With $89 billion in ad revenue on the line, social marketing is serious business. Companies consider social awareness earnestly, and their customers do, too.
But tread carefully. When social marketing is done poorly, it makes even loyal customers cringe in embarrassment. Take, for example, Kendall Jenner’s now-infamous Pepsi video. Pepsi thought they would strike social gold by marrying a timely issue (social protests) with a popular social media star. Instead, the internet ruthlessly mocked the three-minute YouTube clip. Pepsi pulled the ad, but the damage to their image had already been done.
So how do you harness the incredible power of social marketing without looking tasteless or out of touch? The most successful social marketing meets the following criteria:
- Comes from a place of authenticity
- Builds brand awareness through social amplification
- Inspires brand loyalty
- Has a novel or original bent
In this article, we’ll highlight 36 of the best social marketing examples of all time to give you some insight into what works, and why.
1. Pantone Makes Environmental Awareness Trendy
Each year Pantone selects their color of the year. The colors, which range from Radiant Orchid to Classic Blue, usually reflect current events and the national mood. The color is usually discussed at length in the national media and via social media commentary. In 2019, that color was actually three different shades of Living Coral, a nod to the coral reefs that are rapidly disappearing due to climate change.
Pantone paired the release with an environmental campaign called “Glowing, Glowing, Gone.” They created a new Instagram for their coral restoration initiatives. In addition to raising awareness for the reefs, Pantone raised their own profile and built goodwill toward their brand.
2. Lush Lets Social Issues Take Center Stage
Lush cosmetics claims the company is building a cosmetics revolution to save the planet. Their commitment to social issues, from LGBTQ rights to the Black Lives Matter protests, dominates their Instagram and Twitter feeds, where their products and branding play second fiddle to real-world issues.
This unmarketing strategy reflects the company’s grassroots approach to building brand awareness. It’s been a stunningly effective move: Lush built up a billion-dollar brand without spending a dime on traditional advertising.
3. Cox Communications Confronts the Loneliness of Lockdown
The global shutdown in spring 2020 united people in a shared human experience of uncertainty and isolation. Many brands tried to seize the moment with targeted social marketing campaigns, with varying degrees of success. Cox Communications’ One Call a Day Campaign was one initiative that managed to strike an emotional chord with consumers.
The viral video highlighted the company’s senior outreach campaign, where employees called seniors stuck at home to check in on them. Twitter and Instagram messaging reinforced the power of connection during these strange times. Cox boosted their profile while showcasing the power of a floundering form of communication: the phone call.
4. Coors Gives Beer to Those in Need
After a woman’s simple lockdown plea for more beer went viral, Coors seized the moment. First, they sent Olive Veronesi, aged 93, 10 cases of the Coors she requested. Then, they launched the #CouldUseABeer campaign, where anyone could nominate a friend or loved one who deserved a free six-pack. “In these sucky times,” the video ad stated, “America could use a beer.”
This brilliant campaign latched on to an organic moment, Veronesi’s photo, to tap into a universal emotion among the brand’s customers: people were bored, cooped up, and wanted more beer. The promotion, which is ongoing, will give out 500,000 beers in total.
5. Equal Parts Lets People Shop While They Browse.
Equal Parts sells “better tools for busy cooks.” They don’t just use their Instagram account to advertise their goods; users can actually buy products directly off Equal Part’s account using Instagram Shopping.
According to BigCommerce, brands have seen a 1,416% increase in traffic and +20% increase in revenue by instituting the shopping feature. It’s an easy way for Equal Parts to convert their 20,000-plus Instagram followers into sales.
6. Wendy’s Weaponizes the Clapback
There’s unique brand voice, and then there is Wendy’s.The company has taken to witty sparring matches on Twitter, and the risk is paying off. Wendy’s has won accolades from customers and media alike for removing the filter that we normally see.
When a brand decides to stop talking like a brand, they have to walk a fine line between “being genuine” and “trying too hard.” Wendy’s has managed to toe it perfectly by aiming their sass at competing corporations, not customers. A quick Google search will show you thousands of articles written about the company’s social media presence. Their unique voice helped capture over 3.5 million Twitter followers.
