With the year drawing to an end, the Campaign US editorial team has decided to celebrate 10 marketers that have disrupted in their own noteworthy ways -- whether in culture, internal changes, experiences, social issues, partnerships or more.
Selecting only 10 was no easy task, as many brands, both big and small, launched amazing campaigns, product innovations and initiatives in the last 12 months. But, after much deliberation, we narrowed it down to the marketers we believe deserve the most kudos for creating cultural buzz, driving significant changes or simply trying something new.
Congratulations to our first class of Top 10 Marketing Disruptors of the Year. The list that follows is in no particular order.
"Priceless" is no longer just a tagline. Mastercard has managed to reposition its brand into something powerfully tangible by leaning into three senses: sight, sound and taste.
The brand transformation, led by CMO Raja Rajamannar and executed with the help of McCann Worldgroup, accelerated its "Marketing 5.0" plan this year by dropping its name from the logo and investing heavily in immersive experiences. One brought some of the world’s most famous restaurants, its food, decor and staff to NYC for an event unlike any other.
Rajamannar told Campaign US: "The world today is changing at an unprecedented rate, with more touchpoints and channels in the customer journey than ever before. The marketing field is ripe for new interpretation, innovation and transformation. It’s imperative for brands to be aware of and anticipate technological and cultural changes to stay relevant in the minds and hearts of consumers. At Mastercard, we have responded to these changes by pushing our brand into more sensory expressions. We have also evolved our renowned Priceless campaign into a holistic experiential platform, designed to create tangible and meaningful connections with consumers through their passions.
"We began our multisensory journey by removing our name from our logo to become a symbol brand optimized for a digital world. We debuted a global sonic identity that’s being heard around the world; and reimagined how taste can manifest as a brand expression. We’ve done the latter in multiple ways, like opening our first permanent restaurant, Bistro by Mastercard in the Rome International Airport, and our flagship restaurant, Priceless, in New York City. We also crafted two unique macaron flavors – passion and optimism – to represent Mastercard’s identity through the sense of taste.
Sustainability will be advertising’s 2020 buzzword. Period.
Many brands have been dabbling in this field for months, testing the waters. Two things are clear: It’s becoming more important to consumers than ever before as pressure mounts on the everyday Joe to help tame our environment when Washington D.C. isn’t stepping up and; Sustainability at its best requires true innovation.
One marketer making a seriously meaningful dent in this mission with earnest efforts is the adidas group. Earlier this year, the brand introduced its UltraBOOST running shoe made from 11 plastic bottles gathered from the ocean by Parley for the Oceans, an organization that’s been working hard to raise awareness of the issue since 2015.
Alexis Haass, director of sustainability at adidas global brands, said: "True transformation can only happen once we have changed the way our consumers embrace sustainability and product. adidas’ circular manufacturing innovations and product design will only realize their true potential if were catalyst agents of the transition from single-use philosophy into endless resource."
Meanwhile, its sister brand, Reebok, recently unveiled its first plant-based sneaker Forever Floatride GROW following three painstaking years of development. Those behind the trailblazing innovation, made with castor beans, algae, eucalyptus trees and natural rubber, argue that it rivals the best performance running shoes on the market.
Reebok president Matt O’Toole said: "Many people would say sustainability is a challenge facing our industry – and all industries – but we see it as an opportunity. In fact, it’s the single biggest opportunity we have as brand, and it’s a major focus for us now, and in the future."
You may not have seen much from Nestlé on the creative or product innovation side that would be considered transformative this year. But it is what the company has achieved behind the scenes that earns it this place on the list.
Nestlé has radically improved its diversity story and now boasts stats including: 50 percent female senior marketing leadership and 70 percent in marketing roles at manager level and above; 41 percent of summer associates from ethnically diverse backgrounds; 87 percent of diverse employees participating in culture programs feeling more engaged as a result and; a 1:1 gender pay equity for salaried employees at Nestlé USA.
Meanwhile, on the operational side, Nestlé has seen tremendous success in its move towards off-shoring production work.
