The best marketing campaigns of 2018: Part 1

From a divisive stand against racism and the fight against plastic to brands levelling the playing field for women, we highlight some of this year’s most hard-hitting and memorable campaigns. In no particular order they are…

Nike Colin Kaerpernick

Nike – ‘Colin Kaerpernick – Just Do It’

Nike stoked controversy when it revealed an ad starring NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Created by Wieden+Kennedy, it featured the American footballer alongside the strapline: ‘Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything’.

Kaepernick has become a divisive figure in the US. As many people have supported as criticised his decision to kneel during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. His inclusion in the 30th anniversary campaign for Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ motto has similarly split opinion.

A survey of UK and US consumers conducted by Toluna for Marketing Week reflected this division. In the US, 31% of those questioned said they had heard “mostly” or “overwhelmingly” positive comments about the campaign, compared to the 45% that said they had heard negative responses. Some 33% said it had led to them viewing the brand more favourably, 30% less favourably and 37% that it had no impact. And on purchases, 28% said the campaign made it more likely they would buy from Nike, 26% less likely and 46% that it had no impact.

READ MORE: Consumers split over impact of Nike’s Colin Kaepernick campaign

However, drilling down into those results suggests Nike’s targeting has worked. Those aged between 18 and 34, who are more left-wing and who come from the BAME community are more likely to be Nike customers, support NFL players ‘taking the knee’ and think brands should take a political stance. And they are more likely to say the comments they’ve heard about the campaign are positive, that the campaign has positively impacted their opinion of Nike and that they are now more likely to buy from the brand. Separate YouGov research reached similar conclusions.

Nike has stuck to its guns, with CEO Mark Parker telling analysts on a results call that the company is “very proud” of the campaign, which features “inspiring athletes” including tennis star Serena Williams, American footballers Odell Beckham Jr and Shaquem Griffin, and skateboarder Lacey Baker, as well as Kaepernick. He also claimed it has driven “record engagement” with the brand and a “real uptick” in traffic and engagement both socially and commercially.

“We’ve seen record engagement with the brand as part of the campaign,” he added. “Our brand strength is a key dimension that contributes to the ongoing momentum that we’re building across the Nike portfolio. That’s really how we look at it; it is how do we connect and engage in a way that’s relevant and inspiring to the consumers that we are here to serve?” SV

READ MORE: Vote for your favourite marketing campaign of 2018

CALM – ‘Project 84’

Eighty-four men a week commit suicide in the UK. To raise awareness of the issue, charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) and shaving brand Harry’s launched Project 84, placing 84 male statues on top of ITV’s This Morning studio and South Bank building to represent the tragic statistic.

The powerful art installation by US street artist Mark Jenkins, which was in place for a week in March, was part of a wider campaign by CALM, a male suicide prevention charity, which is calling for real government action on suicide.

Each sculpture was modelled on a real man that took his own life, created during a series of workshops involving bereaved families and friends. Created by adam&eveDDB, each man’s identity is revealed on the Project 84 website, with a number of friends and relatives sharing their story too.

Not only did Project 84 evoke an incredible emotional response across the UK, it also resulted in 34% more people reaching out to CALM for help, with the charity receiving 80% as many sign-ups as in the whole of 2017 in just three days.

There were also 2.1 billion pieces of earned media, 36,000 Twitter mentions and enough signatures on CALM’s #StandAgainstSuicide petition to take it to Parliament.

CALM CEO Simon Gunning said the campaign received an overwhelming amount of positive responses and an “outpouring of emotion and desire for things to change”.

“Through the campaign, thousands of people have come together – raising their voices, taking a stand against suicide, and showing that it really doesn’t have to be this way,” Gunning said. “This fuels hope, and hope fuels action.” EH

The fight against plastic

This was undoubtedly the year consumers hit back against plastic waste, with the anti-plastic movement thrust into the spotlight thanks to David Attenborough’s BBC documentary Blue Planet II.

Consumers’ perceptions of single-use plastics shifted as a result. Some 44% of consumers say they have recently become more concerned about single-use plastics and another 70% plan to change their behaviour in some way in response.

The urgency to help spark change is so strong that brands big and small have been scrambling to help join the fight against the war on waste, and take advantage of the opportunity.

Adidas created Earth Day football shirts made from upcycled plastic ocean waste, which were worn by all 23 of the US’s Major League Soccer (MLS) teams during Earth Day weekend in April.

