The 20 Best Ads of 2015

Greg Miles    Posted by Greg Miles, Sun, Dec 13, 2015


What makes a great ad? Apparently, one that includes a heart-melting animal, a cameo from Liam Neeson, or anything that makes you feel warm, fuzzy, or on the verge of tears.

This year our video ads were highly emotional, and records were broken in terms of social shares. In fact, 2015 saw a 40% increase in shares of the top 20 ads compared to 2014, reaching a total of over 40 million.

The data comes from video ad-tech company Unruly, who used their own proprietary research tool to rank the ads based on virality. The list features three entries from Adidas, as well as spots from Budweiser, Kleenex, Sainsbury’s and Disney.

“Warmth and happiness shone through, with brands using fluffy pets and simple storylines to melt our hearts and amplify sharing,” said Unruly co-founder Sarah Wood. “At the same time, other advertisers aligned themselves with social causes, evoking strong feelings of sadness and inspiration. 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.”

Check out the ads that compelled us to share in 2015.

Adidas: Take It

Shares: 625,545
Agency: 180LA

In moments of intense pressure, people often dwell on the consequences of failure. Pros on the other hand, are locked into the moment, focused on the moves they’ve repeated thousands of times in training. They use all of their experiences to empower themselves in the future.

That’s the message Adidas conveys with this inspiring ad. The global campaign features top footballers such as Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez, plus the NBA’s Derrick Rose and the NFL’s DeMarco Murray.

“Do something, and be remembered. Or do nothing, and be forgotten. No one owns today. Take it.”

Best Ads 2015 number 19 Sainsbury’s: Mog’s Christmas Calamity

Shares: 629,720

True to internet form, an adorable cat has made the list of viral ads, and just in time for Christmas. In Sainsbury’s slapstick festive ad, Mog the Cat makes his first on-screen appearance since 2002.

Based on the children’s book series by Judith Kerr, this charming flick is aptly titled, telling the story of how Mog almost ruined the family’s chances of a merry Christmas. A calamity in the kitchen leads to a chain of events that turn the whole house into a charred tragedy.

But in true festive spirit, we’re treated to a happy ending as the neighbours come together to put the house back into fine Christmas fettle.

Digital Ads 2015 number 18 Adidas: Unfollow feat. Lionel Messi

Shares: 681,645
Agency: 72andSunny

Lionel Messi is the greatest football player on the planet. “Legendary. Unstoppable. The best ever,” according to the voice over in Adidas’ second entry. But the sixty second film urges fans around the world to “unfollow” the Argentinian star and follow their own path.

The ad shows a young amateur footballer watching clips and sharing posts of his idol, before acknowledging that although he admires Messi, he doesn’t want to be him. “I want to see what the world thinks of me, and what I can create.”

Ryan Morlan, VP of brand communications at Adidas, said at the time: “We believe sport happens in moments. Any moment is a chance for you to do the impossible, start over, and that’s the key insight we’re going to roll out over all these films.”

17 John Lewis: Man on the Moon

Shares: 693,343
Agency: adam&eveDDB

John Lewis released its first Christmas ad in 2007, and has since become a festive phenomenon with increasing pressure to deliver bolder and better spots each year.

This year’s ad tells the tale of a young girl who spots a lonely old man on the moon while looking through her telescope. The two-minute film cost £1 million to shoot, and features a 3D structure of the moon built at Warner Bros studios in Hertfordshire. The set includes the special effects team’s own special recipe for ‘moon dust’.

The soundtrack comes from 19-year old Norwegian breakthrough artist Aurora, who covers Oasis’ Britpop classic ‘Half the World Away’, well known as the theme tune to the BBC sitcom ‘The Royle Family’.

16 (1) Adidas: Create Your Own Game

Shares: 779,019
Agency: 72andSunny

Adidas’ most shared ad of the year is an inspiring film that takes the same theme as their other ads in this list; urging aspiring stars to defy the norm, unfollow their heroes and create their own path.

All three ads represent a complete shift in how Adidas communicates as a company, empowering the next generation of creators to lead, not follow. This 90 second spot features football superstars Mesut Özil, Thomas Müller and James Rodríguez, as well as our anonymous narrator.

Eric Liedtke, Global Head of Brands at Adidas said: “‘Create Your Own Game’ is a compelling concept, inspiring the creators of today to push the game forward. It encapsulates the brand’s vision that is relevant to all sports and athletes and encourages creators to think differently, take inspiration from heroes, but ultimately create their own game.”

15 Red Nose Day: Coldplay’s Game of Thrones: The Musical

Shares: 998,762
Agency: –

To raise money for Red Nose Day US, British band Coldplay directed the cast of Game of Thrones in this spoof behind-the-music documentary.

“This is the best idea we’ve ever had,” Chris Martin says to the camera as we learn about the project. But the cast don’t have such high hopes. “One word that springs to mind when I’m thinking about this project is Titanic — but not in terms of the successful movie; in terms of the unsuccessful boat,” Emilia Clarke, who plays Daenerys Targaryen, confesses.

