Campaign of the Year 2016: Channel 4 'We're the superhumans'

The high bar set by 2012's 'Meet the superhumans' pushed 4Creative, the broadcaster's in-house agency, to produce something even more outstanding.

Channel 4 first introduced the "superhumans" in its epic film for the London 2012 Paralympic Games. The campaign helped the Paralympics to sell out for the first time, delivered Channel 4 its biggest TV audience in ten years, changed the way many people felt about disability and was named our Campaign of the Year.

So chief marketing and communications officer Dan Brooke and his team had a high bar to clear. The Rio Paralympics also lacked the halo effect of the home Games and primetime-friendly schedule. In the run-up to the tournament, the press was filled with stories about funding problems, poor ticket sales and late travel grants.

But – just like the one-legged high jumper in the resulting spot – 4Creative, under joint heads John Allison and Chris Bovill, made it look easy. "We’re the superhumans" took the baton from the last campaign but extended the concept beyond athletes as part of Channel 4’s Year of Disability. 

The film was a celebratory affair involving more than 140 people – with just as many non-athletes as Paralympic stars – showcasing people flying planes, playing in bands, raising children, tap-dancing, rock-climbing and even driving a wheelchair through a wall. It exudes confidence and joy. 

Head of creative and design Alice Tonge, with Jolyon White and Richard Biggs, now at Wieden & Kennedy, created the brilliantly crafted, single-minded and uplifting film. They brought in celebrated Blink director Dougal Wilson to shoot the three-minute spot, which was set to a cover of Sammy Davis Jr’s Yes I Can

Signed, audio-described and subtitled versions made "We’re the superhumans" one of the most accessible ads ever. It was accompanied by an outdoor campaign, shot by Nadav Kander, as well as a multitude of online activity including films telling the stories of the ad’s stars. Meanwhile, partnerships with Bauer Media, Snapchat, Metro and Transport for London kept people updated with all the action from Rio. 

In a competition, Channel 4 gave away £1m in airtime to Maltesers and its agency, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, for the best idea featuring disabilities. Maltesers also took part in a special signed ad break alongside Allianz, British Gas, Flash, Nationwide, O2 and Samsung.

Within weeks of its launch, "We’re the superhumans" became the second-most-shared Olympics-themed ad on social media of all time behind Procter & Gamble’s "Best job" in 2012. Universal Music released Yes I Can performed by the ad’s band of disabled musicians, with proceeds going to the British Paralympic Association. Channel 4’s coverage of the Paralympics was watched by nearly half of the UK population. Viewing share across the 25-34 age group actually improved on London 2012 and the broadcaster’s audience share in September (when the competition was shown) increased 50% year on year.

"We’re the superhumans" will now be studied by GCSE and A level media studies pupils. Research also found that the campaign shifted attitudes – 74% of people felt more comfortable discussing disability after seeing it and 59% felt it improved their perception of those with disabilities.

With "We’re the superhumans", Channel 4 and 4Creative showed that they could follow 2012 with work of similar stature. The only question is: will they pull off the treble in Tokyo?

Lynx ‘Find your magic’

Channel 4 wasn’t the only advertiser to embrace diversity in 2016. Lynx decided to upend the very notion of masculinity that it had once fetishised. 

The success of Lynx – known as Axe outside the UK – was built on the premise that it "helped you get the bird". But that didn’t cut it any more. The brief global brand director Fernando Desouches gave 72andSunny marked a huge shift. The resulting campaign, directed by François Rousselet, featured one man cradling kittens, a second wearing high heels and another eyeing up a man in a shop. 

And the change in direction is paying off: US purchase consideration increased from 16% to 20% and, globally, Lynx’s growth rate more than tripled in the months after launch from 1.9% to 6.9%.

Virgin Media ‘9.58 seconds’ 

Cutting through the Olympics advertising scramble without being an official sponsor is a hard task. However, Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s "9.58 seconds" for Virgin Media neatly linked Usain Bolt to the provider of superfast broadband. Shot by Seb Edwards, the spot switched between stories, all set to a voiceover by former sprinter Michael Johnson. The campaign increased traffic to Virgin Media’s website by almost 10% and reported twice the conversion rate of its previous campaign.

John Lewis ‘Buster the Boxer’ 

John Lewis’ Christmas campaign, by Adam & Eve/DDB, ushers in the festive season in the UK. "Buster the Boxer" marked a change in mood, with trampolining animals replacing previous years’ tearjerkers. In addition to the TV ad, shot by Dougal Wilson, the campaign was expanded in-store and online, including a Snapchat filter. The TV film was 2016’s most-shared ad on social media and also the public’s favourite festive spot, according to Campaign’s Adwatch research.

Marks & Spencer ‘Christmas with love’

Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R has done itself proud with its swansong for the retailer. In the Tom Hooper-directed ad, Mrs Claus is shown getting up to her own capers on Christmas Eve. Marks & Spencer also partnered Channel 4 to offer seasonal style, decoration and food tips from a host of presenters including Dawn O’Porter, Kirsty Allsop and Phil Spencer. With a compelling film and a clear strategy, this campaign deserves all the accolades it gets. 

Recent winners: Moneysupermarket.com (2015); Ikea (2014); O2 (2013); Channel 4 (2012); John Lewis (2011)

Annual 2016 edition