When Clients Let Media Agencies Take Risks, Good Things Happen [Updated]

After sifting through hundreds of entries, Adweek is happy to present the 18 winners of the 2014 Media Plan of the Year competition. Creativity, innovation and risk-taking set these successful efforts apart from the rest, earning a handful of media shops large and small the award. Hats off to both Mediahub/Mullen and Hill Holliday, which both won in two categories.

Click here to view the 2014 Media Plan of the Year Winners

And a special thanks to all the executives that gave their valuable time and effort to judge all the entries.

Media Plan of the Year 2014 Judges:

Kate Bower, evp, global strategy, Starcom USA

Kasha Cacy, president, U.S., UM

Michael Epstein, chief strategy officer, Carat USA

Stephanie Hill, managing director, strategy, Initiative

George Janson, managing partner/director of print, GroupM

Archana Kumar, chief strategy officer, MediaCom

Jonathan Lee, managing director, strategy, Huge

Aaron Perrino, vp of creative & content, Mediahub

Chris Pyne, president, OMD East/chief strategy officer, OMD USA

Baba Shetty, chief strategy and media officer, DigitasLBi

James Shoreland, evp, director of corporate development, ZenithOptimedia


Campaign Spending More Than $25 Million

Motorola: Moto X Launch

In launching the new Moto X smartphone last August, Motorola was up against bigger spending competitors like Apple and Samsung, which invest heavily in paid media. Conventional wisdom in the category holds that millennial buyers--the Moto X's target--are motivated primarily as early adopters. But digital agency DigitasLBi latched on to another insight it felt was more representative: These elusive young buyers want technology to help create their identities, more than they want to be first with it.

With over 2,000 color combinations, the Moto X had an array of features that could be personalized, and DigitasLBi used color as the core of its strategy, to allow consumers to interact with it through technology in traditional static media.

"Our budgets are nowhere near our competitors', so we really needed to use the tools we had at our disposal to drive differentiation," says Paul Dalton, svp, head of media planning at DigitasLBi. "Key to Motorola's DNA and the products they produce is a high degree of innovation. Rather than communicate that through words, we wanted to demonstrate it through our use of media." 

In print, the agency produced an interactive ad that allowed readers to change the colors of the phone on the page. The run of ads in 150,000 Wired copies generated more than 72 million impressions in just 28 days.

Using digital media like Facebook, DigitasLBi ran communications that picked up the dominant color in an individual's profile picture and matched the Moto X to it. With out-of-home executions, select bus shelters in Chicago picked up the dominant colors of passersby and the featured phone changed accordingly. Similarly, during New York's Fashion Week, Motorola featured 8-foot panels with front and back shots of the phones that changed shades as models and participants walked by. DigitasLBi used that same tactic elsewhere in Manhattan, partnering with storefronts to have phone images respond to pedestrians. Those outdoor applications were connected to the Internet and the customized phone images could be shared through consumers' social networks or they could access links to buy the handsets.

"Rather than just use outdoor to build awareness, we wanted to take it further and make it innovative, interactive, shoppable and shareable," Dalton explains.

The Moto X pitch generated big increases in key metrics for the phone: Awareness rose 21 percent, favorability 9 percent, consideration 7 percent and purchase intent 6 percent. Perhaps most gratifying in the hugely competitive smartphone category: DigitasLBi's launch campaign attracted more views (19.8 million) on YouTube than Apple's online videos during the company's launch for iPhone 5C and 5S. -Noreen O'Leary


Campaign Spending $10 Million–$25 Million [Updated]

Google: YouTube Stars

When Google brought YouTube fashion vlogger Bethany Mota onstage during its Brandcast presentation in New York this past May, many in the audience had no idea who she was. But hundreds of screaming teens had waited hours outside Madison Square Garden to get a glimpse of Mota. While her die-hard fan base (she calls them "Motavators") hang on her every word, she was still unknown to the majority of the American public over 30.

Six months later, Mota is practically a household name, and not only because she's competing for glory on ABC's Dancing With the Stars. Her step into the limelight can be traced back to PHD's groundbreaking offline campaign and digital agency Essence's online campaign to highlight the star power and marketing potential of YouTube influencers. While PHD handled all traditional media elements, Essence executed all digital media strategy behind the campaign, across desktop, mobile and connected devices as well as video, display, paid social and search. 

The initiative launched in April and featured three of the video platform's top content creators—beauty tutorial expert Michelle Phan, baking wiz Rosanna Pansino and Mota.