The short film which raised $21 million for charities, also features a cheeky narration from Hollywood actor Liam Neeson.

14 Supercell: Clash of Clans: Revenge

Shares: 1,005,673
Agency: Barton F. Graf 9000

Liam Neeson doesn’t just use his smartphone to track down terrorists who persistently kidnap his family. This Super Bowl ad from mobile game creators Supercell shows that he’s just as merciless in real life while playing mobile video games.

AngryNeeson52 is shown playing ‘Clash of Clans’ while ordering scones. “I don’t know you BigBuffetBoy85, but if you think you can humiliate me and take my gold, think again. I’m coming for you with lots of barbarians and dragons,” he says, in a spoof of the famous taken scene.

Neeson’s intense speech is eventually interrupted by a barista who mispronounces his name, adding the cherry to this comical cake. Supercell likely spent around $9 million airing the 60 second flick, which became the most viewed Super Bowl ad on Youtube this year.

 DC Shoes: Robbie Madison’s Pipe Dream

Shares: 1,058,149
Agency: –

Robbie Madison is an Australian motocross and stunt rider. This year he also surfed a giant wave in Tahiti on a dirt bike fitted with skis. “It’s hard to explain how crazy that experience was, to see nature performing like that, flexing its muscles,” he said in an interview following the viral stunt.

The ad took two years to create, including the time developing the bike. Madison admitted that he almost lost his life on the final filmed run (the one shown in the film) as he was crushed by a giant wave.

“I had to patiently wait for it to kick my butt. It picked me up and it slammed me and the motorcycle drove into my back and I lost all the air out of my lungs. I literally had to give in the will to live. I gave up the fight,” he said.

He was hit by four huge waves but luckily survived the ordeal. The same can’t be said for the bike.

12 Pandora: The Unique Connection

Shares: 1,157,824
Agency: Malling Publications

The connection between a mother and her child is incredible. That’s exactly what this Mother’s Day-themed spot from Danish jewellery brand Pandora celebrates.

Six mothers were invited to the experiment along with one of their cherished loved ones. The children were then blindfolded and asked to identify the one they call Mum from a line-up of women.

Anxiety, love and tears filled the room as the children tried, and succeeded with the challenge. The heartwarming ad perfectly demonstrates the special bond, leaving us with the message: “All women are unique. Celebrate the one in your heart.”

11 Metlife: My Dad’s Story

Shares: 1,497,418
Agency: BBDO Hong Kong

This tear-jerking commercial comes from Asian insurance company MetLife. The ad, which was shot in Thailand (six versions were made for different Asian Markets) features a young girl reading aloud a letter about her father. She says that he is “the sweetest daddy in the world,” listing all the attributes she admires about him.

But she also insists he is a liar, as we are shown a series of truly heart-wrenching scenes. The ad highlights the sacrifices parents make for their children every day.

The daughter explains: “He lies about having a job. He lies about having money. He lies that he’s not tired. He lies that he’s not hungry. He lies that we have everything. He lies … because of me.”

Pass the tissues.

10 Kleenex: Unlikely Best Friends

Shares: 2,027,213
Agency: VSA Partners

We’ve got another sadvert on our hands. This charming spot tells the story of a loveable dog who lost his rear legs after being hit by a car. The poor pup was left for dead at the side of the road, until San Antonio Pets Alive found him and gave him a second chance at life. For that reason, they called him Chance.

Chance, who gets around with the help of a wheelchair, was adopted – and became best friends with – a man called Michael who is also bound to a wheelchair. “I deal with the same struggles that he deals with,” Michael says in the ad.

At the end we are left with the message “Kleenex. Someone needs one,” a clear indiction that the brand just did their best to make you cry with their moving story.

9 Microsoft: Robert Downey Jr. Delivers a Real Bionic Arm

Shares: 2,119,279

Robert Downey Jr. doesn’t just play superheroes on the silver screen. In this inspirational ad, Iron Man himself delivers a 3D-printed bionic arm to a 7-year-old boy called Alex. The prosthesis was created by Limbitless, part of Microsoft’s large scale charity operation The Collective Project.

“We knew that the power of the campaign was not about being a polished ad: it was the authenticity of the interaction between parties,” said Danielle Trivisonno Hawley, CCO of Seattle-based agency POSSIBLE.

“We wanted to make it as low-budget as possible to focus on the spirit of the interaction… It was one take, and the whole thing was absolutely as organic as it looks.”

8 Slap Her

Shares: 2,365,612
Agency: –

What happens when you place a young boy in front of a girl and ask him to slap her?

That’s the question the Italian news organisation set out to answer with this eye-opening PSA. Domestic abuse is a long time problem in Italy, a problem that former Prime Minister Enrico Letter called ‘femicide’.

