Nailed or failed: The best and worst campaigns of 2019

Some campaigns from around the world in 2019 set a new benchmark for innovation, humour and social purpose. Others set back the equality cause, damaged brand reputations and tested consumers' patience. David Sawicki reveals the best and worst from the year that was.

It’s been a fascinating year in ad world, with plenty of campaigns both good and bad to teach us a thing or two about how to succeed in our industry. As we move further into a post-digital world and the human side of advertising and marketing becomes more critical to success, here are my favourite campaigns of the year – and those that provide lessons on what to avoid in 2020.



My favourite campaign this year was Aeromexico’s DNA Discounts, created in conjunction with Ogilvy – the best-nailed creative I’ve seen in years, both from a consumer and political perspective.

The concept is simple: the airline tackles Americans’ racist attitudes by doing a genealogy test, and offering a discount based on Mexican heritage – so someone with 18% Mexican heritage will get 18% off a flight to Mexico.

The ad is short, sharp and punchy – it achieves so much in a mere two minutes, with humour, candour and a political message to boot, while also succeeding in selling airline tickets and promoting tourism. It manages, too, to canvas a range of views, but land on one uniting message. Very few pieces of content are able to achieve this.

Interestingly, the campaign actually launched in June 2018 – with no budget, just a YouTube account – but lay dormant for seven months before being posted on the company Twitter during Trump’s shutdown in January 2019, and becoming instantly viral worldwide. There’s a lesson here about the power of a good PR strategy, and how to tap into the online zeitgeist with timely and relevant evergreen content.


Surely there’s not a person online who hasn’t seen or heard about Gillette’s short film, The Best Men Can Be. This subversive ad was posted online in January and has since accrued over 32m views, contributing to the cultural conversation around toxic masculinity and #MeToo.


It’s a terrific example of incorporating social responsibility into a marketing campaign, as well as proof of the payoff of risk, and expanding beyond a known target audience. Of course, not everyone loved this campaign – it’s become the 26th most disliked video on YouTube – but this is the right kind of controversy to get people talking.

In May, Gillette created another social justice-oriented ad, showing a transgender man shaving his face for the first time.


The results are negligible – the company reported a $USD8bn write-down inJuly, suggesting that these ads did put off a fair few of their consumers, and has since pivoted away from the social justice angle – but Gillette did well to spark some uncomfortable but important conversations in one of the year’s most memorable campaigns.

Four ‘N’ Twenty

Iconic Aussie brand Four ‘N’ Twenty brought on NBA star Ben Simmons as an ambassador this year in what I think is one of the most well-executed partnerships I’ve seen in a while.

Simmons – who was born and raised in Australia, with both Australian and American heritage – is a great role model, and brings an authenticity to the ambassadorship that other brands would do well to emulate.

It’s an impressive get – an international sports star – and Simmons is an eminently likeable personality. The tagline of “the original fan food” speaks directly to the Australian psyche, creating a campaign that is both believable and genuine.


Vegemite vs Marmite

It started so well – some good old-fashioned rivalry banter between Vegemite and Marmite, taken out on full-page advertisements in the UK Mirror newspaper.

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At first it was Vegemite taking a swipe when they found out free jars of Marmite were being handed out at the cricket, releasing an ad about how Australians prefer a stronger flavour; then Marmite hit back with a jibe about ball tampering.

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But this battle went on for a bit too long, spreading out for more than a month and becoming a little played out by the end.

There’s a lesson here on timing, and how to ensure that a campaign retains its cheek and uniqueness while not flogging a dead horse.

Chase Bank

Or, how not to meme. The American banking corporation posted a tweet that was meant in good humour – a meme about wasting money – but quickly received backlash from people criticising them for overlooking the fact that for many, a low bank balance is not the result of splurging, but rather of socioeconomic disadvantages.

It’s easy for brands to jump on the millennial bandwagon in order to vie for relevancy – remember Brands Saying Bae? – but it’s also critical to remember what the conversations people are having are, and how to add to that conversation in a meaningful way.

Forgetting that an audience – which is wider than ever thanks to the reach of social media – comprises people across diverse intersections, including class, is a sure-fire way to alienate would-be followers and customers, and present yourself as being out of touch or narrow-minded.

Naturally, Chase Bank deleted this tweet not long after the criticism began – better luck next time.

David Sawicki is a business advisor and the founder and director of Third Wave Ideas


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