Who here wants to relive 2021? Yeah, me neither. But despite all that went wrong this year, brands have continued to make waves with innovative and creative marketing campaigns.
Instead of acting like 2021 never happened, we compiled a list of ten iconic marketing moments we’ll remember in 2022. From a four-paragraph Super Bowl ad to a green owl TikTok influencer, we have a lot to remember from this past year.
Reddit takes a huge gamble on the Super Bowl
Every year, the Super Bowl challenges brands to spend millions of dollars on memorable, often humorous ads. Content matters always, but marketers view this big game day as an opportunity to flex their skills. After all, people actually look forward to watching Super Bowl ads.
So, Reddit decided to throw their hat in the ring – with a five-second ad. It breaks literally every convention of best ad practices. Viewers have to pause their show to view a text-heavy ad. But Reddit’s disregard for conventions really made this stand out.
What just happened? pic.twitter.com/DypRp6DeQt— Reddit (@Reddit) February 8, 2021
Several major publications, including the New York Times, covered the ad as a standout from other, more cinematic commercials. By “[spending their] entire marketing budget,” Reddit stood out from the crowd.
The Big Takeaway: Bold, provocative campaigns—no matter how minimalist—can create big waves. Reddit proved you seldom need fancy or even beautiful imagery to rule the Super Bowl.
Megan Thee Stallion makes a sauce for Thee Hotties
In the middle of a brisk, cold fall, Hot Girl Summer came early. Just a few months ago, recording artist Megan Thee Stallion partnered with PopEyes to create an epic, saucy collaboration. Alongside an exclusive, limited-time Hottie Sauce, Megan and PopEyes dropped exclusive merch.
This collab marks one of the more successful fast food collaborations of the year, particularly because it happened right after Megan released her album, “Something for Thee Hotties”. It felt authentic, timely, and super cool. If you’re gonna collaborate with the likes of Megan Thee Stallion, you need to go all out.
The Big Takeaway: Influencer marketing will continue to thrive in 2022 – so long as fit exists between the brand and influencer. In this case, Megan promoting a hot sauce makes perfect sense. After all, she calls her fans Thee Hotties.
Cuthbert the Caterpillar sparks a supermarket showdown
If you need to read that again, I totally understand. For those out of the loop, the supermarket Aldi sold a caterpillar cake called Cuthbert. Their competitors at Marks & Spencer sued them because Cuthbert resembled their Colin the Caterpillar cake – released in 1990.
Again, if you need to review that one more time, no worries.
Aldi decided to immediately drag Marks & Spencer on Twitter instead of keeping this legal debacle behind closed doors. It all started with the following, viral tweet.
This is not just any court case, this is… #FreeCuthbert— Aldi Stores UK (@AldiUK) April 15, 2021
Suddenly, millions of Twitter users found themselves in the middle of a caterpillar faceoff. In an extraordinarily tense period—not seen in the UK since Brexit—users began taking either Colin or Cuthbert’s side. In a modern tale of David versus Goliath, Aldi managed to turn a lawsuit into a legitimate marketing campaign.
The Big Takeaway: Remaining agile on social media can reap immense benefits. Aldi very well could have kept this issue private, but making it so publicly known and poking fun at it helped the supermarket gain great visibility and reputation.
Tiffany & Co rebels against older generations
Fashion labels have the difficult task of attracting younger customers. Some have tried touting their commitments to protecting the environment while others have started using micro-influencers. These strategies have proven to incentivize Gen Z, a growing customer segment, to engage with high-end brands.
This year, Tiffany & Co decided to completely rebrand itself. For years, many viewed Tiffany as a more conservative, formal brand compared to its more contemporary competitors. To shift this perception, Tiffany released its “Not Your Mother’s Tiffany” campaign, which featured young models wearing semicasual clothing.
Did it work? Kinda.
Inherently positioning itself as a rebellious brand makes them appear more approachable to younger generations. Posters plastered throughout metropolitan areas, included New York City, very clearly present a transformation within Tiffany.
However, their rebrand has sparked backlash from their older, longtime consumer base. Several took to social media to express disappointment and feelings of alienation from the slogan. After all, the “mothers” Tiffany dissed in their rebrand still exist.
Despite the controversy, Tiffany’s rebrand makes for an undeniably iconic marketing moment of 2021. Targeting Gen Z takes a lot of refining – and whether Tiffany’s bold shift worked or not is yet to be seen.
The Big Takeaway: When going big, anticipate backlash. Tiffany certainly did not intend to alienate a part of its consumer base, yet the effects still linger. Bold moves can sometimes upset people, so your brand needs to prepare for the worst.
Protected from COVID-19? Krispy Kreme wants to thank you
When COVID-19 vaccines became available to the general public, governments desperately tried to get people to take them. If you live in the greater New York City area, for example, you could absolutely not escape NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi’s vaccination pleas. But asking people to get vaccinated needed a little something sweet to get the ball rolling.