"All the skeptics, nonbelievers, fence sitters were able to witness true YouTube fandom in action," says David Broad, PHD's global strategic lead.

PHD promoted the girls in TV spots in shows like AMC's Mad Men, NBC's The Voice and ABC's Modern Family, as well as national print ads. In New York and Chicago, their images took over outdoor displays, one wrapping a New York subway train. In-person appearances, including Mota walking the red carpet at the MTV Movie Awards (arranged by PHD) and Pansino giving away Rovio-sponsored Angry Birds cupcakes (activated by Essence), tapped into the passion of their fans. 

YouTube reports that awareness for Phan, Pansino and Mota increased fourfold, and viewership on their channels shot up 72 percent, with social followers jumping 171 percent. More importantly, key advertiser perception increased 10.5 points. The boost aligned with the video giant's newest ad offering, Google Preferred, a program that lets marketers advertise on the top 1 or 5 percent of YouTube videos. The campaign's success led YouTube to launch a second and third wave, the latter of which branched into six international markets.

"Seeing the blocks of fans waiting to bake cupcakes with Rosanna, see Bethany on the red carpet or take a selfie with Michelle is awe-inspiring," says Anna Bateson, YouTube's director of consumer marketing. "Their growth and success speaks volumes, and I look forward to seeing the many more endeavors they tackle." -Michelle Castillo


Campaign Spending $1 Million–$10 Million

Subaru:WRX STi
Carmichael Lynch

Lights, camera, action! The rollout of Subaru's redesigned, high-performance WRX STi models this spring unfolded with B-movie thrills and chills.

A tongue-in-cheek online trailer for The Ride of Her Life, a faux, 1970s-style grindhouse flick, was the campaign's feature attraction. In it, skateboarder Bucky Lasek plays a scruffy, dim-bulb drifter who runs afoul of a small-town sheriff by taking his daughter--model Kayslee Collins, squeezed into Daisy Dukes--for a spin in one of Subaru's Rally Blue Launch Edition vehicles. "I love him," our heroine squeals. "And his car!" The drifter puts the Surbaru through its paces, kicking up sand and gravel to show off the vehicle's performance and handling.

The demo was designed to appeal more to the target audience of men in their mid-20s to mid-40s than the typical car ad, says Neil Goodspeed, group director of consumer engagement at AOR agency Carmichael Lynch. "They read the blogs, they lead the forums, they know all the specs about the car, so you have to give them something a little bit different, a little slice of extra."

For this push, the creative and media plans were inseparable, because the work was propelled across cyberspace as if the The Ride of Her Life were a real movie. A plot synopsis and cast list appeared on Rotten Tomatoes, while a YouTube masthead takeover dropped the day after the Academy Awards. A Funny or Die tie-in saw Lasek take acting lessons from David Hasselhoff. The schlocky thespian offers advice on love scenes, e.g., "When I'm in a movie, I imagine I'm making love to me, David Hasselhoff, because I'm the most romantic person I know." Search, targeted programmatic display, auto-site ads and retargeting were also employed, all designed to lead viewers to the trailer at the TheRideOfHerLife.com. In the unlikely case that the parody was too subtle for some viewers, the trailer's closing scenes made it clear this was a commercial.

Was the push risky? "Absolutely," says Brian Cavallucci, national advertising manager at Subaru. "But it was a calculated risk, and a risk we considered carefully." One big plus was free media coverage from the mainstream business and enthusiast press. "This campaign certainly got a lot of coverage, and people noticed," adds Cavallucci. "That's always a good thing."

The brand site housing the two-minute-plus trailer got 600,000 visits, while a 30-second edit on YouTube topped 2 million views. Most importantly, the cars are a hit. Some 18,000 WRX STi models have been sold in the U.S. this year, a 33 percent improvement over 2013, according to Subaru. Among those sales are nearly 4,000 new 2015 WRX STi models. In the first three months the new models were available--April, May and June, when The Ride of Her Life campaign was most active--sales reached 2,500.

