The 15 digital campaigns the biggest names in advertising wish they had created

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“Adoptable Trends” from Dallas Pets Alive won gold in the search marketing category at the 2015 IAB Mixx Awards.
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Dallas Pets Alive

With the click-through rate for a digital display ad averaging at just 0.06%, it’s fair to say most digital marketing goes overlooked.

But every now and then, digital marketing can be so brilliant that users don’t see it as advertising. Some campaigns have even transgressed the “advertising” and “marketing” banners to become cultural moments in their own right.

To celebrate the best of digital marketing, each year the internet advertising trade body IAB releases its “Mixx Awards Insights” report to showcase the winning work from its annual awards. The IAB also asked agency and marketing leaders to share what worked and why, commenting on campaigns from brands as diverse as Taco Bell to Nike to a train station and an animal-rescue shelter.

Check out 15 of the best digital marketing campaigns from the report and the ad industry’s view on what made them stand out.


Taco Bell — “Blackout” (by DigitasLBI San Francisco)

Taco Bell was a little behind the competition in launching its mobile ordering app, so the restaurant needed to step up to reach its targeted 2 million users.

At midnight on October 28, 2014, Taco Bell turned all its social media accounts off – blackout. Each account simply read, “The new way to Taco Bell isn’t on [social network], it’s #OnlyInTheApp.”

The stunt achieved 300,000 downloads of the app in two days and 2.6 million app downloads in total. Overall, the campaign achieved 2 billion impressions in three days.


Why it worked.

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Twitter/@digitalori

Lori Senecal, president and CEO of the MDC Partner Network and global CEO of CP+B, said: “By creating curiosity and intrigue through absence of transparency, the Taco Bell team ultimately got attention and drove behavior exactly where they wanted it. In creating scarcity rather than abundance, they generated powerful consumer demand.”


The Sun — “Dream Team” (by Wunderman UK)

Dream Team is the Sun newspaper’s fantasy-football competition. The data scientists behind the campaign discovered that Dream Team players were often choosing star players from their most hated rivals to try to win the league.

“It’s not cheating when it’s your dream team,” was the tagline for the campaign, which showed football fans attempting to deal with the guilt of betraying their favorite football club. The Sun then went one step further by calling out some of the “cheaters” on social media, creating “cheater of the day” infographics.

The campaign helped the Dream Team competition acquire more than 630,000 players – 6% more than the target – and the #DTConfessions hashtag trended worldwide for three consecutive days.


Why it worked.

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Dieste Inc.

Ciro Sarmiento, chief creative officer at Dieste Inc., said: “Too often we confuse data with the idea itself. ‘Dream Team,’ created by Wunderman UK, did the opposite. It played graciously with the insight and demonstrated that in the right hands (and brains), a useful piece of data can become a powerful tool for creativity. And most importantly, the campaign worked!”


Dallas Pets Alive — “Adoptable Trends” (by Dieste)

Dallas Pets Alive renamed shelter dogs after the most searched and trending topics to increase their chances of adoption – with pooches being named everything from Obamacare to Kim Kardashian’s Butt.

The push was promoted by this funny online film and paying for search keywords.

Dallas Pets Alive says the campaign grew traffic to its website by 98% and increased adoptions year-on-year by 200%.


Why it worked.

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YouTube

John Costello, president of global marketing and innovation at Dunkin’ Brands, said: “‘Adoptable Trends’ is a great example of how combining a unique creative idea with social media can drive significant awareness and results for a nonprofit with a very limited budget.”


The ALS Association — “The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge”

What started as a small social-media push from three men who had the degenerative disease ALS who wanted to give themselves a bit of a pick-me-up turned into a global viral sensation in the summer of 2014.

Huge names took part – including Mark Zuckerberg and Justin Bieber – as more than 17 million videos were created, viewed 440 million times.

Most important, the Ice Bucket Challenge raised $220 million for charity.


Why it worked.

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DigitasLBI

Scott Donaton, chief content officer at DigitasLBI, said: “There isn’t much science behind marketing vitality, but the ALS Association’s ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ is a case study in what happens when all the elements line up. It was simple, silly, social, selfless, and staggeringly successful (reaching a global audience larger than the combined audiences of the Super Bowl and the Oscars). It was also deeply human, helping to raise awareness of ALS and a record $220 million to fight it.

“At the end of the day, it may have spread because it relied on friends (rather than a cause or corporation) to get people to act, and to do so by doing something fun. It was fun to do, fun to watch, fun to share. Which, it turns out, is a pretty good way to approach a serious issue.”


Google —”Androidify” (by PHD)

In 2014, Google erected a pop-up billboard in New York’s Times Square to promote the Android “Be Together. Not The Same” motto.