"Off-shoring has dramatically and positively changed the way we plan and execute our marketing strategies," said Julie Loaiza, VP of communications and corporate affairs at Nestlé Mexico. "Today, we focus on brand, marketing and E-business strategies that, from the very start, consider off-shoring as a fundamental channel to achieve marketing production efficiencies, especially when considering the benefits of cost, creative and time execution."
The food giant began off-shoring in 2017 when it partnered with WPP’s Hogarth for its Dolce Gusto content. Since then, Nestlé Recipes and Nestlé Infant Nutrition brands, such as Gerber and NIDO, have jumped on the bandwagon.
In 2018, Nestlé saw a 43 percent savings in digital content production for Nestle Infant Nutrition compared to the year before, and a whopping 80 percent savings in video production of Nestlé Recipes with culinary brands, said Loaiza.
The king has never been more deserving of his crown. BK led the 2019 charge in creativity as advertising’s most transformative tool with a series of campaigns America couldn’t stop talking about.
The Whopper Detour, which took home a Direct Grand Prix at 2019 Cannes, is a masterpiece in trolling created in partnership with Burger King’s agency of record, FCB. The client brief was simple: make mobile payment ordering relevant. It had all the potential to flop if the right creative wasn’t pursued. And the intimidating technical challenge it presented involved geo-fencing 14,000 McDonald’s restaurants. But CMO Fernando Machado’s belief in doing things the most when you’re scared prevailed.
Earlier this year, he told Campaign US: "We believe creativity can yield a better business result and a better brand. The Whopper Detour is the best example of creativity being a competitive advantage. Because creativity has the power of bending logic."
Long may he reign.
Love it or hate it, you can’t deny the power and pace at which TikTok has disrupted advertising and the social media ecosystem. Its parent company, China-based ByteDance, made an insidious play to enter the U.S. market years ago. TikTok spent countless dollars advertising on its competitors’ platforms like Facebook (something Zuckerberg must be kicking himself for now).
The video-sharing app, popular among teenagers, has seen accelerated adoption in 2019. It was the most downloaded social media app worldwide for September, with close to 60 million installs. India made up the majority of downloads for that period, but America accounted for a whopping eight percent.
Of course, brands are lining up to get a piece of the action, sparking explosive growth for U.S.-based influencer agencies like Obviously. In October, Mucinex became the first over-the-counter brand to activate on TikTok, with the "#TooSickToBeSick" challenge. The campaign capitalized on the popular transformation-based challenge format and encouraged users to go from being "too sick" to "so sick" in support of the new Mucinex Nightshift product. The campaign launched in partnership with four TikTok influencers, who each had a unique style with highly engaged audiences. The challenge garnered 741,351,813 views.
Behind the scenes, TikTok is adding to mass advertising ecosystem disruption as it doubles-down on project-based work which forces agencies to jump ball creative (a move not too popular with shops).
Bud Light’s "Dilly Dilly" took fans by storm in 2017, and just when it may have seemed like the Bud Knight had finally hung up his chainmail for good, the beer brand brought the hero back for this year’s Super Bowl. But this time, it really did mark the end of the armor-clad beer icon.
The clever commercial was created in partnership with HBO, which wasn’t revealed to viewers until the Bud Knight was told to joust with The Mountain from "Game of Thrones."
Marcel Marcondes, U.S. CMO of Bud Light parent AB InBev, said: "People are at the forefront of everything we do, and in today’s environment it’s never been harder to get their attention. It’s not about advertising, it’s about making meaningful connections, and sometimes showing up in unexpected places and being disruptive. If we want people to pay attention to our brands, we have to pay attention to people and Bud Light’s disruptive approach shows that."
The commercial ended with the Bud Knight’s head being crushed (off screen, of course) in the same fashion as Prince Oberyn from the HBO show, followed by the town being scorched by dragons.
"Bud Light’s approach to marketing has always been about breaking through in ways that resonate with people throughout our history," said Andy Goeler, VP in charge of the Bud Light brand at AB InBev. "We have a great beer, but the moments we truly want to celebrate are the moments when people are drinking our beer and our disruptive approach allows us to be a part of those moments."
