Creative Corner: The best creative campaigns from 2021

Creative Corner: The best creative campaigns from 2021

As a new year approaches, we take a look back at the campaigns that made a mark on 2021

In this week's special bumper edition of Creative Corner, we join forces! 

Radioactive PR's Rich Leigh, Angharad Planells and Creative Moment's editor Lucy Smith reflect on their favourite creative work in 2021.

JANUARY 2021

January began with hope.

As the world started to pick itself up from the abominable year that was 2020, we saw a number of hopeful campaigns attempting to lift spirits and celebrate progress born out of the extraordinary news agenda at the time. 

Uncommon gave us Hope is Power.

The Guardian ad on inauguration day celebrated Kamala Harris's win with a stark timeline illustrating how we have moved from when American women were given the vote in 1920, to 2021 where a Black, Asian, American woman can win. 

It came with a picture that spoke a thousand words. 

Hope most certainly is power.

Today We Rise - United Nations Foundation

It's not only for all the young girls in America and across the world, but it speaks to all women—mothers, grandmothers, aunts—who haven't witnessed this moment in their lifetime. You can see, and feel, the rising up—the hope, promise and joy you see across the faces of the little girls is mirrored in these women; as if they were girls themselves again.

Not only do I think this is beautifully executed (no formalities, real girls and women in real homes) but it captures the mood which I felt was a soft, yet determined, collective strength that the whole female community felt when Kamala Harris said those words. 

Goosebumps.

Macmillan: Whatever It Takes - AMV BBDO

The once under-estimated and under-appreciated role of the nurse comes into full force in AMV BBDO's 'Whatever It Takes' for Macmillan nurses. With the country still in the throws of the pandemic, this film humbles us all by showing the job as it is—exhaustion, dedication, laughter, heartbreak, humour, fear, kindness—all at the same time. A day in the life of a Macmillan nurse and all that it entails.

Real people, real pain, real joy, real care. 

It's the reality that lands this spot with a force that I have rarely seen elsewhere.

Oh, and I have tears in my eyes every time I watch it.

FEBRUARY 2021

McDonalds Delivers - Leo Burnett

February certainly delivered.

McDonalds Delivers from Leo Burnett was a lovely spot, well received and well documented—Creative Moment spoke to its creators to find how they did it. You can even see the original scamps through to the final creations. 

These stylish print ads were created as a series that was subtle and effective, bringing one of the nation's favourite foods to homes during the lockdown. 

Using the inimitable golden arch, illuminating the home, these ads were a clever example of simplicity, keeping the brand right at the heart resulting in an image unmistakably McDonald's.

Pandemic-led creative but taking a problem and realising the solution at a glance.

Marmite's Handle With Care

For this one, the reactive stunt was better than the original!

Marmite and adam&eve showed how to take out of home to the next level with an outstanding out of home creation.

But it was the reactive stunt from Autoglass (and Rise at Seven) which really made this one fly on social—a social super-spreader, if you will.

MARCH 2021

Pain Stories - AMV BBDO and Ketchum

I cannot not mention Pain Stories by AMV BBDO and Ketchum. This is a piece of creative work that I shall remember for all the right reasons. 

This campaign took a taboo and launched it like a missile into everyone's consciousness. A deeply emotional and painful condition for many women, endometriosis has been a silent one for a long time.

Essity took women's hidden pain and instead of passing it over as 'just the way it is', invited women to share their stories, freeing them from having to endure the pain in silence that many had suffered for so long.

#Painstories (no doubt as to what this is about here) was created to tackle the gender pain gap one story at a time, and offer a new way to express and articulate pain, with a focus on endometriosis, via a newly launched Pain Dictionary.

The launch also saw the world’s first Pain Museum that educated society on the extent to which this pain is overlooked, underfunded and often ignored. 

A more detailed, thoroughly researched, more emotional campaign you'd be hard pushed to find. 

The concept is a gut-wrenchingly honest portrayal of the truth for those who have endometriosis. Savage imagery attempts to depict the pain and it does it very well. With a specially designed copy to further reinforce the message, the entire campaign was a triumph. 

#SaveSalla2032 - Agencia Africa

How do you get attention when it comes to climate change while boosting the profile of a little town in Finland? 

#SaveSalla2032, that's how.

Salla, one of the coldest places on earth, bids for the summer Olympics with wit, sarcasm and a strong, factual proposition. 

The point of it all?

To highlight the rapid changes in climate with a very urgent message. Salla is already experiencing the impact of climate change with increasingly unpredictable weather and shorter winters.

The brilliance of this work (apart from somewhere super cold hosting the summer games) was that although it wasn't a genuine bid, they went through the same protocol—creating a logo, a bid book, uniforms, promotional activities and naming a mascot and publishing a disclosure video.

