The 10 best ads of 2016 (you won’t believe #7)

I confess. That was clickbait. This will not be an article about the 10 best ads of 2016. It will be an article about the one campaign during 2016 that really mattered. It will be about a campaign that was everything that all great advertising campaigns should be; it was persuasive, it was engaging, it was emotional, it was original. It truly transformed our future. And it wasn’t done by Droga5. The title from my article borrows one of the tactics of this brilliant little campaign.

The campaign I’m going to write about today is Fake News. The most effective and ingenious (and disgusting) ad campaign of the year.

To write about this fairly, I’m going to have to ask everyone to take their political and moral hats off, and put their marketing hats on. Let’s examine Fake News from a mechanics of marketing perspective and see what it did right. Let’s understand how it got so many clicks and likes and, most importantly, how it actually moved people out of indifference and into a state of caring. What can we as marketers learn from the Fake News campaign? I think there are three things:

1. Be Strategic.

Here’s the thing about Fake News: it was a slave to strategy. Every piece was single mindedly built against a very clear strategic objective: make Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump unelectable. I can see the fake reporter in the fake newsroom smoking his/her fake cigar. I can see the fake editor coming in and saying, “I need a story that will sink Hillary.” And I can see our fake reporter delivering the goods by creating one of the most engaged Fake News articles of the year, “IT’S OVER: Hillary’s ISIS Email Just Leaked & It’s Worse Than Anyone Could Have Imagined.” You can debate the execution all you want, but that content was dead nuts on strategy, as were all of the pieces. They didn’t veer into feel good pieces or pieces that were executionally sound, but strategically questionable. They delivered the strategy in spades...over and over again. Something we should all keep in mind as we create our next campaigns.

2. Be Bold

Fake News wasn’t afraid to be bold. They went for the jugular. They wanted to make friends and enemies with every execution. There wasn’t a single article that took the middle road. I wish more marketing would be this courageous. Choose a side. Make friends and enemies. Ad campaigns that take the middle of the road simply get run over. They get ignored. But not Fake News. They could have done an article that questioned Hillary’s secret dealings through her foundation or through her deleted emails, but they jumped the middle-of-the-road rational and landed on the take-a-side emotional with this beauty of a story, “FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide.” Is it offensive to your very sense of decency and intelligence and humanity? You bet. Which is why I said in the beginning that you needed to take that hat off. The point of highlighting this article is that boldness beats middle-of-the-roadness 10 times out of 10. This is one of the most frustrating thing for me as an advertiser. We ALL know this to be true (clients included), but we often fail to message as sharply as we need to.

3. Be Relevant

Here’s the thing about advertising. More often than not, it is interruptive. Someone has a preconceived notion about a brand and we try to interrupt that person with reasons to think about that brand differently. This is a fool’s errand. No matter how persuasive the piece of communication, we will not be able to unseat a deeply held conviction. So what are we to do about this? Learn from Fake News. Don’t fight them...incite them. Don’t try to interrupt them, pull up alongside them. Don’t try to change values, try to espouse shared beliefs. Fake News realized that everyone thought the world was coming to an end as Donald Trump started to gain traction. But rather that try to convince everyone of the 5 reasons why everything would be alright, they came alongside the beliefs of the people and produced the most engaged with Fake News article of 2016, “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement.” They understood that it would be really hard to change people’s minds, but really easy to share their beliefs. This really is the future of great advertising. Brands who will find a shared value between their product or service and their consumers, and market against that. For Dove, it was the concept of real beauty. For Always, it was the value of girl empowerment. The challenge for brands in the future will be to identify shared values, where they can come alongside consumers and move forward together, not head-on.

So bravo, Fake News. You have my nod as the best campaign of 2016. I guess your credit list would involve a bunch of people in Macedonia cranking out offensive stories by the minute. You all deserve Titanium Lions. As for the rest of us, let’s make 2017 better than 2016 in every conceivable way. I actually can’t think of 10 campaigns from 2016 that are worth talking about. Let’s make 2017 different. Let’s learn from Fake News and be more strategic, be bolder, and be more relevant. If you don’t think it makes a difference, might I direct you to soon-to-be resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

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