By Claire West

The meerkats have fended off Vinnie Jones to claim top spot in the most-liked TV ads of 2012, as animals become increasingly effective at engaging with the British viewing public at the expense of celebrities.

CompareTheMarket’s meerkats were also the stars of the most-liked TV ad in 2010 but were beaten to first place last year by Aldi supermarket’s gin-loving pensioner.

Price comparison brand CompareTheMarket is the only advertiser to appear in the annual top 10 creative TV spots in each of the last three years, whilst retailer John Lewis is the only one to appear twice.

Animals star in four of 2012’s top 10 ads — compared to just two in both 2010 and 2011 — whilst a further two ads feature them prominently. However, according to the UK’s most comprehensive on-going analysis of how the viewing public engages with TV ads, just one of the top 10 ads this year features a celebrity, compared to two in 2011 and four in 2010.

The most-liked ads of the year is compiled by global information and insights company Nielsen using over 1.25 million survey results from viewers watching evening TV in the UK. Scores for likeability and memorability have been tracked every day for each of this year’s nearly 7,000 new ads, shortly after each has been broadcast.

Darren Moore, vice president for advertising effectiveness at Nielsen explains: “Animals have replaced celebrities as the new stars of many of the nation's favourite TV ads in 2012, and we expect their effectiveness as brand icons and storytellers to continue as a theme next year.

“Advertisers are triggering the best response by tapping into deeper human connections, such as with animals or through powerful emotions such as romance (John Lewis) or children returning home (Cathedral City). Even humour has had less of an impact this year with only four of the 10 most-liked ads using this theme to successfully engage viewers, compared to nine last year.”

The British Heart Foundation, utilising footballer-turned-actor Vinnie Jones to promote emergency resuscitation (CPR), is one of two “non-profit” organisations in the top 10 — the first time this has happened in Nielsen’s survey. The other is Thinkbox, the marketing trade body for commercial UK TV, which has successfully used animals in a series of ad spots to promote TV advertising itself. From this series, the ‘dog and rabbit friends’ ad was the most liked.

Nielsen’s Moore concludes: “The glaring, and surprising, omission is that not a single Olympic or sport-related ad features amongst the most liked in what has been the most successful year in the history of British sport. Advertisers may need to work harder to find out why sports ads are not connecting as well with a nation that loves its sport if their ads are to appear on the winners’ podium in 2013.”

The likeability index is a measure of the number of TV viewers who like an ad they saw, and whose brand they can remember, during the normal course of their TV viewing.