2016 year in review: The best campaigns (part I)

Marketing Week rounds up some of the best marketing campaigns of 2016 – from the most effective and most notable to those that took a forward-thinking approach to digital and new technology.

vote-leave-nhs

Vote Leave: Take control

As much as it may pain some to admit, the Vote Leave campaign was one of the most effective of the year, resulting in the UK voting for Brexit by a margin of almost 52% to 48%. And it did that despite the Remain campaign being odds-on favourite to win at the start and having the backing of the then Prime Minister David Cameron, most MPs and a range of global leaders including US President Barack Obama.

READ MORE: Why Brexit is both an opportunity and a strategic risk for marketers

What Vote Leave did so well was tap into a growing concern among many in the UK around immigration, push ideals around sovereignty and promise money to the national treasure that is the National Health Service. Campaign claims included a list of murders and rapes committed by 50 criminals of EU nationalities in Britain, numerous messages about ‘taking back control’ and the promise of an extra £350m a week for the NHS.

As Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson predicted, the “whole decision, arguably the most important one in recent British history, will come down to the benefit ladder and who can play the emotional advantages better than the other”.

And he was right. The Brexit campaign boiled down to the marketing holy grail of identifying your audience, understanding how to engage with those segments and hitting them with exactly what they want to hear.

Although the campaign was a success the repercussions for marketers aren’t as clear cut, as it’s set to be a rollercoaster for marketing budgets, mixed with general uncertainty and the start of a pricing headache for marketers, thanks to a weak pound, heralded by Unilever kicking off price increases on its products.

Channel 4: We’re the Superhumans

Channel 4 did not have the easiest of tasks as the broadcaster for the Rio Paralympic Games. Four years ago it had home advantage, with the Games taking place in London, but this time around it had to overcome a four-hour time difference as the athletes battled it out in Brazil.

Its last campaign was deemed hugely successful, leading to 11.8 million TV viewers watching the opening ceremony and winning multiple industry awards. By the Games’ end, 65% of viewers felt Channel 4’s coverage had had a favourable impact on their perceptions of people with disabilities, while 82% agreed that disabled athletes were as talented as able-bodied.

For this year’s event, Channel 4 decided to bring back its ‘Superhumans’ campaign. But it came with a twist, as Channel 4 put a heavier focus on “everyday” people instead of athletes in a bid to change society’s attitudes towards disability.

The ad featured a cast of more than 140 disabled people, including Paralympic athletes, musicians and members of the public, and looked to celebrate the abilities of people with a range of impairments. The broadcaster says its ad included more disabled people than have ever featured before in a UK ad.

Alongside its new campaign, Channel 4 launched the ‘Superhumans Wanted’ competition, which awarded £1m of commercial airtime to the brand or agency that submitted the strongest campaign idea featuring disabled talent and issues. It was won by Mars.

According to Dan Brooke, chief marketing and communications officer at Channel 4, the Mars-owned brand saw positive results after airing the ads. While he couldn’t detail the sales effect, he said Mars saw an “extremely close” correlation between how its advertising tested and sales.

Adidas: Tango Squads

adidas

With messaging apps such as WhatsApp, WeChat and Facebook Messenger increasingly becoming consumers’ go-to means of communication, Adidas wanted to tap into the value brands can get by getting mentions in the private messaging space. Known as ‘dark social’, it accounts for 70% of global brand referrals, leaving just 30% for the likes of Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

READ MORE: Using messaging apps without being creepy

And so Adidas launched Tango Squads, communities of hyper-connected football obsessives operating on messaging apps. Named after one of Adidas’ first footballs, the Tango Squads are groups of between 100 and 250 socially savvy 16- to 19-year-old football content creators living in 15 key cities worldwide.

With the Tango Squad project we have a great opportunity. It’s a different way to produce content and speak to your communities.

Florian Alt, Adidas

The aim is to change the face of influencer marketing, while at the same time tapping into Adidas’s desire to be a responsive brand, co-creating content and engaging directly with consumers.

Adidas’ senior director of global brand communications, Florian Alt, explains: “At the moment a lot of brands are approaching social media as a publishing job with pre-set and pre-defined agendas. With the Tango Squad project we have a great opportunity. It’s a different way to produce content and speak to your communities.”

While at the moment Adidas cannot measure the effectiveness of dark social in the way it can Facebook or Twitter, Alt is very positive about the campaign’s success and its future use.

