Oliver Group’s Brian Cooper picks his Desert Island Ads

Brian Cooper is chief creative officer of Oliver Group UK. He has held executive creative director posts at Dare, Ogilvy and Wieden+Kennedy, working on Nokia. He led Apple’s iAd business in Europe and is one of the few creatives to take charge in both traditional and digital agencies. He began his career as a copywriter at BBH.


Desert Island Ads

Picking my all-time favourite adverts was easy. Revolutionary, unconventional and truly imaginative, the ads that have burrowed their way into my memory are the ones that broke new ground. For me, when each of these campaigns came out, they were extraordinary.

Apple – 1984

What can I say? An obvious classic. Apple’s “1984” basically launched the idea of a one-time only ad, aired exclusively during the Super Bowl. It was a great PR stunt. But more importantly, it’s an amazing piece of filmmaking. The storytelling is perfect. There’s a protagonist and an antagonist – and one overcomes the other through the use of the product. It even features heavily in the film Steve Jobs.

John Smith’s – Acrobatic Dog

This ad was part of a long running campaign featuring Arkwright, and was only ever shown in the South of the country. It would never have worked in the North. I remember seeing it as a child and being in hysterics. First off, it’s got perfect pace in terms of comic timing. Plus it’s all one take. That’s what’s so magic about the comedy of it. It only required one single locked off camera.

The Economist – I never read The Economist


This campaign marked the first time newspapers used posters as a medium. Basically, David Abbott noticed that the banner head at the top of The Economist newspaper is the shape of a 48 sheet poster. It was a “well, why don’t we just do this” moment. As an idea, it’s simple but ingenious. It changed the way we think about advertising newspapers. And the creative informed the media.

BMW – Films

The fact that these films came out in the early 2000s shows just how far-sighted BMW and Fallon were. BMW set out to break the rules and the result was excellent. It’s basically creating branded content before content was even invented. It helps that the films were of Hollywood quality too. To this day, nobody has arguably done content better.

Levi’s – Flat Eric

Like BMW, Levi’s were way ahead with “Flat Eric”. This BBC News article from 1999 is really telling. It’s extraordinary how they created this phenomenon before the concept of “going viral” had been coined. Of course, it was all engineered – Levi’s did an excellent job of generating interest before the film had even come out. By releasing the campaign to the press before the general public, there was that extra layer of attention and anticipation. I was at BBH at the time, and it was fascinating to watch. Nobody really knew what they had hold of.

Burger King – Whopper Freakout

We’ve seen them all now – hidden camera films that double up as a social experiment. It’s almost become an ad cliché. But this was one of the first and is still one of the best. It’s a really effective concept that goes hand in hand with having a good director at the helm. Crispin Porter + Bogusky was there way before anybody else and it hasn’t been bettered since.

Nokia – Signpost

A really fascinating campaign. Nokia was at the forefront of using a big experiential idea as part of an advertising campaign. The final result, an interactive signpost towering over London, was one of the best examples of this approach I’ve seen.

The installation had a great human element too. Everybody’s response was one of “Wow, they actually did that”. Wonder is powerful in advertising and Nokia really thought big here. But the premise of the campaign is actually quite simple – make a piece of tech, film how it works in an engaging way and release it on the internet. We’ve seen it done a million times now. But back then it was very fresh.

Volkswagen – The Force
Whereas 1984 was the first advert to run exclusively during the Super Bowl, Volkswagen’s “The Force” was the first to be seeded online two days before its half-time slot. By doing so, VW created a lot of hype around the ad. You need a brilliant ad to do it and with this campaign VW really managed to steal the march. But they were the first and boy was it effective.

Lowes – Fix in 6 Vines

The first great use of Vines was Lowe’s Fix in Six, which give the viewer useful DIY tips. Again, this was a really astute understanding of content that did something different. These Vines were smart, helpful and endearing too. They’re only six-second clips but some are mini works of art. Imparting practical knowledge in an engaging way is an excellent way to get attention.

Road Safety – Textpert Rhett & Link

Using partners to create your content is not new, but using YouTubers well is – and is still not done as much as it should be by brands today. This is a perfect example of doing partnerships with YouTubers. To get this kind of campaign right you have to give the brand to the YouTubers and let them execute it in their way. If you know how to speak to an audience with creative that’s relevant to them, you can seamlessly integrate your brand into a piece of content. This Rhett and Link do with aplomb for a PSA about the dangers of texting.

Lego – The Movie

An excellent film and an incredible piece of branded content. In my mind, it was the best advert of 2014. Lego did the right thing by allowing the film makers to make a great movie. When the film came out, everybody – young and old – was singing “everything is awesome.” When you look at the future of advertising you can see that people don’t watch ads anymore. Brands are going to fill our lives with entertainment, good causes or usefulness. And this is exactly how you do it.

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