7. Nat Geo Puts Your Photo on Their Cover
My Nat Geo Cover Shot was a Facebook-powered contest used to promote the CoverShot television program. It tapped the network of over 10 million people who had “liked” the National Geographic page. Followers could create their own NatGeo cover via photos they uploaded through the app. Users could share their customized covers and enter a contest to win a photo feature in the magazine, as well as an all-expenses-paid vacation.
National Geographic connected with their audience by understanding the powerful link between photography buffs and nature. The company leveraged the interest into a long-running photo community with over 4 million Instagram followers.
8. Oreo Dunks in the Dark
Allowing social media teams the autonomy to work on the fly leads to some of the best organic marketing moments. For Oreo, inspiration struck in 2013 when the power went out in the Superdome in New Orleans in the middle of the Super Bowl. The resulting off-the-cuff ad was retweeted more than 10,000 times in a single hour and still gets engagement to this day.
More brands are finding social media to be a welcoming home, but, unfortunately, that also means that we see a lot of imitators trying to make lightning strike twice. The true spontaneity of Oreo’s tweet was the magic that made it a success.
9. The ALS Association Gets Hot in the Cold
Remember a few years back, when your friends were pouring buckets of ice-cold water over their heads? The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge struck a chord that led to viral success and over $115 million donated to finding a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
This is a prime example of how social media sparks brand awareness. The ALS Association had long struggled in obscurity but soon found themselves front and center in every Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feed.
10. The White House Has You Covered
President Barack Obama entered the White House with a promise to make health care more affordable for all Americans. The HealthCare.gov website launch was marred by downtime, and the Affordable Care Act itself had enough opponents, ensuring that any campaign surrounding it would certainly attract controversy. So the White House took a risk when it asked people to share their stories of obtaining insurance using the #GetCovered hashtag.
The risk paid off. #GetCovered was a success in the face of would-be detractors, boasting over 20 million more insured people to date and a social campaign that told their stories.
11. But First, Let NASA Take a Selfie
For Earth Day 2014, NASA capitalized on an existing base of proactive users by asking people to send photos of themselves from around the world. The agency then took the photos, melded them into a gigapixel photo collage, and created an astounding map of the earth. The dubbed this a #GlobalSelfie.
NASA is a bit of a darling in the social media world because of the agency’s willingness to engage across platforms. With the #GlobalSelfie stunt, NASA connected people around the world while raising goodwill for the agency.
12. FandangoNow Sparks Fun Conversations
2020 has been a historic low point for moviegoers. Instead of lying low, the ticket-purchasing site Fandango is keeping up customer enthusiasm and engagement in hopes of remaining on customers’ radar once the world goes back to normal.
The company stays on the radar of their almost almost 3 million Facebook followers by posting humorous daily conversation starters.
13. The Legend of Harley-Davidson
Harley-Davidson may still be the leading motorcycle seller in the United States, but as motorcycles sales struggle due to the worldwide recession, Harley is seeing sales fall quicker than ever before. The company knows that it has to make a big messaging push that resonates with younger buyers.
The moto maker brought out the Live Your Legend campaign in early 2016 and has found pretty great success. It currently has over 228,000 posts across Instagram, and more on Facebook. When you’re trying to raise the awareness of your brand, there’s hardly anywhere better.
14. Walt Disney Shares Ears, and Dollars
Walt Disney’s liberal use of social media has led to some amazing campaigns over the years. One of its most memorable was the 2018 #ShareYourEars campaign. Disney encouraged fans to use the hashtag along with photos of themselves wearing Mickey Mouse ears. For each photo shared, Disney would donate $5 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, up to $1 million.
Disney followed an old rule of interaction: don’t make the user change their behavior. Disney visitors are prone to sharing their selfies anyway, so the “feel good” benefit of adding a hashtag was an easy extra step. The campaign surpassed even Disney’s expectations, eventually garnering over 200,000 shares, which Disney echoed by upping its donation to $2 million.
15. WestJet Makes 12,000 Dreams Come True
How do you own national media for an entire day while involving every single person in your organization? If you’re WestJet, you perform 12,000 small “miracles” in 24 hours. From providing a hot meal to a homeless person to sending a veteran and his family to Hawaii, the company found ways to interact on a personal level with people from around the world.
