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.

“Bringing first responders to the forefront [is critical], and I’m surprised that more brands haven’t figured out a way to [honor] such an important part of our society,” says Pandya. —D.Z.

Droga5 | HBO, ‘Bleed for the Throne’
Category: Cause Marketing (less than $1 million)

The hype around Game of Thrones earlier this year was very real as the popular HBO show entered into its eighth and final season. As brands tripped over themselves to get in on the action, the American Red Cross managed to execute an elaborate and buzzy Game of Thrones experience just weeks before the show’s premiere.

It came courtesy of Droga5. Wanting to create something that would leverage the show’s massive fandom for the greater good—and considering there’s no shortage of bloodshed on the show—the agency landed on the concept of having fans actually donate blood to prove their devotion. Among the organizations Droga5 approached was the American Red Cross.

“We went to them with this concept, and they were obviously pretty stoked on the idea,” says Samantha Deevy, group communications strategy director at Droga5.

In partnership with Giant Spoon, Droga5 then organized a massive blood drive at this year’s SXSW. Complete with an immersive Game of Thrones experience for fans, the effort gave the American Red Cross the opportunity to engage with and attract new donors—and resulted in tons of press coverage.

After SXSW, additional “Bleed for the Throne” blood drives were held in 43 states across the country. According to the American Red Cross, the campaign led to a 21% increase in new donors.

Deevy says owned and earned media played a large part in getting the word out. With more than 34 million followers across the show’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, Droga5 tapped artist Gian Galang to create custom “Bleed for the Throne” artwork that Game of Thrones could post on its own channels.

“Game of Thrones is one of the rare brands that have an organic social following,” she says. “First and foremost, we wanted to use those organic channels to get the message out there.” —M.S.

Mindshare | Foxtel, ‘Monty’s Wicket Warnings’
Categories: International campaign ($1+ million), Best Use of AI/VR/Machine Learning, Best Use of Mobile ($500k+)

“Cricket is the only sport that unites the entire country [of Australia],” notes Mindshare global strategy partner Jack Smyth.

Mindshare was thrilled, then, when client Foxtel secured the broadcast rights for Australian cricket matches. The country’s broadcast laws, however, meant that competitor Channel 7 was able to broadcast individual key games free of charge.

“We have something called anti-siphoning laws, which means games of national significance have to be available on free-to-air broadcasters so that any Australian can watch them,” Smyth explains. “We had to think about how to create an experience that would live up to the hype, but then also make it worth it for the fans to pay for something that they had always enjoyed for free.”

Cricket is unique as a sport in that matches can go on for days with only a few moments (they involve the wicket and are cricket’s version of scoring) that are truly pivotal. A five-day match will see a maximum of 40 wickets over 2,700 balls (imagine a baseball game going that long). Viewers often miss seeing these moments live and, instead, catch a replay.

Taking this insight, Mindshare developed “Monty’s Wicket Warnings,” a way to deliver value to fans who didn’t want to miss the sport’s best moments.

“We started playing around with this idea that rather than asking people to pay to watch cricket,” says Smyth, “what if it was [paying] to never miss a wicket—if we could actually turn [from] broadcast service into a subscription service that would guarantee you’d be able to see the moments worth paying for?”

Mindshare acquired historical cricket data from Opta and utilized machine learning to track 83 variables for every ball and predict the likelihood of a wicket. When there was a high likelihood, Mindshare pushed out alerts to fans to tune in. They also shared the probability of a wicket on each ball in order to engage fans throughout the games.

“Monty’s Wicket Warnings” predicted wickets with 87% accuracy for games lasting five days. The effort drove a weekly sales increase of 18% and led Fox Cricket to be first in shares while doubling brand recall.

It proved such a hit that it’s being turned into a stand-alone subscription product for News Corp Australia’s SuperCoach fantasy platform for multiple sports including soccer, rugby, horse racing and, now, cricket. —E.O.