"As good as this car is," says Paul A. Eisenstein, publisher of TheDetroitBureau.com, "I suspect this [media push] was a significant reason why it is doing so well in the marketplace." -David Gianatasio


Campaign Spending $500,000–$1 Million

Toyota Corolla: 'Unexpect Everything'

This isn’t your father’s Toyota Corolla. That’s the message 22squared tried to communicate last year to millennials in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas in a fourth-quarter media plan designed to reposition the compact car to youthful consumers who saw the Corolla as a vehicle geared toward the older generation. “We were trying to reach a target that wasn’t engaged with traditional media formats,” says Kyle Lebet, associate digital media director at independently owned 22squared. For this campaign, dubbed “Unexpect Everything,” the media choices and user experiences were part and parcel with the creative. “Those digital and social buys are creative buys,” Lebet says. “Media is the message,” and with a modest budget, “we had to get a lot of bang for our buck.”

The key was to “shift the perception of the car” among the target audience—roughly age 27—from being a nameplate “you ought to buy” to one “you want to buy,” says Michael Brennan, vp, marketing at Southeast Toyota Distributors. “We wanted to engage and meet this young group where they were, and interrupt their conversations in a way that we felt would be welcomed.” Adds Lebet: “People think the creative does that. Well, the media choice does that, too.”

The campaign’s hub was a Tumblr fed by the initiative’s other components. That site hosted all manner of content, ranging from art and videos by 15 Southeastern influencers with millennial appeal to slick imagery by photographer Jack Parker. All told, the site ultimately received 200,000 visits. “Forever Starts Tonight,” a music clip by Tyler Ward that prominently featured the 2014 Corolla, was an especially high-profile campaign element, and it got nearly 1 million views on the singer’s YouTube page.

Gamification also came into play, most notably with CorollaCade, an Oculus Rift-powered virtual experience designed to emulate arcade fare from the ‘80s. It was basically a simulator that let users explore key features of the car, and garnered over 40,000 plays and 1.1 million interactions. And BFF Launcher was a flash-based game in which players tried to catch friends launched through a Corolla moonroof.

In terms of overall approach, “Influencer marketing, Tumblr content and an assumed YouTube boost is an effective strategy to reach a regional audience at a CPM that’s sure to outrun a traditional media buy,” says Darryl Ohrt, a veteran creative director who blogs about industry issues at AdVerve.

All told, “Unexpect Everything” tallied more than 100 million impressions, and Toyota’s Brennan says he’s pleased with the results: “We were able to drop the median buying age for the Corolla and saw a lift in sales.” -David Gianatasio


Campaign Spending Less Than $500,000

Hanes: Women's Underwear

If you’re Hanes in the era of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, broadcast on prime-time television, then you are aware being known as a classically comfortable brand isn’t always an advantage. Last fall, when Hanes needed a little help stepping out of its comfort zone, it enlisted Spark (with assists from 360i and The Martin Agency) to fix how a key demographic—millennial women—viewed it. “We needed to modernize the perception of the brand,” explains Amy Engel, Spark’s svp and media director.

Enter 2013’s “Undercover Color” campaign. Armed with insights that millennial women like to overshare online and that the color and patterns they don matter, the six-week, integrated campaign dared women to post the color of their skivvies on social media with the hashtag #UndercoverColor.

“We asked a very simple question: ‘What color underwear are you wearing?’” says Engel. That gave women a platform to be bold—and in turn helped refresh their view of the brand. Hundreds of posts later, the campaign buoyed Hanes’ Twitter mentions by 79 percent and boosted followers to seven times pre-campaign levels.

While Twitter and Facebook were primary social channels, the UndercoverColor.com microsite featured a color-based mood board and visitor poll. For one week, results of the survey were posted on a Times Square billboard, which displayed color trends by region. Combined, the Twitter, Facebook and microsite efforts resulted in 31 million social media impressions.

“Color can affect your mood. It says something about you—your personality, your style, how you’re feeling today,” explains Sidney Falken, chief branding officer for Hanes. “We knew it was something that would be easy for women to engage with. The whole campaign was rooted in the idea that color is powerful and that we could get people talking based on that little insight.”

The push also featured 440,000 paid media impressions from a custom content collaboration across Hearst properties Cosmopolitan, Elle and Marie Claire, where fashion bloggers integrated Hanes products into their stories—revealing their own underwear colors along the way. Display ads and online video were also part of the mix; the video garnered roughly 28 million views.

Says Falken: “The impact we saw on equity—we saw lifts in a lot of key measures like ‘more stylish,’ and that the ‘brand is up to date’—for a brand that women know very well and trust for comfort, it was great to see double-digit lifts in those more style-centric equities.” -Kristina Monllos


Best Use of Mobile Spending $1 Million–$5 Million

Pantene: Local Haircast

Last year, women's tresses were lathered, sprayed, scrunched up and teased with more than 300 new hair-care products, all fighting for attention on store shelves. There was no way Pantene was going to let the upstart brands rain on its parade of products. In fact, summer showers, sweltering humidity and just about every other climatic variable known to the average human became the key components of a new campaign devised by the Procter & Gamble brand and its agency, Starcom.

