The Drum's New Year Honours 2015: Ones to watch, PR triumphs and brand disasters

This week The Drum has been looking back at the agencies and brands that have made their mark on the industry over the past 12 months as part of our New Year Honours list.

From Fifa's corruption scandal to AB InBev and SABMiller joining forces, it's been a year of controversy and triumph for brands.

Here we look at which ones are worth watching (not always for the right reasons), and the PR stunts that made us smile.

The Drum's New Year Honours list will be teased out each day over the Christmas period, with the list published in full in our first issue of 2016, published on 13 January.

Brand to watch: Uber

From constantly riling irate cabbies worldwide to accusing rival Lyft of a data, private transport company Uber has rarely been out of the news.

Steadily gaining ground since its launch in 2009 Uber is available in 67 countries with world domination firmly in its sights. In February it announced a collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University to found the Uber Advanced Technology Centre, supporting research into driverless cars, followed by initiatives such as UberEats, UberBoat and the UberMilitary Families Coalition.

With disputes over surge pricing and multiple lawsuits unlikely to go away any time soon Uber’s 2016 could be interesting for all the wrong reasons.

Brand to watch: AB InBev and SABMiller

SABMiller and AB Inbev inked the biggest takeover of a British company in October penning a $104bn (£68bn) deal to create the world’s first global brewer.

One of the top five deals in corporate history, the merger sees one single company now responsible for nearly a third of the world’s beer. The combined firm, which is likely to be listed in Belgium, will allow AB InBev to harness SABMiller’s position in the African and Asian markets.

However, as with most mergers, there’s a rocky road ahead as beer drinkers have started to file lawsuits, fearing higher prices and lower quality.

Brand to watch: WeWork

The entrepreneurial start-up boom continues to flourish, rendering traditional workplace setups somewhat dated. Small teams and freelancers don’t need the vast office space of yesteryear, instead, they are finding homes in the collaborative environment of coworking hubs.

Leading the way in that field is WeWork, with 25,000 members and 60 locations in 10 cities. The New York-based company was launched in 2010 with the aim of utilizing the city’s empty buildings that proliferated after the financial crash. Members benefit from physical and virtual communities, and have access to healthcare, exclusive hotel and gym rates.

Brand to watch for the wrong reasons: Tesco

It’s been a tumultuous couple of years for one of Britain’s biggest supermarkets. The fallout from the accounting scandal in 2014 carried on into 2015, resulting in a record annual loss of £6.4bn and the suspension of eight senior staff members.

Tesco’s chief executive Dave Lewis admitted it had been “a very difficult year for Tesco” and conceded that the company had lost its competitiveness.

The huge financial blow sustained by the decline in shares value was closely followed by the news that it would close over 40 stores and bin plans to open 49 new shops.

Brand disaster: Volkswagen

Volkswagen’s year has been nothing short of disastrous. The German car manufacture was caught lying on an unprecedented scale after the Environmental Protection Agency found that over 11m vehicles worldwide (8m in Europe) had been fitted with software that allowed it to cheat emissions tests.

Volkswagen chief executive Martin Winterkorn resigned over the scandal but maintained he had no knowledge of the cheating.

Shares in the company fell by 40 per cent within two months of the company admitting wrongdoing. Since then it has pinned its turnaround on creating best in class electric cars and clean exhaust emission systems.

Biggest missed opportunity: General election

2015 was the first digitally focused UK general election, however 2020 will mark the first well-executed digital election. Digital spend on emails, social media, video and interactive websites reached record highs from both Labour and the Conservatives this year but the rhetoric was all-too-often directed at ‘in-the-bag’ voters. In the next half decade, more data on middle-ground voters will be made available and social networks in particular will bolster their targeting options and ad packages, boosting their accuracy and effectiveness. Prior to the election in May, Ed Miliband’s popularity on Twitter failed to translate into votes as the Labour Party preached to the converted in an echo chamber of its own creation.

PR triumph: Netflix and chill Switch button

This year the term ‘Netflix and Chill’ has been inescapable, well, in certain circles at least. Roughly translated as ‘staying in to hook up’, the video streaming service acknowledged its entry into mainstream vernacular with the creation of a ‘Netflix and Chill’ button. Unveiled via the medium of an online video, the short film showed the company’s engineers developing a button which dims the lights, activates the ‘do not disturb’ function on your smartphone and launches the Netflix app.

The experimental switch was opened up to fans with a guide on how to build their own, those lacking the skills just had to settle for ‘Neflixing and Chilling’ the old fashioned way.

PR triumph: Pret Charity Christmas donation

Pret-A-Manger offered ‘A Little Thank You’ over Christmas by shunning traditional festive marketing to raise awareness and money for five homelessness charities – Glasgow City Mission, The Choir with No Name, The Clock Tower Sanctuary, Cardboard Citizens and The 999 Club. Dedicating its marketing channels to the Pret Foundation Trust charities the café chain embraced the true nature of the festive season.

To thank customers for their support over the year Pret’s social platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram featured the charities’ stories with content created using Pret’s digital media budget which it also sacrificed to help raise awareness of the work these charities carry out.

PR disaster: Fifa

From bribery allegations to (now-suspended) president Sepp Blatter being showered with cash by Lee Nelson during a press conference, Fifa was dragged through the wringer in 2015. 
The football body saw its brand perception plummet in June over claims of corruption over its selection of Qatar for the 2022 world cup and several big names including Coca-Cola and Adidas released statements condemning reports of fraud after Swiss police stormed the a Zurich hotel and arrested nine individuals.
A plethora of legal bills and the inability to replace top-tier partners such as Emirates and Sony have had serious financial consequences for the brand which endured a loss of £67m in 2015.

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