Wavemaker Poland | Weekend, ‘The Last Ever Issue’
Category: International campaign (less than $1 million)

The digital revolution can have some strange bedfellows. In the case of an erotic magazine in Poland, the advent of adult content online took it from wildly popular among men in the country to complete irrelevance, no longer generating sales. The title was eventually put up for sale by the publisher on, an ecommerce site in the country.

Despite being a western culture, Poland has deep-seated problems with gender equality and the magazine, Your Weekend, was accused of objectifying women and being a destructive force in shaping young men’s ideas about sex.

Sensing an opportunity to make a bold statement leading up to International Women’s Day 2018, Wavemaker, along with VMLY&R and, the country’s leading newspaper, purchased the magazine with the express intent of closing it down for good. With additional support from BNP Paribas and Mastercard, “The Last Ever Issue” of the magazine featured content that promoted diverse and progressive narratives of femininity and walked away with the coveted Titanium and Glass Lion Grand Prix at Cannes.

Pawel Gala, CEO of Wavemaker Poland, says the decision to pursue the project “took 15 minutes” to make.

“There are some ideas that you buy into instantly because you know that they are right to do,” he says.

All of the partners involved worked on a tight timeline to publish on International Women’s Day, understanding that what they were doing was groundbreaking.

After its release, the campaign organically reached 4.5 million people (almost the same number of impressions as the population of Poland) and, perhaps ironically in the most positive way possible, was the best-selling issue of Your Weekend in a decade.

“We all [as stakeholders] had a single goal,” says Gala. “In the end, we worked well together and had a great range of diverse views.” —D.Z.

PHD | Delta Air Lines, ‘Sweatlag’
Category: Best Use of Out-of-Home Media ($500k+)

Whether it’s an espresso or a hair of the dog, everyone has their own remedy to fight jet lag. Delta Air Lines, supported by research, thinks the solution is to sweat. That’s why it partnered with the luxury gym Equinox to generate interest in the new A350, which was designed with specific lights and wider windows to combat jet lag.

Knowing that exercise is key to resetting circadian rhythm, the partnership tailored a fitness program available at three Los Angeles Equinox locations, free for guests who signed up online and brought their Delta boarding pass to the gym.

To help promote the campaign, digital billboards outside of LAX were scheduled alongside the live flight data of Delta’s most popular cross-country and international flights.

As travelers left the airport, they’d pass a billboard that stated, “Just landed on flight DL8508? Sweat the Paris out.”

“It was a brilliant moment to leverage the technology and specifically target and match incoming flights as they were landing,” says Beatrix Bang, global communications planning director at PHD Worldwide, Delta’s media agency.

The billboards were vital, says Bang, as Los Angelenos spend “a hell of a lot of time in cars.”

According to Delta, more than 200 people attended the workouts throughout the four-week series, and media running on Facebook and Instagram generated a 30% increase in ad recall. Awareness in Los Angeles increased by 6%.

“Los Angeles is a city of fitness fanatics,” notes Bang. “We didn’t have to work too hard to make fitness feel interesting.” —Ryan Barwick

Zenith/VM1 | Visible, ‘404 Store Not Found’
Category: Best Use of Out-of-Home Media (less than $500k)

A staggering 60 million people switch their mobile phone service every year. In an already crowded marketplace, Visible, a Verizon-backed network, sought to differentiate itself beyond its $40 per month unlimited, no-contract plans. So the brand-new, all-digital company (which has no physical stores) launched an out-of-home campaign that wrapped vacant storefronts in nine markets with the brand’s bold blue and a “404 Store Not Found” message. 

The enigmatic approach, devised by creative agency Madwell, was aimed at a target audience of 18- to 34-year-olds who not only preferred app-based solutions but loved nostalgia, hence the nod to one of the most recognizable internet error messages

“It was incredibly important that it was cool enough for people to notice and drive intrigue,” says Minjae Ormes, Visible’s head of marketing. “But the campaign was built around the anchor of these empty storefronts [and resulted in] a really thoughtful [path] for the digital journey.” 

