Though many may try to deny it, everyone loves a good ad campaign. Those little slices of branded entertainment have a way of squeezing themselves into the realms of pop culture legend, and sometimes can stick with us for a lifetime. 

But for every good ad campaign there are a dozen (probably more) bad ones. And fishing out the best can sometimes feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. 

Luckily, however, the staff over at Ad Age decided to rank the top 15 campaigns of the 21st Century, and we thought we’d share with you their pick of the top 5. Granted we’re only a relatively short way into the 21st Century, but since the millennium there’ve been plenty of commendable campaigns to choose from. 

So, from Red Bull to Dove, here are the Top 5 Ad Campaigns Of The 21st Century, as ranked by Ad Age.

Red Bull: Stratos

According to Red Bull, this epic space-themed stunt wasn’t actually an advertising campaign. Nevertheless, it still made number 5 on the list. 

In October 2012, Red Bull teamed up with Australian skydiver Felix Baumgartner to help him perform a multi-record breaking free fall jump from 24 miles above the earth’s surface. 

Essentially, Red Bull’s involvement in “Stratos” could be viewed as a very high profile sponsorship. So it’s unusual in that, despite its success, it was far from what would be considered a traditional campaign.

The stunt was broadcast in 50 countries, across nearly 80 TV stations, and the live webcast was viewed 52 million times. All-in-all, it’s estimated that the campaign’s accumulated footage and media racked up more than 207 million views. Ad campaign or no, those are some impressive numbers. 

Old Spice: The Man Your Man Could Smell Like

These days Old Spice needs little introduction, and that’s largely thanks to this game-changing campaign. 

There’s a lot going on in this ad. It’s seemingly aimed at women (to inspire them to buy Old Spice for the men in their lives), but beyond that it’s also a parody of advertising conventions in general. 

Cool, funny, and a little off-the-wall. This campaign has it all, and the fact that the” Old Spice Guy” is now an icon of pop culture speaks volumes to its enduring success.

BMW: The Hire

It almost feels unfair to call Fallon and BMW’s series of short films “adverts”. If nothing else, The Hire seems to exist in a sparsely populated middle-ground between advertisement and art. 

In short, the films follow an unnamed man who transports things from place to place in, you guessed it, a BMW. Simple enough. But each short was made by a different high-profile director (including John Frankenheimer and Ang Lee). And the final products turned car advertising tropes upside-down, electing to show BMW’s being smashed, shot at, and badly damaged — quite the opposite of the smooth and pristine images most car ads portray.  

To give an idea of the impact this campaign had, here’s what Bruce Bildsten, a former creative director at Fallon, had to say about it: “I was at Fallon for 25 years. . . I don’t think there’s anyone at Fallon who wouldn’t say this was the most important thing they ever did.”

Nike +

Nike are well known and respected for their advertising chops. And their Nike + campaign didn’t disappoint.   

It’s so special partly because it played a huge role in pioneering what is now an enormous industry. In the words of Jimmy Smith, Amusement Park Entertainment CEO, “R/GA created a product. No, R/GA created a campaign. Naw, R/GA created the sports social-media-platform genre. Damn. Which is it? Don’t know; just wish I had done whatever they did.”

Another huge achievement snagged by this campaign is that it helped shift Nike from a footwear brand to a key player in the consumer technology arena. So, for sheer impact alone, it certainly deserves its spot on the list.

Dove: Campaign For Real Beauty

Described by Ad Age’s panel as “groundbreaking, brave, bold, insightful, transparent and authentic”, the Campaign For Real Beauty took Dove from selling soap to spearheading a global conversation about the notions of true beauty.

It takes considerable courage for a brand to raise questions about societal attitudes towards feminine beauty. It could all too easily go the wrong way, being interpreted as cheap, false, or hypocritical. But Dove managed to pull it off. 

On a wider scale, many would even credit Dove’s revolutionary campaign as the driving force behind other brands’ decisions to feature “everyday” women with in their own campaigns. 

The art of ads

For more on admirable advertising, take a look at these 4 ad campaigns that made the most of a bad situation. Or check out 5 of the best movie marketing campaigns of all time