These Media Plans Represent Creativity at Its Finest, Regardless of Budget

The media business may be changing on a nearly weekly basis, but one constant that will always matter as long as advertising survives is the Big Idea. This year's group of winning plans embodies the best of those ideas, and execute across the gamut of media options available to marketers and their media agencies. Some of those ideas even shun the notion of a "campaign," but all place their client in the best position to succeed. The results spelled out in the following stories offer proof that media still works. And Adweek will always be here to celebrate and honor such stellar work. 

The Judges

A big thanks to all the jurors who dedicated time and effort to judging this year's record number of Media Plan of the Year entries. If you're interested in serving as a juror in 2017, please contact Kym Blanchard at

• Sasha Savic (chair), MediaCom

• Karen Benson, Deutsch N.Y.

• Justine Bloome, Carat USA

• Charlie Fiordalis, Media Storm

• Kathy Kline, Starcom USA

• Ralph Pardo, OMD East

• Adam Puchalsky, UM Studios

• Rob Reifenheiser, Essence

• Lynda Richardson, Eleven

• Daniel Sheniak, Wieden + Kennedy

• Baba Shetty, Invisible Science

• Cindy Stockwell, Trilia

• Jade Watts, MullenLowe MediaHub

• Shoshana Winter, Vizeum U.S.

—Michael Bürgi


MEC | Netflix, House of Cards’ “FU2016”

Categories: Grand Prize winner; Campaign ($5 million - $10 million)

The 18 million viewers who tuned into CNN's Republican presidential debate on Dec. 15—the third-most-watched primary debate ever—saw the proceedings hijacked by a volatile, unconventional contender who plays by his own rules. No, not Donald Trump.

During a commercial break in the debate's first hour, audiences watched a presidential campaign ad with the usual tropes: patriotic music, children waving flags in slow motion and amber waves of grain. But in a twist worthy of the show it was promoting, the candidate turned out to be Frank Underwood, the devious House of Cards star (played by Kevin Spacey), who had schemed his way to the presidency, and announced his reelection bid, along with the drama's Season 4 premiere date on Netflix.

The ad kicked off Netflix and MEC's "FU2016" campaign (referring to both Underwood's initials and his general attitude), which leveraged what Kristine Segrist, MEC global client lead, calls a "wonderful collision" of real and fictional presidential elections to promote House of Cards' Season 4. The campaign was also selected as this year's Grand Prize winner by Adweek's Media Plan of the Year jury.

"The objective was to be part of that cultural conversation," says Segrist, whose agency has worked on House of Cards since its 2013 launch. "Not just surrounding endemic events, but becoming part of them in a way that was right for the brand." That's exactly what happened: The BBH New York-produced spot trended on Facebook and Twitter, and the post-debate headlines in outlets like Time and Rolling Stone focused on Underwood rather than the debate itself.

Next, "we looked at that political calendar and said, what are the high-impact moments where there's big, engaged audiences, where we can continue to create this rolling thunder approach?" says Segrist, who unveiled more "FU2016" linear and digital spots around the State of the Union address in January. Then, over the Presidents Day weekend, Netflix set up Underwood's "campaign headquarters" in Greenville, S.C. (South Carolina is the character's home state), just across the street from where the Feb. 13 GOP debate was held.

The "FU2016" campaign also included mass-transit ads in New York and Washington, D.C., with a "Push in the Right Direction" tagline that slyly references a train-related murder earlier in the series. "It's perfectly logical if you haven't seen the show, but if you're a fan, it's an Easter egg," says Segrist.

The media blitz culminated on Super Tuesday, three days before the Season 4 launch: MEC and Netflix manipulated GQ's logo on the magazine's website to read "FU," sponsored the millennial-focused OZY's Presidential Daily Brief and integrated the show into Vox's guide to the presidential primaries.

With 6.6 billion impressions, the "FU2016" campaign made the House of Cards Season 4 the most talked about launch in Netflix history, and drove viewership at a time when many long-running shows struggle to keep audiences engaged. "We're always focused on trying to create marketing that's as exciting and innovative as the content," says Segrist. "It's a high bar and it's inspiring." —Jason Lynch


MediaCom | Revlon, “Love Is On”

Category: Campaign ($15 million +) 

Founded in 1932, Revlon is the definition of an all-American beauty brand. Over the past decade, however, the iconic brand has lost some of its luster—especially among younger consumers.

Tasked with reviving the Revlon name, the company's media buying agency, MediaCom, sought to return to the brand's roots—specifically, an embrace of love and romance—embodied by Revlon's new global brand positioning, "Love Is On." But instead of just presenting the idea of "Love Is On" to consumers, MediaCom wanted customers to be able to emotionally connect and engage with the concept.

The GroupM shop started off by introducing a hypothesis that a daily series of small behaviors dubbed the "Revlon Ritual"—which included applying fragrance and lipstick, popping a breath mint and smiling into a mirror—could help open women to love. To test the idea, MediaCom partnered with Fordham University to launch the "Revlon Love Study," which surveyed 700 women who tried the Revlon Ritual. After four days, 97 percent of participants reported an improvement in their love lives.