Together they focused on the root of any bad-hair day: the weather. Personalized hair forecasts--called "haircasts"--were created based on local weather conditions, offering styling tips that involved Pantene products that can counteract whatever frustrating conditions consumers were likely to experience.

At the center of the campaign, which ran from July to September of last year, was a partnership with The Weather Channel. It delivered haircast alerts and links to pages with Pantene promotional videos and coupons.

"Based on the insight that women check the weather on their mobile phones every morning as they are getting ready to face the day, we knew mobile had to be at the center of our hair forecast experience," says Jodi Allen, vp of P&G hair care and color, North America.

"We focused on a geo-targeted technology solution with The Weather Channel," Allen adds, specific to individual ZIP codes.

Walgreens became another key partner. One of the standout coupons offered during the haircast promotion was a $20 discount on Pantene products in Walgreens and information on where to find the nearest store. Point-of-purchase displays inside Walgreens offered extra information about which products to use during certain conditions and included TWC's logo.

In Walgreens' massive Times Square store in New York, Pantene arranged a special event featuring its own celebrity stylist and global ambassador, Danilo, who provided free consultations, focusing on Pantene products.

The results were as impressive as a '60s beehive. Between July and September 2013, the monthly volume of #haircast tweets increased by 7,441 percent. Sales of Pantene products rose 24 percent in July and August versus the previous year. -Janet Stilson


Best Use of Mobile Spending Less Than $1 Million

Walgreens: Delivering Relief

When temps hit record lows last winter, Walgreens and agency OMD looked to capitalize on the polar vortex through an on-demand delivery program that delivered cough and cold medicine via a mobile app.

Walgreens ran a campaign during the height of flu season in January and February within the TaskRabbit mobile app, claiming to be the first retailer to do so. Running in 18 markets, including New York and Chicago, the app targeted flu sufferers who live alone and therefore are often stuck trudging through the snow and freezing temps to take care of themselves.

"To me, it was about exploring new communities and one of the ones that we identified was this sharing economy," says Wilson Standish, associate director of OMD's Ignition Factory. "One of the ones that seemed so obvious was delivering cough and cold medicine to people that don't have the ability to leave the house because it's such a chore."

The chain took over a branded area within the app's Task Wheel section, which helps consumers arrange help for everyday tasks like housecleaning and furniture assembly. Clicking on Walgreens branded content prompted consumers to select cold medicine and products from nearby stores and negotiate delivery prices with vetted Taskers, employed by TaskRabbit to arrange orders.

More than 300 orders were placed via the app, and click-throughs on the branded section were three times greater than other TaskRabbit entries. All told, 317,021 impressions were generated. More importantly, the average basket size from TaskRabbit orders was twice as great as in-store orders during the campaign, which OMD credits to mobile's convenience factor.

The content took the shape of native ads, giving it more longevity than a typical mobile banner.

"You're going into a community where someone already has a pre-loaded credit card; there's already an established line of trust," Standish says. "We didn't want it to feel like an ad. We really wanted to make sure we were adding value when we came in." -Lauren Johnson


Best Use of Alternative Media Spending $1 Million–$10 Million

Pennzoil: Mario Karting Reimagined

After flirting briefly with creating a Super Bowl ad around the launch of a new synthetic motor oil this year, Pennzoil instead cooked up an unusual event at SXSW whose phenomenal success surprised even the agencies behind it. And Nintendo's Mario Bros. franchise was the sizzle that Pennzoil needed to draw a crowd around an everyday product, Pennzoil Platinum, albeit one that promises higher performance.

"We needed a way to really tap into something that would excite them," explains Lindsey O'Neil, account director in the entertainment and sports partnership division of MediaCom, Pennzoil's media agency. Larry Swyer, a MediaCom managing partner, adds that the pairing was a "perfect alignment because Mario Kart used the added promotion and push as they launched their new game," Mario Kart 8.

In a nutshell, Pennzoil, backed by MediaCom and fellow roster shops Coyne PR and JWT, strapped conference attendees into motorized go-karts (featuring RFID technology) that raced around a quarter-mile track, creating a dirt-world version of video game Mario Kart. On the track were stickers that interacted with the RFID technology to speed up or slow down the carts. A sticker labeled Pennzoil Power-Ups gave the carts a boost.

