Ritson’s top 10 marketing moments of 2021

From Reebok to Tiffany, Bezos to Burger King, brand purpose to Meta, Marketing Week’s trusty columnist reveals his top 10 marketing moments of the year.


10. Peloton capitalises on the death of Sex and the City’s Mr Big

It may have only happened last week, but Peloton’s reaction to the death of Mr Big in the new series of Sex and the City has just managed to sneak into Mark Ritson’s top 10 marketing moments of 2021. The much-loved character was killed off in the first episode by a heart attack while riding his Peloton bike – a moment the brand was completely unaware was coming.

While many lawyers and marketers clamoured for Peloton to sue for damages, the fitness brand instead capitalised on the free media coverage, turning around a new ad featuring Mr Big within 48 hours. And when Mr Big actor Chris Noth came under fire with allegations of sexual assault, Peloton reacted quickly again to pull the ad.

“It’s clear if you understand brand management that the presence of a Peloton bike in that episode was not bad for Peloton,” Ritson says. “It was a little bit good and zero bad.”

READ MORE: Peloton has snatched victory from the jaws of death – again

9. Adidas sells Reebok

As odd as it now sounds, in the 80s Reebok was the dominant sportwear brand. So in 2006, Adidas bought it for almost £3bn, turning its branded house into a house of brands.

But with the brand having struggled over the subsequent 15 years, Adidas this year sold Reebok off to Authentic Brands Group. Far from a sign of defeat, however, Ritson believes Adidas’s move makes perfect strategic sense.

“Most companies still have too many brands,” he argues. “Most companies should do what Adidas is doing, which is divesting or killing off brands even though they’re profitable, because the resources and focus when applied to a smaller portfolio will give them a much better profit.”

READ MORE: Adidas’s sale of Reebok makes strategic sense all round

8. Tiffany blows the dust off its brand with controversial campaign

LVMH kicked off a considerable amount of fury earlier this year with its first ad campaign for newly acquired brand Tiffany, with the controversial tagline ‘Not Your Mother’s Tiffany’. Critics said it was ageist, alienating its loyal customers, and forgetting the value of its brand.

But Tiffany had become “dusty”, Ritson says. Its style of marketing hadn’t changed much since the 90s. So a shake-up was exactly what was needed. Even big, luxury brands have to take a few risks sometimes, he says, and he expects that Tiffany’s will pay off in the long term.

READ MORE: Tiffany’s brand needs an update – in fashion, that means alienating loyal customers

7. Jeff Bezos steps down as Amazon CEO

In February this year, Amazon’s founder and longstanding CEO Jeff Bezos finally stepped down, taking up the role of executive chairman.

Ritson has never played down his admiration of Bezos, who he describes as “the most important and successful business leader of the 21st century”. Primarily because his complete obsession with the customer has helped build a business which now claims a market capitalisation of over $1.6trn.

READ MORE: Jeff Bezos’s success at Amazon is down to one thing: focusing on the customer

6. Brand marketers are terrible at briefs, research reveals

If there’s one thing agencies and brand marketers can agree on, it’s the importance of a well written brief. Yet, research by Better Briefs earlier this year found that while 80% of marketers believe they write good briefs, only 10% of creative agencies agree. Only 5% of creative agencies say their client’s briefs provide them with clear strategic direction.

According to Ritson, the problem is that marketers get too caught up in tactics, and never get around to actually building a strategy. And with no strategy, how can a brand or agency hope to create good work?

READ MORE: The horror of marketers’ strategic bankruptcy is about to be laid bare

5. Pfizer claims the best and worst names in marketing

There are three brands people will never forget after the last two years: Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Pfizer. According to Ritson, the latter is the overarching winner of the Covid vaccine brand battle.

So when the business came out with its official vaccine name earlier this year – the difficult to pronounce and impossible to spell Cominarty – people were confused. Why pick such a difficult and unrecognisable name? According to Ritson, it may in fact have been a stroke of marketing genius.

READ MORE: And the winner of the Covid vaccine brand battle is…

4. P&G sees results of doubling down on marketing

Procter & Gamble is viewed as a bellwether company in business, so when the pandemic hit, analysts, investors and marketers anxiously waited to see how P&G would react. Would it immediately batten down the hatches and cut marketing spend, as brands such as Coca-Cola did?

No. Then CFO Jon Moeller insisted the best response for P&G in response to the challenge of the pandemic was to “push forward, not to pull back” by doubling down on its brands. By August 2021, outgoing CEO David Taylor said the company had seen its strongest share growth for “many years”, after recording revenue growth of 4% for 2020.

READ MORE: P&G and Coke’s pandemic performances prove it: You don’t cut ad spend in a crisis

3. Burger King rolls backwards despite dominating industry awards

With its witty and often provocative marketing campaigns, Burger King was the most awarded client globally in 2021. Yet, as Ritson pointed out on LinkedIn earlier this year, in 2020 the brand lost 5% of sales. The “less loved” but more effective work at McDonalds and Wendy’s maintained sales, with Wendy’s replacing Burger King as the number two burger chain in the US, despite having hundreds fewer restaurants.

Even the company’s CEO Jose Cil accepted the problem, admitting: “We saw a continued gap relative to our peers… We’re keenly aware of this gap.”

2. Peter Field and the IPA ignite brand purpose furore

For Ritson’s second most important marketing moment of the year, he picks effectiveness expert Peter Field’s research into brand purpose, conducted in collaboration with Danone and the IPA. Criticising the “vitriolic criticism heaped on brand purpose”, Field ran an analysis comparing the performance of purpose campaigns and non-purpose campaigns.

Purpose campaigns were on average less effective than non-purpose campaigns, the research revealed. However, when comparing strong purpose cases to all non-purpose cases, strong purpose cases performed better.

The latter finding was heavily criticised by industry commentators for comparing two unequal data sets. But Field’s point was not to say that purpose advertising is better than non-purpose advertising, but to show that purpose advertising done well can have positive effects for a brand.

Ritson says the marketing industry has to be more nuanced in its understanding of brand purpose and its effectiveness, and that Peter Field’s research will help it get there.

1. Facebook rebrands as Meta

Coming in as the number one most important marketing moment of 2021 is Facebook’s rebrand to Meta. From a brand architecture point of view, it made sense to distance the parent organisation and its other brands from Facebook, which is the platform most riddled with controversy, Ritson says. But Meta’s rebrand also signified a shift in focus towards virtual realities and the “metaverse”.

It’s a bold and significant move, Ritson argues. But will Meta really be at the forefront of the virtual revolution? Probably not, he says.

READ MORE: Does Facebook’s corporate rebrand to ‘Meta’ prove the future is ‘beyond’ it?

Watch the video above to get the full Ritson experience, and for an extended version with Q&A visit the Mini MBA website.

The next Mini MBA in Marketing begins on 12 April, while the next Mini MBA in Brand Management starts on 5 April. Visit the Mini MBA website for more information and to book your place.