One of the most common misconceptions surrounding great marketing campaigns is that they started with a “good idea.” Cue an executive shooting up in bed in the middle of the night with a light bulb appearing above their head – complete with the fuzzy night cap and all.
The truth is that good ideas, and creativity in general, need to be cultivated. Good ideas don’t pop into your head unprompted – they are shaped by studying the competitive landscape and ideating against carefully curated creative parameters.
After studying hundreds of the most innovative and successful marketing campaigns, we’ve identified 4 creative strategies to help frame your thinking and channel creativity. Below we deep dive into each category and share real world examples of marketing campaigns from the world’s most renowned brands.
1. Show up somewhere unexpected
There’s a lot to be said for the element of surprise. When your brand shows up somewhere you normally wouldn’t expect to see them, people pay closer attention and are more likely to remember and think about you after the fact.
But tread carefully – there’s a fine line between intrusive and delightful. The brands who do it best add to the experience of whatever space they’re occupying. They do their due diligence to ensure a complete understanding of the channel, event, or moment so they can enhance it rather than dilute it.
Take, for example, The Vienna Strips campaign, created by the Vienna Tourist Board as a protest movement for artistic freedom on social media. The campaign involved taking censored artworks from cooperating museums and publishing them on OnlyFans, a platform known for adult and often pornographic content. The campaign sparked discussions about censorship while promoting Vienna’s cultural heritage.
In reverse, Duolingo, a digital product, came to life in brick-and-mortar with the Museum of Wonky English in Japan. The museum showcases some of the most amusing Japanese mistranslations of English phrases, such as “Urinate with precision and elegance” and “Please do not eat children and elderly.” The exhibit encourages learners to embrace the language learning process, using humor and empathy to enhance appreciation for those committed to grow through learning another language and culture.
2. Create something net new
Sometimes the best way to be innovative is through the actual invention of something brand new. The following brands have identified a problem in their space and created a product to tackle it directly.
Heineken created the bluetooth-enabled beer opener, The Closer, to address burnout and provide commentary on the need for work-life balance. The limited edition product leverages bluetooth technology to put nearby laptops into sleep mode when a bottle is opened.
To solve the long-standing problem of enjoying fast meals outdoors or in non-traditional settings, McDonald’s introduced a takeout box that transforms into a makeshift table. The TableBag, complete with cup holders and space for two burgers and fries, makes for a more comfortable eat-on-the-go situation, so customers don’t have to balance food on their laps.
3. Partner outside of your industry
One of the best ways to reach new people in your target audience is to borrow that audience from someone else. Partnering with brands outside of your industry removes the competitive factor, meaning they’ll be more forthcoming with access to their audience because they’re not directly competing with you for products or services.
Plus, cross-industry collaborations are more innovative in nature, which means your creativity is more likely to be noticed and remembered.
Tito’s Vodka partnered with Martha Stewart in January to create the DIY January campaign, a month-long initiative that encouraged consumers to use Tito’s vodka for alternative activities, such as cleaning boots or adding flavor to pasta sauce. The campaign featured a DIY January Kit that included a line of bottle toppers that turned Tito’s bottles into household products. The products, coined “The Deodorizer,” “The Flavorizer” and “The Cleanerizer,” sold out, with profits donated to charitable causes.
Collabs don’t have to be with “traditional” brands – entertainment is a great option to capture fanfare. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams teamed up with the Apple TV+ series Ted Lasso to create a limited-edition ice cream flavor called “Biscuits with the Boss” in advance of the premier of the show’s latest season. The flavor is inspired by the biscuits that Ted Lasso, the show’s main character, bakes for his boss every day. Both Jeni’s and Ted Lasso are known for their positive messages and their relentless advocacy for happiness, making the partnership a natural fit.
4. React in real time
People appreciate brands that make things happen in real time. This is true of both brands that respond to an immediate need, as well as brands that jump on a hot trend in a unique way. The reactiveness shows that brands are paying attention to the people they serve. As a consumer, there’s no replacement for feeling empathized with. You want to know the brands where you invest your time and money have your back.
When home goods chain Bed Bath & Beyond filed for bankruptcy, thrifty shoppers were wondering what to do with the stockpiles of coupons they’d stashed over the years. The chain was famous for its abundance of never-expiring coupons, which had gained somewhat of a cult following. Shortly after the news broke, competitors The Container Store and Big Lots announced they would accept the coupons at their own stores for a limited time, effectively delivering the surprise and delight factor while attracting the audience segment in market for a new home goods provider.
Real-time marketing can also mean humanizing your brand by owning up to a mistake in a clever way. In 2011, an American Red Cross employee accidentally tweeted about getting drunk on Dogfish Head beer from the Red Cross account, thinking it was her personal one. Instead of firing her, Red Cross adeptly handled the situation from Twitter, tweeting, “We’ve deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys.” Impressed by the NGO’s dignified and human response, Dogfish launched a national fundraising campaign for the Red Cross with the hashtag #gettingslizzerd from the original tweet.
The accidental collab was a major boost for both brands. Dogfish, a small brewery with 150 employees at the time, enjoyed national exposure, while the American Red Cross raised money and recruited blood donors for a global cause.
Scale these creative marketing strategies big and small
While many of these campaigns are backed by large teams and large budgets, you don’t need either to learn from their success and apply these creative marketing strategies to your own endeavors.
Study the campaigns that inspired you and pull out the strategic insights by asking:
- What did you love about this campaign?
- Why did it resonate with its target audience?
- What tactics did it use to stand out from the noise?
- What did it achieve for the brand it promoted?
Armed with the answers to these important strategic questions, you can parse out the type of thinking that went into concepting these campaigns, and apply them at a scale appropriate for your own work.