In addition to its unique Super Bowl brand mash-up, Bud Light capitalized on some key cultural moments throughout the year, such as the "Storm Area 51" event on September 20. More than 1.7 million people RSVPed to attend on Facebook with the hopes of seeing some alien activity, so Bud Light jumped on the buzz with special black and green beer cans that featured an alien and the message, "We come in peace."
"Bud Light is unique in its ability to act like a big brand making beautiful, highly-produced work, while also having the agility to act like a small one, making quick work that can touch on cultural moments while they're still relevant," said Wieden+Kennedy New York Creative Director Brandon Henderson. "This requires them to trust not only us at Wieden+Kennedy, but all of their partner agencies and to a greater extent, their own gut instincts. They've built a strong brand voice that lets them enter into those cultural conversations in a way that's uniquely Bud Light, and consumers respond well to that."
And Bud Light hit it out of the park again - pun intended - during this year’s World Series games.
3PM/Weber Shandwick, Wieden+Kennedy NY and Bud Light's social team pounced on a fun opportunity in October when Nationals fan Jeff Adams decided to let a home run ball hit him in the chest rather than put down his two Bud Light cans. Within minutes, the brand put out a tweet stating, "This man is a hero. Twitter please figure out who this guy is so we can reward him. #WorldSeries."
To keep that buzz up, the agencies and Bud Light created a custom t-shirt that was shared on social media and printed exclusively for Adams, who was flown by the brand to Houston for Game Six to sit in the same seats he was in for Game Five. To top everything off, W+K quickly produced a commercial featuring Adams that aired during Game Six.
"Everyone on the extended Bud Light team, from the brand to its agencies and system partners, is crystal clear and aligned on the role of the brand in culture," said Brian Williams, executive VP of 3PM/Weber Shandwick. "This year, that gave us the power to own moments as they happened by pointing all our collective insights and creative firepower to ignite relevant, engaging, talkworthy – and impactful – campaigns time and time again."
Yes, it’s true that Procter & Gamble has been cutting its ad spend over the last couple of years and re-focusing its media dollars, but these changes - while troublesome to some agency partners - have helped the CPG giant innovate in other areas.
P&G has long been a supporter of social issues, and this summer, the company continued its push to tackle racial bias with a short film called "The Look," (by Saturday Morning) following on its award-winning piece "The Talk" (by BBDO) from two years prior.
The company also announced a number of new creative partnerships this summer. Some of them include teaming up with singer/songwriter John Legend on issues like parenthood, modern masculinity, music and social justice, and working with Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global on "micro-step habit stacking" with brands like Oral-B and Pampers.
Marc Pritchard, P&G’s chief brand officer, said: "In a world of perpetual change, we see leading constructive disruption as a central part of P&G’s strategy, so we are constantly reinventing brand building. That includes reimagining creativity to reinvent advertising by merging the ad world with other creative worlds, such as film, music, comedy, sports and technology."
He added that these partnerships are leading to disruptive work that is "more superior, more useful and more interesting," including SK-II’s Bare Skin Chat beauty entertainment series, Tide’s #LaundryNight with Sunday Night Football, Mr. Clean educational infomercials and more.
In the fall at the ANA Masters of Marketing Conference, Pritchard told Campaign that he’s very bullish at the moment on five movements that P&G is part of: #SeeHer to promote accurate portrayal of women and girls in advertising and media; #SeeAll movement to promote the accurate portrayal of race, ethnicity and all cultures; Free the Work to get women and underrepresented voices in the director's chair; BrandsforGood to use our brands to promote sustainable behavior; and the Global Alliance for Responsible Media to eliminate toxic content online.
In 2018, Microsoft said that its ongoing drive to spearhead inclusive design and hire autistic talent is driving creativity and innovation across the business, and this year, the tech giant continued to show its commitment to equality with an award-winning product innovation for Xbox.
Microsoft released its "Changing the Game" spot, created by McCann New York and M:United, during this year’s Super Bowl to showcase the Xbox Adaptive Controller. The groundbreaking piece of technology is designed to level the playing field for all gamers and meet the needs of those gamers with limited mobility. Every aspect -- from the packaging of the product’s boxes to the buttons on the controller -- was created with people who have disabilities or mobility issues in mind.
