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The Drum's New Year's Honors: campaigns that captured our attention

The Drum recognizes some of the best campaigns of 2018

From surreal product spots to cunning out-of-home creations and eye-catching moments across every screen, we consider the best campaigns of the last year.

Sport England ‘This Girl Can’

2018 saw the most recent phase of FCB Inferno’s much-celebrated ‘This Girl Can’ campaign for National Lottery-funded Sport England with ‘Fit Got Real’. The ‘This Girl Can’ series aims to deliver ‘a kick right in the stereotypes’ by evoking the power of femvertising to inspire women of all ages to participate in physical activity. Lauded for changing attitudes to exercise across the country, the third film in the series pokes fun at the universal awkwardness associated with getting fit to reach women from lower-income backgrounds. In contrast to 2017’s empowering ‘Phenomenal Women’, the campaign featured women trying, failing and trying again, to show that, whatever exercise a person does, it still counts.

Stayfree India ‘Project Free Period’

Discussing the taboo of periods is an important social cause – the end goal is to normalize what is a regular biological occurrence for women around the world. It has, therefore, become a discussion point used often by sanitary brands and standing out among this message has become harder. Stayfree in India managed to do just that in 2018 by subverting the fact that most women don’t look forward to – their periods.

To do this the brand talked about a group of women that do. Sex workers in India are only allowed time off for their periods, so this has become a time for self-care – the only break they truly get from working. Taking this topic further Stayfree organized an education program for sex workers during this time, to help them pursue their dreams during their time off. It’s a smart insight that makes women think differently about that ‘time of the month’, while truly using the brand’s power to make a difference for those it’s using in its storytelling.

Casio ‘Equals’

‘Equals’ may be a Casio campaign, but you wouldn’t know it from the work. Despite being funded by the electronics giant, this content push to encourage girls to study mathematics bears none of its branding whatsoever. And that’s not the only unorthodox thing about it – the other is that it’ll be years before Casio knows whether it’s worked or not.

The company is the world’s market leader in scientific calculators but last year it realized it had a problem in this market. Fewer and fewer students in the UK were taking A-level maths. Incapable of growing its market share, it had to attempt something much more radical: growing the market. “We had a couple of meetings internally and realized this is such a big job,” says marketer Georgina Luxford.

Casio looked for an agency that could help, and, after a pitch run by The Drum Consulting, settled upon Inkling. Armed with the insight that the proportion of A-level maths students that are women is just 39%, Inkling proposed giving the campaign a female focus. Its thinking was that if Casio could grow this demographic it would inevitably grow sales as a by-product.

“Girls feel they don’t have maths role models,” says Inkling managing director Laura Burch. “You can’t be what you can’t see. That’s despite girls consistently outperforming boys at GCSE and in Stem subjects.”

Its answer to that problem was a series of films depicting how notable women had used their education to launch unexpected and inspiring careers, such as songwriter Little Boots drawing on her maths skills to make pop songs. Pushed directly to teenagers on Instagram and their parents and teachers on Facebook, the videos direct viewers to the Equals website – a vibrant hub of information and inspiration about the possibility presented by studying maths.

“All of the existing resources were so boring,” says Burch. “Just lists of links. If you’re looking to inspire a 15-year-old, that isn’t going to do it. Our hub was designed to look much more like a social channel. It looks like Instagram.” And then there’s the lack of branding.

“Usually you’re thinking, how do we get our key messaging in without it feeling forced? How do we get the brand in? How do we get a product in the film without people switching off because it looks too obvious. It’s really nice to talk about an issue without having to force a brand in.”

In an industry where the average tenure of a chief marketing officer is just 44 months, the ‘Equals’ work is a rare example of a brand playing the long game. “PR is usually about – ‘we want something in the short-term, we want to launch something in the next three months, we need to prove results really quickly’. Well, we’re not really going to know the impact for another two years.” In the meantime, an outreach push in schools and more content will commence.

All that will be left to do will be for Casio and Inkling to play the waiting game to see if the number of A-level students has increased come the August intake. If their calculations are correct, a sales spike will follow.

Louvre Abu Dhabi ‘Highway Gallery’

Art galleries are usually considered safe spaces for quiet contemplation. But the Louvre – perhaps the most prestigious gallery in the world and the most visited art museum on the planet – has gone out of its way in 2018 to steer away from that reputation and make a little more noise. In the summer it allowed Beyoncé and Jay-Z to shoot a critically acclaimed music video within its sculpture-lined halls, and in Abu Dhabi, as part of a campaign heralding the opening of its first international offshoot, Louvre Abu Dhabi, it harnessed voice technology and roadside billboards.

For ‘Highway Gallery’ Dubai-based TBWA\RAAD erected a series of billboards bearing images of some of the new gallery’s most priceless artworks; prehistoric sculptures, ancient Arabic coins, Egyptian death masks, a self-portrait by Van Gogh and the most expensive painting ever sold –

Leonardo’s Salvatore Mundi. Each of the billboards was fitted with an FM radio jammer that intercepted the car radios of passing drivers and triggered the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum audio guide. Now, some of the 12,000 drivers that speed along – or sit in static traffic – on the Dubai-Abu Dhabi E11 highway could learn about the amazing artworks available to them in their city.

The campaign aimed to interest local Emiratis in the museum’s opening and share in its collection, which includes priceless artworks and artifacts from the region as well as famous works from the west. As well as utilizing technologies established and novel – the burgeoning technology of voice marketing and the age-old billboard – the campaign succeeded in taking the art out of the gallery and into the streets. With a million visitors in its first year, the campaign to bring the museum to the hearts and minds of tourists and locals appears to be working.

Apple ‘Welcome Home’

With the voice assistant market dominated by Amazon and Google-aligned devices, this spot for the Apple Homepod came from behind to steal the spotlight. This confident four-minute spot is closer to a short film or music video than an ad – in fact, the product it’s selling only appears in two shots.

Director Spike Jonze is as famous for his work in advertising as his filmmaking, though it’s not surprising to see him direct a fantastical, intimate short about a woman’s relationship with Siri given the subject matter of his 2013 film Her.

One of the most remarkable – and surreal – ads of the year, the spot shows a young woman played by dancer and musician FKA Twigs arriving home after a long day at work. Exhausted and demoralized, she asks her Homepod to ‘play something that I like’, providing the cue for a dreamlike dance sequence choreographed by Ryan Heffington (a previous collaborator with FKA Twigs) set to Anderson.Paak’s song Til It’s Over. Empowered by the music, the character creates an alternate reality within her apartment that reveals hidden space and color at the heart of her otherwise drab life.

Building on Apple’s cool factor by matching two rising stars with a cult director, the spot injected the Homepod into cultural conversations everywhere, trending on YouTube for two weeks and ranking as the most watched piece of branded content in March. Trendsetting music website Pitchfork even called the ad “the best music video” of the month, proving that Jonze’s choice to downplay the device itself and focus on the possibilities it grants to users paid off by reaffirming the tech brand’s position in music culture. The ad also stealthily plugged Apple’s streaming service as the track at the core of the hit spot was only available on Apple Music.

Justice4Grenfell ‘Three Billboards Outside Grenfell, London’

As well as winning Oscars for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor, the Frances McDormand-fronted film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri inspired activists around the world in 2018, for causes ranging from gun control to the impeachment of Donald Trump.

In London, it was to highlight inaction in the UK government’s investigation into the Grenfell blaze, with three lorry-loaded billboards touring sites including St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster before parking outside the North Kensington tower block. They read: ‘71 dead.’ ‘And still no arrests?’ ‘How come?’

Devised by BBH Labs and community-led organization Justice4Grenfell, the campaign received the praise of McDormand herself who said “billboards still work”.

The Justice 4 Grenfell website accuses the government of apathy in its investigation into the blaze, explaining: “And still 297 flammable towers. And still hundreds of survivors are homeless. And still they are not represented on the inquiry. And still there is no justice.”

Lush ‘#Spycops’

Cosmetics company Lush went beyond just selling bath bombs and soaps when it waded into controversial activism in 2018 by calling out undercover police officers who infiltrated political groups and activists.

The campaign sought to raise awareness of a scandal first reported in 2013, when it was revealed that undercover officers of the Metropolitan Police Service had been in long-term relationships with activists – in some cases fathering children under their undercover identities. A public inquiry into the matter, examining the use of undercover police is now in its third year.

‘#Spycops’ called out officers that “infiltrated the lives, homes, and beds of activists since 1968”.

“Their roles were to infiltrate political groups and collect ‘intelligence’ about planned demonstrations and the individuals involved,” according to a Lush UK social post.

Lush made its UK storefronts appear as crime scenes, with warning tape draped below posters reading ‘Paid to Lie’ and ‘Police Have Crossed the Line’. That was backed up by a dramatic social video that depicted the alleged tactics used by the police, including a man telling a woman he loved her, then appearing as a policeman with her being interrogated.

While many – including UK police forces – derided the campaign, true to its nature as a global company that takes stances against injustices like human rights violations and animal testing, Lush didn’t back down.

The campaign ended up being positive for the retailer, especially with its core audience. In the wake of the ‘#Spycops’ hashtag launch on social, critics launched ‘#FlushLush’. But the ‘#Spycops’ hashtag outperformed the anti-Lush tag in the first days of the campaign and solidified the base consumers, showing that daring purpose-driven marketing campaigns like this can effectively drive brand affinity and purchase.

Lacoste ‘Save Our Species’

It seems fitting that a company best known for having an alligator on its polo shirts took up a cause for dwindling animal species around the globe.

Fashion brand Lacoste yanked the famous reptile from its polo shirts for the first time in its 85-year history and gave the space to 10 threatened species. The limited-edition shirts featured a production run matching the number of remaining animals thought to exist in the wild. For instance, only 30 vaquita porpoise branded shirts were produced while the Anegada rock iguana adorned 450 garments. Also represented were the Burmese roofed turtle, northern sportive lemur, Javan rhino, Cao-vit gibbon, kakapo, California condor, the saola and the Sumatran tiger.

The campaign was developed by creative agency BETC Paris in partnership with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In total Lacoste has produced some 1,775 polo shirts for its promotional production run, launched at the brand’s official runway show at Paris Fashion Week and sold on Lacoste’s website which also featured information on the animals.

The website is still up and accepting donations, and the partnership between the IUCN and Lacoste will last for at least three years.

The Times ‘Unsilenced’

In today’s divisive political climate, President John F. Kennedy’s wish “that we may achieve in our time, for all time, the ancient vision of peace on earth, goodwill toward men” is as meaningful as ever. Those words, part of a speech Kennedy was to give at the Dallas Trade Mart the day he was assassinated, were silenced in that moment. But not for all time. Last year The Times sought to unsilence that speech. Accenture Interactive and Rothco’s ‘Unsilenced’ campaign for The Times used breakthrough audio technology and painstaking sound design to bring his speech to the attention to of more than a billion people around the world – a message of hope we all needed to hear.

‘If England get beaten so will she’

England was in something of an illusory state during the summer of 2018. Temperatures hit record highs and stayed there, a royal wedding boosted patriotism amid Brexit blues and football fans, really, really thought the national football squad might win the World Cup. As Gareth Southgate’s team ascended through the tournament, a number of reactive campaigns sprang up with notable work including British Airways’ ticket to ‘home’ for ‘Football’ and M&S’s shameless cash-in on the England gaffer’s penchant for a waistcoat.

But behind the frenzy, J Walter Thompson London quietly launched a poster campaign addressing the dark side of the beautiful game as England took on Belgium on 28 June. A single image featured a pale woman’s face with blood trickling from her nose. Smudged across her lips, the stain forming the shape of the English flag. It was accompanied by the line: ‘If England get beaten, so will she.’

The work was created in less than two weeks.

Maya Halilovic, a creative at JWT, was flicking through tweets tagged with the World Cup hashtag during the earlier stages of the tournament when a piece of research caught her eye: reports of domestic violence increase 26% when England play and 38% when England lose. Immediately she turned to her colleague, Jo Taylor, and discussed the statistics. Taylor began to scamp up the image forming in her mind’s eye and once the strength of the idea was made clear a team was pulled into the project almost immediately. But at one stage, it was unlikely to have been seen by anyone outside of the agency.

JWT was eager to present the work to longstanding client the National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV). But there was one problem – the client was on holiday and unreachable.

“For those first 10 days ... we were desperately trying to reach them,” remembers Halilovic. “But we all agreed we wouldn’t stop production because we were waiting for client sign-off – otherwise the World Cup would be over and we’d have missed our opportunity. We just kept going ahead. We were able to call in favors on our end which made things a lot easier and [the client] was instantly on board once we did get through to him.”

Inspired by the power of the St George’s imagery, the team created a number of accompanying posters. Two intersecting plasters placed across a cut cheek formed the flag of Switzerland, and a round bruise on a shoulder represented Japan. The Belgian and French flags were also concocted using a blend of bruising and blood.

The task required both creativity and mental endurance – spending days designing bruises, cuts and wounds against a context as sombre as domestic violence was a world away from writing jokes mocking Colombia, for instance. Some of the visuals were so powerful, Halilovic explains, that a number of media owners were hesitant to run them.

“It reminds you of the power of a really good idea,” says Jo Wallace, creative director at JWT. “The learning is to never give up because this is proof of how effective [a campaign] can be when the idea is right.”

Iceland ‘#NoPalmOilChristmas’

The most-talked about Christmas ad of 2018 broke precedent by avoiding festive references – with no reindeer, zero sprouts and not even a solitary snowflake. Instead, the ad featured Rangtan, a critically endangered orangutan with a message to spread.

Repurposing an animated short film created by Mother for Greenpeace, Iceland used its Christmas slot to focus on the impact of palm oil extraction on the environment. But due to a ban by advertising clearing house Clearcast it never aired, falling foul of UK broadcasting laws on political advertising. This decision didn’t stop the ad going viral, and Iceland’s well-publicized censorship protests ensured that the film received a much larger viewership than it would have on TV.

ICRC ‘Hope’

Looking to raise awareness about the dire consequences of war and terrorism across the world, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) turned to storytelling with intensity and surprise in its ‘Hope’ campaign.

In a short film, ICRC showed a father racing time to get his injured daughter to a hospital, only to arrive and find that it has been bombed. In this tale of disaster, the victims are not only healthcare personnel but also the civilians that are killed or maimed or fall fatally ill after being deprived of doctors and health centers where they would have sought care. The two-minute film by Sra Rushmore and Blur Films Madrid for ICRC issues a plea to save healthcare and aid workers with the tag ‘Healthcare is #NotATarget’. The film deservedly won the Grand Prix Film Craft Lions at Cannes.

NTUC ‘Worst Parent in The World’

This campaign by insurer NTUC is set at a wedding banquet and centers around the groom giving a speech to his parents.

He begins by seemingly criticizing his parents, calling them ‘the worst parents in the world’ and talking about how he missed out on a number of things in his childhood, such as piano lessons, trips to distant destinations and proper tuition classes – all of which his friends got.

Midway in this speech, however, the groom reveals that he is in fact grateful for the way his parents raised him, saying: ‘Had you given me everything I wanted back then, I wouldn’t have everything I can have now.’

He ends by saying that because his parents saved for their retirement, this allowed him and his wife to ‘focus on the steps (they’d) like to take’ in their new lives together.

The video, which was created with creative agency BBH Singapore, was an ad encouraging retirement planning. Inspiration for the video came from a Nielsen research study commissioned by NTUC Income, which found parents were motivated to prioritize their children’s future over theirs and would continue to do so.

Children were also downgrading their lifestyles, making career-related sacrifices and even delaying marriage to financially support their retired parents as many expressed low confidence that their parents were retirement ready.

It has been watched by over 5.1 million people and shared by over 90,000 across various channels, including Facebook and YouTube. It even caught the attention of the mainstream press in Singapore.

Paddy Power World Cup ‘From Russia with Equal Love’

Bookmakers have come under increased scrutiny in the UK over fixed odds betting terminals, their responsibility to restrict access to gambling addicts and the media saturation of their ads, most noticeable in and around the world of sports.

To this end it was refreshing to see the previously infamous Paddy Power use its enviable reach and social presence at the World Cup 2018 to support the LGBT+ community in an environment where many sponsors were shamefully tight lipped on the subject.

In protest at Russia’s dismal treatment of LGBT+ people, which is legally enabled by an anti-gay propaganda clause, Paddy Power said it would donate £10,000 per Russian goal to the Attitude Magazine Foundation. The Russian team exceeded all expectations on the field and prompted a £170,000 donation from the bookmaker in an action that secured greater reach than that received by most of the tournament’s official sponsors.

The activation contrasted with Mastercard Latin America’s pledge to donate meals to feed starving children every time either Neymar or Lionel Messi scored a goal. While Mastercard gamified hunger, the ‘From Russia with Equal Love’ campaign from Synergy also enjoyed the support of prominent LGBT+ athletes including Caitlyn Jenner.

Greg Double, creative account director at Synergy, told Sports Industry Group: “While other brands were changing their logos to rainbow colors, Paddy Power put its money where Russia’s boots were.”

Meanwhile, Paddy Power has been heartily backing LGBT+ causes all year round, safe in the knowledge that its category rivals would likely be unable to follow it into the space and court new customers. This included parading an empty, open-top double decker bus at Brighton Pride to outline that there are currently no openly gay footballers in the Premier League.

Follow The Drum's New Year's Honors section for further installments involving the brands and people of the year.