Screenshot via Always' #LikeAGirl video

Lessons From 5 of the Most Successful Marketing Campaigns of the Last Decade

Understatement time: Marketing has changed a ton in the last five years. Social media’s power to drive campaign success into uncharted territory has resulted in a massive shift in content marketing. The best campaigns have capitalized on the elements that make content shareable on social media.

Below, we’ve taken five of the best marketing campaigns, and have broken down key elements that contributed to their explosive success. Although some of these marketing campaigns were created by the biggest companies and agencies in the world, they succeeded not because of how much they cost, but because they understood fundamental truths about social media users.

In a rush? Having a busy day? Scroll to the bottom for the TL;DR version of 10 lessons learned from these campaigns.

Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”

If someone walked up to you today and said “I’m on a horse,” where would your mind go. It’s 2015, and my mind would still go the Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign, which premiered over five years ago.

The 33-second video depicts a shirtless man addressing the women of the world as the scene changes behind him, from the shower to a boat to the beach. The actor is meant to represent a woman’s ideal, from his good looks to offering her tickets ‘to that thing you like,’ and, of course, diamonds. It plays on these stereotypes of the ‘ideal man’ but does so in a way that’s humorous rather than obnoxious.

How successful was the ad?

  • It was watched almost 6 million times in the first day
  • Has over 50 million YouTube views to date
  • Made Old Spice’s YouTube channel the most popular brand channel ever at the time

After the original video, Old Spice also launched a YouTube response campaign which saw the “Old Spice Guy” respond to public questions and requests in no less than 180 personalized videos. These videos earned an astounding 40 million combined views within a week. All this from a personal hygiene brand!

So what are the main lessons you can draw from Old Spice’s marketing campaign? Be memorable and involve your audience.

Within a few weeks of the campaign’s launch, anyone you ran into at work or school probably had a good part of the campaign memorized. Whether it was because they loved it and learned it by heart or they just couldn’t get it out of their heads, it doesn’t really matter. Old Spice created something that had never been done before, and this kept them top of mind for months after.

Of course there are marketing formulas that have been proven to work time and time again:

  • Appeal to your target buyers
  • Present your product in real-life situations
  • Make the ad easy to follow
  • Leave them talking about your product

And here’s what Old Spice did:

  • Old Spice targeted females with their ad when the product is for males.
  • They didn’t focus on real-life scenarios, instead creating a fantastical situation that most people couldn’t relate to.
  • It wasn’t easy to follow, actually forcing the viewer to pay close attention to each moving part and probably watch it several times.
  • The catch phrase “I’m on a horse” had nothing to do with the product

Old Spice didn’t just bend conventional marketing practices, they avoided them entirely, creating something far more impressive in the process. You wanted to play the video again and again to try and see how it was accomplished. You wanted to show it to friends and talk about it. It was so interesting and shareable that brands have been chasing this model ever since it aired.

Then, they did something even smarter. They created the response campaign to bring their viewers into the experience. Everyone who loved the ad had the opportunity to be a part of it. Users flocked to submit questions in the hopes for a direct interaction with the Old Spice Man.

People love to be a part of something popular or viral. It’s like being part of a studio audience or being mentioned by a celebrity on Twitter. Not only is the experience enjoyable for them, it’s also something they want to share with their friends and followers. By creating these personalized videos, Old Spice turned a successful brand video into a shareable social media campaign.

Dollar Shave Club’s “Our Blades Are F***ing Great”

It’s the story of the brand video that launched the company.

Michael Dubin decided to start a company that sold cheap razors and shipped them to your door. He wanted to bring his company to the world, and decided to do it with a YouTube video in which he, the CEO, explained the business. He called that video “Our Blades are F***ing Great,” and launched it to the world. About 12,000 people signed up for the service within the 48 hours that followed.

The video is funny, catchy and clever, but it also explains the fundamentals of their business model and how they differ from traditional razor vendors.