“It could be this is re-defining influencer marketing. It could be this becomes an Adidas insider tool for face to face communications or it could become a bad-ass loyalty programme. It could be a combination of all three. That’s the beauty of it,” he says.

Pearson: Project Literacy

Lots of marketers talk about brand purpose but few this year tackled it so quite so extensively or successfully as Pearson. The publisher partnered with 40 brands for its Project Literacy initiative, aimed at “rethinking social responsibility” and battling the illiteracy crisis that currently impacts one in 10 people worldwide.

READ MORE: Why brand purpose requires more than just a snappy slogan

To do that it created a global campaign, by FCB Inferno, based around the ‘Alphabet of Illiteracy’ and which aims to show that almost all development goals can be linked back to literacy. The aim is to get one million signatures for its petition to put literacy at the heart of the United Nations’ Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

Emilie Colker, VP brand and social impact at Pearson, explains the scope of the campaign: “We knew we had to do something different for people to pay attention. Illiteracy tends to be one of those issues where people think you’re unable to read a good book, but it’s so much more than that. Being able to read and write helps prevent diseases, increase gender equality and lift people out of poverty.

And it is helping to do just that. Project Literacy has been invited to sit on the UNESCO Global Alliance for Literacy, which aims to track progress and achievement across the literacy target in the UN’s goals. Plus 50 organisations have now been united by the campaign to tackle illiteracy. And it won a Grand Prix at Cannes Lions Health this year, with more work to come to bring “the power of words to the world” by 2030.

Lidl: Lidl Surprises

The ‘Lidl Surprises’ campaign has been hugely successful in recent years at convincing the middle classes of the quality of the discounter’s food and Lidl’s move in 2016 to evolve the campaign was very clever. July’s debut ad featured a consumer called Sharna, who had previously doubted the quality of Lidl’s meat on social media, visiting Perthshire, Scotland to meet beef farmer John who talks her through the provenance of Lidl’s meat production.

Lidl’s goal, according to UK marketing director Clare Farrant, was to put anti-advocates centre stage and convince them to change their minds about the discounter’s food quality.

“What we realised is despite the success of the Lidl Surprises campaign since launching in 2013, many customers and non-customers were still having serious doubts over where our food comes from,” explains Farrant. “Great marketing should be about changing your brand’s misconceptions and not just banging the same drum.”

Lidl’s sales growth continues to outpace the wider grocery market, although it is slowing, and it is attracting new shoppers, according to Kantar Worldpanel. Plus the campaign is having an impact on consumer perceptions of quality, according to YouGov BrandIndex, up by a statistically significant 3.3 points over the past five months.

“Since July, we have attracted a substantial amount of new customers and we’re only three months into the next phase. The Lidl Surprises campaign has had a real halo effect,” adds Farrant.

Virgin Media: Twenty’s Plenty

virgin media twentys plenty

Virgin Media looked to shake up rivals BT Sport and Sky with a fan-focused sponsorship model designed to benefit supporters both home and away.

As part of its shirt sponsorship of Southampton Football Club for the 2016/17 Premier League season, the multimedia giant subsidised the ticket price for every away fan travelling to St Mary’s Stadium. Partnering with the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF), Virgin Media capped ticket prices for travelling fans at £20, £10 less than the standard £30 ticket price announced by the Premier League in March.

The cap supported the FSF’s long running ‘Twenty’s Plenty’ campaign, which has been pushing for a £20 league-wide cap to make it more affordable for fans to attend away matches. Virgin also gave all 27,000 Southampton supporters a free drink at the first match of the season, along with 27 free coaches that took fans to the club’s first Friday night clash with Manchester United on 19 August.

READ MORE: The sponsorship model is broken – here’s how to fix it

Speaking at the time, Ellie Tory Norman, head of advertising and sponsorship at Virgin Media, explained that the sponsorship strategy aimed to put fans at the heart of the game. “We want our presence in football to be grounded in reality and focused on the people who turn out week in, week out whether they are home or away fans,” she said.

Coca-Cola: Taste the Feeling

coke taste

In January, Coca-Cola collected together the world’s press in Paris to reveal an overhaul of its advertising. The fizzy drinks giant decided to take its ‘One Brand’ strategy global, bringing its four product variants – Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Coca-Cola Zero Sugar and Coca-Cola Life – under the Coca-Cola master brand instead of being marketed as separate products.

Those who thinks ‘One Brand’ sounds familiar are correct – the brand introduced it in the UK a year previously. Alongside the new strategy, it also launched its first global marketing campaign in more than a decade and introduced the new ‘Taste the Feeling’ strapline.