“I think it’s really easy for us to say that we’re going to go digital-only and launch this in social and just online,” adds Meghan Grant, evp of strategy for Publicis Media. “But those channels are crowded. The digital scroll is particularly crowded within social. We wanted to find a way to stand out in the real world and show people that, even though we’re a DTC brand, we’re not afraid to show up in real life.”

The campaign yielded a more than 2,000% lift in brand mentions (97% of which were positive) and an eight times gain in site traffic and earned media. And it resulted in a nifty bonus: It delivered Visible’s fiscal year goal in just three months of activity.

“It was validating knowing that we had a great product and brand, and we could connect with consumers,” says Grant. “But having them respond even more positively than we expected was amazing.” —D.Z.

360i | Roto-Rooter, ‘Eliminating Media Waste’
Best Use of Data, Best Use of Insights

When people need a plumber, they typically need one right away. But until recently, plumbing service giant Roto-Rooter was spending approximately $3.5 million—37% of its advertising budget—on search ads running at times when none of its local plumbers were available.

“Given the number of plumber technicians Roto-Rooter employs all over the country, this was a very costly scenario,” says Hank Beaver, vp and group account director at 360i.

After months of interviews with regional employees, the agency was able to develop a machine-learning solution. Proprietary algorithms would digest real-time dispatch information, weather data and call-center volume from everywhere the company operates to determine the optimal bid levels, budget allocations and ad copy for a given area.

The brand and agency were pleased to find that the technology not only tightened the ad budget, it also drove significant sales. Media spend dropped 10%, with an 84% reduction in waste, call-center volume ticked up 14% and revenue increased 15%, with $13.7 million in new sales.

Beaver says the execution will serve as a model for the successful use of artificial intelligence in media planning within the agency. “We firmly believe that the application of smart technology powered by sophisticated applied mathematics has massive potential for solving more challenges in the future,” he says.

As for other organizations looking to replicate this sort of project, Beaver advises them to integrate as tightly as possible into the client’s business, experiment extensively and fail fast.

“Developing smart marketing automation is hard,” he says. “It requires teams with specialization across many functions to build the technology, model the data, understand the media mechanics and be close to the client’s business.” —Patrick Kulp

Initiative |  Lego, ‘Lego Avengers’
Category: Best Use of Branded Content/Entertainment ($2+ million)

If a Hollywood megastar scrawls graffiti on your art installation, is it vandalism?

Lego execs considered it added value. In fact, they were thrilled when Scarlett Johansson playfully drew a mustache on an Iron Man model on the red carpet of the Avengers: Endgame premiere in April.

The spontaneous move by Johansson, aka Black Widow in the blockbuster, helped catapult the event into Lego (and brand-building) lore.

“We had no guarantee of talent integration,” Mike Ilacqua, Lego U.S. brand marketing director, says of the 44,800-brick display that included a massive Avengers logo, Captain America’s shield and Incredible Hulk hands. “But without being prompted, celebrities just started interacting with the models organically. It created a real experience.”

The show-stopping creation, which took more than 270 hours to build at the company’s Connecticut headquarters, was just one high-profile piece of Lego and agency Initiative’s campaign around the superhero action flick, designed to “put us in the middle of that cultural moment,” Ilacqua says.

Lego also embedded in another camera-ready event in the weeks before the movie’s debut, working with Avengers Universe Unites, a charity that has donated $5 million in cash and toys to nonprofits that support children with critical illnesses.

Stars including Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Brie Larson and Paul Rudd spent a day with young fans at Disney California Adventure, and Lego was a key partner, with large-scale models, murals and themed product on site.

Those media-driven initiatives paired with an interactive game from Disney that kids played more than 82,000 times, averaging north of four minutes of engagement.

The collective effort, rolled out over 21 days, increased Lego’s sales by 52% in the first week of Avengers: Endgame’s box office run, compared to Avengers: Infinity War the year prior.

