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7 of the Best Social Media Campaigns (And What You Can Learn From Them)

What is a social media campaign?

It’s a coordinated marketing effort on behalf of a business that’s designed to reinforce information or sentiments (about a product, service, or overall brand) through at least one social media platform.

Campaigns are strategically focused, have measurable outcomes, and are ultimately aimed at influencing social media users to feel or act in a certain way.

To inspire your next effort, here are some of the best social media campaigns from the past couple of years.

Bonus: Get the step-by-step social media strategy guide with pro tips on how to grow your social media presence.

7 social media campaign ideas from top brands

1. Starbucks: Unicorn Frappuccino

Platform used: Instagram

What Starbucks did

As part of the rollout of its Frappuccino Happy Hour, Starbucks rolled out the Unicorn Frappuccino, for one short week in April 2017.

The purple-and-pink nightmare seized on nearly everything that makes millennials tick (and their older counterparts sick): limited-time scarcity, a fear of missing out, and the sheer Instagrammability of the frozen, pastel-hued abomination.

Why it worked

The Unicorn Frappuccino, and its hashtag, generated nearly 155,000 Instagram posts during that time period.

And in the “no such thing as bad press” category, it also had some high-profile detractors that likely helped generate some perverse curiosity.

According to MarketWatch, “global same-store sales and same-store sales in the Americas were up 3 percent for the second quarter.”

What you can learn

Manufacturing scarcity is one of the oldest tricks in the book—but capitalizing on it via social media can create a viral sensation. Starbucks knew the drivers that would trigger its young, social media–savvy audience—and pounced.

2. Billie: Fighting Sexism in Shaving

Platforms used: Website, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube

What Billie did

When news stories began to surface that women routinely pay 10 percent to 15 percent more than men for everyday products, shock and rage were among the common reactions. Billie, a direct-to-consumer startup devoted to creating a body- and body hair–positive (and budget-friendly) shaving experience, is fighting against this so-called Pink Tax and the general sexism seen in Big Shaving’s marketing toward women.

The brand has launched Project Body Hair to acknowledge that women have body hair in the first place—hair that can be shaved, or not.

In addition, Billie’s referral program is known as the Pink Tax Rebate, rewarding women for sharing the product with other female friends—and perhaps offering small reparations for a lifetime of overspending on shaving products.

Why it worked

During Billie’s first 11 months, the brand’s organic social reach grew to 65,000 followers purely via social sharing from like-minded web denizens.

By encouraging women to share photos of their real body hair using the hashtag #ProjectBodyHair (or uploaded directly to their website), Billie is cultivating brand awareness and loyalty among a subset of women and female-identifying consumers who may have felt alienated by campaigns that depict an “ideal” that doesn’t represent them.

What you can learn

Political awareness and wallet activism are hot right now. Brands that take a stand are also taking a risk, but with smart market research and a strong understanding of the target audience, it’s a risk that can pay dividends.

3. IHOP: IHOb

Platform used: Twitter

What IHOP did

In one of the oddest social media campaigns of the year, the International House of Pancakes “became” International House of Burgers for a brief, shining moment in summer 2018.

That’s right: IHOP flipped its last letter upside down and temporarily became IHOb.

Why it worked

In the lead-up to the big reveal, the brand asked its followers to guess what the “B” stood for—and more than 30,000 users responded with their guesses. And when IHOP/b finally shared the new name, their tweet received more than 15,000 retweets.

Wendy’s, the reigning champion of social-media food-service trash talking, got in a little dig at the brand.

According to YouGov’s BrandIndex, IHOP’s Word of Mouth Score rose in the week following the announcement of its “name change.”

Some people even did some digging to find out whether the name change was real.

But most importantly, burger sales at the restaurant quadrupled as a result of the marketing stunt.

What you can learn

Honestly, it’s a challenging time to be a person in the world—and the Internet can be a real bummer sometimes. Sometimes consumers just want to let go, and brands that can facilitate a little mindless fun may be rewarded for doing so.

Bonus: Get the step-by-step social media strategy guide with pro tips on how to grow your social media presence.

Get the free guide right now!

4. Dove: Self-Esteem Campaign

Platforms used: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube website

What Dove did

#RealBeauty: A lot of brands preach it nowadays, but Dove was a pioneer that helped bring self-esteem and self-love into marketing.

Dove’s global campaign has taken many forms since it first launched nearly 15 years ago, but it has become more than a campaign since then—it’s extended into a corporate mission.

The company has commissioned independent research on self-esteem that it has used in its television and print advertising as well as its social campaigns, and its website features resources to educate consumers of all ages on issues related to self-esteem, bullying, the online world, and more.

