Aldi, DFS and Argos are 2014's most recalled ads

Which ads touched the nation in 2014? Gail Kemp explores the themes and trends behind the year's biggest hits.

Aldi: Christmas 2014 campaign
Aldi: Christmas 2014 campaign

Every week on the Marketing website, Adwatch charts the nation’s best-recalled TV commercials, supported by a monthly analysis of the best-liked ads.

Television advertising is a convenient lens through which to reflect on the past year and anticipate 2015. From the excitement of the World Cup to the Scottish referendum and the rise of UKIP, 2014 forced us to consider what being British really means.

Adwatch of the Year combines the 2014 research into four mega-leagues: the first shows the year’s 20 best-recalled brands; the next lists the most-memorable individual commercials; a third charts the best-liked TV advertising; and the last features the most-shared video content.

On the high street and in the ad break, German supermarkets took Britain by storm and made us re-examine the relationship between price and value. Their influence is evident in Adwatch, with discounter Aldi topping the main recall table, forcing furniture chain DFS and retailer Argos into second and third place, respectively. Of the main supermarkets, Morrisons performed best, storming into fourth place, while Asda dropped out of the top 10 for the first time in more than a decade.

It was a great year for both digital broadcaster Sky and comparison site Gocompare.com; the latter overtook rival Comparethemarket for the first time since the introduction of the meerkats (although Baby Oleg’s arrival was the year’s best-recalled individual ad).

Gocompare chief marketing officer Kevin Hughes believes the brand’s campaign, featuring the "Llandofsavingmoney", is a winner. "By introducing new characters, we can demonstrate services like credit-card and energy comparison, target multiple demographics and give a better idea of our overall offering," he says. "In 2015 we will continue to add depth to those new characters."

The biggest genre in 2013, the ‘prankvert’, all but disappeared

Hughes is bullish about the comparison-site sector’s prospects. "We represent a young marketplace, which bucks the trend of a negative economy," he says. "Our services help people in tough times, which means our market will continue to develop."

As the wider economy showed signs of improvement, ad budgets held up well in the first half of 2014. Advertising Association (AA) figures revealed that UK adspend grew at its fastest rate for three years in the second quarter; TV spend enjoyed stellar year-on-year growth of 10.7%.

Yet, in line with other industry predictions, the AA has revised 2015 forecasts downward, with chief executive Tim Lefroy fearing that many sectors (particularly retail) will come under pressure this year. "Even though the numbers for TV advertising are still looking good, we are much more cautious for 2015," he warns.

Lefroy’s view is echoed by Morag Blazey, chief executive of Ebiquity UK, which provides the Adwatch of the Year budget figures. It forecasts a modest 3% growth in 2015 TV revenue, but Blazey believes spend is not the only key to successful television advertising.

She credits Aldi’s success to its "year-long, un­erring consistency – short time-lengths, clear messages, shot in a quirky way". She adds: "We recognise the formula but we are not tired of it; we watch because we know it will be amusing and engaging. Other supermarket brands spend more but have a less consistent message."

Aldi’s ongoing ‘Like brands’ campaign, bolstered by its ‘Swap and save’ initiative, made 2014 its most successful year to date. The supermarket’s marketing director, Adam Zavalis, says its marketing will continue to champion quality this year.

"We will build on this year’s advertising as we look to strengthen and grow our position. The ongoing expansion of Aldi’s national store portfolio and marketing of new lines such as organic produce and our premium range will play an important role in helping us broaden Aldi’s appeal," he adds.

Yet Aldi could not resist taking a leaf out of Lidl's book and poking fun at Morrisons’ Match & More loyalty scheme, running a print campaign mocking its apparent complexity.

Morrisons brand and communications director Mike Hoban, meanwhile, believes his brand, helped by a smaller retail footprint, has done more than its rivals to reposition for the new retail reality.

"We were the first supermarket to understand the changing dynamics of price and value. We rationalised our ranges to weed out underperforming products and now have a dotcom offering. The 2015 challenge for all supermarkets will be to understand and communicate what makes them distinct," he says. "By neutralising the price issue and proving we can win on fresh food and famous brands, we are doing our best to ensure success."