“We saw the opportunity to accelerate,” Ilacqua says, facing down stiff competition from other Marvel licensed swag and targeting youngsters and their parents “with really sustained pressure and crafted beats.” —T.L. Stanley

Starcom | Samsung, ‘#DoWhatYouCan’t: The Tonight Show’
Category: Best Use of Branded Content/Entertainment ($1 million-$2 million)

Samsung and media agency Starcom took Apple’s “Shot on iPhone” campaign up a notch, filming an entire episode of The Tonight Show on the Samsung Galaxy S10+.

The undertaking started with a simple enough directive: Samsung wanted to make a splash for the 10th anniversary of its first Galaxy phone with media buys that would put the latest version in the hands of top culture makers. But it wanted to do so in a way that wouldn’t look like run-of-the-mill product placement, explains Samsung vp and head of marketing Patricio Paucar.

While in talks with NBC about featuring the phone on the program, Samsung heard that Jimmy Fallon was considering taking the show outside the studio for an episode. “That sounded like a perfect opportunity for us to leverage the strengths of the product,” Paucar says.

At a time when phone makers are struggling to sell consumers on less flashy device upgrades, Samsung saw production on a premier television institution as the perfect way to highlight the versatility of iterative new camera features like the S10+’s five lenses, improved image stabilization and low-light settings.

“What made it really work,” says Paucar, “is the fact that the phone was playing a key role in enabling that whole experience to take place in a way that it couldn’t have otherwise.” —P.K.

Initiative | FDA, ‘One Leaves’
Category: Best Use of Branded Content/Entertainment ($500k-$1 million)

Even in the age of vaping, some 2,000 U.S. kids each day still light up a cigarette for the first time. Moreover, 75% of teen cigarette smokers continue smoking well into adulthood.

To reach jaded kids, the FDA’s “The Real Cost” campaign, created by media shop Initiative and FCB New York, forewent a boring, preachy PSA about the dangers of smoking and created a horror-themed Xbox game set in a creepy metaphor for addiction—a haunted labyrinth where only one out of every four players makes it out.

Filled with tar, gore, death and decay, “One Leaves” came complete with a Darren Aronofsky-directed trailer (run on popular gaming sites), promotional support from online gaming star Tyler “Ninja” Blevins and a real-life escape-room version at the 2019 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo.

“For maximum impact, this campaign couldn’t feel like advertising,” says Dan Tighe, evp and managing director at Initiative. The agency’s two-pronged approach consisted of messaging without overt FDA branding to build credibility and drive downloads of the game itself, and then later emphasizing the point with more explicit addiction-themed media.

With more than 646,000 downloads and 844,000 gameplays in its first 14 weeks, “One Leaves” racked up 357 million total impressions, getting the FDA’s message in front of hundreds of thousands of young Americans. —Gabriel Beltrone

Assembly | 20th Century Fox, ‘Deadpool 2’
Category: Best Use of Branded Content/Entertainment (less than $500k)

As a Google user, you have questions, billions of them—about Mother’s Day gifts, flat-earth theories, small animal behavior and blockbuster movie releases.

Luckily for you, Deadpool has answers, via a branded content stunt for 20th Century Fox’s Deadpool 2 that its creators dubbed “a living, breathing form of AI.”

Fox gave execs at Assembly a “loose brief” with several tall orders. First, help the sequel reach the lofty heights of the R-rated original, a massive sleeper hit. Second, capture star Ryan Reynolds’ voice in a scalable, shareable digital program.

And third, “Don’t mess it up,” says Michael Bernardoni, Assembly’s evp, business intelligence and strategic performance. That meant cementing the connection between savvy audiences and Reynolds’ fourth-wall-breaking comic hero without marketing too hard. “It had to be as authentic as Ryan had been the first go around, which was really grassroots and guerrilla.”

The agency partnered with Google on its nascent “celebrity cameo” feature, introducing Deadpool as the first fictional character to answer user queries with short selfie-style videos.