Across three days, 500 people raced in groups of four in some 125 races, each lasting two minutes. Pennzoil--via media stories about the Mario Bros. races, tweets, race video posts, images distributed via social media, a segment on ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live and even a shout-out at another SXSW event from Seth Meyers, host of NBC's Late Night--generated 1 billion in earned media impressions. In short, Pennzoil achieved champagne buzz on a beer budget, and arguably stood out all the more because no one expected a motor oil brand to be a trending topic at a top tech-music-film conference.

Pennzoil global brand director Chris Hayek says the agencies far exceeded his expectations. The best compliment he got at the event was from Niclas Hermansson of Volvo Trucks, which had a mega hit of its own in last year's "Epic Split" spot featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme. "What I did was fantastic," Hermannson told Hayek, "but I think you're equally as innovative as I was."

Nothing like praise from a peer. -Andrew McMains


Best Use of Alternative Media Spending Less Than $1 Million

Spirit Airlines: Kansas City Launch

Up to a million people take off and land at Kansas City International Airport in any given month. Spirit Airlines aimed to grab a bigger slice of that business when it launched there in August, but did so with a marketing budget in keeping with its "Bare Fare" tagline. The cost was "considerably less than $20,000," notes Paul Berry, the airline's director of public and media relations. Spirit's agency, Kansas City-based Barkley, employed a "rapid brainstorming" technique to come up with the campaign, according to chief idea officer Tim Galles, who explains the goal was to be "provocative with a purpose."

Galles and his team devised an idea with a sense of strangeness-- Spirit struck a deal with a local Kansas soybean farmer and shaved Spirit's logo across a landmass the size of 20 football fields visible to aircraft approaching the airport. Add in billboards close to the airport directing consumers to the Spirit.com site to learn about its low-cost fares and that was pretty much it.

"We thought it would take a few days for people to ask what was going on, and the news media would start to cover it," Berry says. Much to his excitement, the first reaction occurred the day the crop circle was finished: Someone flying overhead tweeted out a picture of it, questioning what it meant. That night Berry received calls from every Kansas City TV station.

The weird crop circle sparked 63 news stories in 43 local markets over the nearly four months it was visible. According to Barkley, the social media mentions reached 100,000 potential travelers. Berry explains that for Spirit, it wasn't an ad campaign; it was an educational effort. After all, while Spirit claims to save people up to 40 percent on airfare, they're just buying a seat—no WiFi, no peanuts, no free luggage larger than a backpack—unless they pay more. Within the first day or two of the crop circle's completion, 14,000 people visited Spirit.com/101 to learn all about that, Berry relates.

And that really was the goal. "Every time we provoke we want to make sure it leads to more knowledge about the business model and why we do what we do," Galles says. -Janet Stilson


Best Use of Branded Content/Entertainment Spending More Than $10 Million

Geico: Caleb The Camel
Horizon Media

It's not easy to upstage Geico's spokesreptile. But last year, Caleb the Camel did just that, thanks to the help of a savvy strategy from media agency Horizon Media. After the chatty camel was introduced in May 2013, his "Hump Day" spot on YouTube became a viral hit, garnering 17.5 million views in less than three months.

Horizon, working with Geico's creative shop The Martin Agency, then leveraged that celebrity by putting Caleb in movie theaters, with a "silence your phone" courtesy spot urging people to shut off their mobile devices. In a cinema venue where advertising is usually dominated by the likes of entertainment companies or cellphone carriers, the insurance company's motormouth stood out.

"The big part of our strategy is to find the environment for this creative that may not be expected but still feels organic and ties into the entertainment value for consumers," explains Christine Lembo, vp, associate managing director, brand strategy at Horizon.

Kimberly Aiello, svp, managing director, brand strategy at Horizon, adds the theater effort took that strategy to a higher level--in Geico's first major integrated cinema initiative--with the ad providing consumers with a pleasant surprise.

"When we talk about a media plan, it's not just spots and dots," Aiello says. "We have to get a message out there, we have to be in all the right areas from a reach and frequency standpoint. But it's important to be relevant and connect with consumers in an engaging way."