The billboard allowed passers-by to use Android devices to play with the characters on screen.

Google said the digital billboard generated 9.8 billion impressions and reached 159 million users on other social media.


Why it worked.

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McCann

Joyce King Thomas, chairman and chief creative officer at McCannXBC, said: “Creating the world’s largest multiplayer game no doubt took a gargantuan effort from technologists and engineers, but still the ‘Androidify’ idea felt fun, effortless, and human – which is exactly how Android wanted to portray the brand.”


Nike — “The Last Game” (by Wieden+Kennedy)

Nike’s overarching 2014 World Cup campaign was titled “Risk Everything,” and it was accompanied by a 10-minute animated video called “The Last Game,” featuring many of the world’s best-known soccer players.

The film was the second-most-viewed ad on YouTube in 2014, and Nike said it increased the number of followers on its Nike Football social-media accounts by 6 million.


Why it worked.

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R/GA

Nick Law, global chief creative officer at R/GA, said: “The film attracted a huge audience on social by neatly aligning the brand with the fans’ aspirations. Every World Cup starts with the hope that the pressure of the occasion will inspire players – not make them risk adverse. Featuring a team of famous Nike footballers rendered in the broadly appealing style of a Pixar animation, it’s no wonder it was viewed 90 million times.”


Nike Jordan — “RE2PECT” (by Wieden+Kennedy)

To honor the retiring Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees, the Jordan brand used digital media to allow fans around the world to give their thanks to the player.

The key element of the campaign was a moving 90-second video showing fans across the word – including those who hate the Yankees – and stars including Michael Jordan, Jay Z, Spike Lee, Billy Crystal, and Tiger Woods tipping their caps to Jeter.

The film was viewed more than 8.8 million times.


Why it worked.

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One Show/YouTube

Jeff Benjamin, former chief creative officer of JWT North America, said: “To say goodbye to the New York Yankees captain, Nike made a simple and iconic behavior – tipping your cap like Jeter – the heart of its campaign. This is something bigger than words, an action. The campaign still used traditional media, but used it as a catalyst. Social platforms, celebrity and influencer content, and events created participation you couldn’t help but want to be a part of.”


Pantene — “The Pantene Praise Project” (by Wunderman Guangzhou)

Pantene China’s campaign centered on cards that were illustrated with thumbprints and contained words of encouragement people could pass on to women they admired. The campaign homed in on the idea that China’s one-child policy placed immense pressure on women to be perfect at everything.

Those messages were also shared on local social-media platforms like QQ and WeChat.

The campaign video was viewed 126 million times, and the number of shares and likes on the campaign cards reached 10 million.


Why it worked.

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VML

Debbi Vandeven, global chief creative officer at VML, said: “‘The ‘Pantene Praise Project’ is a lovely example of how something true can drive a smart, simple idea and make a brand matter in the lives of women. Pantene understood that the brand could be the catalyst for women supporting other women. The mobile site was simple to use, making it easy for women to share their support through social channels. And with its unique method for personalizing messages, the support expressed became even more meaningful.”


Comcast XFINITY— “Emily’s Oz” (by Goodby Silverstein & Partners and Mediavest)

This campaign promoted the voice-guidance features within Comcast Xfinity by showing how home entertainment differs for a blind person.

The six-minute documentary and three mini documentaries were created by Hollywood artists, set designers, and puppeteers to show what goes on inside the mind of a blind “Wizard of Oz” fan called Emily.

The video was viewed 12 million times, earning 500 million impressions.


Why it worked.

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AKQA

Erik Rogstad, AKQA managing director, said: “Comcast and Goodby Silverstein & Partners took the brief beyond the product and created a memorable narrative. Of all the work reviewed this year, the incredible production quality here stands out – and Emily provides an emotional reason to care. The compendium site provided an even deeper look into Emily’s world, and it’s a nice touch that Comcast offered a free accessible version of Oz as well.”


Always — “#LikeAGirl” (by Leo Burnett and Starcom Mediavest Group)

In this film the P&G feminine care brand asked a group of women, men, boys, and girls to perform a number of actions “like a girl” – picking up on the insight that to do something “like a girl” is often used as an insult, reinforcing female insecurities.

The young women in the video, however, showed how doing something “like a girl” should be empowering, not derogatory. Always seeded the video with key celebrities to share on social media, and it was also supported organically from female influencers such as Melinda Gates and Elif Shafak.

The video has been viewed more than 76 million times, earning 4.7 billion earned impressions. There’s now an Always #LikeAGirl Confidence Summit, and the brand is helping teach female confidence in schools.


