Agencies Show That When It Comes to Buying Media, It’s Not What You’ve Got—It’s How You Use It

Presenting Adweek's 2019 Media Plan of the Year winners

A collage of Adweek's Media Plan of the Year winners
This year’s Media Plan of the Year winners include ‘Bleed for the Throne,’ ‘Deadpool 2’ and ‘Mini Tweet To Test Drive,’ among others.

This year’s winners found clever ways to resonate with the coveted youth market (we’re talking about you, Oh Henry! and Visible), channel a massively popular TV series for the greater good (Droga5), inspire organic participation from celebrities (Initiative) and so much more. Presenting the 2019 Media Plan of the Year winners, who proved time and again that it’s not what you’ve got—it’s how you use it.

Wieden + Kennedy Portland, Ore. | Nike, ‘Dream Crazy’ and ‘Dream Crazier’
Categories: Campaign ($5 million-$10 million and $10+ million), Best in Show

As they say, it all started with a tweet.

Last year, Nike enlisted Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who made headlines in 2016 for kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice in the U.S., to help the brand celebrate the 30th anniversary of its iconic “Just Do It” tagline.

Just days before the 2018 NFL season kicked off, Kaepernick tweeted a striking black-and-white photo of his face paired with Nike’s famous slogan and the following copy: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

It was bound to be controversial, as Kaepernick at the time was in the midst of a lawsuit against the NFL, alleging its owners of colluding to keep him out of the league because of his protests. Within mere hours, his tweet had set off a national firestorm, with supporters defending him and protesters threatening to destroy and burn all Nike apparel.

Other Nike athletes, including Serena Williams, got in on the action too with their own social posts. The social buzz served as a precursor to a massive out-of-home campaign that began blanketing cities across the country the next day. Seen on buildings, in subway stations and more, each larger-than-life ad beautifully and simply showcased athletes who’ve overcome insurmountable obstacles.

But the campaign didn’t stop there. As the Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons opened the season, a spot featuring Kaepernick, as well as a host of other Nike athletes, aired during the game. “Dream Crazy” drove home the message that Nike had been drumming up all along, which is that even the unlikeliest of dreams can become a reality with enough determination.

By airing the spot during the NFL’s first regular game of the season, Nike made its stance on Kaepernick’s fallout with the league incredibly clear. It paid off, as Nike’s stock hit a record high in the days that followed, and the campaign garnered $163 million in earned media, according to Wieden + Kennedy.

“W+K has always been grounded in creative and media working together. How and where a brand shows up in media can turbocharge the creative potency of an idea and how it spreads through culture,” says Daniel Sheniak, global communications planning director at Wieden + Kennedy.

This year, Nike and Wieden + Kennedy, along with Publicis Sapient, once again leveraged a pop culture event to continue its “Dream Crazy” messaging with a follow-up, “Dream Crazier.” Airing during this year’s Academy Awards—and just weeks before International Women’s Day—Nike’s powerful spot called out the many double standards that women face in sports.

Narrated by Serena Williams, the ad encouraged female athletes to realize their full potential even in the face of adversity. “Dream Crazier” was cleverly sandwiched between a speech that Williams gave onstage at the Oscars about pursuing dreams and the awards show’s Best Actress category.

“There are foundational things we’re always focused on—finding the truth, understanding the passion of an audience, evaluating the right cultural moment and identifying surprising ways to deliver that will reverberate across the world,” notes Reme DeBisschop, North America media director at Wieden + Kennedy. “This is something in every brief.” —Minda Smiley

GSD&M | USAF, ‘Origin Story’ and ‘Captain Marvel’
Category: Campaign ($1 million-$5 million)

Even though more than 12,000 pilots serve in the U.S. Air Force, only 5% are women. Last year, when the teaser for Captain Marvel—which centers on former Air Force pilot Carol Danvers—was released, GSD&M knew it could use the opportunity to tell the inspiring stories of female pilots and encourage more women to join.

Looking at data, the agency realized that while the buzz around the movie was through the roof, it did not carry over to the Air Force.

“We saw huge spikes in interest and engagement around Captain Marvel, but almost no lift for the Air Force,” says Marianne Rush, media director at GSD&M. “That was really the first trigger that we were going to need to build something special.”

So GSD&M created an elaborate campaign and media plan to coincide with the movie’s launch on International Women’s Day this year. After gathering a “record number” of female pilots to capture their stories, the agency turned the footage into a 30-second spot that aired before the start of Captain Marvel in theaters. The agency also put together a video featuring the movie’s creators telling the story of the Air Force.

The two videos aired ahead of Captain Marvel screenings in 85% of theaters across the country.

According to GSD&M, the campaign helped drive more than 255,000 site visits to during March, helping to set a new site traffic record. And nearly 700 women completed applications online to join the Air Force. —M.S.

UM Canada | Oh Henry!, ‘4:25 Bars’
Category: Campaign ($500k-$1 million)

Tasked with driving cultural relevance with younger audiences for Oh Henry!, UM Canada managed to celebrate impending marijuana legalization in the country while biting into the hunger conversation dominated by Snickers with the creation of a candy bar designed for those with the munchies.

