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Six brilliant social media campaigns – and what to learn from them

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29th Jan 2015
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There have been some enormously successful and innovative social media campaigns recently, demonstrating precisely why some quarters of the marketing fraternity have been so excited about social from the outset.

Let’s take a look at some of the most celebrated campaigns from recent years, and identify what made them so successful so that we can take important lessons away with us.

Campaign one: The ALS Association Ice Bucket Challenge

Who did what? In a campaign to promote awareness of the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and encourage donations to research, nominated participants were encouraged to film themselves having a bucket of ice water poured on their heads. This would then be posted on social channels where the participant would nominate others to do the same. A common stipulation was that nominated participants have 24 hours to comply or forfeit by way of a charitable financial donation.

The result? More than 2.4 million tagged videos circulated Facebook, with many celebrities involved, serving to raise the profile of the cause even further. Total donations have exceeded $100 million.

What you can learn:

  • Capitalise on the traits that make people use social media in the first place. The Ice Bucket Challenge exploited people’s narcissistic desires to post videos of themselves, while also encouraging people to be competitive, with participants wanting to make their videos more amusing or outrageous than their friends’.
  • Ensure that barriers to entry are low. Most of us now have mobile phones that easily enable us to capture video and then quickly post it on our social networks. And it’s fairly easy to get some ice, water and a bucket! Remember, the lower the barrier to entry, the more chance you have of a campaign going viral.

Campaign two: Oreo scores a touchdown at Super Bowl XLVII

Who did what? During the third quarter of Super Bowl XLVII a sudden power outage plunged the Superdome into darkness for over half an hour. Seizing the moment, the opportunistic marketing team at Oreo tweeted an ad that read “Power Out? No problem” with a starkly-lit image of a solitary Oreo and the caption, “You can still dunk in the dark.” 

The result: The content received over 16,000 retweets, and more than 20,000 likes on Facebook and earned an estimated 525 million global media impressions – five times more than the overall audience for the game itself.

What you can learn:

  • Watch for trending topics. The Oreos team knew that the Super Bowl would be a trending topic, with millions of eyes on it, so engaging with the audience about it was a no-brainer.
  • Be agile and alert! Engaging with your audience in real-time, with humour, is a winner. Social media is real-time, 24/7, so it is reactive - but you can plan for some major events, for instance tube strikes.

Campaign three: Real Beauty Sketches by Dove

Who did what? Applying the concept of ‘women are their own worst critics’, Dove had a professional forensic artist draw women’s’ faces as they described themselves without him being able to see them, and then compared that photo to one of a stranger describing the same woman. Whilst the women focused on their physical flaws, the strangers described the beauty in them. As the women reflected on the dramatic differences in the portraits, it was a moving moment for both them and the viewers.

The result: The video became the third most shared ad of all time and the single most viral video advertisement of all time, attracting over 114 million views. It was awarded the Titanium Grand Prix at Cannes Lions.

What you can learn:

  • Know your audience. Dove knows its customers, so was able to create something inspiring that it knew was aligned with its audience.
  • Have a consistent message. Dove’s Real Beauty campaign has been running for a decade, and it has been able to capitalise on the same basic message (“you’re more beautiful than you think”) time and time again.

Campaign four: Lay’s Do Us a Flavor

Who did what? Lay’s created a campaign to let fans create a new flavour of crisp, offering $1 million prize for the winning flavour. Submissions took place between July and October 2012, with the field then narrowed down to 25 flavours which were manufactured and tested, before the final three were decided upon. In 2013, these three flavours landed in stores, after which fans voted on Facebook and Twitter for the favourite. The winner? Cheesy garlic bread.

The result: Over 3.8 million people across 14 countries submitted their flavour ideas via a Facebook app and the campaign generated 955 million organic Facebook impressions and 1.26 billion PR impressions. Furthermore, sales increased an impressive 12%.

What you can learn:

  • Customer co-creation can be mutually rewarding.  If there are products, services or events that need reinventing or improving, why not involve your customers? The more creative it is, the more engaging it can be for your customers. Furthermore, your organisation benefits by tapping into the wisdom of the crowd – your customers may have terrific ideas that your team would have never dreamt of.

Campaign five: The Gnome Experiment by Kern & Sohn 

Who did what? Kern is a precision scales company, with its USP being that it manufactures the only scales in the world that reflect the slight variances in the weight of matter that occurs in different locations around the world (as science fans know, this is due to the different levels of gravitations pull at different points on the Earth). To promote this USP, they shipped a garden gnome named Kern to scientists around the globe, encouraging them to check his weight in their respective countries, and to share their stories and pictures of him on social media.

The result: Within two weeks, the campaign had reached over 355 million people in 152 countries. After a month, more than 16,000 websites had linked to the campaign page, propelling Kern & Sohn to the top of Google for the search term ‘precision scales’. This translated into a sales uplift of 22%, representing a whopping 1,042% ROI on the campaign. Furthermore, the story was even turned into a TED talk.

What you can learn:

  • Successful social media campaigns aren’t solely the domain of B2C brands. Even relatively ‘unsexy’ B2B products can be successfully promoted with the right combination of imagination and inspiration.

Campaign six: Old Spice’s ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’ 

Who did what? Old Spice was plagued by something of an outmoded image until it launched a memorable campaign fronted by former NFL athlete Isaiah Mustafa aka Old Spice Man. Following a successful ad campaign featuring Mustafa, which debuted during the 2010 American Superbowl and attracted over 15 million views on YouTube, Old Spice Man started responding to tweets sent to the Old Spice Twitter page. After this gained attention, Isaiah then started posting specially composed YouTube video responses to Tweets. This resulted in an enormous surge in activity, with some 62,000 tweets being sent on one day. In all, 183 personalised YouTube videos were uploaded.

The result: Old Spice gained 80,000 Twitter followers in the first two days of the campaign. The videos clocked up an amazing 236 million YouTube views by the end of the campaign. And sales figures increased by an impressive 107%.

What you can learn:

  • Real-time can be very powerful. In one 24 hour spell, Old Spice Guy posted over 100 YouTube videos, responding to comments on Facebook and Twitter to keep the conversation rolling and ensure the campaign gathered maximum momentum.
  • Get your content out there. Sometimes quantity can be more important than quality. The Old Spice Guy campaign churned out a huge amount of videos, with little time to ensure perfection – during the busiest day, the crew (consisting of four writers, a camera crew and Mustafa) had seven minutes to record each video.

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