Crop of a Realeyes PreView report of Match ad featuring Taylor Swift

Critics Favor Low-Performing Ads for their “Top Rank” Lists

Critics’ picks versus people’s choice awards always illuminate the differences among what is popular, what is interesting to insiders, and what is important based on some valued criteria.

That largely explains why no critic’s annual list of top ad creatives resembles any other critic’s top list, according to Realeyes’ analysis of nine such lists from authoritative advertising trade publications, plus YouTube.

What happens when you put more science or objectivity into the mix? We wanted to know how a cross-section of ads recognized as “Best of 2020” among leading ad-industry watchers performed according to real human attention -- not votes, opinions or trending algorithms. We turned to our attention measurement to do just that.


What you need to know

Only 6 ad creatives from our cross-critic sample of 25 ads were featured in more than one expert list, suggesting widespread disagreement in what defines a great ad.

Pundits are most likely to pick low-performing ads for their top lists, with 16 ad creatives, or 64%, receiving a Quality Score between 0 and 4.

Only 2 ad creatives were high attention performers across U.S. and U.K. markets, achieving a Realeyes Quality Score between 7 and 10.

The top U.S. ad was Match’s “Match Made In Hell” with a Quality Score of 8, and the U.K.’s top ad was the National Centre for Domestic Violence’s “Abusers always work from home” with a Quality Score of 7.

Our sample of 25 highly rated ads were sourced from 2020 top lists from AdAge, AdForum, AdWeek, Campaign, Contagious, Creative Review, The Drum, Forbes, Marketing Week and YouTube. Many lists featured videos greater than 90 seconds –resembling mini feature films We omitted those long-form video to focus on ad creatives more suitable for wide-scale distribution in paid-media campaigns, where brevity is prized.

Additional brands featured in the “The Critic’s Review” report include: The Automobile Association, B&Q, BrewDog, Budweiser, Burger King, Geico, GMC, Direct Line, DoorDash, Expedia, ITV, KFC, Lifebuoy, Match, McDonald’s, Mint Mobile, Ocean Spray, Patagonia, Tesco, Starbucks, TikTok and Travis Scott and Fortnight.


While critics get the luxury of watching ads on demand, those very ads must earn their keep by capturing attention and winning the hearts of consumers. Advertisers that deploy stronger creatives against audiences pay heavily to access will achieve greater attentive reach. Attention is a prerequisite on the path to both near-term sales and long-term brand equity.

Perhaps it is time for adland to stop paying attention to the so-called experts when it comes to recognizing the best creative. Instead, the industry should start paying attention to creatives that actually move the needle on measurable attention and brand impact.