The Ice Bucket Challenge was the past year's best use of Facebook marketing, according to the social network, which just announced its ad award winners. It's no surprise the viral campaign got so much praise—Mark Zuckerberg even participated.
Zuckerberg was one of the millions of people to douse themselves in ice water to raise awareness for ALS in what became a powerful moment for online marketing. The best part was that it cost the ALS Association no money to generate all that attention—440 million people saw the videos.
The lesson was not lost on Facebook, which is holding it up as an example of how to use the platform for maximum impact.
This year marked the fourth Facebook Awards, which are timed to coincide with the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity—starting next week—where the ad world assembles to honor its top creative work.
Facebook executives also attend Cannes to meet with brands and agencies to discuss the kind of work that can be done using the platform. The social network has been expanding its global presence, too, now seeing more than half its ad revenue come from overseas.
"Facebook continues to see significant business growth internationally, especially in the Asia-Pacific region," said Kelly Maclean, leader of Facebook's emerging markets ad products. "More businesses are connecting with the right people in ways that are unprecedented."
This year, award entries came from twice as many countries—more than 160—as last year, according to the company.
It also was the first year Facebook included winners with Instagram ad campaigns, and video was a core piece of the ad mix, as well.
"The two big things were mobile—people building for where people are—and the other was video," said Mark D'Arcy, chief creative officer of the Facebook Creative Shop. "Seventy percent of submissions this year involved video as an essential component of how they were building a brand story."
Facebook pulled in $12.5 billion in ad revenue in 2014, and mobile ad sales now makes up more than 70 percent of the business. Instagram is just starting to scale.
Facebook chose six award categories looking at the creative content, social strategies, use of targeting technology and results.
"The question I get more than any other is, 'What is the single best ad on Facebook?'" D'Arcy said. "And the answer is as diverse as the people on Facebook."
Brands, agencies and marketers are using Facebook in ways that can switch up creative depending on the audience, tailoring the promotion based on a consumer's interests, background and geography. D'Arcy calls it the science of building relevance.
Here's a look at the top 12 campaigns from the last year—the winners that took home blue, gold and silver honors: (The other winners and notable campaigns can be found here.)
Ice Bucket Challenge
The ALS Association
Award category: Facebook for Good (blue winner)
In the summer of 2014, people living with ALS raised awareness of the condition by having people all over the world dump buckets of ice water over their heads and post videos of it, issuing a challenge to the next person to do the same.
Goals: Awareness, online traffic, sales.
Results: 17 million videos from 159 countries, including ones made by Will Smith, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and Mark Zuckerberg, generated 70 billion video views and raised $220 million. Zero dollars were spent to promote the challenge, and 440 million people saw it.
Like A Girl
Procter & Gamble
Leo Burnett Toronto, Chicago, London/Holler
Award category: Craft (blue winner)
With the hashtag #LikeAGirl, the Always feminine-hygiene brand confronted gender norms by asking people to change their perception of what it means to "act like a girl." The videos spread all over social media, showing young kids giving positive representations of how to run, throw and punch like a girl.
Goals: Drive an emotional connection to Always, build awareness and boost purchase intent.
Results: Emotional connection rose from 38 percent to 41 percent. Ad recall from people who saw the ads was 47 percent, and brand linkage was 59 percent. It was the most watched video in Procter & Gamble history with 76 million views globally. Top-of-mind awareness from the campaign's target audience rose 9 percentage points to 58 percent. Earned impressions hit 250 million. Purchase intent among teens rose from 40 percent to 60 percent.
#KISSaLOT—The World Under the Mistletoe
LOT Polish Airlines
DDB and Tribal Warszawa
Award Category: Media Strategy (gold)
This overseas airline put mistletoe on its planes and encouraged people on the ground all over the world to track the flights and kiss when they were overhead. Facebook ads were targeted at people in different cities when planes were en route.
Goals: Awareness, drive traffic.
