As 2020 comes to a close, very few of us will be looking back on it fondly. Alongside the struggles of living with a pandemic and enduring lockdowns, this year has exposed the inequalities rife within our society. There were silver linings: a reset from the hustle of life, community spirit, remarkable social justice momentum, and a whole lot of creativity. But, 2020 landed a lifetime’s worth of business challenges on brand owner’s plates. It exposed those who had been asleep at the wheel and demanded clarity of purpose from everyone. Communicating with consumers has been especially difficult to navigate — knowing what role to play, when to step up, what people needed, (or even wanted), to hear from brands, when life has been so volatile.
As we reflect on the year, brand campaigns can represent a sort of time capsule. Despite the difficulties, there were still many brands who had stand out moments of connection. Here is our list of 20 campaigns that caught our eye this year.
An Post: Send Love
An Post has gone the extra mile enabling people to ‘send love’ this year. In March, An Post printed millions of postcards and delivered two to each household in Ireland which could be posted for free. This winter, it was announced that they would waive postage fees for letters and parcels being sent to nursing and care homes. For the festive season, they released a touching ad and started using a special ‘virtual hug’ postmark inspired by The Late Late Toy Show’s Adam King.
BrewDog: Open Arms
BrewDog has been bringing the sorely missed comradery of the pub home. The brand hosts quizzes, special guest performances, and ‘plenty of LOLs’ in their online bar. This is fostering a sense of community around the BrewDog brand, while also combatting lockdown loneliness.
Design & Craft Council Ireland: #MADELOCAL
In July, with Amy Hubberman as the spokesperson, the Design & Craft Council of Ireland launched, #MADELOCAL, an initiative to support local artisans and makers throughout Ireland. The campaign’s striking blue fingerprint logo could be displayed in shop windows, on product packaging, and used as a digital badge on social media. Rolled out just in time for the summer, when many Irish people were setting off around the country on ‘staycations,’ the council hoped the campaign would prompt them to shop within the local economy. The momentum continued through the Christmas gifting season as the online database grew to feature over a thousand products, profiles of makers, and videos of their process.
Carlsberg: Adopt a Keg
When the pandemic closed bars in Denmark, Carlsberg delivered an innovative solution to support the industry. People were able to ‘adopt’ a virtual keg in their local bar by scanning the labels of beer they drank at home, which Carlsberg would redeem for pints when the lockdown was lifted. More than 2,000 virtual kegs were created by Danes in the first 48 hours of the campaign alone.
Kilkenny Design, Visa, Retail Excellence, Small Firms Association and Chambers Ireland: The Champion Green Initiative
Born from the necessity to support local businesses during the pandemic, the initiative is stirring lasting change in how Irish people shop. In addition to asking the public to sign their pledge to committing to shopping locally, they have also promoted an annual #Greenfriday. Throughout the year, they have connected local talent with highly impactful resources and funded opportunities for their businesses. In August, they secured a complementary short-term retail location for design and printmaking duo Jill & Gill to run their pop-up from Stephen’s Green.
Guinness: Raising the Bar
In November, as part of Raising the Bar, Guinness opened a helpline staffed with counsellors and financial experts to assist and support pub owners, workers, and their families. An extension of the campaign, Guinness encouraged pubs across the country to #keepthelightson for Christmas by inspiring owners to put up their usual festive decorations. This comes alongside a €14 million recovery fund for the industry.
Tesco: No Naughty List
Tesco is giving everyone a free pass for the ‘naughty’ things they did this year in their humorous Christmas campaign. As characters wryly admit to their relatable, devious behaviour — faking virtual Pilates, or hoping the Leaving Cert would get cancelled — Tesco reminds us we all deserve to treat ourselves regardless.
Inspired by Iceland: Looks Like You Need to Let it Out
Iceland’s tourism department is encouraging people to ‘let out’ their pent up feelings by recording their scream online. Your scream then gets played out on speakers somewhere in the vast landscape of Iceland. This clever campaign reminds us of Iceland’s open space, and its rugged charm and prompts us to consider visiting our scream location when safe travel resumes.