Coca-Cola, meanwhile, launched its first new strategy ‘World Against Waste’, promising the equivalent of 100% of its packaging will be collected and recycled by 2030. And Evian gave itself the target of a 100% circular approach to plastic use by 2025.

Read More: Fighting the war on plastic waste: The brands trying to break our plastic addiction

A host of new or smaller brands have also joined the fight, including reusable bottle brands such as S’well and Chilli’s. Meanwhile, Halo, a coffee company specialising in compostable coffee pods, is trying to educate consumers about the complex recycling process. It has the support of dairy brand The Collective Dairy and plant-based bottle brand Eco For Life.

One brand that has gone a little further is LADbible. The social media and entertainment company’s social responsibility campaign ‘Trash Isles’ rallied people to take action against the growing plastic problem by declaring a mass of waste the size of France a country in order get it recognised and cleaned.

To be recognised as a country the Trash Isles needed citizens, but that didn’t stop LADbible which, with the help of AMV BBDO, created everything from an official flag and a currency called Debris to passports made from recycled material.

It then launched a three-month campaign to get people behind the cause, which helped it win the PR and Brand Storytelling Award at the Marketing Week Masters.

As the backlash against plastic intensifies, the market for alternatives will only grow. EL

READ MORE: Vote for your favourite marketing campaign of 2018

Billie – ‘Project Body Hair’

The terrifying reality that women actually need to have body hair to be able to shave it off has been one of advertising’s best kept secrets for decades. Until this year, most people would have been forgiven for thinking that women were born smooth and just like to shave for the hell of it.

But not any more, thanks to one female shaving brand which has jumped on to the scene – hairy legs, armpits and all – and waxed off those stubborn hairy stereotypes.

Bored of adverts only showing razors gliding over smooth, hairless legs, this year Billie claimed to be the first women’s razor brand to show actual hair. How it’s taken until 2018 for this to happen, we’ll never know.

To coincide with this, Billie launched Project Body Hair in the summer: a celebration of female body hair “wherever it is…or isn’t”.

“For the past 100 years, women’s razor brands haven’t acknowledged female body hair,” the brand says. “Commercials show women ‘shaving’ perfectly smooth, airbrushed legs. Strange, huh? But everyone has short stubble, long strands, or something in between. What you do with yours is up to you – grow it, get rid of it, or comb it. It’s your hair, after all.”

It’s about time too. For too long have women been conditioned to feel ashamed of what is entirely natural as brands capitalise on the expectation that women must be permanently smooth and hair-free.

Project Body Hair is not a campaign against shaving; it is a campaign against big brands promoting unrealistic portrayals of women. Billie’s honest and realistic approach is refreshing and more brands should look to make it clear that female body hair is – whatever Procter & Gamble’s Venus might want you to think – completely normal. EH

Lloyds Bank – ‘#GetTheInsideOut’

Given one in four people suffer from mental health problems at some point in their life, it really shouldn’t be such a taboo topic. But in order to remove the stigma people have got to stop suffering in silence. This was the ultimate goal of Lloyds Bank’s ‘#GetTheInsideOut’ campaign, which launched earlier this year on Time To Talk Day after winning Channel 4’s annual £1m Diversity in Advertising Award.

The campaign, which was created by adam&eveDDB, features an array of famous faces including Professor Green, Jeremy Paxman, Rachel Riley and Alex Brooker, as well as members of the public and Lloyds staff, playing a guessing game with sticky notes on their foreheads. But instead of celebrities’ names, the players have to describe non-visible health conditions such as bipolar, bulimia and anxiety, to help break down barriers and get people talking.

READ MORE: Lloyds’ winning C4 diversity campaign looks to end stigma of mental health

At the time of launch, Lloyds’ director of marketing communications, Ros King, told Marketing Week: “If you’d broken your leg, you wouldn’t mind telling everyone; if you have a physical illness, there’s no stigma in talking about it. It’s such a shame that people with mental health issues – which is one in four of everybody – feel like they can’t talk to people and then people can’t help them.”