Results: Campaign credited with contributing more than $300,000 worth of free media thanks to the attention from blogs, and likes and shares on Facebook.
GT Ride—Viral Gaming for Kia
Award category: Social Technology (gold)
Going after a digitally savvy audience, Kia created a car racing video game in which players built their own virtual racetracks. By gesturing in the air with their phones, the game would translate the motion into a customized course.
Goals: Drive awareness; Promote the pro_cee'd GT car and have people share their racetrack creations with friends on Facebook.
Results: The app was downloaded 180,000 times and led to 250,000 racing games played.
Leo Burnett Beirut
Award category: New Frontier (gold)
This campaign for a women's rights group supported legislation in Lebanon to protect women from domestic violence. Its "red thumb" became a symbol of the cause with people all over the world showing support by showing a thumbs-up dipped in red ink.
Results: 20,000 red thumbs shared, 700 percent increase in online conversation about domestic violence. The law passed, and the campaign garnered $1.7 million in free media.
Love Has No Labels
Award category: Integrated (gold)
A large X-ray installation set up for public viewing showed couples dancing, hugging, kissing and otherwise interacting. Then they would reveal the people behind the skeletal images seen by the crowd. The point was to confront bias by showing most differences are only skin deep.
Goal: Raise awareness.
Results: 40 million views in two days, and the second-most viral PSA in history.
I Will What I Want
Award category: Integrated (gold)
This sportswear brand tried to broaden its appeal among women with a social campaign starring Misty Copeland, the ballerina, and Gisele Bundchen. They created videos featuring the women and invited the masses to comment, messages that were then used in the campaign, as well.
Goals: Awareness, brand lift, drive purchase intent, traffic and sales.
Results: 5 billion media impressions and $35 million in free media with a 42 percent boost in traffic to UA.com. Under Armour Women's sales lifted 28 percent.
Newcastle Band of Brands
Award Category: Integrated (silver)
This beer company came up with a way to get into the Super Bowl marketing act yet again without buying ad space. It looked to crowdfund a commercial with 30 or so like-minded brands, which would each be featured very briefly in the video. The ad ran on Facebook and in one market during the game.
Goals: Drive brand awareness, preference and purchase intent. Drive traffic and sales.
Results: 2.9 million views on Facebook and 33 million online overall leading to 2.3 billion total campaign impressions.
New Friend Request
Award category: Craft (silver)
A.1. Original Sauce wanted to friend other foods so it created a Facebook campaign that showed it was in a relationship with Steak but could connect with other meats like Pork. The point was to show people that the sauce was more versatile than its name implies.
Goals: Awareness, sales and brand repositioning.
Results: The video received 1.3 million views, 3,000 likes and 200 comments.
Build a GLA on Instagram
Award category: Craft (silver)
Looking for a younger audience for its GLA, Mercedes launched a campaign that let people customize a car right on Instagram. It also promoted a video to a target audience on Facebook.
Goals: Drive awareness, intent and preference. Lift traffic and sales.
Results: 100,000 Instagram likes and 20,000 new followers.
Buds for Buds
Award category: Social Technology (silver)
The beer brand targeted people with friends in Denver and Chicago with a promotion to buy a friend a beer with a redeemable receipt at a local bar.
Goals: Awareness, preference and intent, drive traffic online and off, and sales.
Results: 23 million earned media impressions and a threefold in-bar sales lift from consumers who spent more than the value of the first beer when redeeming their coupon.
Keep the Flame Alive
Johnnie Walker ("Keep Walking Lebanon")
Leo Burnett Beirut
Award category: New Frontier (silver)
The whisky maker challenged a pessimistic country, Lebanon, to share more hopeful messages on social media, and a fire-writing calligrapher was photographed recreating the posts from the people. They used the hashtag #KeepWalkingLebanon.
Goals: Awareness, preference, intent, and drive sales and traffic.
Results: 20 percent increase in market share and $766,000 in free media.