Salla is known for being one of the coldest places on the planet and they want to keep it that way.

APRIL 2021

Formula E 'Change. Accelerated.' - Uncommon

One of my favourite pieces of work this year, without a doubt. 

'Change. Accelerated.' is a hopeful glimpse of the future; a statement to excite the next generation of sports fans, bringing together on-the-edge-of-your-seat track-action with positive environmental change.

Formula E is the pinnacle of electric motorsport but the film itself is what excites me.

The film is beautifully crafted, cinematic and eclectic in its depiction of different cities around the globe. The vintage voiceover—from the legendary futurist Sir Arthur C Clarke—cuts through the rain, adding a resplendent texture to the whole production. 

It builds and builds with scenes in slow motion, but we follow the story as the car rolls through the streets, admired.

"The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic." 

Fantastic indeed.

Dove's Reverse Selfie - Ogilvy

This work is truly horrifying and brilliant at the same time. 

The era of the selfie continues and an unfortunate result of this is that young girls manipulate their image, mainly through Instagram. 

Frequently this has a detrimental effect on their self-esteem, translating to anxiety, depression and in some tragic cases suicide.

So this is a significant, and sadly, necessary campaign.

It follows Dove's seminal 2006 film, Evolution, which highlighted the false and unrealistic nature of the beauty ideals perpetuated by the advertising industry and the media. 

Digital distortion is now possible at the click of a button and the application of an unrealistic filter. It's SO easy. 

This film begins with the final image then takes you back through all the alterations until we find the beautiful girl at the start who is perfect—just as she is.

Parents all over the world just want their children to be happy. This film uncovers the sadness behind many seemingly happy snapshots. Although this campaign focuses on girls, we owe it to young girls and boys to pay attention to what is happening.

MAY 2021

#LooksLikeGuinness - AMV BBDO

Rich Leigh here, ready to play my part in this.

'Good things come to those who wait'

I’ll kick May off with this spot from Guinness, by AMV BBDO. 

Following a classy AF £30m pledge to support the UK pub and hospitality businesses, helping tens of thousands of pubs and bartenders at a crucial time, Guinness leant on its famous strapline to create this brilliant campaign just before pubs reopened in May 2021.

The inspiration for the campaign, #LooksLikeGuinness, was to highlight the experience of seeing something we miss everywhere we look, sound tracked by ‘Always On My Mind’, as covered by Jack Savoretti.

Long Live the Prince - Engine

Most of you will have seen this incredible campaign, where, 15 years after his senseless murder, promising QPR footballer Kiyan Prince was reimagined as the professional player he was destined to be.

I recently named it my favourite campaign of the year over on sister site PRmoment’s annual round-up, and just don’t think I can say too many good things about it.

JUNE 2021

Mount Recyclemore - Fanclub PR

“Recommerce” retailer musicMagpie and Fanclub PR enlisted the help of artist Joe Rush to create a giant Mount Rushmore-style sculpture of the G7 leaders’ heads, made entirely of discarded electronics, on a beach near to Carbis Bay where the G7 Summit was held.

The sculpture, named Mount Recyclemore, aimed to highlight the growing threat of e-waste on the planet.

Fantastically visual, and created for all the right reasons with all the right insights, I saw this campaign everywhere. 

Top effort.

Specsavers - Tangerine Communications

Specsavers and Tangerine Communications celebrated England’s progress in the Euros with this striking, relevant and creative billboard. 

It was hard not to get swept up in the uniting positivity as Southgate’s England secured their place in the final, and this felt well-timed and perfectly crafted for social sharing.

JULY 2021

The Invisible Opponent - AMV BBDO

World heavyweight champion Tyson Fury has been very public about his mental health struggles and how close he came to suicide back in 2016.

The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) and AMV BBDO (again!) created this frankly beautiful campaign featuring real footage of The Gypsy King’s knockdown from Deontay Wilder in December 2018.

Positioning ill mental health as an invisible opponent, the video shows Fury being beaten by an unseen (digitally removed) opponent, and asks that those struggling with their mental health open up and seek support.

Netflix Horror Prank - Publicis Italy

There’ve been some wonderful horror ‘prank’ PR stunts over the years - most memorably, perhaps, this telekenetic effort for 2013’s Carrie remake.

Here’s a good fun one for the streaming giant, in collaboration with Publicis Italy, to promote ‘A Classic Horror Story’. 

It’s a great billboard creative stunt with a twist.

AUGUST 2021

Hollywood in Wrexham - Dark Horses

I’d imagine most of you saw the Hollywood-style Wrexham sign, unveiled in a smiling nod to the ownership of Wrexham football club’s A-list owners, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenny.