Why it worked.

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McCann NY

Leslie Sims, chief creative officer at Y&R New York, said: “‘Like A Girl’ elegantly shines a light on a cultural sleight. It’s pure emotion, executed immaculately – and is a perfect fit for the brand, since girls usually start to struggle with confidence right around the time they get their periods.”


Union Station Kansas City — “Living History At Union Station” (by VML)

To celebrate Kansas City’s Union Station’s 100th anniversary, and to increase footfall, VML created a “Living History” app that used augmented reality to bring the station’s past to life.

Standing in the station, users could view filmed reenactments of Harry Truman and Ernest Hemmingway on their commutes and share those images on social media.

The app was interacted with 30,000 times over the opening weekend, with users spending an average of one hour within the app.


Why it worked.

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Grey

Zak Treuhaft, former Grey chief digital officer, said: “The program recognizes the ubiquity of mobile technology and uses that ubiquity to bring a physical space to life in unexpected ways. And the innovative use of mobile beacons takes the idea to another level. There’s something almost magical about seeing the past brought to life in the present.”


Ikea Canada — “#ShareTheBathroom” (by Jungle Media)

Ikea Canada’s campaign allowed users to vent their frustrations with sharing the bathroom – from taking too long in the shower, reading their iPad on the toilet, or leaving towels on the floor – by creating customized digital ads that would show up on their partner, roommate, or family members’ screen.

Users entered their ad to Ikea’s website, and it was stored in a feed alongside the household’s IP address. Ikea’s media-buying team programmatically bought the ad space matching those IP addresses and served custom ads to each member of the household.

In total, Ikea served 800,000 custom ads, which it said helped boost bathroom sales by 12% in-store and 34% online.


Why it worked.

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YouTube

Laurie Koehler, Intel brand experience director, said: “Using strong digital techniques such as custom banners, user generated content, and themes common to all of us – like leaving towels on the floor – Ikea hit the trifecta and reached a large audience, motivating them to browse on Ikea and buy. If only it were that easy for everyone. Ikea took a risk by going to a place most of us consider private, and they won big by creating a conversation people were dying to have.”


Axe Black — “Bring The Quiet” (by Mindshare Turkey and Mobilike)

To launch Axe Black into Turkey, the brand released a mobile app that measured the volume of the user’s surrounding environment. When the volume level exceeded 120 decibels, the user was shown a banner that read “Bring the quiet!” Clicking on the banner let them listen to calming acoustic music.

The campaign delivered 5 million impressions, and 6% of consumers tapped the banner to get more information about the product.


Why it worked.

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Damon Webster

Steve Wax, partner and chief narratologist at The Cooke Wax Partnership, said: “The great thing about the Axe Black’s ‘Bring the Quiet’ campaign is the insight that we all crave an inner peace. That confidence is baked into the creative, so the brand is celebrating Axe’s ‘certitude.’ Great, unexpected thinking for this target.”


Smart USA — “Yo! Test Ride” (by Razorfish)

Smart USA used the simple Yo app to take over two bus stops in San Francisco for the day and give free rides to anyone who “Yo!d” for one.

The recap video was viewed more than 100,000 times, and 581 consumers contacted their local dealerships for a test drive as a result.


Why it worked.

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YouTube

Lincoln Bjorkman, global chief creative officer at Wunderman, said: “It works because Smart USA invested the technology of on-demand test drives with relevant locations, situations, and executions that feel reality-checked and product relevant every step of the way. The work is never intrusive, instead creating a wonderful sense of ‘invite us into your reality and we won’t disappoint you’ marketing. Smart USA leverages technology to enhance the brand’s creative attitude and deliver value. My favorite part of the whole thing: it just doesn’t feel like marketing. It feels more like sharing. Pretty smart.”


Taco Bell — Mobile ordering App (by DigitasLBI)

This app was built on the insight that 70% of Taco Bell customers want to create custom orders, but fewer than half actually do so because they are worried about holding up the line in-store.

The app put customization at the core, used a one-stop reordering method, in-app payment, and offered pickup preferences.

It has been installed 2.6 million times, and Taco Bell said the increase in check size of customers who downloaded the app rose to $10 from $7.50.


Why it worked.

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LinkedIn

Lou Paskalis, senior vice president and enterprise media executive at Bank of America, said: “In an era of ever-increasing consumer empowerment, marketers are going to need to learn to create sustainable and differentiated utility for their consumers by harnessing new technologies. The Taco Bell Mobile Ordering App elegantly rose to that challenge and drove an increase in business and favorability amongst the company’s core customers. It’s an example of how we all need to reinvent how we think about marketing in the post-advertising era.”