Bumble: When Dating Met 2020
Bumble’s campaign is a hilarious, and validating tribute to the struggles of dating this year. Starring Helena Bonham-Carter as a fairy-godmother-style narrator, it applauds singles for all the hoops they have been jumping through and encourages them to stay optimistic.
Burger King: The Moldy Whopper
Burger King showed us the ‘beauty’ of the famous Whopper slowly decaying thanks to its lack of artificial preservatives. Going against all the expectations of a burger ad, it was perfectly simple and memorable.
Fáilte Ireland: ‘Ireland, Make a Break for It.’
Ushering in 2020’s summer of ‘staycations,’ Fáilte Ireland was ready with a campaign to encourage domestic tourism. The ad perfectly captures the sense of excitement the country was feeling about a chance to finally leave the house after months of lockdown The campaign coincided with a safety charter to help people feel at ease during their first return to hospitality settings.
In one of the smartest media buys of the year, Calm, the meditation and sleep app, was an official sponsor for TV coverage of US election night on CNN. They also partnered with NowThis to air a soothing live stream of American nature footage on Facebook and YouTube. The move was largely understood as a humorous reading of how inconsolably stressed the public was. Social conversation spiked, especially on Twitter, and the brand has seen sustained growth in new users in the time since.
Specsavers: Something to Smile About
A simple yet effective idea, Specsavers’ campaign captures something we’ve all been trying to do more of this year: smile with our eyes. The joyful TV ad is supported by high-impact billboards, print, and digital ads.
Barry’s Tea: You Make the Moment
The first TV ad for the brand in three years, the ‘Sister’s’ ad tells the story of two Irish sisters living in separate countries, but who still make time to share a virtual chat and a cup of tea. The new campaign maintains the core identity of the beloved brand, while giving it a contemporary update that is especially relevant this year.
Starbucks has continued its award-winning campaign from 2019 which highlights the stories of the LGBTQIA+ community. This year’s ad tells the inspiring story of a young transgender person’s journey to using their new name in public. As part of the campaign, Starbucks partnered with UK charity, Mermaids, by selling limited edition mermaid tail biscuits.
Over the last few years, many brands have changed the way they talk about topics like periods and menopause. However, few have shown the complexity — the pleasure and the pain — of being a person with a womb more honestly than Bodyform’s Wombstories campaign. It features a range of experiences from infertility and endometriosis, to the bliss of choosing a child-free life.
Nike: You Can’t Stop Us
Produced after sifting through over 4,000 pieces of footage, the technical execution of this year’s Nike ad is impressive enough to earn it a spot on the list. It stitches together side-by-side videos of athletes across a variety of sports, genders, races, and abilities to champion the unifying passion of sport and the barriers we can overcome together.
Ben & Jerry’s: We Must Dismantle White Supremacy
After the murder of George Floyd in the United States set off a wave of passionate protests, many brands, some more successfully than others, expressed their solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Ben and Jerry’s stood out from the pack for their complete lack of vagueness or tiptoeing. A brand whose progressive values have been consistent for years, they unequivocally denounced white supremacy, made specific policy recommendations, and called for action from institutions of power.
Dove: Courage is Beautiful
An understated but poignant tribute to healthcare workers, this campaign use real photos of doctors and nurses with their PPE battle scars. It is a seamless continuation of the ‘Real Beauty’ campaign and speaks to the gravity of the pandemic. It also comes alongside substantial charitable contributions from the brand and donations of millions of dollars’ worth of Dove personal care products to front line workers.
Beats by Dre: You Love Me
This film confronts viewers with a question: ‘You love [Black] culture, but do you love me?’ A collaboration of Black talent, this ad is an ode to the strength of the Black community. It speaks to the resilience of Black people in the face of constant adversity and the contributions that they make to culture and society that often go unrewarded. It is a powerful dose of truth serum and a message that lingers long after watching.