2020 in Review: Top Chicago advertising campaigns

(The Best of Chicago advertising)

It’s hard to remember back in February 2020, when the Kansas City Chiefs bested the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV and Parasite was winning Best Picture, no one was talking about COVID, the election and Black Lives Matter. We had no idea we were only a few weeks and months away from all three dominating our lives, both personally and professionally.

It all changed in March, when the world began to shut down. Empire was forced to stop production, ensuring that the world would never see the true finale. All of Dick Wolf’s #OneChicago followed suit. People not wearing masks began receiving side-eye from other Chicagoans. Then again, people got side-eye if they DID wear a mask.

As if being quarantined in a pandemic wasn’t bad enough, in May African American George Floyd was murdered senselessly by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. His death caused a conversation about the meaning of Black lives to erupt. And erupt it did in the Loop.

Chicagoans protested, some causing violence. Looting happened. Central Camera temporarily closed after a fire.

And like a skilled creative director, a pandemic, a movement and hate for a president or his challenger would guide the way agencies crafted their clients’ messages.

Chicago’s ad agencies, post houses and production companies responded in spectacular fashion. OKRP. FCB. Burrell Communications. Leo Burnett. Highdive. Energy BBDO. Havas. DDB. Optimus. Tessa Films. Cutters Studios. Story. And countless more. They all did their part to create messages for their clients in a time we had climbed onto emotional rollercoasters.

Their advertising touched Chicago’s minds and hearts. We cried. Laughed. We thought.

The curated work below is a testament to the long hours dozens of Chicago copywriters, art directors, creative directors, editors, colorists and directors and their clients spent most of 2020 huddled away in mostly isolated home offices :

REEL Chicago’s Top Campaigns for 2020

1. Jeep “Groundhog Day”

How could this not be our Number One? It features Bill Murray (publisher Barbara Roche’s second cousin) in an effortlessly perfect updating of the Harold Ramis classic Groundhog Day. For Super Bowl, Jeep debuted the 60-second spot with Murray reprising his role as the misanthropic weatherman. And we loved it.


2. City of Chicago “Census”

While Chicagoans were hunkered down for Week 5 of Quarantine, Mayor Lori Lightfoot was been busy with creative agency partner Havas Chicago creating another lighthearted PSA. The goal this time – inspire the city to stay home and fill out their Census forms.

CLIENT: City of Chicago | AGENCY: Havas Chicago 

3. Miller Lite “Farewell, Work Holiday Parties”

2020 was filled with cancellations, but one thing that people were actually happy to have cancelled? Their work holiday parties. Miller Lite agreed: Cancelled work holiday parties means more time to drink Miller Lite with their real friends, or as they call it, Miller Time. 

The brand is memorialed people’s cringiest moments in an art exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) by renowned visual artist, Alex Prager, titled “Farewell, Holiday Parties.” Running from November 21 to January 3, the exhibit consisted of hyperrealist statues of people you might spot at a typical office gathering.

CLIENT: Miller Lite | AGENCY: DDB Chicago

4. Kerrygold “Middle of the Night”

The Hallmark-like :60 film told the story of how a family went to great lengths to share their love and celebrate together. A family wakes up in the middle of the night to prepare what appears to be a big holiday meal, but is ultimately revealed that they are celebrating their son after a long shift on his first day. 

CLIENT: Kerrygold | AGENCY: Energy BBDO

5. Illinois Lottery “You Can’t Hide Winning”

The campaign created during quarantine features Illinois residents who, despite all wearing masks, exude unmistakable joy and excitement in playing and winning the Illinois Lottery’s Instant Ticket games. The ads are set to the energetic song ‘Bing Bang Bong’, made popular in the 1960s by actress Sophia Loren.

“We wanted to capture the spirit of what winning looks like at a time when you can’t see someone’s smile,” explained Aubrey Walker, Executive Creative Director. “This work showcases the delight that can’t be hidden in our winners’ eyes and their exuberant spirit.”

CLIENT: Illinois Lottery | AGENCY: OKRP

6. Prego”Pour it on Thick”

The best way to win at dinner is to put it all on the table and sing the praises of pasta sauce. Kudos to Leo Burnett for bringing the amazingly talented, and everyone’s favorite SNL performer Cecily Strong to pour it on thick.

There are plenty of pain points that can make dinner fall flat—no time to prepare, a lack of ingredients or a table of picky eaters, to name a few. That’s why Leo Burnett teamed up with Campbell’s and Prego to show hasty homemakers how to make any meal a show-stopper. Simply, “pour it on thick.”

CLIENT: Prego |AGENCY: Leo Burnett 

ALSO READ: 2020 in Review: Reel 360’s favorite advertising campaigns

7. Bud Light “Bud Vendor – Calling Talking”

A new broadcast and social campaign, produced by STORY and directed by Ron Lazzeretti for FCB, Chicago, pays tribute to one of baseball’s most revered characters: the beer man. A series of spots features a beer vendor walking through a suburban neighborhood hawking a tray of ice cold Bud Light and Bud Seltzer.


8. University of Chicago Medicine “Not Fair”

In September, a brave and emotional spot for the University of Chicago Medicine broke on regional TV. Crafted by independent, digitally driven, creative agency Schafer Condon Carter, the minute-long spot powerfully captures the raw emotions that patients and families feel when confronted with a life-threatening diagnosis.

Directed by a cancer survivor himself (8 years free), famed Photographer turned Director Sandro Miller and edited by Utopic’s Craig Lewandowski along with his production team at LA-based Bottle Rocket, faced their own challenges as they had to shoot multiple locations, multiple cast members in a pandemic. The result is quite stunning

CLIENT: University of Chicago Medicine | AGENCY: Schafer Condon Carter

9. City of Chicago “Jason Hargrove”

In April, a bus driver, Jason Hargrove, made a video 11 days before his death from COVID-19. Now Burrell has posted it show its devastation to people of color.

When the team from acclaimed agency Burrell Communication saw the video, they felt they could take Jason’s powerful message and make it even stronger by attaching the sobering stats to it. So, they crafted the video into an Instagram message.

Donated to Burrell by Hargrove’s widow, Desha Johnson-Hargrove and edited by the agency’s Steve Sunner,” the somber bus driver looks down into the lens of his iPhone and delivers his message, ” We out here as public workers, trying to make an honest living… I’m just letting you know, this is real. Y’all need to take this serious.”

CLIENT: City of Chicago | AGENCY: Burrell Communications

10. State Farm “Not the One”

In February, State Farm gave us a peek at their new campaign. The first original spot of the new campaign, titled, Not the One, showcases how consumers will see Jake From State Farm in culturally relevant moments moving forward. Created by Chicago agency The Marketing Arm, the spot was completed with help from a number of Windy City Shops including Whitehouse Post, The Mill, and Another Country.

CLIENT: State Farm | AGENCY: The Marketing Arm

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There are at least 10 more we could easily list here, but we have to stick to a number. That’s what happens when you continue to celebrate the wonderfully talented people who do wonderful agency work in Chicago.

Happy New Year!

Colin Costello is the West Coast Editor of Reel 360. Contact him at colin@reel360.com or follow him on Twitter at @colinthewriter1