Caleb also got a lift from the fact New Year's Day was on hump day this year and Horizon brought the two together with a #HumpDay2014 pitch. While the camel thought everyone was celebrating his big day, Horizon put him into New Year's celebrations beginning with countdown events and communications extending into social media and consumer-generated content. He celebrated on NBC's New Year's Eve With Carson Daly and also received attention on MTV's New Year's Eve show. Viewers on both networks were invited to share celebratory photos on HumpDay2014.com where Caleb was waiting to photobomb them.

Paid media was used to drive traffic to the site with messaging on Facebook, Twitter and StumbleUpon, as well as across mobile inventory. In the end, Caleb toasted the New Year with 2.3 million earned impressions and 19,567 mentions of #HumpDay2014. -Noreen O'Leary


Best Use of Branded Content/Entertainment Spending $1 Million–$10 Million and Best Use of Social Spending More Than $5 Million

Dunkin' Donuts
Hill Holliday

In order to leverage its sponsorship of ESPN's Monday Night Countdown pregame show, Dunkin' Donuts put an unorthodox but tasty team on the field. Each week during the 2013-14 NFL season, Dunkin' and agency Hill Holliday would select a play during halftime from ESPN's Monday Night Football telecast to be recreated as a 6-second animated video on Vine. Dunkin's coffee cups or doughnut treats stood in for the players. The action was quickly filmed on a 10-foot football stadium set and tweeted during the fourth quarter. It was supported by promoted tweets using the hashtag #DunkinReplay.

The goal was to extend the brand's footprint beyond the opening kickoff--after the Countdown show had already ended--and make Dunkin' a player across multiple screens, says David Bolger, svp, group media director at Hill Holliday. All told, the campaign tallied more than 70 million social impressions.

With NPD Group research showing that nearly 90 percent of U.S. viewers use a second screen while watching traditional TV, Dunkin' and Hill Holliday have made a concerted drive for desktops, handsets and tablets that goes beyond the gridiron. "For any major media program, having a social component is critical, because it brings us more naturally into the conversation and, most importantly, adds fun and value for the customer," says Nick Dunham, Dunkin's director of media.

In addition to "Dunkin' Replay" for Monday Night Countdown, Hill Holliday also created innovative initiatives for Bravo's Top Chef and awards show coverage on Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood. On Dec. 11, Dunkin' coffee was the main ingredient during Top Chef's quick-fire round, and the brand hosted a parallel live competition on Google+ Hangouts. Using various social channels, fans submitted recipes with at least one Dunkin' product as an ingredient. The effort earned 30 million Twitter impressions and increased Dunkin's exposure by 20 times over broadcast alone.

Separately, during the 2013 entertainment awards season on ET and Access Hollywood, celebrities including Rob Lowe, Kevin Bacon and Sara Bareilles tweeted behind-the-scenes happenings and plugged Dunkin' products as they prepared to walk the red carpet. The effort generated 107 million impressions on-air and via social media.

Dunkin' efforts had real-time elements because "we're taking advantage of how viewers are engaging with the content," says Cindy Stockwell, Hill Holliday's chief media officer. Making such an impact is possible because the playbook has changed dramatically in recent years. -David Gianatasio


Best Use of Branded Content/Entertainment Spening Less Than $1 Million and Best Use of Social Spending Less Than $5 Million

American Greetings World's Toughest Job

You'll work nonstop, with no breaks or vacations, and need the stamina of the Energizer Bunny and the patience of Job. When it comes to handling chaos and stress, you'd better be a pro, even though your title will be the rather pedestrian-sounding director of operations. And by the way, this is not a lucrative gig. The job pays exactly nothing. Zip. Nada. Who's in?

Surprisingly, Mediahub, the media arm of Boston-based agency Mullen, got several dozen replies to a fake ad it placed last spring on behalf of client American Greetings. Interviews, conducted by an actor, gave the agency fodder for a four-minute video dubbed "World's Toughest Job" that became one of the biggest viral sensations of the year for its mashup of pranks, twist endings and tear-jerking tributes. The position, by the way? Motherhood.

While the content was the heart of the campaign, Mediahub had to turn the video into a bottom-line-boosting Mother's Day promotion with a budget about half the size of the prior year's holiday outlay. It ended up being a six-figure effort. "We needed to tap into people's emotions about sending a Mother's Day card," says Sean Corcoran, Mediahub's svp, digital media and social influence. "The video hammered home the reasons you really should appreciate your mother."

The agency's plan kicked off with seeding on YouTube and American Greetings' sites. But when the video logged 1.5 million views in a single day on the brand's e-commerce site cardstore.com, the team shifted from viral efforts to paid blasts on Facebook, Twitter and video-distribution platform ViralGains, working to amplify the chatter. The focus then became turning all those (teary) eyeballs into personalized card-creating customers.

