diversity in Advertising Award, which awards £1m in free airtime to a brand who can come up with a creative idea focused on a non-visible disability, ad agency Adam & Eve / DDB cleverly riffed on the classic sticky note ‘twenty questions’ game in order to give visibility to the likes of anxiety, depression and anorexia. It’s a laudable effort to show the caring side of the corporation, although we can’t help feeling it’s a tad staged and overwrought. Nevertheless, it’s a clever concept, affecting and great exposure for rarely discussed issues. With over 40k views on Youtube and sparking a passionate online debate around the bank, it certainly got people thinking, demonstrating the power of aligning your brand with the greater good.

4. Nike – Shanghai’s Never Done

It’s been a terrific year for the sports brand, who continue to up the ante (and the budgets) of their branded films. Whether it’s courting controversy with their powerful ‘Dream Crazy’ promo featuring Colin Kaerpernick (who famously refused to stand during the American National Anthem during an NFL game in 2016), or going completely berzerk in the Big Smoke with their insanely good ‘Nothing Beats a Londoner‘ extravaganza, they are without a doubt one of the finest examples of a brand that Just Do It well. But our favourite Nike offering of the year has to be this quirky little film from Nike China.  Lin Dongfu, a celebrated Shanghainese film actor and former television host, plays a man stuck in the past running a store specialising in finish lines. He implores us to say: ‘Enough is Enough’. But of course, with Nike’s help, Shanghai athletes can’t stop. A wonderful drama that nods to Amelie and winks at Wes Anderson, here’s a prime example of storytelling you could watch again and again for pleasure (with some clever reverse psychology too). Where Nike’s concerned it seems their ambition truly knows no limits, and much to our delight their video advertising goes from strength to strength.

3. Tide – It’s a Tide ad

The highlight of the last Superbowl and an absolute masterclass in video advertising clichés, this campaign for the American laundry detergent saw Stranger Things star David Harbour hijacking each advertising slot with hilarious results. Popping up in every genre from a slick car ad to a surreal perfume commercial Tide did an excellent job of subverting viewer expectations whilst exposing traditional advertising formulas. As a result, they well and truly won the internet during the Superbowl. Tide became the most-tweeted brand with over 163,800 mentions and neatly side-stepping the negative press it received earlier in the year for the Tide Pod Challenge. Creative agency Saatchi & Saatchi went on to win a Cannes Lion Film Grand Prix for the four-spot campaign, proving that good comedy is well-loved both by consumers and industry peers in the advertising world.

2. Ovo Energy – It’s Time to Power Your Life Differently

Whilst environmentally conscious brands like Greenpeace and Iceland are moving us to tears with their touching ‘Ran Tang’ ad, Ovo Energy wants us to get mad. This powerful and provocative campaign by Uncommon launches us over a sea of electrical devices sucking power directly from the earth, alongside footage and audio of irate climate change deniers and backed by an aggressive track by thrash metal band Slayer. Finally, drowning out the naysayers, comes the iconic speech from 1976 film ‘Network’ which yells ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ It’s a bleak, apocalyptic vision of our energy-consuming lives and an unflinchingly sober message from the normally warm and fuzzy company. Clocking over 56k Youtube views so far, it’s bold, it’s very very cool and we challenge any viewer not to get whipped up into a frenzy. An impeccable use of archive footage and set design to hit an important message home, hard.

1. Apple – Welcome Home

And finally, it may have been a rough year but luckily, we’ve got Apple to help us dance our troubles away. This mini-masterpiece is not only the best ad of the year, but possibly the best ad we’ve seen since we don’t know when. A feast for the eyes and ears, a bombastic, invigorating celebration of filmmaking wizardry, all shot for real in a studio. ‘Welcome Home’ is directed by one of our favourite directors, Spike Jonze (Her, Where the Wild Things Are), a well-seasoned music video auteur who wowed us a couple of years ago with his bonkers dance video for perfume makers Kenzo. “We started talking about how great music makes a space feel bigger,” says Robbin Ingvarsson, one of the two TBWA\Media Arts Lab creatives who developed the concept. “And then we said, ‘What if it would actually expand a place as a person dances throughout a home?’” The result is a joyful celebration of escapism, which just so happens to be promoting Apple’s Home Pod. With over 16m views on Youtube and scoring three Cannes Lions awards, there’s never been a finer example of a branded film that wants to give something back to the viewer.

James Dec 19th, 2018

About James Sampson

James is Creative Director at Skylark Media. He was assistant director for the likes of Casualty and Doctor Who, where he honed his knack for combining compelling storytelling with stunning visuals alongside production management. In his spare time he draws and paints, as well as storyboarding, editing and directing music videos for up-and-coming musicians.