As is traditional at the close of the year, we’ve been looking back over the campaigns of the last 12 months: which garnered positive engagement, which provoked outrage and – worst of all – which passed us by completely?

So, here are our 2017 favourites:

Heineken – Worlds apart

This campaign might be contentious, but we like the way it reflects the modern phenomenon of social media’s ‘echo chamber’, which can lead to us dismissing those who don’t share our point of view. While it might be a heavy issue to weigh in on, Heineken has cleverly paired it with another, simpler phenomenon: joining someone for a drink. The act of sharing a beer brings people together to have a face-to-face conversation; to talk and listen. We reckon this is why Heineken are the ideal brand to tackle the topic of communication issues.

Marmite – The Gene Project

For us, this campaign stands out for a number of reasons: it takes the audience on a journey of self-discovery, it’s true to the Marmite brand story – and it’s just very funny! Marmite has succeeded in reinvigorating their brand by applying science to why the nation is split on its taste, and has unified lovers and haters of their product in the process.

Bodyform – Blood Normal

Another brand tackling a big question is Bodyform. As far as we’re aware, it’s created one of the only period product campaigns to actually show blood, rather than the blue liquid that is usually its apologetic substitute. Under the banner of: ‘periods are normal, showing them should be too’, Bodyform is standing against the unnecessary embarrassment towards periods by instead standing with its customers. We predict they’ve changed the category for good in the process.

Human at heart

So what do all of these campaigns have in common? We believe each of them has been a success because they make people think. They shed light on aspects of the human condition that are troubling or entertaining by posing questions back at us. Would we stick around to have a beer with someone who didn’t agree with us? Would we take the Marmite test? Why should periods still carry a stigma?

These campaigns aren’t trying to directly sell you a product; instead, they’re starting a conversation with you. The positive brand associations we walk away with after watching these ads give us a compelling reason to buy their products later.

In contrast, on our worst list for 2017 (in no particular order) we have:

McDonald’s – Dead Dad

By insinuating that McDonald’s is the connecting factor between a son and his deceased father, the brand ended up offending their audience and eventually the campaign was pulled. Many people feel grief is something that should not be exploited by a fast-food brand – or any brand, for that matter.

Pepsi – Jump in campaign

Outrageous for similar reasons, Pepsi missed the mark by creating a campaign that capitalised on the widespread civil unrest across the US. Worst of all, Pepsi tried to suggest that their brand could be the solution to the country’s problems.

Trivago – Find your ideal hotel room for the best price

This campaign is on our list not because it’s outrageous or crossing inappropriate boundaries, but because it’s just… well, stale. We get it: you go on Trivago’s site to compare hotel prices. There’s nothing new, compelling or unusual about this campaign. In a world where there’s more content than ever, spread across a dozen devices, our response to adverts like this is to simply tune out.

The verdict

From our favourite campaigns, we learned that we want to be challenged by brands. To have real cut-through, customers need to be entertained and encouraged to think. From the year’s duds, we learned that there are some areas of humanity that are best left alone – rather than manhandled by brands with bottom lines.

Brands must stand for something, or risk getting lost in the crowd. 2017 has shown the importance of having strong customer insights and keeping them at the heart of the creative planning process.