The 5 strategic sparks used by the world’s best advertisers

Kantar’s Creative Effectiveness Awards celebrate the world’s most creative and effective ads and reveal what makes them great
26 April 2022
Creative sparks

EVP Global Thought Leadership, Kantar

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In 2021 brands increased their advertising and media investments post-pandemic. We saw further investment in digital platforms, and more media channels becoming digitalised. These dynamic trends create great opportunities for new types of creative expression in advertising, online and offline.

At Kantar, we are privileged to test the best creative content, brought to us by advertisers and their agencies all around the world. Last year we tested over 13,000 ads for our clients in 75 markets, and each year we learn more about what makes winning ads – ads that stand out, generate sales in the short term and build brand equity in the longer term.

Now in its third year, Kantar Creative Effectiveness Awards 2022 celebrates the best TV, digital and print/outdoor advertising from 2021. What makes our awards unique is that consumers are the jury. People control a brand’s fortunes through their spending power so their voice should be heard when it comes to effective advertising.

Revealed: the most creative and effective ads of 2021

We had some really inspiring winners in each category this year – spanning 17 countries and 10 categories. Advertisers have used ingenuity to make their ads stand out from the crowd. Have a look at the top 3 ads in each category.

Top 3 TV ads







New Zealand

With You All The Way

FCB New Zealand


Pernod Ricard, Martell


Be The Standout Swift

BBH London


Diageo, Johnnie Walker


Keep Walking Anthem


Top 3 Digital ads







United States

Rare Drops





Make to Stand Out





Las cervezas déjaselas a Rappi YT


Top 3 Print/outdoor ads






Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 5G with Google

United States

Google + Samsung DOOH “The Future is Unfolding”





Kiwi brothers

VMLY&R (London)


Diageo, Tanqueray Blackcurrant Royale


Tanqueray Royale OOH - Blindfold Lady

St Luke’s

To see the full top ten award winners in each category visit

What makes a great ad?

Our analysis confirmed that the principles of great advertising we identified in 5 habits of highly effective advertisers still hold true. Ads should be distinctive and memorable. They should be intrinsically branded, meaningfully different and trigger an emotional response. And of course they should resonate with the target audience. But beyond that, what makes our winners really shine?

5 strategic sparks

Based on the themes we observed from the creative we tested in 2021 we identified five ‘strategic sparks’ that make our winners truly sparkle, setting them apart as the most creative and effective ads.

1. Ad breaks go social

TV ads are infusing digital tactics and themes into their creative, including editing styles and features, like tight editing to music that is often used in social media. It creates a difference, which we know is important for success, and helps to avoid some of the category tropes.

This digital infusion could be a deliberate attempt to make TV ads acknowledge the existence of digital environments, which many of us are immersed in for hours each day. It could also be that creative teams and directors enjoy playing with digital themes, creating new possibilities, and enlivening TV editing and storytelling styles by adopting digital techniques.

We expect to see more ads set in immersive metaverse and gaming environments with the use of branded avatars as characters. This gives rise to more possibilities with branded NFTs. And as we see more mainstream ads for cryptocurrencies, this infusion won’t go away. Advertisers will need to introduce new digital concepts to mainstream audiences in more literal ways on TV.

Infusing digital tactics can make TV ads more compelling and engaging to watch.

2. Every second counts

With TV ads taking on some of the characteristics of digital advertising, it is interesting to look at the creative features that still differentiate digital ads. The most obvious is length. With the 5 second YouTube skip, a very short digital ad is much more likely than the 5 second TV ad, an artefact so rare we have only a handful (0.1%) in our Link database of 230,000 + ads. And these are mostly bumper ads with two running in an ad break.

Digital ads are designed to work within the digital attention span. They need control. We see much faster, tighter editing than is used for TV ads, using close-ups and music for maximum impact.

Fame and virality also differentiate our digital winners. Likes, thumbs down and instant commentary leave digital advertising at the mercy of the masses. It can be a high-risk space, but at the same time gives opportunities that have never been possible for TV ads. Similarly, with regulations on TV ad length in some markets, digital advertising shows a freedom of expression beyond what we see on TV.

You can tell a story effectively in any ad length. But to stand out, every detail matters.

3. Global strategies, local heroes

Building a global brand is no easy task, and creative plays a huge role in building a brand’s image. Many brands want to build a consistent perception amongst viewers globally, but achieving it with the same creative copy can be a challenge. Most ads don’t travel well. This puts the onus on marketers and creative agencies to understand their audiences and make creative choices that are effective locally while supporting the global brand vision.

Johnnie Walker scooped awards in TV, Digital and outdoor/print categories across three markets. It is a great example of how an ad can tailor a clear message to target different cultures through different channels. Famous for its ’Keep walking’ slogan, Johnnie Walker shows how to evolve a brand’s creative identity while adhering to its DNA. All three ads have strong roots in the Keep Walking theme, while simultaneously bringing a fresh and timely take on life. As the world returns to a life with fewer pandemic restrictions, the campaign inspires people to get back out there and have a positive outlook.

Evolving a brand’s creative identity, whilst adhering to its DNA

Evolving a brand’s creative identity, whilst adhering to its DNA

Great campaigns, carefully adapted, can be true to the brand message and resonate around the world via different executions.

4. Show, don’t tell

With the creative possibilities that digitisation brings, some classics still hold true. Even with the myriad of new developments and sophisticated ways to stretch the creativity of advertising boundaries with advancements in visual and audio techniques, our winning ads show that the product demo is still as effective as ever.

However, it is difficult to show a demo that feels empathetic, natural and maintains the flow of the ad. Demos can break the spell if they feel artificially placed just to convey the message. Across the thousands of ads we test globally, we see that those incorporating product benefits are more persuasive, with a ten point increase in persuasion. Also, if you show the product in use or consumption, we see a ten point increase in brand affinity, so these types of demos make us feel closer to the brand.

With new techniques and more creative approaches to embed the product into the storyline, our winning ads show that the product demo - when done well - is very much thriving.

5. Make them smile

Laughter is the best medicine, the saying goes. And it has long been a staple in advertising. But the last twenty years have seen a steady decline in the use of humour in advertising. The boom of purpose advertising caused some advertisers to shift to a more serious tone. And some shied away from using humour during the pandemic. Kantar’s AdReaction study shows that humour is the most powerful enhancer of ad receptivity across all generations. Humour comes in many shapes and sizes, from making people chuckle, to leaving them in stitches. This year’s winners demonstrate this range brilliantly.

Humour is a powerful tool to help engage your audience, so be brave and join the brands that are boldly bringing humour back into their advertising.

Put a spark in your creative

Our Awards prove that brands and agencies are supremely adaptable to a changing world. They continue to apply creativity in new media formats and in channels which are fast being digitised. While the basic habits of highly effective advertisers still apply, our strategic sparks illustrate some interesting trends in how advertising can stand out.

With agile approaches to ad testing, and the integration of Behavioural Science techniques and facial coding it is easier, quicker and more effective than ever before to make sure your ads resonate with your target audience – in different contexts.

Watch the winning ads and learn from their success, and download our free booklet to find out how to put a spark in your creative and improve your return on investment.


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