Building on the study's success, MediaCom created a campaign that would introduce women to the Revlon Ritual and "Love Is On" across multiple touch points. Beginning last October, MediaCom rolled out programmatic TV, cinema, print and event ads, followed by paid search and social. The agency then created a video spotlighting couples who participated in the Love Study, which was distributed across YouTube, Facebook, digital lifestyle sites, mobile and online influencer platforms. For the big finale, MediaCom took over a digital billboard in New York's Times Square and invited women to submit pictures of themselves and their partners via social media to be displayed on the big screen. (More than 3.7 million images were sent in.)

From TV spots to Times Square, "Love Is On" was a hit with consumers, delivering 4 billion total impressions and reaching 63 million women. Most importantly, it had a measurable impact on Revlon's sales, delivering a 2 percent increase in the brand's market share and catapulting two new product launches to the top of their categories. —Emma Bazilian


Mediavest Spark | REI, #OptOutside

Categories: Campaign ($1 million - $5 million); Best Use of Alternative Media ($4 million +) 

When REI shut down its 143 stores and online shopping service on Black Friday last year, it did so in the spirit of sharing the company's core value—putting the greater good before profits. Employees were actually paid to take the day off and head outdoors.

"We chose to do it because we felt it was the right thing to do for our employees," recalls Craig Rowley, REI's vp, marketing. "We wanted to be disruptive and to show how businesses can think and act differently."

The key agency partners—Mediavest Spark, Venables, Bell & Partners and Edelman—built a plan around the hashtag #OptOutside that involved public relations, out of home, digital, influencers and social outreach.

"The important thing to note is that #OptOutside was not—and is not—a campaign. And that distinction is what enabled it to be so successful," says Kathy Dillon, evp, managing director at Mediavest Spark. Instead, "REI engaged their partners to help communicate a business decision."

Two dozen stories written by REI employees and outdoors influencers were published before Black Friday. A paid content partnership with the site Mic resulted in four articles, expanding the reach to millennials. A publication was created on the site Medium to promote outdoor activities. And a partnership with Meetup resulted in more than 400 group outings.

REI research showed that the initiative engaged some 1.4 million consumers across all channels. Plus, more than 150 other businesses closed their doors.

There were 33 straight days of media coverage, with 3,423 placements and 6.7 million impressions. What's more, the initiative generated 1.2 million social impressions. REI sales rose by double digits over the prior year (except, of course, on Black Friday itself) while employment applications saw a 92 percent uptick.

"We were proud to learn that several parks offered free admission on Black Friday, making it even easier for everyone to #OptOutside," Dillon adds. — Janet Stilson


Mindshare | Campari America, “Moments That Matter”

Categories: Campaign ($500,000 - $1 million); Best Use of Mobile ($500,000 - $1 million)

Timing is everything, the saying goes, and Campari America and Mindshare proved that to be true with a program called "Moments That Matter" that doled out Lyft discounts when partiers were most likely to need a ride home. (The effort earned Mindshare and the client an Adweek Project Isaac nod as well.)

The goal: Put a dent in the grim statistic that 28 Americans die every day from drunken driving, and urge millennials to make smart decisions after a night out.

"It's not enough to promote responsible drinking; we wanted to reward it," says Summer Slater, Mindshare's director of strategy. The agency did so by finding the target "closer to the point of consumption." Wherever that happened to be, young consumers were likely to have their smartphones with them, with Mindshare research indicating that those individuals spend some six-and-a-half hours a day on various apps.

Working with mobile ad and rewards network Kiip, the team created in-app messages that would appear during popular drinking occasions, like favoriting a cocktail recipe or checking a score from a sports bar. Campari, via its Skyy Vodka, Wild Turkey and American Honey brands, sent a congratulatory message and a $5 coupon for ride-sharing service Lyft.

"We were looking for a nonintrusive way to enter the very personal space of someone's mobile device," Slater notes. "This leveraged data and approached those micro moments in a positive way."

And back to the timing: The campaign ran at peak drinking hours like 5 p.m. to midnight on weeknights and until 3 a.m. on weekends, from last summer through the end of the year.

Partiers redeemed about 180,000 Lyft discounts, accounting for a 20 percent engagement rate, five times the Kiip norm. There were increases in awareness and purchase consideration, too—ranging from 48 percent to 56 percent—for the Campari brands. —T.L. Stanley


Deutsch | Krylon, “World’s Longest Yard Sale”

Category: Campaign (less than $500,000)

To demonstrate the myriad ways Krylon's dozens of spray paints could help DIY crafts enthusiasts breathe new life into old objects—and emphasize its 10-times-better rust protection—Deutsch New York cooked up a particularly clever approach.

First, it sponsored the annual "127 Yard Sale" last year, a four-day, second-hand bonanza running 690 miles along U.S. Route 127, from Gadsden, Ala., to Addison, Mich. A 20-person crew hit the sale, scooping up dilapidated treasures and using Krylon paints to turn them into more than 127 brightly colored tables, typewriters and other objects—and capturing the entire process on camera. Deutsch then put the items up for sale on Pinterest, making Krylon the first brand to ever leverage the photo-sharing site's "Buyable Pins" feature, donating the proceeds to the nonprofit Charity Wings Arts & Craft Center in San Marcos, Calif.

"Pinterest was just really a natural fit," says Karen Benson, evp, director of integrated media at Deutsch. "[It's] a place where people are always looking for inspiration to see what they can do and what they can do on their own with their own hands and how they could transform things in their everyday lives."

