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What do caring moms, extreme skydivers and the Three Little Pigs have in common? They’re all the subjects of 2012’s most unforgettable advertising campaigns. Beyond that, though, they epitomize the new era of advertising: authentic, transcendent, storytelling works of art that get people talking and become part of culture.
“The holy grail for advertising today is the same as it’s always been: to rise above the fray of soulless sales pitches and become part of culture. Not just being recalled or remembered but hitting a nerve and becoming both share-worthy and meaningful,” says William Gelner, executive creative director at 180 LA. “The best brands get that. They aim higher.”
Heath Rudduck, chief creative officer at Campbell Mithun, says an ad that tells a story in an authentic and compelling way is more likely to grab your attention and stay with you for a long time. “I don’t think a brand can exist today without some degree of empathy. Timing is one thing, but unless you strike a chord emotionally with the audience, it falls on deaf ears and cold hearts.”
Take Procter & Gamble’s “Best Job.” The two-minute spot—produced and created by Wieden & Kennedy, a Portland, Ore.-based agency, and director Alejandro González Iñárritu—was the cornerstone of the “Thank You, Mom” campaign. The ad promoted P&G’s Olympic sponsorship by celebrating the dedicated mothers who raise the athletes. It ran online, on TV, and in print, and recently won the Emmy for the best primetime commercial.
“This was a beautiful piece of work that really gave me a visceral reaction,” Rudduck says. “This spot was born of a truth and it was delivered in a wonderful way.”
Gelner agrees. He says he’s been a fan of this campaign since it started because it beautifully acknowledges the world’s most thankless job: being a mom of an Olympic athlete.
“Long after the floor exercise is over, the applause dies down and everyone has gone home, moms are the ones there left to pick up the pieces and provide console and comfort,” Gelner adds. “While authentic and noble, in the wrong hands this could have been schmaltzy. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu handled it masterfully. The moments felt authentic and real, versus overly sentimental or ham fisted.”
Jez Frampton, Interbrand’s Global Chief Executive Officer, says P&G struck a deeply emotional chord with this campaign. “It not only successfully appealed to the mom demographic, but by depicting the small, intimate moments of raising a child striving for Olympic success, P&G also tapped the hearts of moms and many other consumers worldwide.”
For an event that, at its core, is about competition, this campaign evoked a sense of global unity and, as such, resonated with consumers all over the world, Frampton says.
“The campaign helped to humanize a seemingly larger-than-life and commercial event. As P&G has long stood for providing comfort, wellness, and the means necessary to thrive and succeed, the campaign was credibly tied into P&G’s distinct brand DNA.”
Susan Credle, chief creative officer at ad agency Leo Burnett, says the most memorable spots don’t just make us laugh or cry; they change a conversation.
A perfect example of this is The Guardian’s “Three Little Pigs.”
In February, the British newspaper launched this creative and compelling spot that showcases their multimedia credentials and “open journalism” philosophy. The 120-second ad follows the developing story of the Three Little Pigs, and visualizes how the paper would cover the story online and in print.
“Much has been said about the death of the newspaper,” Gelner says. “This epic film challenges that notion by putting world-class journalism and objective reporting at the center of the conversation. Regardless of where that conversation is taking place: on a tablet, in social media or printed in a good old-fashioned newspaper. It’s classic storytelling at its best.”
The TV commercial, which was developed by ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) and directed by Ringan Ledwidge, did a tremendous job of making newspapers feel contemporary and relevant, Rudduck says. “Will The Guardian end up in purely digital form one day? Yes, but they still have to shift paper today and this is a spot that makes me want to get ink on my fingers.”
Red Bull’s one-of-a-kind “Stratos” spectacle was the most epic marketing campaign of 2012 (and perhaps of all time).
In October, Felix Baumgartner broke the sound barrier in a 24-mile space jump, breaking the world record for the highest altitude skydive. More than 8 million viewers watched YouTube’s live stream of the Red Bull-sponsored event.
“God bless Felix Baumgartner and the people at Red Bull for having the guts to go through with what was the best piece of work done all year,” Gelner says.
“The very second I heard of it I was compelled to hunt it down,” Rudduck adds. “It was on everyone’s lips the day it happened. From local radio, to co-workers, and even my kids, it was a hugely compelling and exciting idea that was delivered as exciting content. In fact, I’m going to go and watch it again right now.”
The two minute and 45-second spot recaps the most unforgettable events and biggest trends of 2012, based on Google’s study of more than 1.2 trillion search queries made in 146 languages.
“Curating content is the future for many brands. And which brands are we going to trust to curate the content?” Credle says. “Google makes a brave play into becoming what Time Person Of The Year was before the Internet.”
“Earlier this summer, Microsoft revealed a new corporate identity– a first for the company in 25 years,” says Frampton. “With its brand clearly at an inflection point, the ‘Surface Movement’ campaign served as a bold signal that the Microsoft brand was entering a new era.”
The highly choreographed and upbeat campaign directed by John Chu features dancers snapping together the tablet and keypad–a clear and simple visual expression of the brand’s new corporate identity: bringing together the square and color motif inherent in Microsoft’s new brand platform, Frampton says.
“As Microsoft continues to introduce new products, using visual cues such as the ones featured in this campaign will help to strengthen its brand position and provide consumers with a sense of consistency.”
According to the ad agency executives and Forbes readers, other unforgettable campaigns of 2012 include Expedia’s “Find Your Understanding,” Axe’s “Fear No Susan Glenn,” UNIQLO’s “Dry Mesh Project,” Metro Train’s “Dumb Ways To Die,” and Nike’s “Find Your Greatness” and “ Jogger.”
“It seems like the smart marketers are realizing that interruption is dead,” says Reid Holmes, executive creative director at Campbell Mithun. “Rationalizing people into why you’re better is just more white noise. Work that inspires, strikes an emotional chord of truth and wants to be shared on social networks or still talked about at the water cooler can turn dimes into dollars. Word of mouth is and always will be the most impactful kind of advertising. Social networks have allowed smart marketers to utilize this on a much bigger scale. But as with in-person communication, it must be authentic, honest and transparent, or you’ll get rejected.”
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