Old SpiceWhen actor Isaiah Mustafa appeared as the "Old Spice Man" during last year's Super Bowl, the handsome towel-clad actor inaugurated the most creative advertising campaign of the year. But there was more to the spots spearheaded by ad agency Wieden + Kennedy. In July, Mustafa and a crew of social media experts and production folks began creating and posting YouTube videos of the Old Spice Man answering real questions from the public. Over three days, Mustafa weighed in with 186 videos, advising everyone from Alyssa Milano to George Stephanopoulos. In all, the back and forth generated 34 million YouTube views in a week as well as countless mentions in Facebook, Twitter and the mainstream press.
For years Domino's has been the pizza world's cleanup act. Its low cost and late hours appealed to after-hours partyers and college students. Anyone who cares how their pizza actually tastes abandoned the brand long ago. So when the company began acknowledging its status in the pizza pecking order in ads released early last year, the honesty was a shock.
After reworking its recipe, Domino's head chef brought the new pizzas to the homes of its harshest focus-group critics, where the new pies made their debut. Not only did the ads make customers sit up and listen, they also made them want to try the pizzas for themselves. In the first quarter of 2010, sales jumped 14 percent, and Domino's has recorded 11 percent to 12 percent growth each quarter since.
Heineken's "Walk-in fridge" ad--in which a group of women goes nuts over their friend's walk-in closet, only to hear their husbands and boyfriends in the next room losing their minds over a walk-in refrigerator stocked with Heineken beer--garnered more than 4 million views on YouTube, not to mention the millions of impressions the ad made on the regular tube.
But instead of sitting back and waiting for their Clio, the ad company went guerilla. Soon after the ad's launch, groups of young men were spotted throughout Amsterdam trying to push giant cardboard boxes labeled "Walk-in fridge" into apartments and houses.
But Heineken's marketing coup de grâce last year was a video of a 2009 prank pulled on Champions League fans. That October, Heineken had enlisted wives, girlfriends, bosses and professors to sucker 1,136 Italian football fanatics in Milan into skipping the biggest match of the year--AC Milan vs. Real Madrid--to attend a classical music and poetry recital.
It recorded the forlorn men as they filed into the auditorium--then, 15 minutes into the unbearable concert, the game appeared on the screen. We're assuming they all got walk-in fridges as consolation prizes.
Groupon, a web company whose name is a mashup of "group" and "coupon," introduced the world to its concept in late 2008. More than two years later, it's one of the marketing world's breakout stars.
The concept is simple: In each of Groupon's 150 North American and 100 international markets, a local deal is offered, say 50 percent off muffins at a bakery. If enough people sign up for the deal, it goes live and is available to everyone. The merchant drives traffic to the store, and Groupon takes a cut.
But last summer, Groupon showed its real muscle when it went national for the first time, with a Gap promotion promising $50 in merchandise for $25. The deal hit critical mass in a few hours, and Gap raked in
$11 million in one day.
At press time, it was rumored that Groupon had rebuffed a $5 billion buyout offer from Google. That would have been quite a deal.
In the past three years, Guinness has seen world-record attempts spike 250 percent, but it's not because of crazy individuals growing out their fingernails or holding their breath. Instead, it's corporations trying to bring attention to their brands.
In 2009, Supercuts set the record for the most haircuts in a day (349). Last year, Sheraton Hotels & Resorts promoted a $120 million upgrade of its fitness facilities with a world-record resistance-band strength-training class (270 people). In November, Nike employees from around the world traveled to Las Vegas to break the record for the largest gathering of Elvis impersonators (645).
Those records may be a far cry from the most lightning strikes survived (7), but they're equally entertaining.
In the middle of Union Square in Manhattan last July, Unicef, the United Nation's Children's Fund, set up a bottled-water vending machine. But instead of spring-fed H2O, the machine offered murky bottles labeled dysentery, cholera, dengue and malaria. The stunt was designed to call attention to the 4,200 children who die each day of water-borne diseases. No one actually drank the water, but the machine did accept donations, and the viral video featuring the stunt reached several hundred thousand people. Not bad for a video without Justin Bieber.
Volkswagen's Fun Theory claims its mission is to inspire people to do good--and smile at the same time. The carmaker is behind the installation of slides and Big-inspired keyboards on subway steps--viral videos from years past. But its mission for 2010 was finding a fun way to make drivers obey the speed limit.
After sifting through hundreds of entries, it chose The Speed Camera Lottery. In cooperation with Swedish authorities, it rigged a camera to photograph all the license plates that went by. Speeding drivers were fined, with the money going into a pot. Drivers who obeyed the speed limit were eligible to win the pot.
The experiment got drivers to drop their speed 22 percent--but, most of all, it gave Volkswagen another viral hit.
In an age where marketing seems to revolve around page views, retweets and audience share, a trend as old as, well, signs is making a mark. Sign spinning is a mashup of juggling, performance art and old-fashioned pavement pounding, and it is showing up at grand openings and special events around the country, bringing in foot traffic and attracting crowds.
The driving force and self-proclaimed inventors of sign spinning is AArrow Advertising, a San Diego-based franchise that has locations in 18 states, fielding an army of young spinners nationwide. And they're making waves off the street too. YouTube is full of sign-spinning videos, Ellen DeGeneres has featured sign spinners on her show, and spinners were in FX Network and Ford commercials.
In late 2009, Kraft's Miracle Whip began airing a spot showing hip twenty-somethings laughing and dancing around a pool on an urban rooftop while smearing their sandwiches with the distinctly unhip dressing. The monotone taglines, "Don't Be So Mayo" and "We Are Miracle Whip, and We Will Not Tone It Down," were youth-pandering at its worst, enough that Stephen Colbert ran a parody of the commercial, throwing his support behind regular mayonnaise on his Comedy Central show. But instead of taking it on the chin, Miracle Whip bought airtime during Colbert's show, running its rooftop ad with new voice-overs calling Colbert "So mayo," making fun of the silent "t" in his name and inviting him to the rooftop to dance. The stunt turned a marketing flop into a publicity juggernaut and icon of customer engagement.
If you watched television in 2010, you were smacked in the face by the Garden State's bombardment of pop culture. At its height last October, MTV's "reality" show Jersey Shore boasted 6.7 million viewers, but its stars invaded more than the beach. Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino and DJ Pauly D have parlayed their MTV hit into a minor media empire, creating workout videos, appearing on late-night talk shows, scoring endorsement deals for vodka, bronzer and pistachios--even writing a novel and getting a gig on Dancing With the Stars.
Other Jersey-based shows, including Bravo's The Real Housewives of New Jersey and the Style Network's Jerseylicious, a reality show about a salon in Green Brook, have kept the state's big hair and spray tans in the spotlight--despite Gov. Chris Christie's lament that Jersey Shore doesn't fairly represent his state. But locals don't seem to mind. According to the Seaside Heights Business Improvement District, the "gym, tan, laundry" lifestyle has boosted local revenues 38 percent in just one year.
Jason Daley lives and writes in Madison, Wisconsin. His work regularly appears in Popular Science, Outside and other magazines.