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Al Ries famously said, “marketing is not a battle of products, it’s a battle of perceptions.” Successfully shifting consumer perceptions in today’s media landscape is no easy feat, a challenge that begins and ends with a deep understanding of your audience. For the marketing and advertising world of 2017, fast-moving digital trends are urging marketers to be bolder in their approach, sparking more data-driven campaigns and more audience-centric storytelling. In 2016, we witnessed some of the most innovative examples of consumer-focused marketing at work, giving us a glimpse into the agencies and brands that are leading the way.

Creatively turning insights into action with the help of reliable data, these campaigns were carried out with one thing in mind: people.

Looking closely at the campaigns that have set the standard for the year ahead, the following list highlights the most powerful examples of marketing that works, revealing the insights at their core, and the creatives behind them.


1. Always: Like A Girl


Consistently labeled one of the most influential examples of great marketing from the past decade, the inspiring #LikeAGirl campaign for Always kicked off in 2013 with the help of Leo Burnett Chicago and Holler. Faced with the challenging task of making a feminine-hygiene brand popular in the eyes of its young female audience, the realization that the brand had lost relevance with 16 to 24 year-olds urged them to try something different.

Based on their research, the team found that over half of girls quit sports at puberty as a result of a crisis in confidence. Using these insights, Always set out to appeal to its younger audience, harnessing social media to reverse the widespread perception of the term ‘like a girl’ in an empowering way, embarking on an “epic battle to stop the drop in confidence girls experience at puberty”, encouraging them to ‘Keep Playing #LikeAGirl.’ Judy John, Chief Executive Officer/Chief Creative Officer of Leo Burnett Canada says:

“We set out to champion the girls who were the future of the brand,”


2. Spotify: Thanks 2016, It’s been weird.


Spotify’s largest ever campaign push which launched in November 2016 and spread across 14 markets worldwide is a perfect example of how data can drive creativity in marketing. Led by its in-house creative team, this innovative, global campaign was 100% fueled by insights. Relying on data based on their users’ behaviors, the Spotify team used the information they collected to speak directly to their consumers in the most personalized way possible, creatively using listener habits to reflect popular culture. Successfully placing a humorous spin on the ‘weird’ highlights of the previous year, the campaign proved the power that lies in creative marketing based on audience insights alone. "There has been some debate about whether big data is muting creativity in marketing, but we have turned that on its head," says Spotify's chief marketing officer, Seth Farbman.

"For us, data inspires and gives an insight into the emotion that people are expressing."

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 Image credits: Adweek


3. OPSM: Penny the Pirate 


Another powerful campaign consistently noted for its originality, Penny the Pirate has won 35 major international and national awards and was named the world’s best marketing campaign of 2016 in the annual Warc rankings. Based on the discovery that “one in six kids have a vision problem and for many it’s undetected”, research uncovered by Saatchi & Saatchi revealed the reasons behind this statistic amounted to children's’ fear of optometrists or the fact that many live in remote areas, far from reach.

To tackle this issue, the idea for Penny the Pirate was born, leading to the world’s first medical tool that tests children’s eye health as you read to them. Made available for free as a book and interactive app, this innovative campaign not only helped to address the growing issue at its core, but successfully positioned OPSM as a global brand committed to eye health. On track to providing 300,000 children with an eye test, Penny has reportedly led to a huge increase in children's’ eyewear sales. Melinda Spencer, VP of Marketing for OPSM says: 

"We passionately wanted to create a useful tool that helps time poor parents to screen their children's vision from the comfort of their own home, either through the book or through the app in a fun way and are overjoyed that it has been recognised internationally."


4. Pearson: Project Literacy


Project Literacy, the global campaign led by Pearson and FCB Inferno, has received international praise for its inspiring message and efforts to tackle the pressing issue of illiteracy. Based on the discovery that illiteracy impacts over 750 million people worldwide, or one in ten people alive today, Pearson set out to raise awareness that this crisis contributes to a large portion of the world’s biggest problems. Driving the message that words have the power to end illiteracy, the campaign included a 90-minute film with a particularly harrowing narrative and a social media campaign that onboarded a whole host of influencers. In less than a week, #ProjectLiteracy reached over 10 million people on Facebook, while the film has now earned more than 12.8 million views, with Project Literacy being asked to join the UNESCO Global Alliance for Literacy. 

Emilie Colker, Vice President of Brand and Social Impact at Pearson, founding partner of Project Literacy says:

“This campaign has brought a largely invisible issue to the attention of millions."


5. Google: Year in Search 2016


Another powerful example of a brand using data to drive creativity is Google’s 2016 ‘Year in Search’ campaign. Much like Spotify’s data-fueled creative effort, the stars of the search giant’s annual campaign were its users. Google creatively put insights into action, exploring the emotional story at the heart of every search term that dominated 2016. Honing in on everything that made that year particularly memorable, including its most shocking news stories from Brexit and Trump’s election to Syria and the Orlando shooting, Google managed to turn the widespread perception of 2016 as a year of disproportionate lows on its head to spread a message of hope, ending with the words: "Love is out there. Search on." Aptly highlighting how Google is not just a search engine for the world at large, but a source of learning where people turn for answers, the campaign was a clever play on emotions that once again proved its dominant influence over the online world.

“From Powerball numbers to Olympic champions, whether making dessert or becoming a mannequin, this year affected us all in different ways.” says Ben Gomes, VP Search.

“Through all the highs and lows, people came to Search to learn more and understand.”


