The 25 Best Ads of 2018

See the work that elevated storytelling and drove the conversation

A KFC bucket, a woman with glowing eyes and David Harbour from Stranger Things are included in some of the best ads.
KFC U.K.'s unforgettable apology, Bud Light's supernaturally good marketing and Tide's meta Super Bowl ads were just a few of 2018's best.
Headshot of David Griner

It’s that time. We’re looking back at the best ads of 2018, a year when marketing truly ran the full spectrum, from silly and sarcastic to weighty and wonderful.

With all the industry hand-wringing of late about whether creative agencies are a dying breed, one might have expected a drought of ambitious advertising in 2018. Instead, we saw that when bold marketers put their faith in provocative agencies, they can create work that doesn’t just reflect culture but also drives it forward.

As a reflection of how much great work there was to talk about this year, we’re expanding our usual Top 10 list to a Top 25, and we’ll be creating a separate list just for our favorite stunts, activations and innovations.

So let’s get to it. Here are Adweek’s picks for the Top 25 ads of 2018:

25. KFC Hong Kong | “Hot and Spicy”
Agency: Ogilvy Hong Kong

Fiery exhaust burns out of the rear of a car.

These print and outdoor ad images are classic art direction at its best: simple in concept, flawless in execution and (once you catch the concept) impossible to stop staring at. By replacing the fire in different images with KFC’s Hot and Spicy fried chicken, Ogilvy Hong Kong created a campaign that sparked praise among consumers and creative peers alike. While Ogilvy didn’t invent the idea of using fried chicken as fire (a technique that’s been popping up in different parts of the creative web for years), they certainly cooked it up perfectly.

Four people stand in front of fire.

A rocket takes flight.

24. Nat Geo | “Nujeen”
Agency: 72andSunny

The story of a young refugee who escaped Syria in a wheelchair is an incredible one to hear or read—but to see the young woman herself, Nujeen Mustafa, re-enacting her impossible odyssey is something truly special. Nat Geo and agency 72andSunny made it happen, thanks to Mustafa’s extensive cooperation and the powerful storytelling of director Reed Morano, best known for her work on The Handmaid’s Tale. “I wasn’t supposed to see the bright side of my journey,” says Mustafa, who has cerebral palsy, in her narration of the spot. “So I made it an adventure, and discovered all sorts of new things.”

23. Greenpeace Canada | “Don’t Suck the Life From Our Oceans”
Agency: Rethink

A turtle has a straw lodged in its throat.

The debate over the destructive role of single-use plastics on ocean life reached critical mass this year, with major brands including Starbucks pledging to phase out plastic straws. Perhaps the most powerful visual to make the case for this consumer shift came from Greenpeace Canada and agency Rethink, whose print ads feel like a punch in the throat to each viewer. It’s a powerful, unforgettable image—and one that sadly isn’t hyperbole.

A fish has a straw lodged in its throat. A bird has a straw lodged in its throat.

22. Newport Beach Film Festival | “Quota”
Agency: The Garage

Promotional videos for film festivals have become some of the most fun and freaky ads in recent years, and Newport Beach Film Festival has certainly been one of the leaders in the trend. For this year’s festival, director Jillian Martin created a mini-masterpiece with “Quota: Who Made the Cut.” It’s a fantastic feat of short-form storytelling with an ending that … well, let’s just say it makes its point in a way you won’t forget. Martin was featured on this year’s Adweek Creative 100 as an emerging director to watch.

21. Bud Light | “Oracle Susana”
Agency: Wieden + Kennedy New York

While “Dilly Dilly” may have been a dominating force in both advertising and pop culture this year, picking a best ad is a challenge. Bud Light’s Super Bowl outing, “Bud Knight,” was memorable and featured the dry wit and subtle acting that have made the campaign a hit. But for our money, the best spot was “Oracle Susana,” created with a clever blend of Spanish and English aimed at appealing to World Cup audiences. The ad isn’t just funny and memorable; it also showed that the Dilly Dilly campaign still had quite a lot of area to explore. At Adweek’s Elevate: Creativity event earlier this year, Wieden + Kennedy New York ecd Karl Lieberman said the creative team behind the ads pictures the campaign taking place on a map similar to the sprawling geography of Game of Thrones. “Oracle Susana” was the first foray into this wider world.

20. Monoprix | “The Worst Song in the World”
Agency: Rosapark

@griner David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."
Publish date: December 13, 2018 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT