Pro-vaccine stances and stock market flotations: the biggest brand stories of 2021

As part of our Best of 2021 series, our journalists have been looking back at some of the biggest stories of the past 12 months. Here we look at the year in brands.

As another year of Coronavirus raged on, the ad industry saw brands lend themselves to vaccination efforts, the closure of an iconic 90s retailer and Bob Ross resurrected for one last painting.

The Drum has rounded up the top brand stories from the past year with the likes of Coca-Cola, Amazon Prime Video and Dove topping the list.

Gap hangs up its boots, pulling out of UK and Ireland

Gap shuttered its UK stores in July after recording sales down 16% in 2020, with retail insiders citing the brand’s inability to adapt to its downfall.

Chief strategy officer at Wunderman Thompson Sid McGrath later issued a warning in The Drum to marketers about ’fracturing’ brands across channels to avoid the same demise as Gap.

Dove and Ogilvy partner for the ‘Reverse Selfie’

By age 13, over 80% of girls have distorted the way they look online. In April, Dove launched the ’Reverse Selfie’ campaign to raise awareness about the pressures of social media on teenagers’ self-esteem. The video ad and accompanying campaign were pushed out off the back of increased screen time during the pandemic.

The ad ended with a message of support, directing the viewer to have the ‘selfie talk’. ’Reverse Selfie’ is part of Dove and Ogilvy’s ’Self-Esteem’ project, kick-started in 2004.

Coke’s entrance into the gaming space branded ‘inauthentic’

Gen Z gamers were unimpressed by Coca-Cola’s entrance into the gaming space with its ’One Coke Away From Each Other’ ad receiving a lukewarm reaction. Gamers took to social media to brand the coke ’inauthentic’ and ’tone deaf’, although the general public gave the ad spot a warmer welcome, according to social monitoring company Talkwalker.

This year, Coke also tested the NFT waters, auctioning digital Coke-branded apparel.

Mnt Dew ‘resurrects’ Bob Ross for full 40-minute ‘Lost Episode’

Tapping into the posthumous fame of 80s artist Bob Ross, Mnt Dew created the ‘Lost Episode‘, mimicking his iconic PBS show The Joy of Painting. Working with the Bob Ross Company and Mnt Dew‘s ad agency TBWA\Chiat\Day, a 40-minute episode was created using CGI, a body double and prosthetics.

Mnt Dew‘s vice-president of marketing, Nicole Portwood, told The Drum: “It felt like the right time to spread joy to remind people of this simpler approach to life, and that while things continue to be difficult in our world – it’s chaotic out there – but Bob’s voice and style bring comfort and joy.“

Dr Martens and Brewdog join the stock market

In early 2021, counterculture brands Dr Martins and Scottish beer maker Brewdog joined the stock market and The Drum dug deeper into the potential branding impact. Vanella Jackson, chief executive officer at Omnicom-owned strategy consultancy Hall & Partners, said consumers “don‘t really care” about the stock market, but that they will notice if the businesses changes direction.

Jackson also offered a warning to Dr Martins not to lean into its fashionable status, and to keep true to the core brand.

Anti-vaxxers boycott Heineken for pro-vaccine stance

Dutch brewer Heineken was hit with anti-vaxxer boycotts after releasing ‘The Night Belongs to the Vaccinated’ – an ad that depicted seniors partying like it’s 2019. Heineken was one of the first brands to come out pro-vaccine, but was followed by a host of others that were ultimately targeted by anti-vaxxers.

Brands that followed Heineken in 2021 included BrewDog offering up its fridges, Boots and Superdrug launching Covid-19 vaccine sites and Walmart working with the Ad Council to educate the public on immunization.

BBC’s ‘A Perfect Planet’ OOH ads show environmental destruction

The BBC hijacked its own billboards for A Perfect Planet campaign

To promote the BBC’s latest David Attenborough environmental doc, BBC Creative pushed out billboards uncovering the reality of environmental destruction. Running alongside A Perfect Planet’s trailer and typical show campaign, the BBC created a set of subversive out-of-home ads.

James Cross, creative director at BBC Creative, said the campaign ”needed to highlight the fact that BBC nature series aren’t all about the good stuff, the wow and the wonder. There is actually a serious message that in more recent times, the corporation is leaning towards.”

Amazon Prime Video debuts smiling hyena ad

Amazon Prime Video EU got its first Christmas ad independent of the Amazon brand in 2021. Spanish Agency CYW was behind the hefty two-minute-long ad, which featured a smiling TV obsessive hyena called Hattie who moves in with zookeeper Carl to binge Amazon Prime Video.

The ad follows the established Christmas ad formula – a minimalist cover of a classic song and a tale of togetherness featuring a CGI sidekick.