6. Channel 4: We’re the Superhumans


This inspiring campaign, launched by Channel 4’s in-house creative agency, 4Creative, to advertise the 2016 Rio Paralympics, is an ideal example of marketing that works, developed from a deep understanding of their audience. In the lead up to the event, having conducted extensive research into athlete perceptions and audience attitudes, the marketing team launched a campaign called ‘Freaks of Nature’, challenging the perceptions of disability in sport, soon to evolve into the follow-up campaign entitled ‘Meet the Superhumans’.

Veering away from convention, the campaign portrayed Paralympians in a new light, as fearless ‘superhumans’ as opposed to people to pity. Dramatically changing the way their audience viewed disabled athletes, 64% of viewers stated that the Channel 4 coverage had had a favourable impact on their perceptions of people with disabilities, with 82% agreeing that disabled athletes were as talented as their able-bodied counterparts. Winning a number of national and international awards, the campaign quickly became the second most shared Olympics-related ad of all time on social media, and earned the title of Campaign of the Year by Campaign Magazine.

"One of the main challenges we faced was overcoming the indifference people felt towards the Paralympics”, says 4Creative Business Director, Olivia Browne.

“One of the key ingredients to the idea's success was the single-minded belief that the Paralympics did not have to be second best to the Olympics and could have its own voice, swagger and attitude.”


7. Sport England: This Girl Can 


The award-winning ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, which first launched in January 2015, set out to encourage more women to play sports, challenging the common perceptions of women that they constantly need to conform to the unrealistic standards set by the media. The nationwide campaign was born from the discovery that the numbers of men playing regular sport far outweighed that of women by every measure (two million fewer 14 to 40 year olds in total), despite the fact that “75% of women would like to do more.”

With insights revealing that “millions of women and girls are afraid to exercise because of fear of judgement”, Sport England saw an opportunity “to get women and girls moving, regardless of shape, size and ability”, by telling the real stories of women who play sport, in direct opposition to the idealised and stylised images of women we usually see. Achieving national success, the campaign’s flagship film was viewed by over 13 million people, and resulted in almost 150,000 women becoming regularly active in England since its launch. "The figures on participation are crystal clear”, says Sport England CEO Jennie Price.

“There is a significant gender gap, with two million more men than women exercising or playing sport regularly. I believe we can tackle this gap, because our research shows that 75% of women would like to do more.”


8. Pret A Manger: Little Veggie Shop


This innovative Pret campaign that launched in April 2016 is notable not only for its originality, but for its refreshingly creative and low-budget approach to marketing. Using the power of consumer insights to fuel their thinking, the inventive in-house creative team conducted research that revealed a shift in consumer attitudes towards healthier foods, having seen a double digit sales increase for healthy vegetarian options in 2015.

Basing its marketing around this insight, the team launched its first standalone vegetarian pop-up shop to give their clientele exactly what they were looking for. Relying almost exclusively on in-store advertising and social media to expand their reach, the campaign proved the power that lies in listening and responding to your audience. Pret’s sales of vegetarian food achieved a 13.9 per cent increase in sales to reach £676.2m last year, with the campaign leading to the rollout of more permanent sites. Group Marketing Director, Mark Palmer says:.

“If customers are good enough to give you their time, you need to listen. Marketers find it hard to listen, they usually have their minds already made up. That is a mistake because if customers want to be part of your brand, you need to take them seriously.”

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 Image credits: Marketing Week


9. L’Oréal: The Beauty Squad


With the majority of the world’s leading brands investing more heavily in influencer marketing, the risk of these celebrities losing their authenticity and in turn their ‘influence’ is growing. Taking this into account, L’Oréal veered in a different direction to its competitors. Having uncovered that sponsored blog posts were producing more of a return than most other mediums and channels, the L’Oréal team turned to micro-influencers, signing up five British beauty bloggers to create content on an ongoing basis as it looks to “craft a different type of relationship” with influencers. The Beauty Squad campaign is steeped in consumer perceptions insights that prove the appreciation their consumers have for more authentic brand experiences.

“Consumers will walk away from influencers that have been bought by brands, where there is no story behind it or are doing just one-offs”, L’Oréal’s UK General Manager Adrien Koskas told Marketing Week. “It depends on us being the biggest beauty brand in the UK to craft a different kind of relationship."

"When it comes to influencers, we want to shift the industry towards something that is more genuine.”


10. Dell: Tough Enough


This particularly audience-focused campaign from 2014 led by Mediacom, born out of the need for Dell to build brand trust in Germany, led to the realization that the tech giant had been making false assumptions about its target market. Dedicating a significant amount of their time to audience research, the creative Medicom team discovered that most IT decision-makers actually relied on an informal network of IT Administrator colleagues to make a purchasing decision.

Using this insight to refocus their marketing, they uncovered a clear frustration among their target market with computer illiterates. The message was simple: “Life is tough enough, take IT easy”. Launching a powerful, content-driven campaign, it consisted of a 16-webisode sitcom honouring the heroes of the IT department and recounting tales of day-to-day struggles that only their target audience would understand, resulting in an abundance of targeted leads. 

"The Dell ‘Tough Enough’ campaign was so successful because, rather than talking to the target audience about servers or back-end infrastructure, we created branded content that entertained them while still enabling them to relate to the brand”, says Normal Wagner, Managing Partner, MediaCom Beyond Advertising, Germany.

“We made them laugh and, most importantly, we also made it easy for them to share their own stories.”

Have something to add? Join the conversation by sharing your best examples of marketing that works in the comments section below. 

Related Post: Why Marketing that Works Means Getting Back to Basics

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