The Lists 2020: Top 15 creatives

The best of the industry in 2020.

Top creatives: Kolbusz, Brim, A Balarin, H Balarin, Tait, Davidson, Leonard, Maguire, Grieve, Doubal, Thomson, Bailes, Brooke-Taylor, McClure, Sobhani, Simon, Vega, Tudor and Elliott
Top creatives: Kolbusz, Brim, A Balarin, H Balarin, Tait, Davidson, Leonard, Maguire, Grieve, Doubal, Thomson, Bailes, Brooke-Taylor, McClure, Sobhani, Simon, Vega, Tudor and Elliott

1 David Kolbusz

Chief creative officer, Droga5 London

Amid the doom and gloom of 2020, many advertisers churned out token gestures of empathy or sentimentality, but Kolbusz’s work at Droga5 stood apart. Starting with the agency’s first Super Bowl ad for Amazon, his team went on to create more humorous and absurd campaigns for its top client, as well as Barclaycard, Rustlers and Setapp. Kolbusz was only sticking to what he has always done best – entertaining and offering laughs with his unique talent for storytelling. It turned out to be just what many people needed this year.

2 Richard Brim

Chief creative officer, Adam & Eve/DDB

Even the much-celebrated Adam & Eve/DDB wasn’t immune from this year’s trials, but Brim continued to steer his crew through rocky waters. Despite upheaval at premier client John Lewis & Partners, the agency took a different and more charitable approach to its highly anticipated Christmas campaign. Brim also oversaw strong ads from the AA, PlayStation, EA Sports’ Fifa, Mars Temptations and CALM.

3 Ana and Hermeti Balarin

Partners, Mother

The Balarins were at the helm for three creative standouts this year: Ikea’s prequel to Aesop’s fable The Tortoise and the Hare; Samsung’s unlikely love story inspired by onions; and Greenpeace’s “Rang-tan” sequel. After KFC had to pause its “finger-lickin” ad because of the pandemic, Mother helped the brand reopen with a cheeky ode to home cooking, followed by a campaign temporarily pausing its popular slogan.

4 Iain Tait and Tony Davidson

Executive creative directors, Wieden & Kennedy London

Tait is leaving Wieden & Kennedy in early 2021, while Davidson remains and looks for his counterpart’s replacement, but the pair’s last year together was one they could be proud of despite big challenges. Before Three went out of the door, W&K created another fantastical epic for the brand that looked to a 5G-fuelled future. For Lurpak there was an artsy ode to home cooks, while Camden Town Brewery’s lockdown work gave back to key workers. TK Maxx and Sainsbury’s Christmas ads were other bright spots.

5 Nils Leonard

Co-founder, Uncommon Creative Studio

The challenges of 2020 may have seemed particularly acute to a young agency, but Leonard ensured his brainchild stayed
in the spotlight. When the pandemic started, Uncommon helped BrewDog change tack by producing hand sanitiser. After an earlier delay to its brand campaign, B&Q later splashed out with a touching tribute to home and bold outdoor ads. ITV remained Uncommon’s strong point – its mental health awareness campaign felt all the more apt during lockdown, and the broadcaster also made headlines for taking a stand with dance group Diversity after the Black Lives Matter protests.

6 Vicki Maguire

Chief creative officer, Havas London

Maguire’s first year at Havas London got off to a good start, even with the unexpected turmoil of a pandemic and recession. The agency, which had long flown under the radar creatively, released noticeable campaigns from Durex, Coors Light, Carling, Citroën and EDF. Differently shaped work saw Havas team up with African and Caribbean support organisation Nubian Jak Community Trust on the Black Plaque Project, an initiative commemorating overlooked black figures by installing black plaques instead of the famous blue ones on buildings across London.

7 Alex Grieve

Chief creative officer, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

AMV BBDO was among those agencies hit hard by the crisis, but Grieve kept its creative standards high. Most notably, Bodyform followed up the lauded “Viva la vulva” with “#Wombstories”, which again challenged taboos by showing the ups and downs of life with a uterus. Tena’s unconventional portrait of older women also pushed the brand in the right direction.

8 Rob Doubal and Laurence Thomson

Chief creative officers, McCann UK

Under Doubal and Thomson’s leadership, McCann kicked off the year with another innovative campaign from Xbox, which comprised a virtual travel guide for gamers. After the public was forced to stay home during lockdown, that idea seemed prescient. Later in the crisis, Just Eat brought some unexpected joy with a silly ad starring Snoop Dogg. Doubal and Thomson show that advertising is at its best when it tries to have fun.

9 Darren Bailes

Executive creative director, VCCP

Bailes is passionate about creativity and it comes through in VCCP’s output. Aside from campaigns for O2, Paddy Power and Domino’s, his crowning achievement was again Cadbury, which has fully come into its own in its third year with the agency. The brand’s tribute to community and kindness was arguably the best of the wave of lockdown ads, and later it continued its “Donate your words” campaign by showing a different side to the older population. Such warmth struck the right tone in a troubled year.

10 Danny Brooke-Taylor

Co-founder and creative partner, Lucky Generals

Brooke-Taylor often shies away from the spotlight but his work at Lucky Generals shines. This year, the agency helped Co-op scrap its Easter ad plans to pay tribute to local heroes and donate airtime to fight hunger. In typical Lucky Generals style, it also brought some much-needed cheer with Yorkshire Tea’s socially distanced teapot. When Christmastime came, its beautifully shot Amazon campaign about a resilient ballerina was a festive favourite.

11 Aidan McClure

Chief creative officer, Wonderhood Studios

Wonderhood’s win of the Three account in lockdown showed the start-up is finding its feet. Its first work for the brand was a confident step. McClure also helped the agency beat Wieden & Kennedy in the pitch for Branston Pickle-owner Mizkan and went on to make a beautiful first film for the brand. Work for Starling Bank, meanwhile, has driven business growth.

12 Chaka Sobhani

Chief creative officer, Leo Burnett London

Sobhani’s sunny and open brand of leadership felt like a breath of fresh air in 2020. As in previous years, Leo Burnett’s McDonald’s campaigns soared, including its 1990s throwback ad and charming Christmas tale. Work early in the year for Butlin’s also showed promise.

13 Laurent Simon

Chief creative officer, VMLY&R London

VMLY&R is picking up pace on the work front since
Simon joined at the end of last year. Campaigns for the Department for Transport and Viagra were beautifully crafted and did justice to the agency’s creative roots.

14 Guillermo Vega

Chief creative officer, Saatchi & Saatchi London

Despite turmoil within owner Publicis Groupe, due to the Covid-19 impact, Saatchi & Saatchi had a productive year, with work for Direct Line, Marie Curie, Deutsche Telekom, BT and EE. As the agency marked its 50th year, Vega is well placed to help it enter its next era.

15 Yan Elliott and Micky Tudor

Joint executive creative directors, The & Partnership London

Elliott and Tudor were busy this year with work for Lexus and the return of Argos’ nostalgic “Book of dreams”-themed Christmas ad. Most impressive was a project for RNIB, which created a pregnancy test prototype for women with sight loss.

Topics