While Morrisons has just run its third Christmas ad campaign fronted by TV stars Ant and Dec, Iceland believes it has struck gold with pop star and TV personality Peter Andre, who has boosted both recall and sales. Moreover, this has been achieved on a budget a fraction of that of its competitors, making Iceland’s far and away the best-value advertising of the year.

Mark Harrison, retail managing director of Iceland’s ad agency, Karmarama, promises more of Andre in 2015. "He will become more of a real shopper and potential chef, and much more integrated with the brand. This year, an ‘always-on’ strategy, executed in an engaging way, will be crucial."

This is a strategy that DFS chief marketing officer Helen Normoyle has been deploying since appointing agency Krow two years ago, with a determination to make the advertising – and the brand – not just well-recognised, but well-loved.

"The sofa sits at the heart of most homes, so we focus on that emotional importance. Our metrics show that people enjoy the humour of our ‘everyday sofa moments’," she says. "There is a symbiotic relationship between the TV and sofa, and our ads provide a great springboard to our website."

This year’s ‘likeability league’ shows which 2014 commercials struck an emotional chord with the public. Six of the top 10 feature animals, several involve uplifting emotional themes – and Krow’s spot for Pets at Home, at number eight, does both.

Krow founder Malcolm White believes the brands in the table are pioneers of ‘likeonomics’ – "driving commercial growth by being more liked". He adds: "Not long ago, big brands like those featured would have aimed to change how we think by communicating a message, not by trying to get us to like them more. They would have agreed with Mrs Thatcher that ‘If you set out to be liked… you achieve nothing’. Today, smart clients know that being more liked delivers business success."

Shared viral content reflects the issues that preoccupy and fascinate people – and, as ever, Marketing’s review of the most-shared videos, compiled with data from Unruly, is revealing.

Predictably, the World Cup dominated last year’s viral consciousness, becoming the most-shared event ever, with brands from Activia to Nike capitalising on the tournament to provide chart-topping content.

Brands have learned that positive, emotional ads earn a greater proportion of shares. Cardstore, TVC Thai Life Insurance and DTAC led the ‘uplifting’ swing by tapping into emotions that felt authentic for their respective brands.

An enduring theme in 2014 was ‘Fempowerment’, the changing way in which brands talk to the young women who are redefining what it means to be a feminist. Procter & Gamble’s Always, for example, used an emotional trigger to resonate with women by using social video to challenge perceptions about the phrase ‘like a girl’ (pictured, right).

The biggest genre in 2013, the ‘prankvert’, all but disappeared: 2014’s only top-10 example (20th Century Fox’s ‘Devil Baby Attack’) went live in January. The prankvert is risky; humour can work well, but can also backfire, particularly in a global medium where viral velocity continues to increase along with video consumption on mobile.

Sarah Wood, Unruly’s co-founder and chief operating officer, reports that growing numbers of advertisers are pre-testing content to maximise the chance of establishing immediate impact and developing ‘sharable’ video.

Music remains the most-shared content, with an average share rate of 7.1% compared with just 2.1% for brand videos. Music triggers deep-seated, powerful emotional responses, which is why advertisers increasingly favour ‘trackvertising’ (music videos co-released by a brand and an artist).

In 2014, Activia proved itself the master of perfectly judged social video, with Shakira’s La La La Brazil World Cup anthem becoming the most-shared ad to date. The video incorporates all the year’s key themes: football, music/trackvertising, the empowered woman, and a focus on ‘social good’ (Activia measured success not by product sold but by the resulting number of meals it donated to the World Food Programme).

There was also a focus on ‘programmatic video’ (technology-driven targeting) which has been embraced by P&G, Mondel¯ez, American Express and Kraft, among others.

Wood believes that in 2015 there will be dramatic growth in this area for one simple reason: "Programmatic video enables marketers to target on a more granular basis to reach audiences most likely to be influenced by particular videos."

Successful targeting results in shares, and, in this digital environment, shares mean commercial success.