Meanwhile, the agency's team was orchestrating a deft, multiphase rollout, pushing Krylon's real-time restoration message to women 18-44 before, during and after the yard sale through a mix of pre-roll, long-form native video, display, custom content and paid social—using programmatic buying and direct partnerships with publishers like PopSugar and Refinery29.

Over the course of two-and-a-half months, the campaign delivered some 37 million digital impressions and 69 million social impressions, a 150 percent increase over the previous year's effort. Pinterest engagement, meanwhile, soared—more than doubling the brand's followers to 11,000 and increasing daily viewers of its board from 3,000 to 300,000, a bump of some 9,900 percent. —Gabriel Beltrone


PHD India | Active Wheel, “Lo Kar Lo Baat”

Category: Mobile ($2 million +) 

More and more, men living in India—more than 4.2 million, to be exact—are moving away from their families in search of full-time work. The easiest way to stay in touch is through cellphones, but the cost for a few calls a week stacks up quickly. That means many families have an important choice to make—either spend more money on long-distance calls or stop communicating with loved ones and instead purchase essential household goods including cleaning products.

Working with laundry detergent brand Active Wheel, PHD India in Mumbai came up with a mobile service called Lo Kar Lo Baat, which translates to "let's talk," to help cut down on phone costs. The idea behind the service was to provide couples with three free minutes of talk time, but PHD needed to find the best way to reach these men and women without any traditional media options to rely on.

For that reason, the brand placed the number and information about the service on the product packaging. "The fact that our consumers were based in geographies with little or no access to traditional media, apart from mobile phones, meant that the best medium to communicate our message was the product pack itself," says Shavon Barua, managing partner at PHD India.

Even though the product appeared on shelves on 10 million packs in key markets in July of last year, the number provided on the packaging is still being called some 200,000 times per day and to date has connected more than 8 million couples in the country.

PHD's work also increased sales volume by 14.5 percent and top-of-mind awareness by 145 percent. —Katie Richards


The Grid (Partnership between Giant Spoon and OMD) | GE, The New York Times, “Industrial-Size Virtual Reality Moment”

Categories: Mobile ($1 million - $2 million); Best Use of Alternative Media ($1 million - $2 million)

It's not every day that a brand can help one of the world's most respected publications launch an entirely new platform for a massive audience. But that's exactly what General Electric did with The New York Times on Nov. 8 last year, when it sponsored the paper's new virtual reality app, delivering co-branded Google Cardboard headsets to the doorsteps of some 1.3 million unsuspecting Sunday subscribers.

The effort, which came together with the help of The Grid, featured the Times' 360-degree video "The Displaced," about three refugee children, which won a Cannes Lions Grand Prix. (The Times' VR app won a second.)

GE's video, meanwhile, explored how nature has inspired advances in technologies like jet engines and wind farms. A paid editorial feature on the Times' website further reinforced the marketer's ultimate message about its own innovations—namely, how making Internet-connected machines is improving efficiency in energy and communications.

The symbiosis between publisher and brand—both "forging ahead with the digitization" of their businesses—was natural, says Laura Correnti, evp, managing director for media at Giant Spoon. "To be able to bring [VR], a technology that has been so elusive, to the mainstream market for the first time and to see people's reaction in real time on social … was definitely a moment where I think we all realized how special this was," she says.

An additional 200,000 readers requested the free headsets online. The activation got 40,000 social mentions with 99 percent positive sentiment, and another 42 million impressions via ads it ran across Times properties. —G.B.


Horizon Media | Stoli, “The Campaign You Can Feel”

Category: Mobile (less than $500,000)

"THE Campaign" marked 80-year-old Stoli's effort to reorient its communications around one clear message: It is THE premium vodka. To remind consumers of its heritage, authenticity and taste, it used haptic technology to give people a sense of what a particular action from the creative actually feels like.

Fifty-five percent of the investment went to mobile, to target "authentic experiencers," or men 25-34. The social-friendly, animated video campaign touched upon their two primary passion points: technology and food, complete with haptic vibrations that could, for example, mimic the sensation of a cocktail shaker. The ads appeared on platforms millennial men use most, with help from Opera Mediaworks—making Stoli the first marketer to plug tactile technology into its network of mobile apps.

"Our core focus was to find the best way to tap into the device-first functionality that enabled us to engage consumers and drive scale," says Horizon Media vp, mobile strategy Sarah Bachman. Impressively, the target kept engaging with the ads even after the experience was over, observes digital media director Alex Stone: "They spent more time with the Stoli end card viewing additional Stoli content," often on mobile and tablets.

The campaign lifted awareness by 6.6 percent, exceeding benchmarks for video completion, time spent and average viewer repeats. The haptic videos also generated 45 percent higher average engagement rates than non-haptic videos—meaning users can expect to encounter this more "hands-on" approach in future campaigns. —Angela Natividad


UM & McCann New York | Lockheed Martin, “Field Trip to Mars”

Category: Alternative Media ($2 million - $4 million)

Lockheed Martin has spent decades building vessels to fly to places as far away as the moon, Mars and Jupiter. However, newer startups like Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin have dominated recent press about space exploration. The aerospace firm wanted to reenter the national dialogue while also spurring students in Washington, D.C., to study science, tech, engineering and math (STEM). So how did they do it? With an old-fashioned yellow school bus.

