Best ads of 2011: The final two are Wieden+Kennedy for Chrysler and Adam & Eve for John Lewis

Why these two? The key word is ambition.

Wieden+Kennedy Portland for Chrysler set out to re-generate a whole city with its Eminem ‘Born of fire’ commercial and, fleetingly anyway, succeeded. It also provided a very clever platform for the hitherto perennially under-performing US carmaker (now owned by Fiat), ‘Imported from Detroit.’

In the UK John Lewis’s Christmas ad tugged shamelessly at the nation’s heartstrings by squeezing an incredible amount of emotion into 90 seconds. But it’s just as notable for what it left out – Christmas jollity in most of its guises, products and shops. This has been common to all Adam & Eve’s ads for the UK retailer and is the mark of a confident and brave client. But John Lewis is out-performing the rest of the UK High Street with an advertising-led strategy (the shops haven’t changed in any noticeable way) and has made most other retail advertising look old-fashioned. And that’s ambition too.

But the Ad of the Year for 2011 has to be Eminem, Chrsyler and W+K’s undeniably heavyweight ‘Born of fire.’ It’s not really about ‘luxury’ at all, it’s about dignity.

Such choices are always unfair to a degree of course, you couldn’t (could you?) make an with similar ambitions ad for, say, Cillit Bang. Bartle Bogle Hegarty in London, our Agency of the Year, tried the same approach for British Airways and succeeded pretty well. In Brazil, and in the same vein, Neogama BBH moved Sugarloaf Mountain for Johnnie Walker. A tour de force certainly but can a whisky brand support such values?

So there we are. Apologies to the many no doubt deserving ads (and regions) that didn’t make our list. Maybe next year we’ll be choosing funny comedy vignettes for floor cleaners (perhaps the big household products boys should give Del Campo Saatchi in Buenos Aires a ring).

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.