Every year when YouTube releases its list of the most viewed ads on the platform, there are some consistent themes, such as lots of Super Bowl spots, plenty of cameos and humor, and at at least one commercial each from creative heavyweights Apple and Nike.
What’s interesting about this year’s list is that despite all the craziness and disruptions of 2020—the global pandemic, the stay-at-home orders, the work and school closures, etc.—things still look pretty similar, with heavy doses of sports, celebrities, laughs, and familiar brands.
However, there are also nods to the unique challenges of 2020. The Apple spot is all about working from home; the Nike spot focuses on how we can all triumph over adversity.
To see exactly how this year’s top commercials do and don’t vary from those of years past, check out the 10 most watched ads on YouTube in 2020.
10. Michelob ULTRA: Jimmy Works It Out
In this uplifting Super Bowl commercial from Michelob ULTRA, Jimmy Fallon learns that fitness can be fun with the help of celebrities such as John Cena, The Roots, Usain Bolt, Brooks Koepka, and Kerri Walsh Jennings. The creative isn’t groundbreaking, but the acting is good, the timing is perfect, and the spot effectively conveys the health-focused message of the brand.
9. GMC Hummer EV: Horsepower
This success of this ad for GMC’s new Hummer EV carries a key lesson for marketers: Don’t forget how important sound is in creative. The GMC spot starts with the thundering hooves of horses (to convey the intensity of the Hummer’s 1,000 horsepower). It then moves to silence (to convey the quiet of the electric model). The switch from pounding sound to silence works perfectly, conveying both the power and eco-friendly technology of the vehicle.
8. GEICO: Aunt Infestation
This ad from GEICO kicks off with a couple talking about how they love their new house but are dealing with an ant problem. It then cuts to a woman next to them telling the man not to slouch. Suddenly you realize the infestation is aunts not ants. The spot is both very smart and very silly; it serves as a great reminder that some clever wordplay can go a long way.
7. NFL: Super Bowl LIV Commercial
The NFL had to tackle a difficult task this Super Bowl. They had to find a way to celebrate the league’s 100th anniversary while not coming across as old-timey. It successfully solved the problem by bridging the old and the new with an epic 3-minute spot that features a young player speedily making a run with assists from Hall of Fame greats like Jim Brown and Ray Lewis.
6. Apple: The Whole Working-From-Home Thing
At the start of this charming spot from Apple, a team is having a hard time with the “whole work-from-home thing” with its members struggling to complete a project while also juggling things like childcare. However, thanks to teamwork, chutzpah and lots of Apple technology, they are ultimately able to find a smart solution and deliver a big presentation on time.
5. TurboTax: All People Are Tax People
Most people probably don’t expect to hear a funky remixed song about tax preparation, which is exactly why this Super Bowl spot from TurboTax works so well. The entertaining ad combines a very unexpected and very catchy track with a very odd and very compelling dance move to create a mood that is both absurd and fun.
4. Clash of Clans: Lost & Crowned – A Clash Short Film
All too often advertisers will label a piece a “short film” and then simply deliver an extended commercial. That’s not the case with this piece from Clash of Clans, which is truly a mini feature. The commercial/film showcases characters from the popular game and has a real narrative arc, with an inept guard having an epically horrible first day of work.
3. Hyundai: Smaht Pahk
As anyone who has spent time in Boston will tell you, its residents have their own take on certain words—especially those that include a long “a,” like smart and park. Hyundai brilliantly plays on this distinct sound in this very funny ad, which features iconic actors and athletes from the area talking about the carmaker’s Smart Park (or Smaht Pahk) feature.
2. Google: Loretta
With its Super Bowl ad Google didn’t go for funny. Instead the brand tugs heartstrings in its spot and tells the story of an older man who is able to remember details about his deceased wife thanks to technology. The slow pacing, sweet story, and distinct voiceover make the ad feel very different from any other (and also make it very hard to watch without tearing up).
1. Nike: Never Too Far Down
Finally, it’s no shocker that Nike tops the 2020 list of most viewed ads on YouTube given that the brand has been creating compelling creative for decades. What is surprising is that this is the only ad on the list to explicitly reference Covid-19. Of course the spot does so in a very Nike way, combining sports clips, uplifting music, and LeBron James as a narrator to inspire all of us to dig deep after the pandemic and come back stronger than ever.