16 ads that look like America now: See our I&C Disruptors of 2017

Nike, Apple, Axe and Glenfiddich are among the brands defying stereotypes and including underrepresented people.

As hard as people try to avoid advertising these days, there’s no escaping its influence—not just on what we buy, but on our perception of the world around us. Historically, advertising hasn’t been great about taking this responsibility seriously, too often leaning on lazy stereotypes or showing the same happy white family over and over again.

Just as the industry is learning to take diversity among its talent seriously, it is increasingly producing work that lives outside those narrow cultural margins. To honor the brands and agencies taking inclusivity and creativity seriously, we present our I&C Disruptors of 2017, 16 creative teams whose work defies stereotypes or prominently features underrepresented people. The honors will be awarded at Campaign’s inaugural I&C Conference on Feb. 28, in New York City.

"Find Your Magic"
Client: Axe
Agency: 72andSunny Amsterdam

Axe's latest global campaign encourages men to throw off the shackles of conformity, a radical shift from the misogynistic, bro-heavy vibe of its earlier work. The ad opens on posters of men with six-pack muscles as a voiceover rubbishes the notion of conventional attractiveness and celebrates a host of men’s unique characteristics, from big noses to flaming red hair to dexterity in heels. This is 72andSunny Amsterdam’s first campaign for the brand.  

Jack & George: The 55th Valentine"
Client: Sweethearts Candy
Agency: Hill Holliday

In 2016, Sweethearts Candy, the makers of the beloved conversational hearts, celebrated their 150th birthday. That same year, Texans Jack Evans, 85, and George Harris, 82, celebrated their first Valentine’s Day together as a married couple thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage. The brand honored its product and same-sex couples by having Jack and George tell their story and choose conversational hearts that spoke to their relationship. They selected "Me & You" and "Soul mate," proving that same-sex marriage can be pretty sweet.

"Invest in Love"
Client: Chase
Agency: Droga5

In this 90-second spot for Chase, Droga5 presents a biracial friendship that grows into a loving marriage. The mention of the brand doesn’t appear until the end of the ad, when the husband and wife enter a branch to discuss long-term investment strategies. Instead, the focus is on unspoken inclusion at a time—the 1970s—when biracial relationships weren’t the norm. The film features an effecting cover of Pat Benatar’s "We Belong."

"Love Has No Labels"
Client: Ad Council
Agency: R/GA

R/GA’s campaign for the Ad Council has swept up a slew of creative awards over the past year, because it’s as effective as it is brave. On Valentine’s Day, a large X-ray installation next to a Santa Monica, Calif. Beach showed images of skeletons kissing, hugging and dancing together. The kicker came when the people stepped out to reveal they were not necessarily what the audience was expecting. The integrated campaign took it one step further with rival brands like Coke and Pepsi, P&G and Unilever, and StateFarm and Allstate coming together to promote the cause.

"Makers of Home"
Client: Pine-Sol  
Agency: The Axis Agency

The cleaning product has been around since 1929 and has witnessed the evolution of homemakers firsthand. Today, families are a blended mix of adopted kids, different races, single parents and special needs, and Pine-Sol celebrates all of them by redefining the word "homemaker." As part of the integrated marketing campaign, the company donated $50,000 to the charity Together We Rise, which helps children in the foster care system, and it sent 200 "Makers of Home" care packages to adoptive parents to help them prepare for their newest family member.

"The Human Family"
Client: Apple
Agency:TBWA/Media Arts Lab

Author Maya Angelou narrates this 60-second spot from Apple. The commercial shows a diverse group of people—gay, straight, young, old, Native American, Asian and more. But each person featured has one thing in common: each image was shot on an iPhone. "We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike," Angelou says, promoting a world of togetherness one cell phone selfie at a time.

Client: Microsoft
Agency: m:united//McCann

In grade school, 7 out of 10 girls are interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), but only two pursue it. That statistic is further exacerbated in the workplace as only 11 percent of executives from Silicon Valley’s top 150 tech companies are women. Microsoft takes this issue head-on by asking young girls to name three female inventors. When they can’t, the brand flashes evidence to the fact that not everything is manmade on screen—Tabitha Babbitt, inventor of the circular saw, Sarah Mather, inventor of the underwater telescope and more. After Microsoft aired the spot on International Women’s Day, internet searches for women inventors more than tripled, and Microsoft followed up by creating a patent program for women, so that young girls can have more role models.

"POP Culture"
Client: Glenfiddich
Agency: Flint & Steel
Glenfiddich single malt scotch whiskey was founded by a devoted dad, so to honor him and others, the brand produced a touching 44-minute documentary on Father’s Day 2016. It featured 16 famous fathers, sons and daughters, like Danny Trejo, Russell Simmons and Danica Patrick. For a category that too often confuses men with bros, the film represented a refreshingly sincere approach.

