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The 10 most innovative advertising companies of 2020

Wieden+Kennedy, McCann, BBDO, and other agencies making attention-getting work you’ll actually love if you haven’t already.

The 10 most innovative advertising companies of 2020
THE WORLD’S 50 MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES
Advertising

Our annual honoring of the agencies producing the best work features a balance between showcases for where advertising actually makes a difference to work that’s just entertaining as hell.

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1. Wieden+Kennedy

For sending Bud Light to Westeros and dreaming further for Nike at the Women’s World Cup

The award-winning, Portland, Oregon-based independent agency flexed its creative muscle in 2019 with both U.S. offices (Portland and New York) making work that tapped into culture. First, the New York office collaborated with Droga5 to bring Bud Light to the punishing Game of Thrones’ world of Westeros during the Super Bowl, and it won national creative duties for McDonald’s. Portland continued its epic run with Nike, creating “Dream Crazier,” a worthy follow-up to 2018’s Colin Kaepernick ad, as well as a paean to female empowerment in sport with “Dream Further” for the Women’s World Cup.

2. McCann Worldgroup

For changing the game for overlooked communities<

A massive global agency network, McCann had innovative work pop around the world over the past year. The March for Our Lives' "Generation Lockdown" PSA had a young girl instructing adults on how they would survive an active shooter event. Microsoft's "Changing the Game" campaign provided a fun, emotional story around the gaming platform's adaptive controller for gamers with disabilities. In June 2019, it launched Mastercard's True Name card that allows LGBTQ+ cardholders to have their preferred name on their debit, credit, or prepaid card. In the UK, the agency focused on ageism with an entire issue of British Vogue dubbed the “Non-Issue.” And McCann Tel Aviv made ThisAbles for Ikea, a line of Ikea 3D-printable products that make it easier for disabled people to use the retailer’s furniture. “For us, all great creative ideas have to demonstrate how the brand can play a meaningful role in people’s lives,” says Rob Reilly, global creative chairman, McCann Worldgroup. “Broadening accessibility and acceptance is part of that. But it has to fit naturally and effectively reflect what the brand’s sense of purpose really stands for.”

3. BBDO New York

For partnering with Monica Lewinsky to tackle toxic online behavior and cyberbullying

In October 2019, the agency launched its third PSA collaboration with Monica Lewinsky on the epidemic of public shaming online and its effects on young people and culture. “The Epidemic” is a harrowing, emotional journey of one teen girl that also manages to use viewers’ phone numbers to mimic the experience IRL. Merriam-Webster defines “epidemic” as an outbreak of disease that spreads quickly and affects many individuals at the same time. The growth of online harassment among young people certainly qualifies, and here BBDO found a way to frighteningly portray a worst-case scenario.

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4. Giant Spoon

For putting depression treatment to music

Giant Spoon has long been known for creating memorable experiences for brands and entertainment companies—and 2019 was no exception, considering its “Bleed for the Thrones” blood drive for the American Red Cross for HBO and Game of Thrones. But it also branched out into a new medium with impressive results. Together with iHeartMedia, the agency teamed with Jingle Punks’ Jared Gutstadt and Jason “Poo Bear” Boyd to create the scripted musical podcast “Bear and a Banjo” for its client OneMedical. For the podcast’s original song “Better Days,” Giant Spoon worked with Goodby Silverstein & Partners, Poo Bear, and Gutstadt to write lyrics inspired by real quotes from commenters across social media talking about dealing with depression.

5. Observatory

For befriending pets for Refinery29

The L.A.-based agency is helping to point the way forward for how brands can collaborate to create branded content that people actually want to watch. Working with comedian Whitney Cummings in 2019, it helped create a three-part video series called “Pet Friendly,” funded by VCA Animal Hospitals, that lovingly parodies pet obsession. Observatory pitched the show to digital distributors, with no special emphasis on it being brand-funded, and after a bidding war among four different platforms, Refinery29 acquired the show.

6. Anomaly

For spurring action on the Grenfell fire in London by shaming Parliament with projection ads

The global agency’s London office took a simple idea and execution to attract global attention. Working with Grenfell United on a series of projected messages on major buildings—including the UK Parliament—that pointed to the continued unsafe conditions of many tower blocks across the country, despite being two years removed from the tragic Grenfell Tower tragedy that killed more than 70 people. The effort was covered by major media around the world and helped prompt the issue to be addressed in Parliament.

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7. VMLY&R

For buying Poland’s oldest porn mag and devoting its last issue to female empowerment

When one of Poland’s longest-running and most-read adult magazines went up for sale, VMLY&R’s local office bought it, then teamed with brands like Mastercard and BNP Paribas to release one final issue. The catch? Released on International Women’s Day 2019, they swapped out the skin for content promoting diverse and progressive narratives of female empowerment. Meanwhile, in the U.S., the agency paired Google with Domino’s to make holiday Cyber Monday deliveries of the new Pixel phone with pizza.

8. The&Partnership

For going long for Lexus in a 60,000-hour doc

The London-based agency network creatively pushed the boundaries of attention with a 60,000-hour documentary for Lexus on the Japanese craftsperson concept of mastery called “Takumi,” profiling four practitioners: a carpenter, a chef, a traditional paper-cutting artist, and an automotive craftsman. This elaborate branded content play followed an earlier effort that claimed to be the world’s first AI-scripted ad for the carmaker. Also last year, agency creative Chris Godfrey managed to create the most-liked post ever with Instagram Egg.

9. TBWA Worldwide

For making the city bounce for Apple AirPods

Another global network producing creativity on a global scale. In the U.S., the agency provided a visual for the skyrocketing popularity of Apple’s AirPods, making the city pop with its gorgeous “Bounce” ad. TBWA also made substance stylish for Apple by turning privacy into a cool sales feature for iPhone. Meanwhile in France, rainy days were turned into beautiful outdoor ads for McDonald’s. On the sporty side, it set up shop at the U.S. Open with Adidas to help people pay tribute to a legend with Billie Jean King Your Shoes. Then for Gatorade’s “Everyday is Your Day” spot for the Women’s World Cup, it combined soccer legends Mia Hamm and Mallory Pugh with Dr. Seuss and a tale of empowerment.

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10. Droga5

For telling the truth about the New York Times

By giving us a peek behind the New York Times’s process in telling important stories like the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar and the Mexican government’s use of spyware, Droga5 (which is now part of Accenture Interactive) succeeded in reminding us why top journalism matters with its “The Truth is Worth It” campaign. The agency also teamed with Wieden+Kennedy for the rare agency collaboration, helping to convince HBO to let the Bud Knight crash Game of Thrones in the Super Bowl.

Read more about Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies:

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