Working alongside UM, McCann New York and Framestore, Lockheed Martin gave old wheels a new view by turning an actual bus into a fully functional virtual reality vehicle, replete with VR screens in each window, using a gaming engine that guided the bus and mapping 200 square miles of Martian landscape. (For a fuller telling of this story, see Adweek's Aug. 22 issue—this effort won the Gravity Award in our Project Isaac competition.)

Thousands of students have now taken rides on the bus, which will soon tour nationally. "It was definitely outside of the scope of our marketing budget," notes Jennifer Whitlow, Lockheed Martin's svp of communications. "My CEO said, 'Figure out how to make it work,' and we did."

To showcase the work, UM used mobile billboards that drove around historic D.C. monuments to promote the "Generation Beyond" theme of the campaign. To engage younger audiences that might benefit from STEM initiatives, UM also used Snapchat to advertise the Mars bus. A day after launch, it began trending on Facebook and stayed in the top list of topics for more than 24 hours. Social conversation reached more than 50 countries and earned media included stories on NBC, ABC and Fox. The bus even got a shoutout during Samsung's 2016 developers conference.

"It really did merge and fully integrate our brand marketing strategy with our STEM education outreach strategy," Whitlow says. —Marty Swant


Noble People | Braintree, “Speaking in Code”

Category: Alternative Media ($500,000 - $1 million)

Computer programmers are a notoriously advertising-averse audience. But thanks to a 2014 campaign that hid messages in the source codes of tech websites (which developers often peruse), bicoastal independent media agency Noble People knew that mobile payments service Braintree, owned by Paypal, could reach the members of its target by speaking to them in their own language.

The team took that insight in 2015 and expanded it, focusing on local markets with high concentrations of developers—like San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood—then putting up billboards painted in black-and-white code. Chalkboard signs in cafés frequented by developers, meanwhile, featured ads written in bash, the Linux language, and javascript, offering passwords for free coffee and sandwiches. A Twitter extension increased the campaign's reach, targeting other nearby developers with similarly coded ads.

The campaign, ingenious as it was, did hit one small bump, right at the beginning. Noble People's Barry Dan, who helps run the Braintree work, notes that the first coffee-shop easel ads "had an apostrophe that was the wrong angle," prompting corrections from developers. (A clear sign people were paying attention.)

The 2015 campaign increased awareness among developers by 62 percent, and year-over-year sign-ups by 92 percent. It earned two spots on the BuzzFeed listicle "23 Things That Could Only Happen in San Francisco." That said, it's since been expanded to New York—including venues like pizza and bagel shops—and come October, will find its way to another city yet to be identified. —G.B.


UM Romania | Paul Bakery, “Bittersweet Pies”

Category: Alternative Media (less than $500,000)

Faced with growing competition in areas outside Bucharest, upscale pastry chain Paul Bakery wanted to reinforce its relationship with its principal target: women. And given that Paul doesn't typically invest in advertising, UM and McCann found a way to bake a powerful message right into its snacks—by creating the world's first "social desserts."

Most Romanians, including women, believe men and women are equally represented at work, in politics and in other domains. But Romania actually ranks 114 out of 145 countries in the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report. To highlight this unseen imbalance, the agencies transformed Paul's pies into actual pie charts, featuring disturbing gender gap statistics.

The cleverly named "Bittersweet Pies" included a salary gap cake, a political misrepresentation cake, an "extremely rich" cake and a startup exclusion cake. Each was inspired by Paul's own recipes. Ten percent of proceeds went to the Filia Foundation, with which Paul works to train rural women for modern professions—a decidedly sweet way to reduce tomorrow's gender gap.

"We seeded the message through media and PR, strategically placing billboards in the hottest places in the city," including a members of Parliament statistics billboard near the Parliament building, according to MRM McCann Bucharest copy head Sandra Bold and UM Romania regional strategy director Victor Croitoru. They also sent edible press releases to journalists, featuring statistics from their fields of expertise.

The story generated global buzz online and on television, including over 35 million media impressions, 73,000 Facebook shares and 200,000 comments (95 percent positive and 5 percent "bitter"). Paul enjoyed a 45 percent lift in brand perception in Romania as well. —A.N.


OMD | Intel, “The Lady Gaga Experience”

Category: Branded Content/Entertainment ($4 million +) 

Lady Gaga, the Grammy Awards and the late David Bowie make for a pop culture combo certain to attract millions of viewers. But the Intel team at OMD wanted to make sure their client's partnership with the pop singer and fashion icon would reach as many people as possible while reminding consumers that Intel's technology goes far beyond the standard PC processor. So they combined paid placements with behind-the-scenes content and a robust presence on all digital and social platforms.

All told, 25 million watched live as Gaga turned in a memorable performance on CBS' Grammys broadcast, using Intel's "ring" to control stage effects in real time as part of a tribute to Bowie that marked the first full brand integration in Grammy history. (The effort also earned OMD a Project Isaac Award last month.)

Beyond the program, the agency relied heavily on social media to increase interest, especially among Gaga fans and younger viewers. "Social became the underpinning of everything that was planned," says OMD chief content officer Claudia Cahill. "Lady Gaga's fan base—her 'Monsters'—are hungry for any news or information about her life and her performances." She adds, "This, combined with the anticipation for the Grammys and her highly publicized Bowie tribute, gave us several reasons to phase out communication and media, knowing the conversation would catch fire going into her performance."