Sean Bryan, CCO of McCann NY & M:United, said that it’s not enough for brands to do something disruptive with their marketing -- they actually have to be disruptive in their thinking. "And Microsoft was, from the moment they designed the product for an overlooked group of gamers, to the way they thought about every detail down to the packing tape with a new perspective. After all that, the decision to disrupt the biggest mass marketing event of the year with a new kind of authentic message, just made sense," he said.
The spot, which won a Cannes Grand Prix for Brand Experience & Activation, showcases passionate young gamers who now have the ability to play games under more fair and inclusive circumstances.
"All good marketing needs to be ‘disruptive’… disrupt a behavior or a pattern of thinking… it is our job to literally and figuratively "move" people and that was the intent here," said Kathleen Hall, corporate VP of brand, advertising and research at Microsoft. "To take something that was seen as ‘niche’ and elevate it to the biggest media forum there is, was strategically disruptive. But to shift people’s perceptions of these kids, the blockers they face how important it is to level the playing field, that was the mental disruption."
The New York Times
While not your typical marketer, The New York Times deserves much praise for its "The Truth Is Worth It" campaign by Droga5 this year. The effort shows the incredible courage and perseverance of reporters today who are trying to uncover truths.
The five ads -- "Rigor," "Perseverance," "Resolve," "Courage" and "Fearlessness" -- won the coveted Film Grand Prix at Cannes this year. But more importantly, it shined a light on the importance of journalism and free speech, particularly at a time of "fake news" and political unrest.
"As a marketer, I am proudest when the work reveals our organization’s mission and values in an emotionally compelling way," said Amy Weisenbach, senior VP of marketing at The New York Times.
"It has been such an honor for our brand team at The Times to tell the stories of the work our journalists do every day to report the facts and help readers understand the world From exposing the inner-workings of ISIS to covering the effects of climate change to documenting family separation at the border, New York Times reporters are doing the difficult and critical work of pursuing the truth."
Weisenbach added that the publication is seeing positive business results from its marketing, including an increase in U.S. news readers believing that quality journalism is worth paying for.
Samantha Deevy, group communications strategy director at Droga5 said that the agency wanted to "show people that great journalism doesn't just appear. It takes rigor, perseverance and courage to continually deliver great journalism."
"Part of what made the idea so powerful was the simplicity of the executional approach. The idea relied on actual footage from the journalists as well as their own words from their journalistic process, which gave the executions a rawness that struck a chord," she added.
"It also gave us a device to show just how much goes into The Times reporting on truly any topic - from issues as serious as immigration and climate change, to something fun and timely like the perfect holiday pie recipes."
Direct-to-consumer period solutions company Thinx rose above a number of obstacles this year, including increased competition in its emerging market and transitioning to a new CEO after the former chief exec stepped down amid allegations of sexual harassment.
Not only did Thinx overcome these challenges, it boldly sparked a necessary conversation that helped break stigmas around menstruation in its first national TV campaign this fall. And it did so with a bit of controversy.
The "MENstruation" ads, created by BBDO, shined a spotlight on what it would be like if men and boys got periods -- a concept that was too much for some networks to take. CBS, along with a few others, banned or censored the ad for being too graphic due to imagery like blood-stained sheets and a tampon string hanging between a boy’s legs.
"The first thing you’re taught about your period is to be ashamed of it. Forget cramps, the way society makes us feel is the most painful part," said Kat Grib, an account director on Thinx at BBDO.
"When concepting on this project, we realized the main reason the stigma exists is because only half the population has periods. And until everyone can relate and empathize, the taboo can’t be broken. We wanted to show how normal periods would be if everyone had them. And that’s how we came up with MENstruation -- we imagined a world where everybody is comfortable with periods in hopes that one day we all will be."
Thinx -- known for its period-proof underwear -- is now looking to expand beyond DTC with less expensive products for pharmacies and retail stores, and the company has its eyes on global markets for 2020.