The resulting video pulls on heartstrings and plays on the collective desire to do good during the holidays. We could say so much more, but this four-minute video, which has been viewed more than 1.7 million times, says it better.
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16. Heineken Brings Worlds Together
Heineken responded to Pepsi’s colossal ad flop by showing the world how to properly combine contentious issues and branding. The brewing company found a way to raise conversation around their brand by showing that people aren’t so different after all. In the video, Heineken bravely confronted hot-button topics in today’s climate, then showed how people of vastly different opinions could still work together. The placement of “having a discussion over a Heineken” doesn’t appear until the end of the video.
Unlike the Pepsi video, the ad comes across as socially conscious and not as an act of appropriation. The video and its associated #OpenYourWorld hashtag garnered nearly 12 million views in its first three weeks and received rave reviews from media and consumers alike.
17. BuzzFeed Makes Tasty Videos
Tasty, the food-focused section of BuzzFeed, follows the same clever content strategies as the rest of the brand. List posts, tips, and reaction videos are the standard, but it’s the one-minute recipes that are the star of the show. These videos garner tens of millions of views across the company’s website, as well as on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram, helping to raise awareness for the BuzzFeed brand.
The key to Tasty’s success is bite-size content that is also topical. You’ll see recipes for Mother’s Day, Christmas parties, Super Bowl parties, and all points in between. The brand has over 100 million Facebook followers and 6 million Pinterest fans.
18. Dove Finds Beauty in Everyone
It’s been over 17 years since the genesis of the Dove Real Beauty campaign, but its longevity is a testament to how well it resonates with Dove’s audience. The personal care brand has done “behind the scenes” videos showing what goes into a picture-perfect billboard, they’ve made people cry tears of joy by having others describe them, and they’ve struck a chord that has turned buyers into brand advocates.
Though there have been some missteps along the way, the Real Beauty campaign shows no signs of slowing. The magic in this campaign comes from finding a message that resonates and then continuing to evolve along with the pressing concerns of the day.
19. Have a Coke and a Smile
If you’re trying to make a personal connection, using someone’s name is a quick way to do it. In the case of Coca-Cola, the brand gave up valuable space on its label, encouraging buyers to “Share a Coke with
___.” This led to a buying spree by consumers looking for the names of themselves and their friends. The infamous Coke logo was plastered across social media by users who found their names, or those of their friends.
Users posted over 500,000 photos using the #ShareACoke hashtag (and thousands more without the tag). When a customer is buying your product and then sharing it with everyone they know, that’s the stuff of marketing dreams.
20. Lowe’s Fixes in a Flash
With every new platform, the challenge is to figure out how to best use it. Vine’s six-second limit on video forced users and brands alike to think differently about their approach. Home improvement warehouse Lowe’s took on the challenge by creating an entire series called “Fix in Six.”
The award-winning campaign featured six-second videos sharing a variety of tips, from removing scratches in wood floors to chalk-painting a cutting board to give a kitchen staple a new lease on life. With millions of loops played, and the videos being shared across social networks, Lowe’s launched a staid brand into new territory.
21. Warby Parker Brings It Home
Hipster-friendly eyeglasses from Warby Parker were a quick story of success on their own, but the company’s home try-on program really helped it reach the next level. Customers go to the Warby Parker site to pick out frames that they think they’ll like. The frames are then packed into a box and sent to the customer so that they can try before they buy.
Warby needed to get the word out about its brand, and the home try-on program let them step directly into the homes of their customers. The #WarbyHomeTryOn hashtag ran rampant on Twitter and Instagram, with prospective buyers showing off their frames and soliciting feedback from their friends. Customers got social validation, and Warby got free advertising.
22. Lay’s Asks Its Customers for a Flavor Favor
If you’ve seen Lay’s flavors, such as Southern Biscuits & Gravy or New York Reuben, then you’ve already seen the end result of this annual “Do Us a Flavor” campaign from Frito-Lay. The snack-food brand holds an online contest, during which anyone can submit their idea for a unique chip flavor. The winner takes home a cool million bucks and the notoriety of having their idea moved into production.