In walks Krispy Kreme, a donut brand on a mission to award vaccinations. For a period of time, if you showed Krispy Kreme your vaccine card, they gave you two donuts on the house. At the end of the campaign, Krispy Kreme reported handing out more than 2.5 million donuts.
Did that many people get vaccinated because of free donuts? Probably not. But Krispy Kreme benefited greatly from their initiative’s exposure.
The Big Takeaway: Participating in initiatives that benefit the public will, in turn, help your brand stand out. Sure, Krispy Kreme lost some money handing out free donuts. But their place in getting people vaccinated will remain in people’s minds even after the pandemic.
The Duolingo owl will follow you on TikTok
We’ve all downloaded the Duolingo app in a feat of motivation, only to comically stop using it after a short amount of time. And the Duolingo owl is always there to remind you about your lessons – through many, many notifications. Many users have even created memes centered around this persistent, green owl.
Capitalizing on the owl’s popularity on social media, Duolingo created a TikTok account that features someone wearing a gigantic owl costume. If you look on their page, which has more than 2.2 million followers, most of their clips receive more than a million views.
Instead of purely promoting Duolingo, their page capitalizes on current trends in an often humorous way. If you follow them on TikTok, you can expect a chaotically messy owl participating in mainstream pop culture. At one point, the Duolingo owl talked about Taylor Swift’s latest album on more than one occasion.
@duolingo wearing red lipstick to help me cope for the full 10 minutes #redtaylorsversion #swiftie #taylornation #taylorswift #alltoowell #Duolingo ♬ All Too Well Taylor Swift – TaylorswiftxFolklore
The Big Takeaway: You need to entertain people, especially on TikTok. Your followers do not want to see ads or offers – they just want to be entertained.
Squid Game rides the word-of-mouth wave
Where were you when your friend first said “oh my god, you need to watch Squid Game”?
The almost exponential growth in popularity for Squid Game happened almost entirely because of word-of-mouth and recommendations. Sure, Netflix likely spent a pretty penny on marketing and promoting the series. They even have the doll from the first episode in a museum in Korea.
Aside from word-of-mouth, the series also received critical acclaim and generally favorable reviews. But so did many other shows – what made Squid Game so compelling to people?
The Big Takeaway: Squid Game has a bold, in-your-face premise viewers never forget. That first episode likely lives in people’s minds. From a marketing perspective, people will remember daring and out-there content that challenges their perception of the world.
McDonald’s gets lost in the BTS sauce
If you haven’t caught on, McDonald’s really loves marketing different sauces – for better or worse. When they brought back their Szechuan Sauce in partnership with Rick and Morty, fans went absolutely bonkers. You could not go on social media without finding pictures and videos of a McDonald’s meltdown.
Earlier this year, they partnered with BTS – one of the biggest K-pop groups on the planet – to create “The BTS Meal”. Members of the group also picked new sauces, including Sweet Chili and Cajun, to accompany the meal.
Similar to Megan Thee Stallion’s collaboration with PopEyes, this worked extremely well for McDonald’s. Why? Because BTS fans will do absolutely anything to support the group. One fan even took to TikTok to argue non-BTS fans buying their meal falls under “cultural appropriation”.
The Big Takeaway: When making use of influencer or even celebrity marketing, finding an influencer with truly dedicated fans pays off. Even if an influencer has a large number of followers, brands should pay attention to how they interact with their fans.
Spotify Wrapped continues its social media dominance
Every November, Spotify users await an annual summary of how they listened to music in the past year. Spotify provides its over 172 million premium subscribers with shareable, customized graphics featuring their results.
Many in the marketing industry regard Wrapped as “genius”. Whenever it comes around, it immediately trends on most social media platforms. Non-Spotify users, sadly, have to deal with a sudden onslaught of Spotify-branded visuals as users excitedly share their music taste and unique playlists.
In a list of iconic marketing moments, we would be remiss not to include it.
The Big Takeaway: Users love personalized experiences, especially those that talk about their interests and characteristics. Everyone has a different Spotify Wrapped – no two listeners have the exact same “audio auras” and genres.
Chipotle promotes its spooktacular “boorito” – on Roblox
I feel like this year saw a lot of brand new sentences. Yes, that’s right – Chipotle had a virtual store, featuring a “boorito,” on Roblox. By going into the Chipotle game on Roblox, users can get a free $5 entree while experiencing the restaurant’s first dip into the metaverse.
Chipotle has done its boorito promotion since 2000, so it needed to find a way to pivot virtually because of the pandemic. Naturally, Chipotle decided to enter the metaverse through Roblox to give fans a fun, yet safe online experience.
The Big Takeaway: It seems only fitting to end this list with an example of metaverse marketing – a massive shift in how we engage with technology and build virtual relationships. Chipotle demonstrates not only the benefits of remaining adaptable but how early movers in innovative spaces reap rewards.
Now that we’ve gone over ten iconic marketing moments from 2021, you can move confidently forward into 2022. Using these moments, we can feel inspired to push the envelope even further as marketing continues to evolve.
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