Intel also got the expected earned-media bump as the combined power of Gaga and Bowie helped secure editorial coverage via outlets like MTV and Business Insider. James Corden even devoted a monologue to the performance, and this exposure helped Intel maintain its lead in brand share of voice.

Conversions increased by 600 percent over preshow numbers, and the event ultimately scored more than 10 billion impressions. —Patrick Coffee


Mindshare | Jaguar, “The Art of Performance Tour”

Category: Branded Content/Entertainment ($2 million - $4 million) 

This was no ordinary Sunday trip to the car dealership. Instead, Jaguar and agency Mindshare created "a test drive on steroids" to get millennials behind the wheel of the brand's first entry-level sports sedan, the XE.

Potential buyers not only drove the sleek $35,000 car, they also starred in a short action film that borrowed from James Bond and Fast and Furious. The customized two-minute video, full of explosions, villains and speed—via special effects, of course—was shareable within minutes.

"We wanted this to be a really visceral experience, not a primer on windshield wipers," says Mindshare's managing director, client leadership Karen Bennett, who called the program "the best of both worlds" for its blend of product demo and playacting.

Partnering with Facebook, Mindshare launched "The Audition" at the Los Angeles Auto Show last fall and took it to six major markets through this spring. Attendees, before hitting the road, went into a studio for a chat with actor Graham McTavish (posing as a criminal kingpin), who asked to see their getaway skills with the challenge, "You do drive, yes?"

A mock-up XE and some Hollywood magic put the consumer smack in the middle of an epic chase that let the brand "show what the car was all about within some really sexy and fun content," says Greg Manago, co-president, Mindshare Content + Entertainment. (A rear-view camera, fancy backward driving and a grenade were involved.)

Facebook and Instagram figured heavily in promoting the events and sharing the resulting videos of about 2,500 participants. Those clips snagged more than 500,000 views for about $150,000 in earned media. Traffic to Jaguar's site in California jumped 73 percent. The brand added 2 million potential new customers and took 133 pre-orders for the XE and new F-Pace sports utility vehicle, totaling more than $5 million in gross revenue. —T.L.S.


The Grid (Partnership between Giant Spoon and OMD) | General Electric, “GE Podcast Theater”

Category: Branded Content/Entertainment ($500,000 - $1 million) 

In the 1950s, General Electric famously sponsored the TV series General Electric Theater, hosted by a pre-politics Ronald Reagan. Building on that legacy—and the podcast zeitgeist—the marketer last fall launched GE Podcast Theater with The Message, an eight-episode sci-fi drama created with Panoply, Slate magazine's podcast network.

Anchored by Nicky Tomalin, the series followed her as she tried to decode a fictional message from outer space—but blended in real science, a sort of homage to Orson Welles' War of the Worlds—and the classic, if apocryphal, tale of how some viewers mistook that dramatic broadcast for news of an actual alien invasion.

The Message marked Panoply's first serialized narrative produced by a brand. It tied in GE messaging around imagination and healthcare tech—but took pains not to be too heavy-handed, only introducing the brand's ultrasound technology into the storyline at Week 6, more than halfway through. "It wasn't elevated as the hero, it wasn't made the focal point—it was quite simply inserted as a part of the plot, as a subtle nod to the technology that GE is working on," says Laura Correnti, Giant Spoon's evp and managing director of media.

The podcast was only part of a campaign that invited the audience to participate, with extensions like an online cypher, a Wikipedia entry and a blog. Partners like WNYC, HowStuffWorks and ad network Midroll helped sell the series to science, tech and pop culture enthusiasts, and the episodes were distributed via iTunes, Spotify, SoundCloud, Stitcher, Overcast and TuneIn. In the end, it earned 4.3 million downloads, 200 million impressions and reached No. 1 on iTunes' U.S. podcast chart, the first brand-inclusive podcast ever to accomplish that. —G.B.


DigitasLBi | Charity: Water, “UnTasty Dishes”

Category: Branded Content/Entertainment (less than $500,000) 

More than 663 million people worldwide are affected by deadly dirty water—an issue most Americans never have to think about. Charity: Water and DigitasLBi set out to raise awareness of the issue by bringing it straight to people's social media feeds via BuzzFeed Tasty, a video cooking series with 62 million followers on social media.

The "UnTasty Dishes" campaign showed typical Tasty videos but added dirty water to each recipe. The stomach-churning results included leech-infested lemonade and a bacteria-laden smoothie bowl, disinfected with bleach.

"We stayed true to the way people are consuming content in that space, and juxtaposed it with a horrific thing. That unexpected, jarring moment is a powerful way to break through," says Jonathan Dupuis, evp and group account director at DigitasLBi.

The intimacy of the medium made the videos more effective, adds Tyler Riewer, brand content lead at Charity: Water. "We took a medium that's visual, and often charming, beautiful and pleasant, and brought something into it that's really shocking," he says. "I don't think it would be as effective if I saw it on TV. To see it in my Facebook or Instagram feed, or in Snapchat, totally changes the way I'm interacting with the content."

With no media spend, the videos garnered more than 5 million views on Facebook and Snapchat in the first two weeks. Eight thousand people shared the videos, and people loved, wowed or liked the video more than 20,000 times.

