The Most Engaging Brand Content of 2016, Month by Month

In 2015, there was a marked increase in the popularity of brand videos on YouTube. In 2016, brands took social video storytelling to another level, not only on YouTube, but on Facebook and Instagram as well, and were rewarded for their efforts.

That’s according to social media analytics company Unmetric, which tracked social campaigns throughout the year as it did in 2015 to determine which ones performed best in terms of engagement.

"Videos have moved from being just reposts of 30-second TV spots to long-form storytelling, with the popular Nike Football post being nearly six minutes long," Unmetric CEO and co-founder Lux Narayan told Adweek. "This year really showed that there's an appetite and attention span for longer branded content if it's authentic and tells a story that resonates well with people, not merely as consumers but universally as humans."

Unmetric studies Twitter, Facebook and Instagram data to determine an engagement score for brand posts of zero to 1,000. The engagement score is a weighted measurement based on the idea that some metrics like shares and retweets have more value for brands than others such as likes and favorites. For YouTube, the company uses a different method for measuring the successfulness of a campaign. There is no engagement score, but likes and how quickly a video accumulates them are important factors. It also uses a combination of its own algorithms and human insights to determine overall engagement.

Narayan noted that brands in 2016 increased their use of user-generated content, pointing to Audi’s Instagram post (below) and JetBlue's Mother's Day post as examples. Brands also highlighted authentic customer stories, embraced cross-channel strategies and found success by asking people to share or use hashtags across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Narayan also noted that girl and women empowerment was a theme that resonated well in 2016 (see Always’, Dove’s and Microsoft’s posts below). "And in what felt to many like a very divisive year, unity shined through around the Olympics with Samsung's post and Amazon's priest and imam video," he said.

Here’s a month-by-month breakdown of social posts from brands that Unmetric determined achieved engagement scores of 1,000 or were otherwise the most engaging of the year:

1

January

Pillsbury, "Ranch Chicken Rollup Bake"
If people absolutely have to cook on or shortly after Jan. 1, chances are they’re going to want to make something simple. So Pillsbury started off the year right with this New Year’s Day Facebook post of a recipe requiring very few ingredients and as little culinary effort as possible.

Audi, #TractionTuesday
Audi banked on the fact that people love to show off their cars and jump in on hashtag campaigns to score big with this Instagram post. It also helped in this instance that people also apparently love to share their experiences of harsh winter weather and how they can make it fun.

2

February

Hyundai, "First Date"
One of Hyundai’s four Super Bowl 50 spots from Innocean Worldwide, "First Date" was one of two featuring big-name celebrities—the other was Ryan Reynolds—in which comedian Kevin Hart showcases the automaker’s Blue Link Car Finder feature by tracking his daughter after insisting her young suitor borrow his car. 

Esurance, #EsuranceSweepstakes
Esurance dominated the Super Bowl with its social-first approach, and aside from #SB50 and #SuperBowl, more people saw its #esurancesweepstakes hashtag during the Big Game than any other word combo.

Disneyland, #ShareYourEars
This cause marketing effort from Disneyland benefited Make-A-Wish by donating money to the nonprofit every time users posted photos wearing their Mickey Mouse ears and using the hashtag on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

Domino's DXP, "Extra Mile"
Domino’s made an actual car, a dedicated pizza-delivery car no less, complete with a built-in warming oven, demonstrating in this ad the "great lengths" to which it will go to deliver you a hot pizza.

3

March

Always, "Girl Emojis"
For this "Like a Girl" spot, Leo Burnett interviewed girls to find out how they feel about today’s emojis. Turns out the female ones are very limited and terribly stereotypical.

Microsoft, "What are you going to make?"
Microsoft’s effort from McCann Worldgroup’s m:united highlighting women inventors struck a chord on International Women’s Day. In it, science-loving girls are asked to name some inventors. They’re all men. How about women inventors? The girls are stumped. Then Microsoft reminds everyone that "not everything is ‘man’ made."

4

April

Nike Basketball, #MambaDay 
The most retweeted brand tweet of the year, according to Unmetric, was from Nike Basketball about Kobe Bryant’s retirement in April. Fans get the last word in the digital part of a campaign that used love and hate as the main theme, with most saying positive things (mixed with some respectful insults) about the revered longtime NBA star.

 

Command, "Hammer's Toolbox"
In April, Adweek called MC Hammer the "perfect spokesman" for 3M's Command strips. The brand’s "Do. No Harm" campaign from Grey New York got max mileage out of the artist’s name and catchphrases.

Knorr, #LoveAtFirstTaste
Knorr, Unilever's biggest food brand, with help from MullenLowe had people go on blind dinner dates and feed each other to find out if having the same taste in food could spark romance.

