The Year’s 23 Best Media Plans Sparked Conversation With Next-Level Innovation and Creativity

Brands used audacious tactics to effectively reach consumers

Starcom, PHD and Wieden + Kennedy (with Wingstop, Old Navy and Chiquita, respectively) are among the 2018 honorees.
Sources: Wingstop, Old Navy, Chiquita

In this ever-expanding brand marketing ecosystem, the challenge for advertisers to effectively reach their targeted audience calls for an audacious media plan. Sometimes it’s a simple execution with a powerful message, and then there’s a need for an off-the-wall, completely bonkers campaign to cut through the clutter. This year’s crop of Media Plan of the Year honorees celebrates 23 winning teams that check those boxes and everything in between with extraordinary campaigns that sparked national conversations. From Droga5’s quiet, yet impactful “The Free Press” campaign for The New York Times to MullenLowe MediaHub’s creepy, futuristic “Altered Carbon” bus shelter campaign (see the full story here), agencies’ next-level innovation and creativity continued to shine bright in 2018. —Lisa Granatstein

The Judges
Many thanks to our esteemed panel of jurors who carved out time to judge another record year of Media Plan of the Year entries (Check out these interviews with some of our judges about the challenges facing the brand-agency relationship). If you’re interested in serving as a juror in 2019, please contact Jemima Mendenhall at

PHD | Google, ‘Celebrity Voice’
Category: Campaign ($10+ million)

Going into the 2017 holiday season, Google and PHD knew that 60 percent of U.S. consumers didn’t yet see the need for a smart home device like Google Home to assist with personal searches, questions and playlist requests, and help with things around the house.

So the tech giant and its agency decided to highlight the features and utility of the device and voice assistance in general to audiences by weaving the voice assistant directly into key entertainment events from Halloween to Christmas. The two-month marketing blitz keyed on some unique media and celebrity-driven integrations tied to the tried-and-true scaled reach of network TV.

High-profile product placements in TV shows like NBC’s Will & Grace, The Ellen Show and ABC’s Modern Family saw celebrities like Eric McCormack, Sofía Vergara, Nick Offerman and Amy Poehler addressing the device during episodes and around events like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting.

“We had so many of our favorite TV personalities and characters saying ‘Hey Google’ and using the Google Home in a wide array of situations,” says Nick Vernola, global media strategy director at PHD. They “showed just how amazing, magical and useful Google Home can be.”

And overall, they helped Google sell more than 7 million of its Home devices, increasing its market share from 23 percent to 31 percent.
Gabriel Beltrone

Initiative and Droga5 | IHOP, ‘Flipping to Burgers’
Category: Campaign ($5 million-10 million)

For a few weeks in June, it seemed “IHOb” was a social obsession: Was IHOP becoming a burger joint?

Coming into the campaign, Initiative managing director, client advice and management Robert Holtkamp says, IHOP had positive brand recognition but was pigeonholed as a weekend breakfast destination. It needed to convince audiences to consider IHOP for lunch and dinner. With a series of mysterious social media posts, Initiative sparked conversations in the lead-up to the big reveal.

During its first 10 days, the campaign accumulated 1.2 million tweets and over 15,000 earned media stories, generating 28.6 billion impressions. The campaign extended to signage, employee LinkedIn pages and even search.

Initiative and IHOP partnered with Tastemade for an event revealing Ultimate Steakburgers, inviting food bloggers, influencers and press such as Food & Wine to establish credibility. Positive reviews subsequently emerged on the same day that Droga5’s creative revealed to wider audiences that the “b” stood for burgers. Utilizing geolocation data about sit-down diners at IHOP restaurants and nearby locations, Initiative was able to “understand who was responsive to IHOP advertising” and successfully target those individuals, Holtkamp adds.

“We were able to understand the impact of all of our media placements on increased visitation to IHOP,” he explains. Skeptics of the activation aside, “IHOb” helped quadruple burger sales in the three weeks following the reveal. —Erik Oster

Wieden + Kennedy | Chiquita, ‘The Banana Sun’
Category: Campaign ($1 million-5 million)

The totality? Overrated! The real attraction during last summer’s solar eclipse was the crescent-shaped sliver of light visible from behind the moon, according to Chiquita. That phenomenon got its own cheeky name—the Banana Sun—and laid its claim on the astronomic pop culture event.

August’s eclipse allowed the brand to play with alternate facts since “96 percent of America would look up in the sky and see something that looked like a banana,” minus the blue Chiquita sticker, says Jason Strickland, Wieden + Kennedy’s group media director.

The agency counted down the Banana Sun’s arrival for two weeks, using Snapchat, messenger bots, GIFs and news sites The Verge and NowThis, releasing six quirky short films and sending banana-themed swag to meteorologists. Promotion also included a New York Times full-page ad, a 10-market local news blitz, a 50-foot banana parked in New York’s Flatiron District (distributing banana-shaped protective glasses) and a Facebook Live stream with Funny or Die so the agency could “take the idea to completely absurd lengths,” says Wieden + Kennedy creative director Mike Weihs.

The stunt—the brand’s most successful after several quiet marketing years—snagged 372 million earned media impressions, 200,000-plus social shares and 1 million livestream views for a 666 percent ROI. —T.L. Stanley

Starcom | Wingstop, ‘Flying High’
Category: Campaign (less than $500k)

Every year, Wingstop would see a sales spike in the spring—on April 20, to be exact. That day is, of course, better known by its internet moniker as 4/20, a day dedicated to all-things marijuana (typically celebrated by smoking it).

To capitalize on that already-present sales boost, Wingstop rolled out a campaign, dubbed “4/20 High-atus,” all about embracing the culture of 4/20. Wingstop found that culture typically involves bingeing on one of two things after lighting up: either the latest Netflix offering or snacks. “We put those things together to make it a cultural event,” says LisaAnn Rocha, evp, managing director at Starcom USA, the agency behind the campaign. “It was a cool thing that cropped up we could take advantage of.”

Doing just that—capitalizing on something that feels organic to the brand—is Wingstop’s creative M.O. “You always hope for something organic that makes sense for the brand without having to force it,” Rocha adds. The resulting campaign was a series of ads, showing animated Wingstop products (a drink, a side of fries, an order of wings and a dipping sauce) walking to a Wingstop location. There are four 15-second spots, and each one gets progressively “trippier” over time, meant to mimic the experience of being high.

The ads ran throughout videos on streaming services like Hulu and in cinemas. That placement was an easy fit with the 4/20 campaign, seamlessly incorporating the binge-watching element, as consumers were likely binge-watching a show as the ad appeared on their screens.

This story first appeared in the September 17, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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