It’s an annual exercise in brand awareness, and the notorious internet trolling has become almost as much of a contest as the contest itself. Entries like “Buttered Alligator” or “Existential Crisis” gather a chuckle while being shared online, with the Lay’s branding right above the ill-fated flavor idea. The campaign surpassed their wildest dreams by directly resulting in a 12% uptick in sales.
23. Old Spice, New Tricks
Old Spice needed to spice up their old-fashioned image. A series of quirky videos with Isaiah Mustafa helped push things in the right direction. But having him record video replies to Twitter inquiries, Yahoo Answers questions, and . . . just about anything else earned them a place in the social marketing hall of fame.
The crew spent the better part of a day quickly recording and uploading video replies with funny quips thrown in. Better yet, they didn’t keep their focus on celebrities but also took the time to reply to “regular people” as well. The campaign is somehow still going 10 years later.
24. Arby’s Plays with Its Food
Sometimes a brand’s entire presence on a platform is a campaign unto itself. Arby’s Twitter account fits this bill perfectly. The restaurant mixes pop culture references with creative food art to create a product that is more than the sum of its parts.
The goal here is just to get people talking about Arby’s, and it’s working. Every couple of days, the restaurant puts out a new piece, which instantly gets retweeted, shared, and replied to en masse. Social sharing helps their content and branding reach an audience far beyond their 71,000 followers.
25. Kraft Embraces the Potty Mouth
One of the keys to a good campaign is good timing. In honor of Mother’s Day 2017, Kraft went crass for its #SwearLikeaMother YouTube video, which shows a mom just trying to do her best. Published early in May, the video rocketed its way to 3 million views before the holiday even arrived.
Kraft was savvy enough to know who really purchases their boxed mac and cheese: moms. By creating content that specifically catered to the reality of being a mom, Kraft built goodwill toward their brand while creating a memorable ad.
26. Denny’s Gets Human
Late-night stalwart Denny’s deployed another example of an off-the-wall Twitter campaign. Except it’s not a campaign at all. It’s more like Denny’s handed the log-in information to a random (but admittedly funny) person and let them go nuts. There’s only occasional capitalization, the tweets are meme-heavy, and one-liners are the norm.
The beauty of this type of language is that it resonates with the rest of us because it is the rest of us. Whoever is running the Denny’s Twitter account has forsaken every golden rule and replaced them with another one: talk like a human. By having a “real” voice, Denny’s finds its content getting widely shared and its name in the timelines of people who might otherwise never see it. They’ve attracted nearly half a million Twitter followers to date.
27. Always Hits Like a Girl
It’s interesting when we see brands take a stand. In the case of Always, the feminine-hygiene brand, that means taking ownership of “like a girl” and turning it into something positive. The original ad, which aired in 2014, raised some eyebrows . . . and 63 million views. A pared-down, 60-second version came back in 2016 during the testosterone-fueled Super Bowl.
Within minutes, the #LikeAGirl hashtag was trending on Twitter, with stories of strength from women around the world. The campaign was timely and topical and capitalized on user-generated content to help spread its message. The video has been viewed over 90 million times, and positive sentiment toward Always has sky-rocketed.
28. Newcastle Splits the Check
With an average ad cost of $4.5 million, Super Bowl airtime is far out of reach for most brands. Newcastle has long been unrepentant about its quirky sense of humor, so it relied on just that to get itself Super Bowl attention.
In 2015, the beer brand put out the call for other brands that wanted to chip in for a Super Bowl ad. After more than 400 brands responded, Newcastle pared down the list to 37 that would make it into the commercial. By refusing to take itself seriously, the hectic, Band of Brands commercial gathered lots of attention and some awards along the way.
29. TOMS Buys Some Shoes
TOMS started its mission to improve lives by giving a pair of shoes to someone in need every time a customer bought a pair. This spawned the #WithoutShoes campaign, where customers and brand advocates around the world joined TOMS to give back to those in need with a one-day flood across social media.
As the years have passed, TOMS has expanded its efforts to funding clean water initiatives, vision screenings, safe birth, and even COVID-19 relief. The #WithoutShoes campaign has expanded as well, encouraging followers to pick a color and a cause each year in May. It works for three reasons: there’s a low barrier to entry, the consumer feels like they’re doing good, and it fosters a sense of community.