It was a creative and far-reaching effort from Vanarama, a long-standing sponsor of the National League, welcoming both the actors and the added interest in both the league and one club in particular.

SEPTEMBER 2021

Air BNB - The Academy, Hope&Glory

Thanks Lucy and Rich; I’ll take it from here! Let’s jump into something sweet for the first campaign…

Honey to the (AirBn) B—yes I stole Rich’s headline from a previous Creative Corner.

If you went down to the woods this month you were in for a big surprise! AirBnB, renowned for utilising unique and one-of-a-kind stays as PR stunts, went all out when creating this Winnie-the-Pooh inspired house to celebrate the 95th anniversary of AA Milne’s beloved character.

Christened ‘BearBnB’, the house was lovingly curated by Winnie the Pooh illustrator Kim Raymond and featured bespoke wallpaper, exposed tree branches, and of course honeypots everywhere.

The imagery was gorgeous, every detail was thought of (right down to the ‘No heffalumps’ and mandatory pooh sticks in the house rules!), and people unsurprisingly fell in love with the nostalgia-inducing stay. 

No bother here for a truly magical bit of creativity.

Not Model’s Own - Engine

An important piece of creativity now, from charity Women’s Aid and Engine, who worked together to create what are, at first glance, images that wouldn’t look out of place in any women’s magazine.

Look again, however, and you’ll see something much darker. The phrase ‘- by model’s partner’ appears next to every item of clothing listed, as well as things like ‘self-doubt’, ‘uneasiness’, and ‘manipulation’.

The campaign, designed to highlight coercive control as a form of abuse, was a big hit when it launched and it’s message is a vital one given that lockdowns over the last two years have led to people being cut off from family, friends, and support more than ever before.

Outrunning the law in Paris - BETC Paris and Soldat Films

A nice reactive stunt from running store Distance in response to the introduction of an 18mph speed limit across the city of Paris saw them challenge runners to break the speed limit, and get caught by the cameras doing it. 

Created with BETC Paris and Soldat Films, the store challenged athletes, including 1500m champion Quentin Malriq and 800m champion Lena Kandissounon, to get a fine. 

Those that did had their incriminating shots also turned into posters for the store.

Netflix kidnaps fans to stop spoilers

Everyone hates a spoiler, but Netflix took this to extremes when it ‘kidnapped’ a load of Money Heist super fans ahead of the premiere of the final season.

The fans were rounded-up and taken on a private plane where they thought they were being flown to Madrid to watch the first episode. In reality they were watching it on the plane—the only place their phones wouldn’t work so they couldn’t send spoilers.

I can’t lie, I’d be gutted I wasn’t getting off the plane when it got to Madrid and I was in fact on a five-hour flight there and back, but it is a creative solution to the problem of spoilers so hats off to Netflix for being willing to risk pissing fans off a little!

OCTOBER 2021

Squid Game - Agency Wunder

Into October then and the height of Squid Game fever! 

I first wrote about this stunt in Creative Corner and I still love it as much now so it had to get a mention again here! Since then, die-hard fans of the show will be pleased to hear that I have FINALLY seen it and I’m pleased to say it MORE than lived up to the hype for me.

The stunt was a simple one. 

Agency Wunder was hired in the States by debt management app Relief to create and distribute 10,000 business cards just like the ones in the show. These cards, however, had the simple phrase ‘There’s a better way to get out of debt’ on the back, along with ways to access help from Relief.

I said it then and I’ll repeat it now - topical, timely, and relevant - the PR stunt trifecta!

Ohhhhhh Vienna!

How do you introduce young people to classic works of art? Well if you’re the Vienna Tourist Board you create an OnlyFans account, of course!

The account was made in response to several museums in the country having their content censored on other social networks - including Facebook and Instagram - for being scandalous and featuring nudity. The Vienna Tourist Board decided if you can’t beat them, join them and set up the OnlyFans account with a teaser video that gave viewers a peek at the “mound of Venus” and Schiele’s “unique assets”...

We’ll leave it there!

Tricks & Treats

I can’t look at October and NOT mention Halloween! You would think, after almost two years in a pandemic, there would be very little to be scared of on Halloween, but 2021 saw brands bring out the big guns and deliver so great (and spooky!) work.

Favourites of mine this year include the Kraken Rum’s sleepless hotel - aptly named Dread and Breakfast - where guests were treated to prank calls, suspicious banging, screams in the halls, and even actors creeping to their rooms at night.

Also of note was Activison and 72andsunny’s Zombie trophy wall in London to celebrate the season, as well as the release of Call of Duty Vanguard. The ‘Happy Hunting’ wall featured undead actors that scared members of the public who dared to get too close for a selfie!

