• Marketing, Industry Trends

The best marketing campaigns of 2021

by Jackson Kushner | Dec 17, 2021

It’s time for another roundup of our favorite marketing campaigns of the year. As we saw in 2020, many brands have created innovative and engaging advertising campaigns throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’ve pulled a list of this year’s best marketing campaigns and provided insights into what made these campaigns so successful, plus how you can replicate that success for your brand.

1. Dove's reverse selfie

In April 2021, Dove launched their “Reverse Selfie” campaign, which aims to combat the negative effects of selfie culture on young girls and women. Research suggests that by the age of 13, 80% of girls distort the way they look online — and Dove’s campaign remarks on how this digital distortion can damage self-esteem and why it needs to change.

The campaign shows the digital distortion process in reverse, then encourages people to have #TheSelfieTalk to promote confidence and body positivity on social media. The campaign is a spiritual successor to the brand’s iconic 2006 film “Evolution”, and is also connected to their larger Self Esteem Project featuring a dedicated webpage with information and resources for parents and teachers along with an option to take a #NoDigitalDistortion pledge. To top it off, Dove has partnered with iconic women including Lizzo, Shonda Rhimes, and others to address digital distortion and “stamp out unrealistic beauty standards.”

Although the campaign never shows or advertises the brand’s products, they’ve received widespread praise from the press and public as a result of the conversations it’s started. The takeaway here is that a campaign doesn’t always have to be product-focused, message-driven marketing can be just as effective for brands.

2. Fitbit's what's strong with you?

Fitbit’s recent marketing campaign focuses on finding your inner strength. The campaign highlights that strength isn’t always physical, it can also be mental or emotional and that people should “Find out what’s strong with you” to discover their inner strength.

The campaign coincides with their series of Fitbit Stories, which showcases real user journeys towards achieving lifetime health through strength in all areas.

If there’s one takeaway from this campaign, it’s that brands should look to their customers for marketing inspiration. One of the best ways to do this is to establish an online community where your dedicated users can engage with each other and your brand. However, you can also use social media listening tools to find these stories across all of your customers’ favorite platforms.

3. Apple's Hollywood in your pocket

Apple is well known for their creative marketing campaigns, and in 2021 they made an impact with the “Hollywood in Your Pocket” campaign showcasing the iPhone 13 Pro’s new cinematic features. The campaign shows that anyone can shoot Hollywood-quality videos with only an iPhone, which is shown in the ad by moving through several movie-esque scenes including a spaceship on alert, a wartime rescue, and a western card game gone wrong.

Like some of the other advertising campaigns on this list, this one builds off the success of Apple’s ongoing #ShotoniPhone campaign, which has encouraged users to share creations they’ve filmed or photographed on iPhones. A few years ago, Apple even ran a contest and displayed winning user photos on billboards across the world. Even though the contest ended years ago, people still use the hashtag when posting the incredible photographs and videos they take on their iPhones.

From this campaign, brands should recognize that challenging their audience is a great way to encourage engagement.

4. Reddit's five-second Super Bowl campaign

What initially appeared to be a glitch during the 2021 Super Bowl was actually one of the most clever marketing campaigns in recent memory. During the big game, Reddit aired a five-second ad that started with some generic car footage before appearing to glitch out, revealing a message in the style of a post on the popular social media site.

Although the message wasn’t on screen long enough for any viewers to read it, people flocked to social media for more information and the spot became the most viral campaign of the game.

Upon closer examination of the message, it was a reference to a series of recent events involving a group of Redditors who created a short squeeze on Gamestop stock that sent shockwaves through Wall Street. The ad spoke to the power of dedicated users working towards a common goal, and subtly hinted that users can join Reddit to find others with similar interests.

The campaign is a great example of how to grab customers' attention by doing something unexpected and unique. Brands should be willing to take risks, and use unconventional tactics to reach their audience.

5. Lego's rebuild the world

Lego’s Rebuild the World campaign didn’t begin in 2021, it actually started in 2019. However, this year’s ad titled “The Damp Knight’s tale” takes a different approach to the campaign which has historically focused on using imagination to create the world you want.

The campaign’s original 2019 ad focused on a hunter chasing a rabbit through a world featuring Lego elements throughout, which was followed by a 2020 ad suggesting that unicorns can exist in the worlds you create with Legos. This year, the campaign shows a knight struggling to cross a river, who is finally able to do so after a nearby town works together to build a bridge using each person’s unique talents. Towards the end of the ad, it’s revealed that this situation is actually conceived by the imaginations of a group of children who are playing with Legos.

The ad celebrates the creativity of children and shows how any situation or challenge can be overcome when people work together, which is a major leap from the messages in previous years.

This is a great example of adding a new twist to keep a campaign fresh and impactful over time. While a long-term campaign is a great way to build familiarity within your audience, you should look for new ways to spice things up every now and then.

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A look back at past years

Best marketing campaign of 2020

Facebook’s first-ever Super Bowl commercial

For the first time ever, Facebook aired a commercial during the Super Bowl. The 60-second ad aired during the fourth quarter and promoted Facebook Groups. The ad, called “Ready to Rock?” featured celebrity appearances from actor Sylvester Stallone and comedian Chris Rock, as well as highlighting several “rock” themed Facebook Groups, including Table Rock Lake, Moab Rock Climbers, Rock Buggies, and Rocky Balboa Going the Distance.

The quirky commercial drew a lot of praise for its fun play on words and including real people who are members of the featured Facebook Groups.

In recent years, the social media giant has seen a decrease in U.S. usage rates while other social media networks have gained popularity. So this commercial was a great way to renew interest in their platform and highlight features that may not have been as popular when more people were using the network.

This ad is also a great example of targeting. If Facebook was concerned about decreased usage in the U.S. market, what better way to reach Americans than to advertise during the most-watched event of the year?

The takeaway for brands from Facebook’s Super Bowl campaign is that advertising in new places or on new platforms can help your business reach a wider audience.

Best marketing campaign of 2019

Budweiser revisits its 50s, 60s, and 70s ads

In honor of International Women’s Day, Budweiser released a series of vintage-styled ads highlighting positive depictions of women. Appreciating their own metaphorical glass house, the brand returned to their own ads from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Instead of characterizing women as wives, and ultimately aiming to sell Budweiser to their husbands, this campaign instead focuses on the storylines of women.

When looking to improve your brand image, identifying where you have fallen short in the past is a pathway to reinvention. Ultimately, by adjusting their image, Budweiser showed they are not a beer for men, rather a beer for people. As a result, they have positioned themselves to become more appealing to more audiences.

Best marketing campaign of 2018

OKCupid’s DTF(all head over heels) campaign

With their controversial “DTF” ad campaign, OkCupid took a risk by redefining the acronym:

But the risk paid off, as Adweek reports the campaign boosted OkCupid’s social mentions by 50%, and it resonated with women and the LGBTQ community. Even though the ads weren’t welcome everywhere (like the entire Chicago Transit Authority), OkCupid demonstrated the effectiveness of disruptive marketing.

Campaigns that appeal to social media users won’t always appeal to the boardroom, but that’s okay. Even though OkCupid couldn’t run their ads everywhere, their campaign still had a huge impact that resonated with their target audiences.

With 2022 just beginning, remember that social media is an excellent space to experiment with new ad campaign styles. There is a huge opportunity to attract undiscovered audiences and amplify brand recognition just like these stand-out brands were able to do. And to gain more insights about social media marketing, remember to download our Social Media Pocket Guide.


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