The limited-edition 4:25 bar—whose name refers to the hunger that strikes five minutes after partaking of 420—designed to pack in more protein (via peanuts) walked a fine line, nodding toward cannabis culture while not alienating other audiences or being too explicit.

“We had to be really careful because the regulations were not set for advertisers yet around marijuana,” explains Joanna Janisse, UM Canada senior director, connection planning.

So the agency was conservative about its targeting while still appealing to an 18-34 audience. For example, Oh Henry! leaned into moments like the annual marijuana march in Toronto, working with influencer partners such as Epic Meal Time as well as creative agency Anomaly Toronto.

The brand showed up in earnest at the march, handing out 10,000 bars at 4:25, while also opening a mock dispensary for the product as a hub for PR and influencer events, an approach that exemplified UM’s “moments planning framework,” says Janisse.

“That’s a moment that matters for that more niche audience,” she says, adding that the brand always kept its focus on the “consumption occasion.”

With changing dates around legalization keeping the conversation top of mind in Canada, the brand enjoyed a boost from continued media coverage, earning over 69 million media impressions. The bars proved such a hit that they sold out and went for inflated prices on eBay while contributing to overall Oh Henry! growth. —Erik Oster

The Martin Agency | John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, ‘Words Count’
Category: Best Use of Social (less than $500k)

America’s current national leadership might use words to sow division (and that may be a charitable way of framing it), but there was a time when elected officials sought to inspire. Long after his tragic assassination, John F. Kennedy’s words are evergreen reminders that leadership is a public trust, but for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, the question was how to make younger generations aware of this proud legacy.

The Martin Agency decided to use Twitter to mirror, and respond to, the social media culture created by the 35th president. As his rhetoric made its way to the public domain, the museum’s verified Twitter handle (@JohnFKennedy) countered in real time—as if Kennedy were still alive—with direct quotes from his tenure as president.

“Eighty percent of the people alive today were born after the Kennedy administration,” says Steven Rothstein, the museum’s executive director. “President Kennedy reached for our better angels and tried to bring people together. He inspired tens of millions. I was one of that 20% who was alive then, and to be able to inspire generations later by his brilliant foresight is exciting.”

The Martin Agency team targeted all points on the political spectrum. And even though the United States is in a politically charged point in its history, Kennedy’s words resonated.

“We were nervous that it could potentially backfire,” notes Cecilia Parrish, The Martin Agency’s planning director. “But what we saw was a very positive reception. [People] were inspired by the words, sharing them and passing them along.”

In addition to its Twitter efforts, the campaign included full-page ads in The New York Times and Boston Globe, culminating in a 60-foot digital billboard in New York City’s harbor. The impact, on a budget of just over $60,000, was remarkable—a 9-to-1 return (90 million impressions), in addition to generating a conversation about the importance of words from the highest office in the land.

Greg Fischer, svp, head of communications and engagement strategy at The Martin Agency, credits the campaign’s success to the creative, which “unlocked a larger scenario,” he says. “If the JFK team had said, ‘We need as much cheap reach as possible,’ this campaign would have been invisible. [It would have been] hyper-regional and there would have been no press story to it.” —Doug Zanger

Zenith/VM1 | Verizon, ‘The Team That Wouldn’t Be Here’
Category: Cause Marketing ($1+ million)

Mobile phone service is arguably a price-driven commodity for consumers, as opposed to a brand-loyalty proposition. The target audience for ads is everyone, and network differentiation isn’t necessarily relevant, so making your brand stand out is especially challenging.

For its part, Verizon has long touted itself as “America’s Most Reliable Network.” While various studies have backed up the claim, the brand chose emotion over data to underscore its reliability, focusing on the first responders who had saved 12 NFL stars at different times in their lives.

The campaign, “The Team That Wouldn’t Be Here,” followed up the brand’s touching 2018 Super Bowl tribute to first responders. Created by McCann and helmed by prolific director Peter Berg, the two-week initiative kicked off during the AFC and NFC Championship games and featured powerful films that reunited players and coaches with the first responders who saved them.

The wide-ranging campaign included a dedicated site and significant social presence, leading up to a 90-second Super Bowl ad starring Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn.

The pacing of the campaign was crucial, says A.J. Pandya, evp, enterprise strategy and managing director of Zenith/VM1.

“In today’s world, things come out, and then they fizzle very quickly,” he says. “We wanted to make sure that we [told] a rounded story that felt diverse, full and aligning with sound marketing principles.”

The Super Bowl ad was the most watched on YouTube, and Verizon was the most-talked-about brand on social media during the campaign. The campaign also made a difference in another way: When consumers shared a post on Twitter with a dedicated hashtag, the brand donated to the Gary Sinise Foundation for defenders, veterans, first responders and their families. With 366,000 shared, the organization ended up with $366,000.

This story first appeared in the Oct. 7, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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