"We were thrilled because it's helping more people learn about the water crisis. We wanted people to be able to relate to the disgustingness and make everyone aware of what's happening around the world," Riewer says. "The more people we can reach, the better—and the videos certainly took us to a new audience." —Christine Birkner


Starcom | Always, “Girl Emojis”

Category: Social ($4 million +)

When Procter & Gamble's Always continued its award-winning #LikeAGirl campaign in 2016, it wanted to tackle the same issues it had previously, but from a different angle. The brand was concerned about statistics showing that 56 percent of girls experience a severe drop in confidence at puberty, and 72 percent feel society limits them.

The brand zeroed in on emojis and how they reflect societal biases against girls. Michele Baeten, Always global associate brand director, recalls the "stomach punch" she felt when looking through her phone to discover that emojis expressly designed for girls were mostly focused on beauty: hair, nails and makeup.

"We were amazed to learn that girls actually send over 1 billion emojis every day, and outraged that this language they use often depicts them in the most limiting and stereotypical ways," she says.

Always launched a film on social media in 22 markets on March 2, encouraging girls around the world to demand emojis that buck the stereotypes. The brand gave the film an extra push on March 8 on International Women's Day. As a result, it has garnered some 50 million video views and was the No. 1 ad on YouTube during the month.

The campaign inspired tweets from the likes of Emma Watson, Arianna Huffington and first lady Michelle Obama. Always also partnered with Obama on her Let Girls Learn event in March.

"The beauty of the emoji campaign is actually seeing a tangible change," says Rachel Forde, managing director of Starcom's P&G team in the U.K. "We know that when the new release of emojis come [from the Unicode Consortium], there will be over 30 new emojis that portray females as positive role models." —J.S.


Mindshare | Dove Hair, “Love Your Curls Emojis”

Category: Social ($2 million - $4 million)

One-third of American women have curly hair, and, according to social media comments and research, most wish they didn't.

But even if they were proud of their wavy manes, they wouldn't be able to depict that through the everyday language of the emoji. Their only choices? Avatars with straight, silky tresses. Not exactly a mirror image.

Unilever's Dove Hair and media agency Mindshare changed all that last fall by producing a #LoveYourCurls emoji lineup featuring some 30 curly hairstyles as well as a variety of skin tones and hair colors (more than 130 variations in all) and a handful of animated GIFs.

"Emojis are part of our vernacular, and curly haired women weren't included," explains Karen Garzio, managing director at Mindshare. "It was a huge void in the culture."

The emojis promoted Dove Quench products tailored for curly hair that debuted early last year. In what's become a brand trademark, Dove wanted to "celebrate women's natural beauty" and mute some of the negative chatter around curly hair, Garzio says. (Research uncovered some 100 million disparaging comments about the topic on Twitter in 2014.)

The digital, mobile and social campaign partnered with Twitter and social messaging apps. The team also worked with Condé Nast's Teen Vogue and Hearst's Cosmopolitan and Redbook, and integrated the emojis into TV talk shows The Real and FABLife.

The response was overwhelming, with upwards of 1 million downloads and sticker installs, and 48,000 uses of the #LoveYourCurls hashtag. In its first days, it was the No. 1-searched app on Apple, with a 50 percent app engagement rate, more than twice the benchmark. Further, Dove Quench's sales jumped 10 percent. "We wanted to talk product benefits and propel the brand," Garzio says, "but also inspire confidence, tap into the emotion and turn the conversation around." —T.L.S.


PMG | Beats By Dre, “Straight Outta Somewhere”

Category: Social ($1 million - $2 million)

With every marketing campaign, brands are looking for that special something that works globally and locally. Few are able to accomplish that as precisely as PMG's "Straight Outta Somewhere" effort for Beats by Dre.

For the release last summer of the film Straight Outta Compton—a biopic about the legendary rap group NWA, whose members included Beats founder and namesake Dr. Dre—the Fort Worth, Texas-based agency crafted an easily sharable and customizable meme enabling people to celebrate the cities and towns they're from by completing the line "Straight Outta ________." Says Nick Drabicky, head of agency strategy at PMG: "Most individuals are proud of where they grew up. That's not a massive insight, but being able to use that as a media vehicle, that was the trick."

That vehicle generated 8.7 million memes from fans all over—including the White House—and became the top trending item on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram simultaneously, a first for a brand. At its peak, it spawned 15,000 tweets and retweets per minute. The effort also garnered wide media coverage, from CNN to BuzzFeed; earned media that reached over 1.2 billion people; and plenty of buzz for the film, making it one of the 10 most-searched topics on Google in 2015. "The amount of organic pickup, the amount of press—it was on TV, it was everywhere, with very little media spend," says Drabicky. "That's more the masterstroke than us creating a wave of usage because we spent a lot of money. I think any brand would agree that if they could get this kind of organic pickup and spend as little as we did, that would be the milestone."

PMG was keenly aware that the film gave Beats by Dre an opportunity to get people talking about what Dre had created in his wildly successful brand of headphones. The campaign employed social influencers as well as search engine marketing (to capture search query traffic about the movie and meme), Facebook video link ads, dark link ads and video viewer retargeting. Following the film's release, the agency retooled the campaign, using dark carousel and static link ads on Facebook and Instagram to showcase Beats by Dre's custom Straight Outta Compton headphones. —Kristina Monllos


UM & Havas/Arnold Worldwide | Hershey’s, #AllTreesAreBeautiful

Category: Social (less than $500,000)

Reese's Trees is a holiday product, but its 2015 season was shaping up to be less than merry. Twitter users took to remarking last holiday season that the tree-shaped chocolate delights looked, well, a lot like turds. The media picked up on the story, leading to a potential brand crisis for Reese's. It was clear that what was needed was to spin the conversation away from the candy's looks and back onto their yummy taste, with an assist from Reese's loyal fan base.