Execs identified about 100 questions, with Assembly and Reynolds choosing a dozen that would get the Merc With a Mouth treatment. Some directly related to the action movie, and some didn’t (like, “Should I text my ex?” to which Deadpool/Reynolds said, “Absolutely. I suggest you text them every four minutes until you die alone”).

“We loved the idea of being able to infiltrate the search results,” says Mendy Basch, Assembly’s director. “And none of it was scripted—it was all Ryan.”

The program launched with paid media 10 days ahead of the movie’s May 2018 debut and quickly took off from organic sharing. Within two weeks, the content drove 7.5 million impressions and 1.5 million views, with fans engaging for as long as two minutes.

“It created a tangential surprise for people who went searching for a particular result,” says Bernardoni. “It hijacked a mindset, which was perfect for Deadpool.”

Though Hollywood sequels often see a sizable drop-off from the flagship movie, Deadpool 2 earned a whopping $785 million globally, edging out its forerunner at the box office. —T.L.S.

Mediahub | New Balance, ‘Cizzorz Fun Run’
Best Use of Streaming Media/OTT

Engaging Fortnite fans with a New Balance promotion tied to the Boston Marathon while avoiding guns and violence is not easy, given that the most popular games involve first-person shooters. The footwear brand needed something unconventional, something that would speak to Fortnite’s insular community.

“New Balance is a challenger brand,” Mediahub vp, group media director Allan Apjohn says. “Any challenger brand needs to disrupt the norm, to disrupt convention.”

The agency ultimately decided a speed run—in which a player attempts to go through a game as quickly as possible—was its best bet and connected with Jack “Cizzorz” Cizek, a gamer with a strong presence on Twitch and YouTube.

Cizzorz created a painfully difficult custom course for the brand featuring seven levels inspired by the Boston Marathon route, sarcastically calling it a “Fun Run.” Winning runs were awarded merchandise, or charitable donations were made in players’ names.

For the campaign, Mediahub targeted both Twitch and YouTube with paid media. “Because we were working with Cizzorz and working through something that he was doing on his own as a creator, we were able to come in at a much lower entry point,” says Apjohn.

One million players tried the course, generating 100 hours of user-generated content and more than 35 million race videos viewed, as well as over 2 million social engagements.

“We wanted to do it in an authentic way,” says Andrew Merle, New Balance head of brand and consumer marketing, North America, “by partnering with the right individual and providing value for the gaming community.” —E.O.

Giant Spoon, T Brand Studios | GE, ‘Listen to the World’
Best Use Of Native Advertising

Last year, The New York Times Magazine used its fall Voyages issue as a guinea pig of sorts to test out a new concept. Instead of accompanying the photographs featured in the print issue with text, the publisher created a soundtrack to provide readers with a sonic experience. Striking imagery of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano, for instance, was paired with the sounds of its lava flowing.

The issue came together with help from Giant Spoon, which spearheaded a partnership between The New York Times and GE. Throughout the magazine, GE’s operations in places like the North Sea and Nile River were put on display, along with sounds and interviews that humanize the company’s work.

Mike Friedman, media director at Giant Spoon, says the soundtrack functions similarly to an audio guide at a museum in the sense that it contextualizes and adds another layer to the issue’s photography.

“Being able to pull people into this super-immersive audio experience gave us a really great entry point to talk about GE,” he says. “It’s hard to drive interest to gas and wind turbines, so we tried to use media and storytelling to get people to pay attention and understand what GE does.”

According to Giant Spoon, GE’s perception as an “innovative technology company” rose 23% among those who experienced the magazine and audio together. —M.S.

MediaCom | Mars Wrigley Confectionery, ‘Skittles: The Musical’
Category: Best Use of Experiential ($500k+)

Dianna McDougall for Adweek

The viewing audience for the Super Bowl is around 100 million people, give or take, but the capacity at The Town Hall in New York is a fraction of that—1,500, to be exact.

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

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