Since its launch, the video has earned:

  • Over 18 million video views
  • Over 200,000 Facebook shares
  • Over 80,000 Facebook comments and more than 110,000 Likes

Perhaps most impressively, Dollar Shave Club managed all of this without really having an existing audience or following online. This video started it all.

So what are the main lessons you can draw from the Dollar Shave Club marketing campaign? Distinguish your brand. Know your audience.

The video cost $4,500 to make. They didn’t need high production value or special effects to make an impression. They just knew their audience.

Dollar Shave Club isn’t just marketing to men of shaving age; they’re marketing to tech-savvy younger men, the audience most likely open to buying razors online. “Young men” is written all over the video. There are toys in the background. They swear and use humor. There’s a machete. They make fun of tennis. It ends with a party. This isn’t an energy drink ad. There aren’t explosions and extreme sports. But it nails the target demographic in a simple, straightforward way. People often talk about targeting on social media. You can target your content once it’s created, or you can target it from the outset. Doing the latter made this video into a hit.

What about distinguishing their brand? Did you notice, there isn’t a single image of anyone actually using the razor in the video. Why wouldn’t they show the razor in use? Maybe because they know (correctly) assumed that men wouldn’t be sold on how the razor looks while in use, especially since it will essentially look the same as every other razor. They narrowed in on the elements that distinguished their product from every other similar product: the price and delivery method.

Most car commercials look the same. Most shampoo commercials look the same. Most restaurant, clothing brand and drug company commercials look the same. Online, really separating your brand from the pack is what will get you attention. If you offer a commercial that no one has seen before, you’re more likely to generate discussion. Dollar Shave Club generated a lot of discussion.

K-Mart’s “Ship My Pants”

K-Mart, where your mom goes shopping for groceries and socks, right? Well, if that is the way the store was perceived a few years ago, the company’s “Ship My Pants” marketing campaign went a long way in changing that.

In a YouTube video campaign, the company had people in their store talking about shipping their pants. Yes, K-Mart used toilet humor to highlight their online shipping. They even worked to spread the hashtag #ShipMyPants.

Does this crude humor actually work on people. Well…

So what are the main lessons to draw from the K-Mart marketing campaign? Use humor. Take risks.

With social media, users are empowered to skip over any ad they don’t find interesting. This puts the onus on brands to somehow catch people off guard or otherwise keep their attention. Humor is one of the most effective ways to do that.

Much like with Old Spice, K-Mart used humor in a way that you might not have expected from their brand. While it’s easy to call it juvenile, the results speak for themselves. The humor made the video so shareable that more people shared it on Facebook than commented on it. That type of engagement is invaluable of the brand.

This marketing campaign was also special because it was a risk. It wasn’t just a risk for K-Mart, it was a risk for any brand. Swear words and childish jokes isn’t something most retail brands would strive to be associated with. But social media is about creating discussion. Safe bets don’t create discussion, risks do. K-Mart put themselves out there and social media users appreciated the humor and the risk. They took a chance and it paid off.

WestJet’s “Real-Time Giving”

I was in a meeting when I first saw WestJet’s Real-Time Giving ad, which went live during the 2013 Christmas season. I watched the ad with a group of people and, while most of us barely managed to hold it together, one of our big, bearded bosses couldn’t help but shed a few tears.

The ad shows a WestJet Santa Claus asking people what they wanted for Christmas before their flight. Then, by the time they landed, the WestJet team had purchased all of their gifts, which tumbled down the baggage claim to everyone’s delight. Little boys got the toys they asked for while parents snagged the big screen televisions and cameras they had only dreamed of.

The ad was powerful, and it showed in its popularity. The video earned:

  • Over 200,000 YouTube Likes, and over 20,000 comments
  • Over 40 million total YouTube views
  • Over 4.5 million additional views on other WestJet videos after its launch, and over 30,000 new YouTube subscribers
  • 42.2MM Twitter impressions specific to #WestJetChristmas
  • Over 2 million combined Facebook, Likes, Shares and Comments

WestJet also saw an 86 percent increase in sales compared to the same period one year earlier, a rise they attribute at least in part to the ad. This ad was an absolute, blow-out hit.

