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We’ve all seen it by now. The slowly panning, wide-angle shot of empty streets and playgrounds. The tremulous, somber piano notes. And the word “unprecedented,” repeated ad nauseum. And we do mean “ad” in the most literal sense of the word. In a rush to strike the right empathetic tone, brands both big and small, national and local, fell into the trap of one-note ad campaigns. And who can blame them? When the pandemic hit, digital marketing agencies worldwide scrambled to pivot their messaging and keep their clients’ ad campaigns relevant. 

So, yeah. 2020 had a definite vibe all its own. But in a year of unique challenges, we also got to see the industry’s incredible resilience and creativity. As we finally take the step into 2021, Savy’s taking a look back at some of 2020’s best digital ad campaigns. 

What makes for a good digital ad campaign? 

We’ll be the first to admit there’s nothing even remotely objective about our list of favorites. But, considering we’ve been helping create effective creative for our clients since ’07, we’ve got a pretty good eye for ad campaigns that Have It. When we put together our end-of-year list, we’re not just looking for technical skill. We’re looking for ads that are memorable, authentic, and purpose-driven. 

Memorable

One of advertising’s top goals is to increase brand awareness and create an emotional connection. But before your brand can work its way into the hearts and minds of your audience, you’re going to need memorable marketing campaigns. We’re talking storytelling that cuts through the clutter and makes your audience actually feel something. The sort of thing that people talk about in the office or around the dinner table.   

Authentic

This year has brought nonstop, in-your-face realness. And brands that tried to breeze over or sugar coat things got called out for it (all eyes on you, GAP unity sweatshirt). Digital ad agencies know how important authenticity was to consumers before the global pandemic disrupted every aspect of our daily lives. And preliminary surveys show it’s even more critical now. Virtue signallers need not apply. 

Purpose-driven

Finally, our favorite digital marketing campaigns of 2020 have a meaningful message. We’re able to connect with and feel inspired by them. Whether they’re humorous or tug at the heartstrings, they’re not just trying to sell a product or service. They’ve got something going on beneath the surface. 

So, without further ado, we’d like to present Savy’s favorite digital marketing ad campaigns of 2020

Progressive’s “WFH” Series

This spring, workers around the world went from the office to the kitchen table, couch, or living room floor in unprecedented numbers. And, as one astute internet user noted, virtual meetings are just modern seances. And Progressive wanted us to know that their team was right there, feeling the pain alongside us.

The creative was a collaborative effort headed by Progressive’s longtime agency partner, Arnold Worldwide, and in-house agency Ninety6. The digital marketing campaign was shot on iPhones, and the scripts were improvised to hilarious effect.

Unstable internet connections. Weird camera angles. Forgetting to mute your side convo during the big work meeting. Progressive’s three-spot WFH series perfectly captured the challenges a remote workforce can face. The “funny because it’s true” situations were particularly relevant when the set launched: just as many entered the seventh week of work from home. 

See the ads for yourself (in the off chance you haven’t seen them already): “Mara Unmuted,” “Tech Issues,” and “Role Play.” 

Nike’s “You Can’t Stop Us”

Nobody captured the “stronger together,” empathetic ethos quite like Nike this year. While both their “For once, just don’t do it” and “Play for the World” spots were both strong contenders, Savy Agency’s hands-down favorite was their most recent “You Can’t Stop Us” splice. 

The inspirational, split-screen video has over 58 million views on YouTube alone. It features a lineup of iconic athletes (past and present), including Megan Rapinoe, Serena Williams, and Lebron James. Plus, it’s incredibly diverse, juxtaposing disabled and able-bodied men and women of different races, ethnicities, and orientations. 

But where this marketing campaign really gets us is the tone it sets. Equal parts inspirational and resilient, it recognizes the challenges we face. And then guarantees that “No matter how bad it gets, we will always come back stronger.”

While the concept was simple, the execution was far from it. According to one breakdown of the ad, “The project involved the Wieden+Kennedy research team working closely with content sourcing agency Stalkr to gather clips that the production team could ultimately mirror, combing through 4,000 pieces of footage over many months.” The result? A stunning and inspirational spotlight of human resilience and unity. 

Need an emotional pick-me-up? You can watch the spot here: “You Can’t Stop Us

Burger King’s “Moldy Whopper”

You know we have to talk about the ad campaign that’s dividing digital marketing teams around the world. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that Burger King’s moldy Whopper stunt was memorable. 

In response to consumer concerns about preservatives and requests for organic, natural ingredients, Burger King decided to drop artificial preservatives and other additives from their menu. Then they took the most iconic item on that menu, set it in front of a camera, and let nature get to work. 

At the end of the 34-day timelapse, the burger is coated in tufts of mold and webs of blue-green decay. Ah, the beauty of no artificial preservatives. Feeling hungry yet?

Ok, so the moldy Whopper—the brainchild and collaborative genius of three marketing agencies—might not have you rushing for an UberEats delivery. But is it still an effective digital ad campaign? Despite breaking all the rules of advertising, over 95% of responses were either positive or neutral. The other 5%? Savy’s Creative Director, Christina, has speculated that they’re probably vegetarians now. 

See it for yourself: “The Moldy Whopper

All Access Inc., VersaPlex Drive-In

Excuse us while we toot our own horn for a second. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention our own COVID-19 ad campaign pivot. 

What happens when you’re a globally-recognized live event staging company, and suddenly the entire world is in lockdown? That’s precisely what the team at All Access, Inc. asked themselves in March 2020. 

Their team went from riding the high of another successful Super Bowl HalfTime show to reconfiguring their entire business model. That meant turning an objective eye on their capabilities and brainstorming new and creative ways to leverage their expertise. 

All Access, Inc. took a multifaceted approach to reimagining their capabilities—from pop-up emergency COVID-19 testing and treatment stations to drive-in and drive-thru events. And Savy was with them every step of the way, supporting their efforts through content marketing and website updates

Get a digital marketing agency that thinks outside the box

If there’s one thing 2020 taught us, it’s that digital marketing agencies need to be capable of agile changes and unfettered creativity. Whether it’s navigating tight timelines, shoestring budgets, or the challenges of socially distanced campaigns, you need an agency that can do more. And now’s the time to start thinking about how your brand will step into 2021. Want to start the year strong? Get in touch with Savy for a free brand consultation