Hashtag campaigns, including #RealBeauty, #NoLikesNeeded, and #SpeakBeautiful have encouraged users to show off their inner beauty. And after discovering that 70 percent of women don’t feel represented in advertising, the company pledged to stop retouching all photos used in its marketing by 2019.

Why it worked

AdAge judges unanimously named Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty one of the top 100 campaigns of the 21st century so far in their 2015 survey.

In 2018, Dove began a two-year collaboration with Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe “to take on body confidence and self-esteem issues.” The first video in the series, published to Cartoon Network’s channel in July 2018, has more than 2 million views, 103,000 likes, and 9,500 comments—many of them wildly positive.

What you can learn

Dove, a global juggernaut owned by Unilever, has been creating powerful, engaging campaigns around self-esteem for years. It’s testament to the brand’s ability to make waves for positive change with a corporate commitment to doing so.

5. Gillette: The Best Men Can Get

Platforms used: YouTube, Twitter

What Gillette did

Triggered an entire segment of the male population, that’s what.

Gillette faced toxic masculinity head on with a controversial video that “calls on men to be better in light of the #MeToo movement.” The spot was polarizing, with many calling for a boycott of the razor brand.

In addition to taking a public stand against Gillette is donating $1 million per year for the next three years to non-profit organizations creating U.S. programs to help men of all ages achieve their “best.”

Why it worked

According to the analytics company TalkWalker, Gillette had 1.5 million social media mentions between Jan 14 – Jan 16. The previous week they had less than 10,000.

More than a million of those mentions took place within 24 hours of the original publish date.

The brand’s hashtag, #TheBestMenCanBe, was used 187,400 times during the same period.

As of mid-February 2019, the brand’s original tweet has been shared nearly 250,000 times.

And the advertising spot has been viewed more than 3 million times on YouTube.

Love it or hate it, the content generated some serious buzz.

What you can learn

In today’s world, it’s not enough for brands to have great products. Edelman’s 2018 Earned Brand Study found that 64 percent of consumers will support (or boycott) a brand based on its political or social stances.

Brands are increasingly defining and doing business by their values—and consumers increasingly believe it’s a smart marketing move to do so.

6. Oreo: “Dunk in the Dark”

Platform used: Twitter

What Oreo did

How many social media posts have an entire oral history written about them? Oreo’s post during the Super Bowl blackout of 2013 was the tweet heard ‘round the world.

When the power went out in the Superdome during the big game, a team from 360i—the digital marketing agency tasked with maintaining the cookie company’s social accounts—conceptualized, got approval for, and published the tweet within minutes.

But they’d been flexing their real-time-marketing muscles for several years in preparation for Oreo’s 100th anniversary. The team had been using a “war room” strategy with contingency plans and a built-in system of approvals already in place.

Why it worked

The post was retweeted 10,000 times in the first hour it was live.

Not only did Oreo “win the Super Bowl” for brands that year, but the tweet inspired brands to attempt to bottle that magic and use it for themselves (often failing at it). It was an era-defining moment in social marketing.

What you can learn

Brilliance doesn’t actually happen in a moment. For brands both big and small, the ability to be nimble in the moment actually requires buy-in from the top down, and a complex infrastructure to make it happen seamlessly.

7. Spotify: #2018Wrapped

Platforms used: Spotify, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter

What Spotify did

In 2016, the average Spotify user listened to more than two hours of audio every day. Whooo, that’s a lot of data!

For the second year in a row, the music-streaming service gave users a data-rich gift: an opportunity to look back on their year in music. According to a company press release, the platform’s Wrapped feature offered a custom playlist of a user’s top 100 tunes from the year that was, and let all its users see:

  • Total minutes of music streamed
  • Number of new artists discovered
  • Most-played songs and artists
  • Top genres

And, of course, Spotify encouraged users to share that information with an automatically generated, beautifully personalized image across Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

By the way, the platform’s top artists for the year were Drake (who clocked 8.2 billion streams all by himself), Post Malone, XXXTENTACION, J Balvin, and Ed Sheeran. This is why we can’t have nice things.

Why it worked

According to The Atlantic, “Spotify Wrapped is a masterful coup of free advertising and an impressive display of consumer trust at a moment when our faith in tech companies is historically low.”

The magazine calls Spotify “cool and innocuous,” and the data it collects comparatively “low stakes”—even taking the year’s guilty-pleasure listening into account, few mind having their musical preferences analyzed.

What you can learn

Spotify’s Wrapped campaign is a great example of an integrated campaign, one that worked hand-in-hand with automation and data.

Its cross-platform promotion and shareability practically assured the campaign’s potential to go viral.

Beyond that, Spotify found a way to leverage their incredible amounts of data in a powerful way that users enjoyed sharing and comparing. Simple as that.

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