Enter #AllTreesAreBeautiful, which slid into the conversation by highlighting an even greater injustice: tree shaming. This gave fans a funny but powerful topic to rally around—the notion that judging others on the basis of their looks is wrong. Anyway, who cares what a tree looks like, as long as it tastes good? This point won firepower from the fact that social tolerance is at an all-time high.

"Fans' love for our product and strong defense of the brand reinforced our core brand positioning, and it felt natural to join the conversation, recognizing the truth that people just really love eating Reese's," says Kristen Riggs, the brand's senior marketing director.

#AllTreesAreBeautiful picked up on current cultural topics—like "deflategate," whose variant was "treegate"—and included holiday sweaters and cards for sharing #awkwardfamilyphotos, the better to match an awkward-looking product.

The message of tree inclusion and diversity spread across Reese's 200,000 Twitter followers and 12 million Facebook fans, and beyond cultural borders. What began as a response to the controversy evolved into a fun, self-deprecating campaign that resonated with fans of the brand.

All told, the campaign yielded 260,000 social mentions, an 82 percent rise in brand mentions and 1 billion earned media impressions. Sales of Reese's Trees in 2015 grew 7.4 percent, turning in $3 million in sales growth—one-third of which was made during Christmas week. —A.N.


PHD U.K. | Sainsbury’s, “Sharing the Gift of Reading at Christmas”

Category: International ($5 million +)

Britain's supermarkets weren't expecting a Merry Christmas in 2015. Leading analysts predicted sales would be down for the four largest chains. One of them, Sainsbury's, sought to not only defy that prediction but also help solve one of the country's biggest social problems, childhood illiteracy, with the "Sharing the Gift of Reading at Christmas" campaign.

The chain collaborated with the celebrated children's author Judith Kerr, who wrote a new storybook, Mog's Christmas Calamity, that was at the heart of the effort.
The biggest challenge involved timing. Sainsbury's doesn't allow any Christmas activities to take place until after Armistice Day on Nov. 11. "Typically, our competitors launch their campaigns before," says Anna Hancock, managing partner of PHD U.K. "That means on Nov. 12 we have to make an incredible impact."

"The idea to launch simultaneously at 7:15 p.m. across TV, digital and in-store leapt out quite quickly," adds Ruth Cranston, Sainsbury's senior marketing properties manager.

Sainsbury's roadblocked a three-and-a-half minute ad across 83 TV channels at that appointed minute on Nov. 12. At the same time, it unveiled the book in Sainsbury's stores as well as a paid social media campaign. As a follow-up, Sainsbury's recorded videos of parents reading the book, some of which were used in another TV ad.

"At first we were told, 'It isn't possible,'" says Chris Magniac, PHD U.K.'s media director. "Some channels don't have a three-and-a-half minute break." Channel 4 didn't even have a commercial pod at 7:15.

And yet, the payoff was huge: 84 percent of all TV viewers in the U.K. saw the ad during that first ad break. YouTube views climbed to 30 million. It became the country's most watched Christmas TV campaign of all time.

Profits from the Mog books reached £1.6 million, all going to Save the Children's literacy efforts in the U.K. What's more, Sainsbury's was the only large supermarket chain in the country to raise market share during the holiday season. It increased purchase consideration by 4 percent, making a very merry ending to Sainsbury's own campaign story. —J.S.


UM Romania | Untold Festival/National Institute of Blood Tranfusion, “Pay With Blood”

Category: International (less than $1 million)

Just 1.7 percent of the Romanian population donates blood, ranking the country second to last in Europe for active blood donors. Young people are especially reluctant to donate; only 0.2 percent ever have. Meanwhile, in 2015, blood supplies were in such short supply that doctors were forced to cancel surgeries.

To encourage young people to be more giving, UM Romania and McCann rallied around an insight: Young people love music, and festivals are an important part of their identities, which is why they wear their wristbands long after the event is over.

Alongside Romania's National Blood Center, they created the Transylvania-based Untold Festival, featuring top DJs like David Guetta and Avicii. Flyers and promotions featured images and GIFs of Count Dracula, Transylvania's most famous vampire—because to get coveted tickets, one had to give blood.

"If you've never donated blood before, it can seem scary," notes McCann Bucharest copywriter Alexandru Vasile, and UM Romania strategy director Victor Croitoru adds, "Nobody likes needles and hospitals. We wanted to [attract donations] without trying to guilt or shock people into donating blood. We decided to offer them an attractive incentive instead."

Donors received free tourniquet wristbands, plus a 30 percent festival discount to anyone who became a registered donor online. Meanwhile, Untold-branded mobile blood banks in major Romanian cities grabbed young people on the go.

The work got 129 million media impressions, with the wristbands generating €3 million worth of earned media. Nearly 2,000 people donated blood in two weeks—10 times the summer norm. Demand for wristbands was so high, transfusion centers had to extend their hours, and hospitals ran out of space to store blood. Since the campaign, 3,192 lives have been saved.

