Today we’re bombarded by advertising and marketing campaigns. To stand out, you can’t rely on only leveraging data. You can’t rely on stale stock photos and canned wording. You need to authentically connect with your audience’s hearts and minds. You need to be creative.
It may take more time to craft your strategy. It may take more time to craft the work. But it’s worth it.
First, it’s worth it for the potential results: According to a 2015 Nielsen study of 100 ads across 25 brands, ads with the best emotional response generated a 23% uptick in sales.
Second, it’s worth it on a personal level. (I know absolutely no one who is thrilled by producing “same old, same old” campaigns and deliverables.)
So how can you stand out and get that emotional response from your audience? Let these ideas guide you:
Flex your creative muscle.
Stay on top of cultural conversations.
Take thoughtful risks.
If you can bring joy or optimism, bring it!
If your brand has a well-considered purpose or cause, articulate it. Brands that consumers see as having a positive impact grow twice as fast as other brands, a recent Kantar Consulting study revealed. And according to a study by MNI Targeted Media, more than 50% of Gen Z state that their purchasing decisions are influenced by knowing a brand is socially conscious. (But take heed: This success may depend on having a cause that is unique, meaningful, relevant, and well measured, and it should be conveyed with a 360-degree strategy.)
You can find the proof that these ideas work by looking at memorable, impactful campaigns. Here are some of my recent favorites.
1. State Street Global Advisors, “Fearless Girl” Campaign
The campaign: Fearless Girl is one of the most honored campaigns in Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity’s history, taking home 18 total awards and 4 Grand Prix. The statue of the ponytailed girl appeared on International Women’s Day 2017, facing off against the Wall Street Charging Bull. The campaign was created to promote the company’s SHE Fund, which invests only in companies with women in top leadership positions. According to State Street Global Advisors (SSGA) senior managing director and CMO Stephen Tisdalle in an Adweek article, Fearless Girl was created on a “shoestring budget” with absolutely no paid media behind it.
Its results: It went viral. According to Adweek, the Fearless Girl earned over 1 billion Twitter impressions in the first 12 hours. Twelve weeks later, the campaign accumulated 4.6 billion Twitter impressions and more than 215,000 Instagram posts. And people didn’t just respond via social media. More than 40,000 people signed a petition urging the mayor of New York to let the Fearless Girl stay until International Women’s Day 2018. Now, it looks like the statue will have a permanent home facing the Stock Exchange. Fearless Girl also fulfilled the purpose of its campaign. According to Adweek, it had a huge impact on SSGA’s SHE Fund. The fund’s daily trading volume skyrocketed 384% in the three days following the statue’s debut and 170% over the next 20 business days.
Why it worked: The campaign used an ancient medium to deliver a simple, strong message about female empowerment. It delivered that message through a fantastic example of experiential marketing, juxtaposing a small girl in a windblown dress with her hands on hips and her chin up against the massive charging bull. It was unexpected. Fresh. And because it tied into SSGA’s purpose, it didn’t feel like a stunt. It was authentic. This authenticity resonated not only with the audience but with news outlets, too. Adweek noted that the effort reportedly generated $7.4 million in free marketing across TV, social, and radio. (To see it in action, check out the case study video.)
2. SickKids, “SickKids VS: Undeniable” Spot
The spot: In October 2016, “SickKids VS: Undeniable” launched the Canadian SickKids hospital fundraising campaign, which is anticipated to end in March 2022. Since this spot, additional TV spots have been rolled out with support across print, digital, out-of-home, and cinema. Its overall goal is to raise $1.3 billion for building a new patient care center, continuing breakthrough pediatric health research, and establishing partnerships for better coordinated patient care. (The oldest part of the hospital was built in 1949 and can’t support some of the innovative technologies that staff and patients require.) This incredible two-minute spot features ill children gearing up as warriors alongside their families, nurses, doctors, and other hospital staff. It transforms the patients and staff into boxers, soldiers, pro wrestlers, and comic book superheroes. It melds these aspirational images with those of their real-life battles, going into surgery, pushing through therapy, and missing home while waiting in the hospital. The soundtrack is the thumping, heart-pumping “Undeniable” by Donnie Daydream featuring Richie Sosa.
Its results: According to an October 2017 article in CityNews Toronto, SickKids Hospital spends about 1.6% of its expected annual revenue on advertising (about $2.3 million a year), and it sees exponential returns from campaigns like this one. SickKids spokesperson Sandra Chiovitti said, “For context on how marketing drives fundraising results, last year when we launched the new SickKids VS brand platform, we saw the best ever fundraising results during October to December 2016 of 57.9 million dollars. We saw that online donations more than doubled and the average donation value online also increased by 63 percent.” Strategy reported that SickKids reached its fiscal 2017 goal of $140 million.