"Checkers & Rally's Helps Rick Ross Buy Back The Block"
Client: Checker’s Drive-in Restaurants
Agency: Fitzgerald & Co.
"Coming from the inner city, you always felt like somewhat of an underdog," says hip-hop artist Rick Ross. "Let’s make that a good thing." Fitzgerald & Co. worked with Uproxx and production company Woven to follow the owner of Maybach Music to his hometown of Carol City, Fla. where he bought his very own Checkers & Rally’s franchise. The film is unapologetic and doesn’t glorify its surroundings. It’s authentic, just like the man who returned home to pay respect to the restaurant that offered him affordable food when he worked at the local car wash.

"It’s Not Just What We Listen To, It’s Who We Are"
Client: YouTube Music 
Agency: Anomaly

Music unites us all, no matter where we lie on the political spectrum or whatever value system we subscribe to. In a series of spots from Anomaly, YouTube Music shows a Muslim woman rapping English lyrics, a farm boy who likes to cross-dress and an Asian kid who can truly bust rhymes. The title "It’s Not Just What We Listen To, It’s Who We Are" is exemplified in this diverse cast of characters.

"Down Syndrome Answers"
Client: Canadian Down Syndrome Society
Agency: FCB Toronto

When expecting parents learn that their unborn child has Down Syndrome, they have about 10 days to decide whether to proceed with the pregnancy. People naturally run to Google with their questions, but the answers aren’t always reliable. In this brilliant campaign, the Canadian Down Syndrome Society turned kids with Downs Syndrome into the experts by filming them answering questions about their condition. With FCB Toronto, they created 40 YouTube videos that answered the 40 most common questions that people searched on Google. The result was 455 million media impressions, 101 percent increase in organic traffic to the site, 893 percent increase in referral traffic and most likely, more babies with Down Syndrome.

"While the Water Boils"
Client: Barilla
Agency: Edelman

In 2013, Barilla President Guido Barilla told a radio host that he preferred the "traditional" family and wouldn’t feature same-sex couples in the brand’s ads, which prompted quite the backlash. Since then, the company has made advances in righting this wrong, like hiring a chief diversity officer who reports directly to the CEO and creating this branded video series hosted by LGBT YouTuber Hannah Hart. The interview sessions with comedian Wanda Sykes, street artist Hebru Brantley, skateboarder Lizzie Armanto and others occur "while the water boils"—showing how a brand can grow stronger even when it’s gotten into some hot water.

Client: Honey Maid
Agency: Droga5

In its third year, Honey Maid’s "This is Wholesome" campaign from Droga5 produced four new spots celebrating the real stories of diverse American families. In "Neighbors," two families bond over their daughters’ friendship despite their different cultures. The brand also launched The Wholesome Button, a web browser extension by Weber Shandwick that replaces headlines and photos with cutesy content and links to Honey Maid videos.

"Now That’s The Good Stuff"
Client: Kohl’s
Agency: Anomaly

An African American boy lip synchs Jeff Bridges’s Oscar acceptance speech when his parents allow his best friend to sleep over. A white dad echoes Cuba Gooding Jr. when his biracial family lets him pick which movie to watch. An Asian mom plays duchess with her daughter, delivering a spotless Penelope Cruz impersonation—in Spanish. When her brother lets her ride shotgun, his Caucasian sister mimics Whoopi Goldberg accepting the Academy Award for "Ghost." The juxtaposition of races and cultures takes a backseat to humor in this series of spots from Anomaly, achieving the lofty feat of making inclusion commonplace.

Client: Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation
Agency: 360i

360i and tech company Axios created these adapted versions of toys for the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation to help people with disabilities play with their families. A two-minute spot explains the project and directs viewers to a crowdfunding site for Adaptoys. Eric LeGrand, a former Rutgers football player, talks about how he can’t play with his nephews because he is he paralyzed from the neck down after a 2010 football injury. But his Adaptoy R/C car lets him control it through a suck-and-blow system he activates with his mouth. And a grandmother plays ball with her granddaughter using a voice-activated pitch machine.

"Unlimited Will"
Client: Nike
Agency: Wieden + Kennedy

This 30-second spot from Wieden + Kennedy opens with mountaineer Kyle Maynard ascending a snowy peak. As the camera pans out, the narrator becomes shocked. Where are his legs? More importantly, where are his arms? Maynard jokes that he left them at home. How is this amputee reaching heights that most full-bodied humans could never dream of? Simple, he just does it. 

Subscribe today for just $116 a year

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.com , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a subscriber


Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free