The team sees this as a long-term solution. This year, it created a Blood Network app. The mechanics are basically the same: Donate blood to get a festival ticket, say Vasile and Croitoru. This time, all donors can join the first Romanian voluntary donation network and will be notified by app, phone or text message if their blood type is urgently needed. —A.N.


Droga5 | Under Armour, “Under Armour Game Changer”

Category: Best Use of Native (less than $500,000)

What if a flesh-and-blood pro athlete outperforms his video game avatar? That's what happened this season for Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry, whose record-busting display on the court surpassed the standout streak of his virtual doppelgänger in the massively popular franchise NBA 2K16.

Ad agency Droga5 and client Under Armour (Curry's shoe sponsor) decided to close the gap between real and cyber worlds, partnering with NBA 2K Sports for Under Armour Game Changer. "Steph had so many amazing, can-you-believe-it shots that people couldn't recreate in the video game," notes Hillary Heath, Droga5 communications strategy director, calling it a hot topic among fans.

The program maxed out Curry's video game ratings for 30 hours, an homage to his jersey number—and a celebration of his second consecutive MVP win this spring. The promo added an unprecedented level of Under Armour branding and in-game placements, letting fans know who was responsible for making virtual Curry as fierce as IRL Curry.

Pulled together in weeks with an assist from media firm Optimum Sports, Under Armor Game Changer announced itself via TV ads and digital videos across the NBA, UA and other fan-centric sites.

The results were as dramatic as Curry's midcourt three-pointers. There was a 21 percent bump in game play, the biggest spike in NBA 2K history, with 7 million gamers spending 135 million minutes with the game. Under the hashtag #BreakTheGame, fans uploaded 19-plus hours of their playing highlights. And they played 156 percent more games with Curry, giving UA significant face time.

"We wanted to add value for the fans," notes Colleen Leddy, Droga5's head of communications strategy, "and not just put out another piece of communication." —T.L.S.


Starcom | IAMS, “Every Dog Deserves the Right Nutrition”

Category: Best Use of Programmatic (less than $500,000)

Dieting among humans is common, but pet nutrition often takes a backseat. As some pet food companies have capitalized on the trend, Iams saw a decline in positive perception and purchase intent. Reversing the trend was complex, given that Iams has some 40 different formulas of dog food.

With its campaign, "we wanted to personalize our message, but we had to do it at scale," says Jenn Cox, senior media and digital acceleration manager at parent company Mars.

With the help of media agency Starcom, the brand met the challenge by creating 25 customized messages. Dynamic digital ads targeted specific pet owner types. If audience data indicated that a person owned a golden retriever that seemed listless, then the brand served up an ad featuring that breed and a formula that could improve its energy levels.

Programmatic buys on Time Inc. sites and MSN enabled Iams to reach more than 25 million dog owners and snag 80 million impressions. The brand experienced a 7 percent uptick in positive perception among consumers and a 21 percent increase in sales.

"We have really fantastic partners in Starcom and [creative agency] Tribal," says Brian Nugent, Mars senior marketing director.

In the past, Iams didn't include the media team in early development discussions, and the results were sometimes problematic. "In this latest campaign, we were able to brief the creative team and the media partner," Nugent notes. "They collaborated at the outset in the delivery of a program that delivered best-in-class creative brought to life in a best-in-class media model."

"Our inspiration came from the opportunity to meet the nutritional needs of the true consumers of Iams—the dogs themselves," says Karla Knecht, evp at Starcom. —J.S.


McCann Worldgroup, Led by UM | U.S. Army, “Cryptaris Mission”

Category: Best Use of Insights (less than $500,000)

To recruit more STEM candidates, the U.S. Army—home to some of the world's most advanced technologies—faced an uphill battle. STEM students see it as an outdated, brawny institution that is more about physical combat than intellectual prowess, despite the fact that it actually includes many of the nation's most innovative thinkers.

To win them over, the Army constructed the ultimate challenge: Cryptaris Mission, a simulated mission so difficult that only 5 percent of users can complete its seven levels.

It was designed in WebGL and included multiple Google technologies, including Maps, Translate and Places, which people drew upon to solve various lifelike challenges.

In addition to the website, a custom trailer in the style of video game trailers was diffused on YouTube, IGN and Twitch, where the male 18-24 gaming demographic likes to hang out. A robust media plan also leveraged Google's suite of cross-platform solutions: AdMob, the Google Display Network, YouTube TrueView and cross-screen mastheads, not to mention partnerships and placement on StumbleUpon, Flipboard, Sharethrough and Reddit.

All told, the Cryptaris Mission attracted over 1 million views on YouTube in the first three days and 6 million in the first month, during which only 0.15 percent of users completed all seven levels. More than 900,000 users visited the site, spending an average of two minutes and 55 seconds with the content.

"Thirty-six hundred users logged their score onto the leaderboard, and more than 30,000 players went to to learn more about STEM jobs available in the Army, blowing our benchmarks out of the water," explains UM associate media director Denise Marchitto. Adds McCann Worldgroup strategy director Jessica Mendoza: "More importantly, the U.S. Army was being mentioned in places it had never been mentioned before. With over 4,000 site link shares on Facebook, users began to create their own content on Reddit and YouTube—videotaping their experiences and trading game tips with their followers." —A.N.

This story first appeared in the September 12, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.
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