The Best And Worst January Ads

We test and compare around 1000 new US and UK ads every month for System1 Ad Ratings. Here are some of the new campaigns and executions from January that stood out.

5-STAR: PEDIGREE – “Feed The Good”

Pedigree’s “Feed The Good” campaign – based on the idea that”dogs bring out the good in us” is 4 years old, but continues to produce top-scoring results for the dog food brand. Many of the campaigns don’t make it to YouTube, including this month’s 5-Star effort, about a dog visiting a sick child in hospital. At 15 seconds there’s not a lot of time for subtlety or nuance in these ads, but there doesn’t necessarily have to be – in a category which lends itself to strong advertising, Pedigree continue to perform well.

4-STAR: BUD LIGHT – “Ingredients”

One benefit of a Fluent Device – a recurring scenario or character – is that it can enliven the dullest of topics. For its Super Bowl ads, Bud Light stressed its ingredients. For this January ad, it talked about its ingredient labelling. There are few more boring subjects. And yet this is a 4-Star ad, purely because the Bud Light “King” and his world is now well-established enough that people simply enjoy seeing it… even when the ad’s about labelling.

4-STAR: KIT-KAT – “Katapult”

This is an old ad – in fact we’ve written about it before but its travel around the world has brought it to UK screens for the first time, in its 30-second incarnation. Once again the ad scores very well – a 4-Star commercial. Not all humour travels in advertising but it’s often less culturally specific than marketers imagine, and the success of this ad shows the power of a good joke.

4-STAR: PEPSI – “The Encounter”

This Pepsi ad outperformed their Super Bowl spot in our tests – and fully deserves its 4-Star rating: it’s a high-budget, imaginative bit of storytelling which makes great use of tension and misdirection to create an emotional journey for the viewer. The comic payoff, when it comes, is delightful. As TV ads get shorter and campaigns go digital-first, this kind of storytelling feels like it’s becoming rarer. A great shame, if so!

3-STAR: GEICO – “Possum”

Geico’s ads are so celebrated that they are able to re-run commercials and ask viewers to vote for the best ones. This isn’t just a great way to re-use inventory and save money, it cements a reputation for strong advertising. Even beyond its Gecko Fluent Device, Geico has a reputation for excellent use of humour, which helps build a fanbase for its ads and lets it take a few risks – like this “Possum” ad, almost a decade old but still getting a 3-Star score despite quite darkly comic content.

3-STAR: VIRGIN MEDIA –  “Orchestra“

Virgin Media recently announced an agency review, and it will be interesting to see where the brand goes after its long-running association with Usain Bolt. The Bolt ads have never been stellar performers in our testing – the brand has a tendency to pad the wit and inventiveness out with an overload of product detail. This ad performed strongly, though, at 3-Stars. If this is the end of “Super Bolt”#s run, it’s not a bad way to go out.

2-STAR: ACTIMEL – “Winter Bottle”

As you may have noticed, January was a pretty chilly month (at least in the Northern Hemisphere!). Brands responded with winter-themed ads, few of which scored especially highly. Even at 2-Stars, Actimel’s “Winter Bottle” was one of the most interesting. But the thought of ice cold outdoor swimming failed to titillate our respondents. Other brands who ran winter themed ads included car brands Honda and Lexus, who showed off the snow-driving capabilities of their models in US ads. Both also scored 2-Stars.


1-STAR: E TRADE – “Old Chap”

“Hard work pays off – for your boss!” – financial services and investment company E*Trade seem unlikely converts to a Marxist analysis of labour, so the point of this ad is much more about quitting the day job and making a killing on the stock market. But the message doesn’t really land, partly because the story goes unresolved – we’re left frustrated and angry along with our young hero. A 1-Star reminder that negative emotions can work brilliantly – but it’s far more effective to deal with them in your ad.


SquareSpace have made some highly entertaining ads so this inclusion isn’t meant to single them out – but this ad is quite typical of an approach tech brands (though not just tech brands) like to use: abstract, story-free, highly rhythmic and mostly free of human context. It’s a style of ad which feels superficially fresh and modern but tends to elicit low or no emotion in viewers and not even much brand recognition either.

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