Every year brings a few advertising and marketing campaigns that stand out as being far more creative, original, and memorable than the rest of the pack. The explosion of social media, however, seems to have rejuvenated Madison Avenue's creativity (albeit mostly not on Madison Avenue itself), and the sheer number of creative campaigns coming out of major brands was rather impressive over the past year.
Once upon a time, all a brand needed was a catchy slogan ("Good to the last drop"), a memorable icon (Morris the Cat), or a gimmick (Swedish Bikini Team). But as it became easier for people to skip advertisements, brands needed to get more creative, and fully realized marketing campaigns became more important.
There will be a lot of copycats of all the following campaigns, but none will be as memorable or as successful because they won't be creative and different. The brands that broke the mold in social media marketing this year helped shape the future of the industry.
Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter -- these are not flashes in the pan. And they are not gimmicks. Let's check out the companies that showed us how the power of the people can be harnessed and used to bring new life to products.
Let's just get this out of the way first, shall we?
All best-of lists this year will include the men's deodorant and body wash brand, and that's thanks only in part to Isaiah Mustafa. Sure, he looked great without a shirt and delivered his lines with deadpan hilarious sexuality.
But the campaign would have been merely another highly creative series of commercials if it hadn't been for the brilliant stroke of having the Old Spice Guy record mini-spots responding to folks on Twitter.
This case has been written about ad nausem, so we won't belabor it. Old Spice is memorable for Isaiah's delivery of the lines ("Look at your man, now back at me" and "The tickets are now diamonds" -- which, honestly, could have sounded completely stupid but instead are a part of meme history forever). But without the one-to-one quick-takes responding on Twitter, it would have just been another funny ad campaign.
And even smarter? Ending the entire campaign on a high note. Instead of making this ridiculously handsome man so insufferable that we wanted to change the channel every time we saw him, the brand decided to take Isaiah off the air and the internet at his absolute peak.
Now that's good marketing.
When you're a distant second in search (Bing surpassed Yahoo to become No. 2 instead of No. 3), how do you widen your exposure?
How about an in-game ad in a freakishly popular game played on a freakishly popular website?
Some might have wondered if it was just so much hype when Bing advertised on a field on FarmVille (and offered virtual cash that could be used in the game) back in March, but Microsoft's search engine gained 425,000 Facebook fans within 24 hours. Four. Hundred. Thousand.
There were questions as to what that really meant, but when Bing put out an update, the next day asking, "Any FarmVille fans out there? Try using Bing to get the most out of your crops and animals," the search engine logged 20,000 click-throughs, and 585 comments were posted on Facebook in response.
In four hours.
It's not so much what Bing did to gain the fans that was so impressive; every brand has tricks it can use to juke the stats. But capitalizing on those new fans once you have them? That's something not everyone manages to do.
One can imagine the conversation that went on at Ford corporate headquarters when the idea to reveal the 2011 Explorer on Facebook came up.
"New cars are revealed at car shows! That's how we've always done it!"
Oh, how quaint.
Turns out, when Ford revealed its 2011 Explorer on Facebook, the results were stronger than a Super Bowl ad. And we all know that Super Bowl advertisements have long been the Super Bowl of advertising.
The day the car was revealed online, searches for Explorer are said to have jumped exponentially -- by more than 100 percent. That's a lot better than the usual double-digit increase seen after a Super Bowl ad.
Hear that, NFL?
Speaking of the Super Bowl: Many gasped last year when PepsiCo announced it wouldn't be advertising in the big game for the first time in what seemed like forever.
Would that signal the end of the unofficial Super Bowl advertising race -- or of PepsiCo?
Turns out, it signaled neither.
The soda and snack company garnered tremendous publicity for its year-long philanthropic campaign, Pepsi Refresh, by skipping the big day.
You can argue all you want about the wisdom of spending a year crowd-sourcing recipients for your donations instead of dropping a few million bucks on an ad that would be talked about by approximately a gazillion people. But you can't argue with the fact that skipping that game brought far more publicity to the good works than would have happened otherwise.
As for the Super Bowl itself, well, PepsiCo is going to be back this year, as many pundits predicted. But it's not just going to be the latest hot rock star (Michael Jackson, Britney Spears) shilling for soda or a flaming hot model convincing people they will attract women like her if they eat Doritos.
PepsiCo has solicited customer-made ideas for six spots in the Super Bowl. The company's going to spend a huge pile of money, but make several customers -- and their families and friends -- very happy in the process. (Submissions closed Nov. 15.)
You can't buy that kind of publicity. Not directly, anyhow.
It's pretty common to drag friends along to the store when you're shopping for new jeans. (C'mon, guys, you do it, too -- it's just usually your girlfriend or your mom and not one of your bros.)
So Levi's, the all-American denim company, brought the jeans to Facebook. The integration on the social site allowed people to shop online with their friends, without ever leaving their chair, in the "Friends Store."
Once you connect with Facebook, you can see what styles your friends like. And you probably have a couple of friends who are Levi's fans -- nearly 2.1 million people are. Heck, you can even see whose birthday is coming up so if you want to buy them some Levi's, it's all conveniently in one spot.
The internet has been all about making our lives easier -- because, let's face it, we can be lazy creatures. What can be easier than going shopping with your friends without even having to coordinate your schedules and leave your house?
There are many brands that did wonderfully creative things with social media in the past year. But this year showed that the big brands finally understand how to harness the power of the people.
It remains to be seen if the innovators will continue to innovate or if their crowns will be snatched away by startups in the coming year.
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