Any Coca-Cola news is big in the marketing world. But this was one of the biggest announcements the brand had made in recent years as it totally overhauled its strategy and message in response to a challenging sales environment as consumers look for lower sugar options amid growing health concerns about sugar.

Speaking at the event, the brand’s CMO Marcos de Quinto addressed the issue head on. He said: “The food and drinks industry is facing some challenges. We have to deal with just one of these ingredients – the overconsumption of sugar. Fortunately, we are able to have products with zero sugar. But we didn’t feel that was enough, which is why we are now shifting our strategy. We want to keep accelerating.”

Eight months on, the brand boasted the campaign has seen “green shoots” and made a promising start. While Coca-Cola’s COO James Quincey was unwilling to share any figures, he said it is seeing encouraging results in terms of retail sales growth of the Coca-Cola brand in total.

But Nielsen figures are less positive, with total UK Coca-Cola ‘classic’ value sales for the six months ending 2 July 2016 falling 7.8% to £267.5m. Diet Coke, Coke Zero and Coke Life all saw sales fall by 5.4%, 3.4% and 54.5% respectively.

 Virgin Holidays: Seize the holiday

Virgin_holidays_LR600

“Screw it, let’s do it”, is Virgin Holidays’ mantra and these were the words at the forefront of the company’s motivation when it decided to take the plunge and launch its first live TV ad back in September. The aim of Virgin Holiday’s “most ambitious brand launch” was to persuade more people to take long-haul holidays, arguing that long-haul destinations are a reality for normal people not just celebrities.

And it is the scope of the campaign that impressed. Virgin Holiday was not simply filming live from one location. It went live across 18 different destinations, showcasing influencers enjoying themselves outside Europe in holiday hotspots including San Francisco and Barbados. It involved 90 production crew, was shot “right up to the wire” and live edited to fill its 60-second slot.

At the time of its launch the brand said success would be measured through brand consideration preference, booking enquiry numbers, the number of appointments booked in retail stores and online, and engagement through social channels.

In terms of social success, the campaign resulted in 3.3 million impressions on Virgin Holiday’s tweets, compared to its 2.4 million peak for 2015/16. It resulted in 16.9 million impressions from its promoted trend #SeizeTheHoliday and 838 web searches per minute at 8.20pm on the Saturday it went live.

Hide Comments5 Show Comments
Comments
  • Alessia 29 Nov 2016 at 8:11 am

    My opinion of Marketing Week has seriously been affected now that you said that the Leave campaign can be considered one of the best mktg campaign of 2016. Really??? It takes a genius to run a successful campaign based on lies and leveraging people’s ignorance! Thank you, this article was illuminating! Now, if you want to show some respect for proper marketers…

    • Peter 29 Nov 2016 at 9:28 am

      Couldn’t agree more. Regardless of personal feelings on the respective causes, to offer a campaign founded on dishonesty as an example of sound marketing is appalling (though I did enjoy the ‘official referendum information’ doordrops). And let’s not forget that if it was anything other than a political piece the ASA would have demanded most elements be pulled.

  • James 29 Nov 2016 at 11:32 am

    And another one of the ‘best’ campaigns (Addidas) is being delivered by teenagers through largely unmeasurable channels . The person responsible admits being unable to quantify success and based on the string of conjectures about what the campaign ‘could be’ he seems to have no idea what he is actually trying to achieve.

    But it is one of the best campaigns this year.

  • Rob 6 Dec 2016 at 2:48 pm

    Bemused and mildly annoyed that MW has selected ‘Vote Leave:Take Control’ as one of the best campaigns of 2016. It’s inclusion in the list not only ridicules the basic advertising principles of decent, truthful and fair, it also makes a mockery of measurement. If a campaign garners the accolade of ‘achieving the marketing holy grail’ with messaging tenuous at best, downright dishonest at worst, then marketing as we know it is screwed.

  • Ian Wood 21 Dec 2016 at 5:14 pm

    marketing week has hit a new low, how anyone in their right mind and with any integrity can include a campaign based on lies and misrepresentation is beyond me. if the leave campaign is meant to represent the best of marketing i feel ashamed to be associated with the industry.

  • Post a comment

Latest from Marketing Week

NOT REGISTERED? IT'S FREE, QUICK AND EASY!

Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now

THE BEST CONTENT

Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.

THE BIGGEST ISSUES

From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.

PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3711 or email subscriptions@marketingweek.com

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here