Why it worked: With the desire to change the future of children’s health in Canada, this campaign had purpose in spades. That isn’t the only key to its success, though. By allowing creative experts to truly execute their vision and treat SickKids as a brand, SickKids created a campaign that defies expectations. It provides a vehicle of hope, bringing forth the power of defiance and imagination that can play such a vital part in healing—making it not about funding a charity but rather about playing a part in creating a better future, the future that these children and staff are fighting for. Its emotional shift, moving away from the sad and heartfelt tone of most campaigns for sick children, was definitely risky, but that risk paid off. (Its amazing images and extraordinary soundtrack actually gave me goosebumps.)
3. Heineken, “Open Your World” Campaign
The campaign: The 2017 “Open Your World” campaign primarily focused on sharing Heineken’s social experiment on Facebook, making Heineken part of the conversation about being open to differences in perspectives. (Open a Heineken, open your mind.) Coupling people with opposing points of views, Heineken first had them participate in team-building activities then shared their previously recorded differing viewpoints. After these recordings were shared, they were given the option to discuss their differences over a Heineken. Every pair chose this option. In an interesting extension, Heineken joined forces with The Human Library™ for events in the UK where people could “loan out” a person for a conversation.
Its results: The social campaign achieved 3 million views only eight days after launch. In its first month, it had over 50,000 shares. The Heineken-Human Library events seem to have delivered the desired outcome, too. Here’s what Robert Bright reported in the Huffington Post after leaving an event: “I was buoyed up on an emotion that seems pretty thin on the ground at the moment—optimism. … The Human Library is a timely and necessary reality check. In a very practical way, it shows us that if we make the effort to listen to and understand people, we quickly begin to see beyond our own world and the fact we are united in more ways than simply being human.”
Why it worked: The ad was authentic, bringing together real people with real divisions. It was risky enough to get the audience’s attention, and it didn’t get too sappy. The message was also one that most people can get behind. It wasn’t about having to think a certain way, it was about inspiring people to be open. To listen to every story. It wasn’t about the beer, although the beer played a role. As Cindy Tervoort, Heineken’s UK head of marketing, told Marketing Week, “We see it as our duty to try and change the world. All our brands interact with millions of people every day, and we have the scale to reach a lot of people and to positively influence their opinions.” But she also notes the importance of hitting the right tone and playing the right role: “What we can do is drive those conversations and inspire people to meet and connect. So it’s actually about being humble about the role you can play.”
4. Gucci, “That Feeling When” Social Campaign
The campaign: This delightful collaborative art campaign that centered around the hashtag #TFWGucci (That Feel When Gucci) used strange and funny memes featuring a new Gucci watch collection. One of my favorites was one from Italian artist Flaminia Veronesi (@flamigram), where a flesh-colored clay hand—wrist showcasing a Gucci watch, of course—reached out to touch the gray-blue face of a sculpture. The caption: “When you wake up late for work and realize you’re actually a clay head.” The campaign primarily focused on Instagram but also had a supporting microsite. Why Instagram? Because the aim was to promote enthusiasm for the brand and tap into a younger demographic. Why a microsite? The microsite acted as both a bridge and a library: It provided a synopsis of what a meme is (hey, not everyone knows), gave a quick description of what the campaign was all about, and showcased some of the campaign images.
Its results: According to Digital Marketing Institute, the memes generated almost 2 million likes and over 21,000 comments on Instagram. The posts each received an average of 67,000 likes and 768 comments. This campaign is part of a much larger strategic plan from the Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele and CEO Marco Bizzarri that started in 2015. In a case study focused on Gucci, the strategy and marketing consulting firm Britton noted that Gucci has woven social media, ecommerce, digital marketing, and mobile app integration into its business holistically, “which has resulted in huge returns from longtime customers and new converts alike.” How huge? Forbes reported that Gucci’s year-over-year growth was up 44.5% in the nine months ending September 30, 2017. Oh, and its play for millennials is working: About 50% of its sales are coming from millennials, which is even more impressive when you consider that millennials are usually a trouble spot for luxury brands.
Why it worked: The campaign continues to expand the Gucci range in an authentic, human way. Leveraging the trending meme language “That feeling when” made the brand emotionally relatable to its target audience. The artist collaborations were creative, fun, and not afraid to be a little strange or absurd. It sought to surprise and delight its audience, and it did.