NOVEMBER 2021

Introducing the Icelandverse

Ah November! 

Fresh off the back of Halloween we were treated to *that* announcement from Facebook, sorry, “Meta”, and it didn’t take long for a parody version to emerge.

A Zuck lookalike introduces the incredible ‘Icelandverse’ to viewers in a send-up of the Metaverse actual Zuckerberg announced a mere two weeks earlier. The presenter tells viewers how the Icelandverse is an incredible way to “connect our world - without being super weird” and features real rocks and real humans, all a million years in the making.

I love how quickly they turned this around and how closely they matched the original Facebook announcement. A super slick, and super quick, parody campaign.

Worst toy in the world - Cow

There was plenty of creativity on display around COP26, but this work from Cow really jumped out to me. In fact I wrote about it in Creative Corner at the time, but I love it so much it deserves a mention here too.

Launched by World Animal Action UK, the Factory Farming playset is every bit as depressing as it sounds, with farm animals squashed into tiny spaces and separated from their offspring, much to the horror of children trying to play with the set in the accompanying video.

This one gets big love from me - tugging at my heartstrings just enough to get me thinking about my own family’s meat and dairy consumption.

Reimagining 1984 - The Romans

Creative agency The Romans played a blinder with this campaign - reimagining the incredible novel 1984 (one of my personal favs) as part of its work with digital security and privacy brand Avast.

Featuring the voice of Matt Smith as protagonist Winston Smith, the updated audiobook explores the star similarities between modern online surveillance and the Big Brother society imagined by George Orwell when he wrote the dystopian fiction back in 1949.

As well as the recording, the book cover also got a makeover from designer Rodrigo Corral, who has been an artistic collaborator of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Now that’s what I call dotting the ‘i’s and crossing the ‘t’s on a creative theme!

DECEMBER 2021

The Good Fire - Above+Beyond

I don’t know what to say here other than what I said in Creative Corner when the campaign launched!

The Good Fire by Above+Beyond for Shelter is a perfect example of how a simple creative solution can be used for something good.

Loved it then, love it still. If you’ve not had it on repeat then please have a night in front of the screen of your choice, a good book and a glass of something delicious and raise money for charity all while relaxing your heart out. Go on, you deserve it.

Toy cars get the Green Flag treatment - Frank PR

Another great creative doing some good is the latest offering from Green Flag and Little Tikes. The two brands have teamed up to give pre-owned iconic red and yellow Cozy Coupe cars (you all know the ones!) a new lease of life.

Green Flag is providing roadside assistance and will be picking up unwanted toy cars that children have outgrown ready for them to be recycled and gifted to disadvantaged children around the UK.

A creative and fun solution to several societal problems.

Cardiff encourages shoppers to take a breather

I spotted this lovely campaign by Welsh agency Cowshed too late for my last Creative Corner, which is why I wanted to include it here.

Covid has impacted us all in a variety of ways, in particular people’s mental health and response to large crowds and busy areas. To combat this, business group FOR Cardiff enlisted the help of Cowshed to create Breather Bubbles in the city for stressed shoppers to quite literally have a breather.

Utilising empty shops in two areas of the city, the Breather Bubbles were open on weekends from 4th-19th December, and were staffed by two members of The Samaritans for people to talk to confidentially, as well as therapists offering massages and holistic therapies.

Fictional toys created to tackle child poverty at Christmas - Lucky Generals

A truly heartbreaking campaign from Lucky Generals for The Childhood Trust highlights just how many children go without each Christmas. As part of the charity’s ‘Cold, Hungry, and Stressed’ report it interviewed more than 55,000 children living below the poverty line in London. Just over 14,000 said they didn’t expect to receive any presents this Christmas.

To highlight this, and work to address it, Lucky Generals created a range of non-existent toys - Nada, Zilch, and Not A Dicky Bird - which will feature in ads across multiple outlets.

You can read more about the campaign, and how you can help, here.

A final mention before I wrap up the year, fully aware that there’s still time for someone to sneak a last-minute shot of creativity into 2021…

The staff at M&S Romford have been serving hit after hit on their own TikTok channel and doing big numbers in the process. Kudos to the comms and marketing team at M&S for spotting a chance to do something bigger around Christmas, in the form of a new song for TikTok.

We’ve come to the end of 2021’s year in review!

Thank you to all the amazing creatives behind the work we’ve highlighted above and the countless other incredible campaigns we couldn’t squeeze in. The world might be more difficult than we would all like right now, but creativity has not taken a hit and this year proves there’s still plenty of fun to be had when it comes to the work we do.

We’ll see you all in 2022!

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