"World's Toughest Job," which has snagged nearly 22 million views to date on YouTube, was covered across all major TV and print news outlets, creating some 1.8 billion impressions. It became the top trending topic on Facebook and YouTube, a top 10 Twitter trend and the No. 1 Mother's Day campaign, according to Visible Measures. Site traffic grew 37 percent, new customers rose 40 percent, and new sales increased 16 percent. Orders overall got a 20 percent bump.

"Things don't go viral very often, and you need the structure in place to respond when they do," says Alex Ho, American Greetings' executive director of marketing. "This experience really opened our eyes and sharpened our strategy on how to use paid, owned and earned media."  -T.L. Stanley


Best Use of Social Spending $1 Million–$5 Million

Jell-O: #FML (Fun My Life)
Crispin Porter + Bogusky

Jell-O's come a long way since Bill Cosby pushed Pudding Pops. Its full-service agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky really jiggled things up for the venerable brand with a social media campaign, #Fun My Life, that was a little edgy and definitely engaging. Jell-O last year kicked off its Twitter-centric push that targeted random people who were using the message #FML, which for the uninitiated means "F--- My Life." Instead of the four-letter word, Jell-O wanted to give the phrase a new meaning--fun.

It was a risky bet, to be sure. Twitter users, proclaiming #FML because of some trauma, might not appreciate Jell-O tweeting at them to turn it all around with pudding promotions. But CP+B executives say the campaign's all-in-good-fun intent was well received. "Our fans were clearly in on the joke and responding to our efforts, so we feel that we appropriately walked that fine line," says Tony Calcao, evp and executive creative director at CP+B.

#FML got people talking, especially in the media, where an advertising meme took hold thanks to a brand using catchphrases that almost sound dirty. (K-Mart's "Ship My Pants" campaign and Verizon's recent "Half-Fast Internet" are two other examples.)

While #FML toyed with danger, sentiment around the campaign was similar to Jell-O's previous social efforts, adds Calcao.

"Although provocative, Kraft liked the idea of taking something traditionally negative like #FML, and flipping it on its head and getting consumers to think about it--and Jell-O--in the positive," he says.

Kraft tweeted offers at random people who used the #FML hashtag--the redemption rate was 50 percent higher than CP+B anticipated. The agency adds that the 35.5 million media impressions and 20 million Twitter impressions generated cost the equivalent of one-fourth of a prime-time TV spot.

The question is, do social media campaigns like this one boost sales? Neither Jell-O nor CP+B will say, besides pointing to the social gains. But it does prove "that a 168-year-old brand can be relevant and have fun engaging with its fans—at a fraction of the cost of more traditional media vehicles," sums up CP+B account director Kevin Sypal. -Garett Sloane


Best Use of Native Advertising Spending More Than $5 Million

GE: Look Ahead

In the second year of its Look Ahead content hub partnership with The Economist, General Electric challenged MEC, its new agency for media outside the U.S., to rethink all aspects of the plan and in particular expand its global reach.

Since its inception in March 2013, the hub has become the franchise of GE's content initiatives to define the company's place in the next industrial revolution. The format enables GE to tell its complex story in words, pictures, infographics and videos. The hub also generates stories that the company can redistribute at events and via its 30 other content partnerships around the world.

"The challenge that led us to this area was around telling the GE story in more robust and interesting ways," says Jason Hill, director of global media strategy at GE. "One of the challenges that has then arisen, now that we're in this world, is how do we make sure that this content has legs and has a long tail that extends through all of our different channels?"

MEC's contributions in the sophomore year of Look Ahead were threefold. The agency broadened the definition of its target audience—from C-suite decision-makers to "visionnaires," or anyone who wants to improve the world or heighten the success of a company. In addition, MEC led a soup-to-nuts redesign of the hub, incorporating new ad units and new ways to label and search for content. Finally, the shop added regional content and facilitated the translation of the hub into four languages: German, Portuguese, Mandarin and Arabic.

As a result of those moves, the hub generated 17.6 million impressions between January and early September, with some 667,000 interactions (clicks, taps, expansions, hovers) at an enviable engagement rate of 3.8 percent, according to Omniture. Also, in the same time frame, Look Ahead was viewed more than 200,000 times, with more than 237,000 video views and broad social distribution.