5. The Craftsman Agency, The Greatest Showman Social Campaign
The campaign: To build interest in Twentieth Century Fox’s film The Greatest Showman, The Craftsman Agency identified and partnered with international artists/Instagram influencers to produce costume makeup and wardrobe pieces that captured the film’s vibrancy and look. The work was published organically on Instagram by both the individual influencers and movie studio leading up to the film’s release in December 2017.
Its results: The campaign’s seven posts garnered 1.8 million impressions, 1.1 million video/GIF views, and 92,600 likes. The average engagement rate was 5.15%, exceeding the channel’s average engagement rate of 3%.
Why it worked: The campaign promoted the film in a surprising way, connecting to viewers with creative, inspiring content. The influencer partnership felt authentic to the viewers because it was. By showcasing both the film and the artists’ true style, the wearable art became extraordinarily special, able to pull in viewers initially more interested in the artists as well as those looking for another layer of the film’s world.
6. Tide, “It’s a Tide Ad” Campaign
The campaign: Tide’s meta commercial campaign kicked off in a big arena: the Super Bowl. This series of ads starring Stranger Things’ David Harbour tapped into other brands’ ads, ranging from a sleek “typical Super Bowl” car ad to a low-budget insurance ad. Harbour fits seamlessly into them all, whispering “whatever” into a clam for a fake high-end perfume ad as perfectly as he states with a farmer’s frankness, “It’s a Tide ad.” What made these all Tide ads? The actors’ clean clothing. “So,” Harbour asks the viewer, “does this make every Super Bowl ad a Tide ad?” An Old Spice ad became a Tide ad. A Clydesdale in a field...part of another Tide ad. A geriatric tennis player, a weird Mr. Clean...they were all more Tide ads.
Its results: Tide needed a win after its headaches with the so-called “Tide Pod challenge.” And it got one. After its first 45-second spot during the first quarter, Tide tweeted “Is every ad a Tide ad? If it’s clean, it’s a #TideAd #SB52 #SBLII.” According to the Adweek article “Tide’s Spotless Super Bowl Campaign, as Seen From Inside the Brand’s War Room,” that first tweet had 120 retweets and 270 likes within minutes. By noon on Monday, it had garnered more than 5,000 retweets and 18,000 likes. According to another Adweek article, “It’s Still a Tide Ad: Revisiting Saatchi’s Super Bowl Campaign a Month Later,” #TideAd was used more than 45,000 times and became the No. 2 trending topic on Twitter. (No. 1 was the Super Bowl itself.) Similar to the Fearless Girl campaign, it also became a media favorite, featured as the topic of more than 640 stories. And one month later, a brand rep reported that initial results for Tide Ultra Oxi sales showed double-digit growth since the game.
Why it worked: The series was silly (perhaps a factor for why Jacopo Biorcio, the person who came up with the idea, was even reluctant to share it, according to the creative agency’s chief creative officer Javier Campopiano in the “It’s Still a Tide Ad” Adweek article)—but silly in a good way. The spots were surprising, smart, and memorable. The campaign also built up the joke and let the audience play with the idea. A key element to what really allowed that buildup was the buy-in from the client and Tide’s sister brands. According to Campopiano, “The client was so crazy about the idea that they immediately started those conversations. Which was great, because I think this idea was completely dependent on those other pieces. The 45-second ad is a great ad, and we all love it, but we knew the meat of the idea was in the other pieces.” The spots were also extremely well executed. The brand selected the perfect actor, as Harbour is versatile, able to easily fit into all the genres in the series. In addition, they brought in an amazing group of directors to craft these authentic-feeling spots, so the audience felt unsure about whether something was a Tide ad until the reveal, allowing them to be further drawn in.
All these campaigns show that brands can tap into huge opportunities with creative campaigns that evoke positive emotions, connecting to the hearts and minds of their audiences with feelings of empowerment, of optimism, and of humor. It’s what people crave. It’s what people respond to.
Not only that, it’s what your audiences deserve. And it’s what you deserve, too.
So bring forth the great creative. Creative thinking isn’t just for artists. Challenge yourself. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Push the boundaries. Come up with something new and unexpected. As George Lois, the iconic designer and ad legend, says in an interview with Fast Company, “What you have to understand is advertising and creativity is not a science, it’s an art. … Sit in a room and don’t come out until you have one great idea that changes the world.”
Of course, sometimes you need a partner to help you come up with that great idea, flesh it out, or make it a reality. If so, feel free to drop us a line. (Or share the work you’re most proud of—we love to be inspired, too.)