2020 in Review: Our Favorite Chicago Ad Campaigns | Chicago Reel

(The Best of Chicago commercial)

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

Everything changed in March, when the world began to go dark. Empire was forced to shut down production, ensuring the world would never see the true finale. All of Dick Wolf’s #OneChicago have followed suit. People not wearing masks began to receive secondary glances from other Chicagoans. Again, people have a side eye if they were wearing a mask.

As if being quarantined in a pandemic wasn’t bad enough, in May, African American George Floyd was senselessly murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. His death sparked a conversation about the meaning of black life. And it burst into the loop.

Chicago residents protested, some sparking violence. The looting has taken place. Central camera temporarily closed after a fire.

And like a qualified creative director, a pandemic, a movement and the hatred of a president or his challenger would guide the way agencies craft their clients’ messages.

Chicago’s advertising agencies, post houses and production companies reacted dramatically. OKRP. FCB. Burell Communications. Leo Burnet. Highdive. BBDO energy. Havanas. DDB. Optimus. Tessa Films. Cutting workshops. Story. And countless others. They all did their part to create messages for their customers in a time when we were riding an emotional roller coaster.

Their publicity touched the minds and hearts of Chicago. We cried. I laughed. We thought.

The curated work below is testament to the long hours dozens of Chicago writers, art directors, creative directors, editors, colorists, and directors and their clients have spent the better part of 2020 huddled in mostly isolated home offices:

REEL Chicago’s Best 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 update to the Harold Ramis classic. Groundhog Day. For superbowl, Jeep debuted the 60-second spot with Murray reprising his role as the misanthropic weatherman. And we loved it.


2. Chicago City Census

As Chicagoans hunkered down for Week 5 of quarantine, Mayor Lori Lightfoot was busy with creative agency partner Havas Chicago creating another light-hearted PSA. The goal this time – to inspire the city to stay home and fill out its census forms.

CUSTOMER: City of Chicago | AGENCY: Havas Chicago

3. Miller Lite “Farewell, Holiday Parties at Work”


2020 has been filled with cancellations, but one thing people were really happy to have cancelled? Their working holiday parties. Miller Lite agreed: Canceled holiday parties mean more time to drink Miller Lite with their real friends, or as they call it, Miller Time.

The brand is commemorated of people’s scariest moments in an art exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) by renowned visual artist Alex Prager, titled “Farewell, Holiday Parties.” From November 21 to January 3, the exhibit consisted of hyper-realistic statues of people you might spot in a typical office meeting.

CUSTOMER: Light Miller | AGENCY: DDB Chicago

4. Kerrygold “In the Middle of the Night”

The Hallmark-like movie: 60 told 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 cook what seems like a big holiday meal, but it’s finally revealed that they’re celebrating their son after a long shift on the first day.

CUSTOMER: Kerrygold | AGENCY: Energy BBDO

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

The campaign created during the quarantine features Illinois residents who, despite wearing masks, exude undeniable joy and excitement as they play and win the Illinois Lottery Instant Ticket games. The commercials are set to the energetic song ‘Bing Bang Bong‘, made popular in the 1960s by actress Sophie Loren.

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

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 in the incredibly talented and everyone’s favorite SNL interpreter Cecile Forte to pour it over thick.

There are plenty of pain points that can cause dinner to fall flat – no time to prep, a lack of ingredients, or a table of picky eaters, to name a few. That’s why Leo Burnett has teamed up with Campbell’s and Pregnant to show hasty housewives how to make any meal a memorable one. Simply, “pour it thickly.”

CUSTOMER: Pregnant |AGENCY: Leo Burnett

7. Bud Light “Bud Seller – Call Talk”


A new broadcast and social campaign, produced by STORY and produced by Ron Lazzeretti for FCB, Chicago pays homage to one of baseball’s most revered characters: the beer man. A series of spots feature a beer vendor strolling through a suburban neighborhood, peddling a tray of frozen Bud Light and Bud Seltzer.


8. University of Chicago Medicine “Not Fair”

In September, a courageous and moving spot for University of Chicago Medicine burst on regional television. Conceived by digitally-focused independent creative agency Schafer Condon Carter, the one-minute spot powerfully captures the raw emotions patients and families feel when faced with a life-threatening diagnosis.

Directed by a cancer survivor himself (8 years free), acclaimed photographer-turned-director Sandro Miller and edited by Utopic’s Craig Lewandowski with his production team at Los Angeles-based Bottle Rocket faced his own challenges as they had to shoot multiple locations, multiple member actors in the event of a pandemic. The result is quite stunning

CLIENT: University of Chicago Medicine | AGENCY: Schaefer 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 posted it to show his devastation for people of color.

When the team at famed agency Burrell Communications saw the video, they thought they could take Jason’s powerful message and make it even stronger by attaching the sobering statistics. So they turned the video into an Instagram post.

Given to Burrell by the widow of Hargrove, Desha Johnson-Hargrove and published by the agency Steve Sunner,The dark bus driver looks into the lens of his iPhone and delivers his message, ‘We here as public servants, trying to make an honest living… Just letting you know, this is real. You all need to take this seriously.

CUSTOMER: City of Chicago | AGENCY: Burrell Communications

10. “Not That One” State Farm


In February, State Farm gave us a preview of its new campaign. The first original spot of the new campaign, titled, Not the one, shows how consumers will see Jake From State Farm in culturally relevant times in the future. Created by Chicago agency The marketing branch, the spot was made with the help of a number of Windy City Shops, including Whitehouse Post, The Mill and Another Country.

CUSTOMER: State Farm | AGENCY: The marketing branch

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There are at least 10 more that 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 doing wonderful agency work in Chicago.

Good year!

Colin Costello is the West Coast Editor for Reel 360. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @colinthewriter1

Marilyn J. Hernandez