The experiment sees six boys between 7 and 11 placed in front of a girl called Martina. The boys are asked to tell the interviewer what they like about her, to pull a funny face at her, and to caress her. All the boys oblige with the process until they are asked to slap her, leaving a powerful and effective message: “In the kids’ world, women don’t get hit.”

7 (1) Zorba: Can Love Change This World?

Shares: 2,634,706
Agency: –

Help others to help yourself, love others to love yourself.

That’s the message of this film produced by Zorba, a renaissance studio in India. The video was made as part of a yearly project called Maya, which aims to teach people about the importance of helping and loving others, as well as yourself.

The ad, which was particularly popular in India and amassed over 2.6 million shares, shows a chain of good deeds that will restore your faith in humanity. “If you are lost at sea, looking for humanity in this world, this video could be your guiding star,” the studio said in a statement.

6 The Ad Council: Love Has No Labels

Shares: 2,743,138
Agency: R/GA

Prepare to have you heartstrings tugged.

This heartwarming PSA from the Ad Council and R/GA set out to illustrate the idea that “love has no label.” People of different race, religion and sexual orientation were placed behind a giant x-ray screen in Santa Monica, California, on Valentines day.

The gathering audience watch as the skeletons have a little dance, hug and kiss, before people step out from behind the screen. The video captures some audience reactions as the skeletons reveal themselves, who are mostly shocked when they realise they have watched two women kiss.

The idea was to bring attention to people’s unconscious biases – and it certainly worked – becoming an instant viral hit that garnered more than 1 billion impressions in its first two months, spreading the films poignant message far and wide.

5 (1) Budweiser: Lost Dog

Shares: 2,808,541
Agency: Anomaly

Budweiser takes the prize for most shared Super Bowl ad for the third year running with this adorable tale. The ad features Budweiser’s puppy brand ambassador from last year’s Super Bowl ad, and an acoustic cover of  ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 miles)’ by The Proclaimers, here performed by Sleeping at Last.

The sequel sees our rambunctious golden lab go missing, much to the distress of everyone at the farm. The pup faces dirt, rain and even a wolf, but soon finds what real friendship is all about when the Clydesdale horses come to his aid.

The ad features eight puppies – seven female and one male  – all aged between 11 and 13 weeks at the time of filming.

4 ROC: Cristiano Ronaldo in Disguise

Shares: 2,995,849
Agency: Shareability

Cristiano Ronaldo is instantly recognisable all around the globe. But put on a scruffy beard, wig, sunglasses and some padded clothes, and you’ve got yourself an undercover football superstar.

That’s the set up of this four-minute film from Ronaldo’s own headphone brand ROC in partnership with Monster. The prank-style approach sees disguised Ronaldo doing kick-ups and tricks in a busy plaza in Madrid. Despite his trickery, nobody pays much attention, until his identity is revealed to a young boy.

The vid was posted on Facebook and immediately exploded, without any paid media push. At one stage the ad was attracting nearly 1 million views every half hour.

3 Purina: Puppyhood

Shares: 3,021,499
Agency: Night Agency

Puppyhood tells the story of a man who adopts a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. King Charles becomes Queen Charles before our mustachioed protagonist finally decides on Chloe. Chloe learns all about piano-playing, sofa-laying and floor-sliding in this wonderful spot from Purina Puppy Chew.

The video does an excellent job of illustrating the good and bad sides of the new puppy experience, shot with an improv-heavy approach similar to that of a Will Ferrell movie. The campaign was produced in partnership with BuzzFeed, and amassed nearly 400,000 views in just a few hours.

There’s nothing quite like puppy love.

2 Disney: Disney Characters Surprise Shoppers

Shares: 3,943,997
Agency: Grand Visual

What would you do with you were strolling through a shopping mall and all of a sudden your shadow took the form of Buzz Lightyear or Mickey Mouse?

That’s what Disney set out to discover when they set up the “Umbra Penumbra Magic Shop” in a Westfield shopping mall in New York (umbra and penumbra are two parts of a shadow). The ad shows unsuspecting passers-by react to silhouettes of classic cartoon characters mimicking their every move.

“Hold on. I think I’m getting shadowed by Goofy,” says one smiling businessman, while others dance and play catch.

At the end of the experience all of the characters step out from behind the screen to greet the crowds, bringing smiles to the faces of kids and the young at heart.

1 Android: Friends Furever

Shares: 6,432,921
Agency: Droga5

What’s better than one cute animal? Two cute animals?

The year’s most viral ad is a celebration of unlikely animal friendships in all their adorable glory. It comes from Google’s Android, and has actually become the most shared ad of all time with a whopping 6.5 million shares.

The video, which was uploaded in February, features adorable couplings such as a tiger and a bear nuzzling, a cockatoo feeding spaghetti to a dog, and a dog swimming with a dolphin. The footage is accompanied with Roger Miller’s “Oo-Dee-Lally” from the 1973 Disney film Robin Hood.

The message at the end of the ad is simple: “Be together, not the same.”