So what are the main lessons to draw from the WestJet Campaign? Play to people’s emotions. Don’t be afraid to sideline your product.

When I saw my boss cry when watching the ad, I knew it was going to perform well. Emotional stimuli, happiness, sadness, inspiration, anger and beyond, have been proven to activate the human nervous system and boost social transmission. In other words, if you can cause an emotional reaction in people, they’re far more likely to share your content.

This notion is clear when you look at what gets shared online. Go to a website like Upworthy or any other content aggregator and see what gets the most attention. It’s stories about unlikely heros, or videos of soldiers coming back from war and surprising their families, or stories of people and their pets. These videos, to use an internet expression, catch us ‘right in the feels’ and that’s why they succeed. Brands should be striving to make that same impression, and WestJet is proof as to why.

The airline also made their service a secondary element of the ad, which might seem counterintuitive to many brands but can actually pay off big time on social media. Many people are inherently hesitant to share brand-heavy content on social networks. We want to share high quality content with our friends and followers, not try to sell them on anything.

Putting your product to the side in favor of rich content is a great way to increase your likelihood of getting shared while still making an impact on brand awareness and sales. If you have any doubts, WestJet’s 86 per cent increase in sales after the release of the ad should cast those aside. Dove’s ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ are another great example.

Always’ #LikeAGirl

What does running like a girl look like in your mind? What about throwing like a girl? For far too many people, these phrases conjure up images of running and throwing badly. Doing something like a girl was a negative. That is the message that Always took on with its #LikeAGirl campaign.

In a YouTube video launched last summer, teenage girls and boys were asked to impersonate running or throwing like a girl. The results they got were the cliches they expected. Then they asked the same questions of young girls. To these kids, running, fighting or throwing like a girl means doing all of these actions to the best of your ability. They’re not yet influenced by these social cliches. The message was clear. Doing anything #LikeAGirl is something we need to reclaim as a positive.

The ad struck a chord. It earned

  • Over 55 million YouTube views
  • Over 200,000 YouTube Likes
  • Over 150,000 Facebook comments
  • Nearly 350,000 Facebook shares
  • Over 40,000 Tweets

So what are the main lessons to draw from the Always marketing campaign? Put your company behind a cause. Try to start a movement.

Always is working to become synonymous with women’s empowerment. This is their cause, and the basis of their ad. Again their product was put to the side, but where WestJet did it to focus on their customers, Always focused on the ‘greater good.’

Find a cause or a message that your business believes in. This is important: don’t just support it for an easy marketing win. Actually throw your company behind the cause. Raise awareness, fundraise, co-market with existing organizations that have taken on the cause. Looking like you support a cause isn’t enough, and can actually be damaging to your brand. You need to follow through. Always, for example, partners with UNESCO to support education for women across the world.

And the #LikeAGirl ad wasn’t just an ad, it was a call to action. In the same way that Old Spice succeeded by involving fans in their YouTube campaign, Always succeeded by making people want to join their #LikeAGirl movement. Athletes and businesses jumped onto the hashtag and threw their weight behind the movement, spreading the campaign even further.

This works for the same reason people latched on to the Ice Bucket Challenge. These movements are inclusive; they make you feel like a part of something good. All humans have a desire to be included and make a difference. If your brand can start a movement like Always was able to do, the positive impact on your brand will be substantial.

10 lessons from these successful marketing campaigns

  1. Ignore conventional marketing. Instead be memorable.
  2. Make your audience a part of the campaign.
  3. Distinguish your brand from the competition.
  4. Know your audience and cater ads to their interests.
  5. Use humor.
  6. Take risks.
  7. Play to people’s emotions.
  8. Don’t be afraid to put your product on the sidelines.
  9. Support a meaningful cause and share it with your audience.
  10. Try to start a movement with your brand at the center of it.
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