What Were the Top Ads of 2020?

By Brendan Gill  | 

We won’t soon forget 2020, the year that challenged us with a global pandemic, economic recession and civil unrest in response to racism. Many brands were challenged too, in striking the right chord with their advertising campaigns. According to a recent study by Ace Metrix that evaluated over 9,000 ads, those spots that stood out for consumers were either empowering, funny or able to break through the clutter via their likeability or ability to grab viewers’ attention. Here’s a look at some of the stand outs.

Get Inspired
It felt natural for brands to take a stand during the onslaught of the coronavirus, and consumers responded by connecting to their efforts. A few common themes emerged, including support for frontline workers and messages of partnership with various initiatives. The “most empowering” spot as scored by Ace Metrix came from T-Mobile. Called “MLB Little League Grant,” it stood out for not being Covid-related. Instead, it focused on an initiative aiming to donate up to $1 million in support of Little Leagues across the country, so kids everywhere might have the chance to play America’s favorite sport. Frito-Lay likewise earned top marks for “It’s About People,” a music-backed ad promoting the brand’s philanthropic efforts. Dick’s Sporting Goods, Tide and Wells Fargo rounded out the top five.

For Laughs
You can’t go wrong with humor. Consumers craved respite from the dark days of 2020, and brands delivered with a variety of offerings meant to elicit giggles, chuckles and guffaws. Snickers topped the Ace Metrix list with “First Visitors,” a 15-second spoof of our new virtual world. Thinking his wife arranged a video call with friends, a husband walks onto his patio dressed only in his underwear, to be surprised by the sight of real-life guests. Cheetos’ “Can’t Touch This,” set to MC Hammer’s eponymous iconic song, premiered at last year’s Super Bowl and hit the right comedic tone. Additional fan favorites included commercials from Match, Little Caesars and Doritos.

Rising to the Top
To determine which spots broke through the noise, the Ace Metrix survey looked at ads that scored top marks in the “Attention” and “Likeability” categories. Capital One combined both winning factors in its “Instant Search” spot, which paired Samuel L. Jackson, playing an elf, with John Travolta in the role of Santa. Consumers vibed to the nostalgic Pulp Fiction reference that brought to mind easier pre-Covid days. Google’s March campaign, “Thank You Healthcare Workers,” earned appreciation and praise from viewers. And Budweiser grabbed positions three and four with a Memorial Day commercial and a spot urging support for local bars, respectively, followed by Kohls at number five.

Next month’s Super Bowl is expected to carry on where these ads left off, delivering moments of inspiration, levity and originality. Viewers are still concerned about Covid-19 and social justice issues, yet with the vaccine rollout and start of a new year and new administration, many are likewise feeling hopeful.

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