Beyond those impressive numbers, though, GE burnished its reputation as a thought leader by partnering with a publisher that's known for deep, nuanced, global discourse.

The WPP Group shop has to find a way to top itself, as GE now looks to renew its partnership with The Economist for a third year. That is a fine problem to have, of course. "You don't want to get stuck," says Tej Desai, managing partner of global solutions at MEC. "GE always defines itself as a brand in motion and we always have to be thinking about that." -Andrew McMains


Best Use of Native Advertising Spending $1 Million–$5 Million

Land Rover: 'Drive to Another Level'

Since 1948, Land Rover has been synonymous with high-end all-terrain vehicles. In 2005, its famous Range Rover model was joined by the new Range Rover Sport, a more responsive, agile version of the hulking original. Last year, when Land Rover was preparing to relaunch the second-generation Range Rover Sport (which had become the company's top-selling vehicle domestically), it had an ambitious goal in mind: to double sales growth. Longtime media agency Mindshare set out to create a campaign that addressed three core challenges: low unaided brand awareness, lack of nameplate identity and reaching lower-funnel consumers. The solution, explains Mindshare executive director Danielle Koffer, was to create a more distinct brand identity for the Sport, and create an emotional connection between consumer and car. "In a lot of traditional automotive advertising, you'll find a lot of car-specific communications, and what we felt was missing was this connection with the consumer," she says. "The brand is a personality, not just a product."

Mindshare created "Driven to Another Level," a campaign that spotlighted real individuals who personified that drive to push their lives and careers to the next level. Mindshare Entertainment partnered with three publishers--Outside, Men's Journal and ESPN--to produce a series of native videos.

The content was specifically suited to each publisher: One video for Outside starred Peter Metcalf, the CEO of climbing gear company Black Diamond, while another video created for ESPN explains how sports data scientist Muthu Alagappan used a mathematical formula to transform the way we think about basketball. Also included in the "Driven" campaign were a microsite powered by Time Inc.'s Watercooler technology; an Xbox hub with custom content, photo galleries and a game; and native stories produced on the Washington Post's Topicly platform.

Through YouTube alone, the "Driven" custom videos garnered more than 1.7 million views, while the native products received an additional 1.4 million content engagements and averaged 3:31 minutes per visit. Overall, the campaign resulted in a 6.1 percent boost in brand favorability and a 13.6 percent lift in consideration compared to competitors.

"Native advertising gives us another way to reach our target audience," says Land Rover communications manager Ken Bracht. "In this case, [Mindshare] brought the positioning of the vehicle to life and created content that was reflective of the audience." -Emma Bazilian



Best Use of Native Advertising Spending Less Than $1 Million

Netflix: The Future of Storytelling

Most people steeped in media can appreciate a good meme, listicle or GIF every now and then—and on-demand streaming giant Netflix is no different. But for a multi-phase foray into native advertising, starting midyear, the brand and its agency MEC decided to put some weight behind its programs. Fun and frothy is fine, MEC felt, but how about creating long-form content and digital stories with a little heft, even if it bucked the prevailing infographic and animated snippet trend?

Four separate, ultimately related native projects hyped Netflix's documentaries and original series--and the service's growing clout as a pop culture mover and shaker. "Our early toe dips in the water in native were somewhat standard, lightweight concepts," explains Kristine Segrist, managing partner and client lead at MEC. "We graduated into these more ambitious formats."

The team started with a moderated online discussion about documentaries, in book club format with Gawker. Participants generated close to 1 million pageviews for the Netflix Documentary Club and wrote 4,000-plus comments. Netflix and MEC then launched TV Got Better with Wired, which included a video interview with Mitch Hurwitz, creator of network-series-turned-Netflix-pickup Arrested Development. It drove more than 110 million earned impressions with readers, who spent twice as much time with the content when compared to the Wired.com average.

To promote Season 2 of one of its crown jewels, Orange Is the New Black, the Netflix team put together a customized flash sale on fashion e-commerce site Gilt, with donations to Dress for Success based on consumer purchases. There were video clips from the series and talent interviews on the site—and the program snagged upwards of 30 million impressions.

Finally, "Women Inmates," a New York Times-generated digital story, featured video interviews with female prisoners and Piper Kerman, whose book inspired the series.

Netflix likely will use a mix of this kind of elaborate content with more of-the-moment, entertaining native ads going forward. "Timeliness can be so critical," Segrist says, "and we want to be nimble." -T.L. Stanley

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