5

May

JetBlue, "FlyBabies"
In this Mother's Day stunt from MullenLowe, JetBlue managed to convince passengers to love when babies cry. How? By rewarding them with a 25 percent discount each time a baby started bawling on a flight.

Diet Coke, "Taylor Swift Award"
Diet Coke’s tweet congratulating Taylor Swift for winning (perhaps not so surprisingly) the first-ever Taylor Swift Award at the BMI Pop Awards in May got the most replies of any brand tweet in 2016, according to Unmetric.

6

June

Nintendo, "Legend of Zelda"
Nintendo’s retweet event offering in-app prizes actually got more likes than retweets. But it garnered plenty of both.

Nike, "The Switch"
This epic Nike film for Euro 2016 from Wieden + Kennedy was a long-form, comedic imagining of what would happen if Cristiano Ronaldo accidentally crashed into a young Brit and inhabited the kid’s body until he became the soccer star England has long sought.

7

July

Red Bull, "Race to the top of a bridge"
Red Bull’s exhilarating Facebook video in which two free climbers race to the top of a bridge (and fall off a lot along the way) netted 71 million views and 739,000 reactions.

Samsung, "The Anthem"
Sure, Samsung’s Olympics spot from Leo Burnett Chicago and Leo Burnett Sydney promoted the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, but it also focused on bringing people together during undeniably scary times at one of the world's biggest events.

8

August

Samsung Mobile, "Galaxy Note7: Official Introduction"
Judging from the number of YouTube views this introduction got, the Galaxy Note7 reached its apex right out of the gate. A month later, dozens of the Samsung phones were catching fire and exploding from overheated batteries, and the brand was left scrambling.

Nike, "Unlimited You"
The voiceover completely drives this fun Rio Olympics spot from Wieden + Kennedy Portland. You think it’s one thing as the narrator talks up everyday athletes, and then it becomes something else entirely as he loses all control of the narrative.

9

September

LG USA Mobile, "Damn Daniel"
After a slew of brands rushed to get in on the Damn Daniel meme in February, LG USA Mobile and agency SuperHeroes New York brought it back months later for this Facebook video for the LG V20.

Airbus, #A350
Airbus taught us all the meaning of the term "applied biomimicry” in this otherwise simple, design-focused and green post, and people evidently really enjoyed it.

10

October

Nike, "Worlds Collide"
Italian World Cup winner from 2006 and avowed sneaker head Marco Materazzi talks engagingly about his obsession with Michael Jordan and basketball in what turned out to be the year’s most favorited brand post on Instagram, according to Unmetric’s data.

 

Worlds collide. ⠀ @iomatrix23 reflects on the moment that started his @jumpman23 obsession.

A video posted by nike (@nike) on

Sprite, #WannaSprite
This was one of the brand’s 15-second spots in a larger campaign from Wieden + Kennedy New York featuring LeBron James not telling you to drink Sprit, despite scenarios such as this one in which Lil Yachty writes songs about the drink.

Cadbury Dairy Milk India, #InterstellarPartyIsHere
Cadbury Daily Milk India scored the most likes by a brand on Facebook with this post featuring the loony aliens from one of Adweek’s most viral ads of 2016.

11

November

John Lewis UK, #BusterTheBoxer
Retailer John Lewis’ Christmas ad was the most shared Facebook post by a brand, according to Unmetric. In the lighthearted, brilliantly crafted ad by London agency adam&eveDDB, Buster the Boxer just wants to jump and have fun. Was that too much to ask after the year we’d had?

Amazon Prime, "A Priest and Imam meet for a cup of tea"
This poignant holiday spot, which was created by Joint of London in collaboration with Amazon's in-house marketing, legal and PR teams, beautifully promoted tolerance at a time when America really needed just such a reminder.

Tarte Cosmetics, "Giveaway"
How do you get the most comments on Instagram of any brand post? Run a travel-themed contest, like Tarte Cosmetics did in this post, for a chance to win a suitcase full of swag from a bunch of brands—and make people tag friends in the comments section to enter. Done and done.

12

December

Boohoo.com, "Melt"
Turns out you can do the same thing in a Facebook post. Encase a golden shoe in a block of ice, and ask users to comment "melt" to turn up the heat on the ice. Last one to comment before the shoe drops—literally—wins! The result: yep, most comments on a brand’s Facebook post.

Dove, "The Mannequin Challenge… with a twist"
In the latest installment of Dove’s "Real Beauty" campaign, the brand provided a creative take on the Mannequin Challenge fad while managing to make a statement in one simple, quirky swoop. In the ad from Ogilvy & Mather London, the actual mannequins—not the humans who pull off their mannequinlike poses admirably—are the ones getting challenged.