This article was contributed by Richard Barker.

As the New Year approaches, we can’t help but look back on 2017 and think that it’s been a funny old year, and that’s without mentioning the new President of the United States. The year has seen a number of inspirational, and not so inspirational (cue Greggs’ badly judged Christmas campaign), campaigns from the country and the wider world’s biggest brands.

For marketers and businesses undertaking their own promotional activities in-house, how well-known brands market themselves often provides all the stimulus that’s needed to fine-tune their own campaigns. As we say goodbye to another great year, it’s evident that there’s a lot to be learned from the biggest campaigns of 2017, here we take a look at just five of the best and the marketing lessons they heed.

McDonald’s #ReindeerReady

We couldn’t be posting in December and approaching the festive season without including an inspiring Christmas themed ad in our top five. Yes, there are tons of great festive campaigns, many of which provide great advice to consumers in the run up to Christmas. Rather than go for the obvious John Lewis example however, we thought we’d take a closer look at the offering of a very eminent fast food chain.

After the success of its 2016 ad featuring vintage doll Juliette, McDonald’s had to come back with a campaign that was even bigger, stronger and more endearing. One thing that their tale about a young girl saving a McDonald’s carrot stick for Santa’s reindeer taught us is that it’s ok to put your brand second to a good story. Storytelling practices are by no means new, but by focusing on the anticipation, excitement and little moments of magic that the build up to Christmas brings for all children, McDonald’s is putting pushy promotional tactics to one side to achieve a more important, long term, loyalty inspiring goal.

Heineken’s Worlds Apart

One of the biggest advertising fails of 2017 has to be the Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad released back in April but what Pepsi failed to do, Heineken successfully achieved in their Worlds Apart campaign.

Human kindness and understanding are two factors that have been integral to the success of so many campaigns during 2017. In this real life social experiment, where people with opposing political differences are brought together through team building exercises, viewpoints are unravelled, all before they share a Heineken of course! Tackling social issues through an ad campaign is brave but if you can pull off this marketing lesson you really are on to a winner. Just look at Heineken – within days of its launch, Worlds Apart hit the 3 million views mark, garnered more than 50,000 shares and got the hashtag #OpenYourWorld trending.

Apple’s Earth (Shot on iPhone)

Apple has always found beautiful ways to make and promote their products, a brand talent that has long widened the gap between Apple and Android users, but Earth (Shot on iPhone) is their most striking campaign to date. Team this with their very timely release some days after Donald Trump’s decision to back out of the Paris climate agreement, and they were no doubt going to achieve stratospheric success with this campaign. A simple mixture of imagery and narration, Earth (Shot on iPhone) is the perfect example of why user generated content should have a place in your marketing activities.

The campaign’s simple structure, stunning use of imagery and poignant narration delivers not just a glimpse of the beauty our planet has to offer but a poetic warning of everything we have to lose.

Samsung’s Ostrich

From Apple to Android, and Samsung’s quirky, playful ad certainly juxtaposes Apple’s protest campaign Earth, but it no doubt inspires emotion in other ways.

This wonderful idea is brought to life courtesy of a flightless bird and a Gear VR headset. Since its release, the short film has won a bevy of awards including seven prestigious titles at Lion Awards for its creative excellence. The marketing lesson? Thinking outside the box is the key to success, particularly as we go forward into 2018 and markets become increasingly competitive. VR technology has long been notoriously difficult to advertise but with a bit of creative thinking and the production of dynamic material, Samsung has pathed the way for future content creation that is much different from the average.

Volvo’s Moments

Automotive ads have long been poignant and poetic, and whilst as a consumer and marketer you may be thinking ‘haven’t we seen it all before?’, this campaign from Volvo is not just a marketing triumph but worthy of a cinematic spot. This epic and eye catching story is a masterpiece, and sweeps through a woman’s entire lifetime in just three minutes to promote the new XC60’s safety features. Documenting the moments that never happen, this beautifully crafted commercial teaches us that storytelling and product promotion can work in harmony, with excellent results.

Storytelling that dazzles audiences is by no means easy to achieve, but you don’t need to craft a cinematic masterpiece like Volvo to apply the same principles to your own marketing campaign. Many use the VAK principle, more popularly used in other fields by psychologists and therapists, to immerse an audience into a desired experience. Utilising visual, audio and sensory elements, you can create emotional content that really connects with audiences whilst being timely, relevant, useful and entertaining within your marketplace.

The final word…

Whether it is a campaign clearing up questions frequently asked by your audience, a marketing initiative that pushes your brand to the background to bring real stories about real people to the forefront, or a focus on what your brand stands for that is the objective on your current marketing activities, delving deeper into what makes the biggest campaigns of 2017 successful is a worthwhile step for all brands. Whatever the size or niche of your business or the business you are representing, being creative, agile and sometimes risky with your marketing is rule number one. Let’s see what 2018 brings!

Richard Barker is the owner of Harrison Mann. He delivers a range of services to a multitude of organizations. Richard is a specialist in content marketing, pay-per-click, Shopify and WordPress web design, social media marketing and digital support. Connect with him on LinkedIn here.

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