The response to the campaign has also been overwhelmingly positive. Beyond the TV ad, Lloyds encouraged people to get talking on social by sharing a picture of themselves wearing a sticky note with the hashtag #GetTheInsideOut, which was again picked up by a number of celebrities helping to spread the message further. A tweet by vlogger Zoella, for example, was shared more than 1,700 times, and the hashtag #GetTheInsideOut has been used in more than 10,000 Twitter posts and is still being used 10 months later.

The campaign is part of Lloyds’ partnership with Mental Health UK, which it has been working with since the beginning of 2017. Site traffic for Mental Health UK increased by 256% during the campaign period, and so far the group has raised more than £6.5m, smashing its target of £2m a year. LT

McDonald’s – ‘Follow the Arches’

There aren’t many brands that could chop up their logo and be sure consumers would still recognise it. Yet this is exactly what McDonald’s did in one of the cleverest bits of outdoor advertising this year.

Its ‘Follow the Arches’ campaign, created alongside agency Cossette, saw McDonald’s cropping its golden ‘M’ to help create guiding arrows to direct drivers to the nearest fast-food outlet in high-traffic areas of Toronto, Canada.

The campaign originally consisted of four billboards, three static and one digital, with sections of the golden ‘M’ appearing alongside slogans such as “just missed us”, “on your right” or “on your left”.

Read More: McDonald’s takes ‘golden’ opportunity with quirky new outdoor advert

Messing with a logo often seems to serve brands well, but context and tone are everything. This campaign from McDonald’s was bold yet simple. And it was so well-received, it won the Outdoor Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Lions Festival.

McDonald’s also flipped its arches to mark International Women’s Day this year. EL

READ MORE: Vote for your favourite marketing campaign of 2018

Smirnoff – ‘Equaliser’

Smirnoff is on a mission to accelerate gender parity in the music industry by 2020 through ‘Equalising Music’, a three-year global initiative tasked with doubling the number of female and female-identifying headliners, and inspiring the next generation of female DJs.

After discovering that none of the top 10 most streamed tracks on Spotify in 2017 were performed by female artists or bands, the vodka brand decided it was time to redress the balance.

Launching in support of International Women’s Day in March, the Smirnoff Equaliser analysed users’ listening habits via their Spotify account, providing them with a percentage breakdown of the number of male versus female artists they listen to.

To achieve an equalised playlist listeners were able to move a slider within the Spotify app to increase the number of female artists.

As well as allowing listeners to discover more female artists, Equaliser directly affected Spotify’s business model because the more streams an artist receives the bigger their fanbase becomes and the more opportunities they have to perform.

Smirnoff’s objectives were to drive awareness of the gender bias in music and enable users to take action by tracking visits to the Equaliser, paid impressions and earned reach. Engagement was also assessed by looking at the number of people generating and sharing their own playlists.

Equaliser created a tangible change in listening habits. Following the launch of the campaign there was a 52% increase in the number of female artists being streamed through Spotify, with Equaliser creating 2.7 million opportunities for female artists to be discovered.

Neil Shah, Smirnoff global marketing director, described the Equaliser campaign as an example of a brand being clear about how to use its purpose to have a positive impact on culture, while partnering with Spotify enabled the message to scale in a personalised way that added real value for users. CR 

Stabilo – ‘Highlight the Remarkable’


Highlighter pen brand Stabilo Boss wouldn’t be the first that springs to mind for innovative ad campaigns but the brand caught the imagination of the industry with its ‘Highlight the Remarkable’ campaign earlier this year.

Created by DDB Group in Germany, the outdoor and print ads feature a historic black-and-white photo with a yellow highlighter pulling out one of the “remarkable” women in the picture and her accomplishments. They ran in Germany over the spring and summer.

Women featured include NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, who the ads say was responsible for calculating Apollo 11’s safe route back to earth; physicist Lise Meitner, who discovered nuclear fission but whose male partner was awarded the Noble Prize; and Edith Wilson, the US first lady who took on her husband Woodrow Wilson’s responsibilities when he suffered a stroke during his first term as US President.

It also sparked some debate, with people pointing out that Johnson was more famous for Apollo 13 than 11 and questioning Edith Wilson’s exact role.

Nevertheless, the campaign won gold in the outdoor and silver in the print categories at Cannes Lions. That helped it capture the attention of the wider world, with English translations of the campaign spreading widely on social media, resulting in more than 10 million impressions on Twitter in just a few days. SV

To read more of Marketing Week’s 2018 marketing year in review, sponsored by Salesforce, head here.