The Unaugural, Naughty & Nice List by UpHouse

All year long we’ve been making a list, checking it twice, preparing our accolades for those who are nice, but not so much for those who aren’t quite. We are proud to present the Inaugural, Annual, Naughty & Nice List by UpHouse.


1. Fiji Water

What appears to be an effort to find a creative way to say “pure, clean water” fails miserably.

A self-congratulatory tone, contradicting imagery and copywriting, cheesy music, and cheesier narration coalesce into a campy and confusing ad that feels like parody — seeming to say “our bottled water is good for the environment.”

“Bottled at the source, untouched by man,” an eerie child narrator says.

“So, if it is untouched by man, who exactly bottles it at the source? Primates…. Dumb commercial.” This is one of the more benign YouTube comments left on the video.

Fiji also got some publicity this year when President Trump awkwardly took a sip from a Fiji bottle during a speech. Somebody even updated its Wikipedia page to read “official thirst quencher of Donald Trump.” Fiji didn’t respond in a way that gained any traction, a missed opportunity to gain credibility with its audience and put a positive spin on the publicity.

2. Nature Valley

A young girl is walking alone through a majestic valley, she opens up an Oats ‘n Honey Crunchy bar…. and takes a bite. She is whisked into a magical world of hyperbolic visual metaphors and cinematic music. We see a wolf, wild horses, erupting volcanoes, thunderstorms, waterfalls — and even a burning tree. It signs off with the overreaching tagline “Be a Powerful Force.”

Apparently, eating a granola bar feels like galloping with wild horses.

Apparently, eating a granola bar feels like galloping with wild horses. Credit: Nature Valley YouTube.

The sensationalized experience that supposedly comes from eating some dried, sugar-coated oats feels inauthentic and overwrought because the series of unrelated imagery is given no context. No candy canes for you this year, Nature Valley.

3. Pepsi

The biggest piece of coal this year goes to Pepsi, who’s infamous Kendall Jenner flop made headlines for all the wrong reasons.

In the ad, Jenner longingly watches an ambiguous protest (the jubilant protesters hold platitudinous signs that say “Join the Conversation” and “Love”) from a glamorous photoshoot. She finally joins the common people, shedding her blond wig, fist-bumping a black dude, and bringing the calamity to a climax by gifting a police officer a Pepsi. The cop accepts the soda with a grin as a hijab-wearing photographer snaps a photo and a multicultural crowd erupts in cheers.

Viewers immediately labeled the ad as tone-deaf, shallow, and over-produced. Many saw it as Pepsi appropriating the Black Lives Matter movement and the Women’s March to sell more soda, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter.

Bernice King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, tweet in response to the Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad. documented the immediate backlash, reporting that mentions of Pepsi soared while sentiment plummeted.

How could one of the world’s most valuable brands create this catastrophe? The ads were produced in-house — the creatives were too close to see the glaring red flags. When you’re using binoculars to look at something that’s right in front you, you’re going to miss the big picture.


1. Volvo

The Swedish vehicle manufacturer, known for an advertising legacy that made them top-of-mind for rider-safety, teamed with Sky Atlantic to create “Human Made Stories.” The video series celebrates innovators who inspire the Volvo team.

“Music of the mind,” is particularly powerful. A paralyzed violinist is given the ability to play music again for the first time in 20 years, thanks to an innovator’s new technology.

Volvo is known for creativity, but always in the context of its cars. There is no mention of its safety features, performance, or quality in these films, but it still captures what the brand is about — being on the cutting edge and believing in people.

2. MailChimp

MailChimp’s series of surreal ads play off confused versions of its name — KaleLimp, JailBlimp, WhaleSynth… you get the idea. Each video features cartoonish, Wes Anderson-hocking aesthetics and a bizarre story about the misinterpretation of the name. In JailBlimp, for example, a girl at a birthday party breaks open a blimp-shaped piñata, allowing hundreds of miniature prisoners to escape.

Screenshot from MailChimp’s JailBlimp ad microsite. Credit:

These delightful and memorable ads show the e-mail marketing platform’s audience that it is creative and fun, while raising awareness for the brand by poking fun at its own name. It also makes engagement fun and interactive with mock websites it created for each execution. For example, its WhaleSynth microsite, “an instrument that plays synthesized whale sounds, obviously,” delighted audiences.

3. Mark’s Work Warehouse

In Mark’s new ad, the company takes ownership of a bold new voice that celebrates the character of its customers. Mark’s previous campaigns have flown under the radar, and this ad signals a new direction for the brand with the tagline “Well Worn.”

Telling the story of your audience and celebrating what makes them different is always a wise choice, and this cinematic ad feels authentic and moving. It also tastefully ties in different categories of workwear. Similar to the Nature Valley video we highlighted above, Mark’s commercial also features galloping horses and epic forests. However, the storytelling provides the context to make the scenes feel powerful – not hacked together.

However, there’s a downside: #WellWorn is a popular hashtag among the used-clothing — and foot fetish crowds.

3 ½. Bonus Manitoba Nice: The Potahto

Out this year in Manitoba is a fun, new and creative rebrand of the potato. The campaign includes mysterious billboards, a satirically edgy Vice-style mockumentary (Unearthed, linked below), a fancy microsite, and a Pinterest board with lots of fun memes and recipes. The campaign shows the many nutritional strengths of the vegetable, redefining it as versatile and posh superfood — which is actually true. Manitoba produces 1,200 million pounds of potatoes every year, so making the potato cool is good for business.

2018 is coming…

…so that’s it for this year’s naughty and nice list. We’ll know if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for advertising’s sake. But if you’re having trouble behaving, we won’t hold it against you — we can actually help. Check out some of the services UpHouse offers to elevate your creativity. Happy 2018!