30. WWF Turns Off the Lights
In 2007, the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) joined up with a Sydney-based advertising agency to produce Earth Hour. It is a symbolic gesture, during which people around the world turns off nonessential lights for one hour in a show of solidarity for commitment to the planet.
As one of the longest-running social marketing campaigns, Earth Hour has been wildly effective in raising the awareness for the WWF. Cause-related campaigns create a perfect opportunity to help, while showing others how you’re making an impact.
31. Nike Makes It Count
To market the launch of its FuelBand fitness tracker in 2012, Nike tapped filmmaker Casey Neistat. He had only one instruction: create a movie centered on the idea of “make it count.” Neistat took the cash, grabbed a friend, and brought his signature style to a video documenting his trip around the world in 10 days.
Nike found success by letting go and seeing how other people would interpret their message. Neistat’s stunning visuals and “just do it” mentality were a perfect combination for the campaign, which generated 1.5 million views just three days after launch.
32. L’Oréal Paris Speaks Volumes
We’ve seen a number of campaigns aimed at sparking social awareness, and the #WorthSaying effort from L’Oréal Paris still manages to stand out years later . The campaign ran in conjunction with the Golden Globe Awards, where actresses are typically asked more about their clothing than any other subject. L’Oreal asked celebrities like Julianne Moore and Eva Longoria to share what they would rather talk about.
The empowerment behind the message worked, sparking a trending topic on Twitter that aligned L’Oréal Paris with like-minded consumers. Celebrity spokespersons may have started the conversation, but the messaging resonated with a much wider audience who soon joined in to tell their own stories.
33. Balvenie Explores Parts Unknown
There is a certain brilliance to what Balvenie did to (not) advertise its Scotch whisky. The company tapped late celebrity chef and Parts Unknown host Anthony Bourdain to create a YouTube series focused on the lost arts of bespoke craftsmanship. Raw Craft visited guitar makers, cobblers, and even a printing press to show how the age-old traditions are still alive.
The narrative ties in perfectly with Balvenie’s product, but the whisky makes only a brief appearance in any video. It is almost always tucked away neatly or is being poured into a glass that will be shared over a meal. The videos are engaging, are short enough to enjoy on a work break, and never make the viewer feel like they’re being sold to. Brilliant.
34. Worldwide Breast Cancer Makes Lemonade
Talking about medical conditions is never easy. Getting people to talk about them is even harder. The Know Your Lemons Foundation hopes to lighten the mood a bit with the #KnowYourLemons campaign.
The tongue-in-cheek approach to a sensitive subject is a great method for raising awareness. Know Your Lemons is plastering the hashtag and messaging across social networks. The attention-grabbing ads sparked discussion and garnered the campaign organic coverage from the BBC, Mashable, Glamour and more. In just over five years, the campaign has reached over 500 million people in 90 countries and helped Worldwide Breast Cancer exceed their fundraising targets by over 300%.
35. REI Gets Forceful
In the wake of the Women’s March on Washington, REI chose women’s empowerment as their focus for 2017. The #ForceOfNature campaign celebrated women by telling their stories, designing more female-inspired outdoor gear, and holding 1,000 classes across the United States, where women could learn together. REI also made a $1 million investment across a 26 nonprofits that support women in the outdoors.
Latching on to a politically sensitive topic is not always advisable. But if you’re going to do it, follow REI’s lead and make your efforts authentic. REI’s reward was a 20% sales boost and long-lasting goodwill.
36. Budweiser Relives History
The national conversation over immigration has been heated over the past few years. While a lesser brand might shy away from taking a stand, Budweiser made their point of view clear with their ad during the 2017 Super Bowl. The ad aired just days after Donald Trump signed his controversial immigration ban. By featuring the story of a young immigrant coming to America to follow his dreams, Budweiser had to know that they were stepping into hotly debated territory.
Their risk paid off: the ad was viewed nearly 22 million times in the first 72 hours, making it the most-watched online ad that year. What made Budweiser succeed where Pepsi failed? Instead of offering pat answers to big problems, it tapped into a shared human experience and provided a clear point of view on the issue,
What These Social Marketing Examples Have in Common
There are a million ways to go viral on social media, but they all require one thing: a little bit of bravery. No brand has ever launched a successful social media campaign by sticking to business as usual. Instead, these brands did something original, unabashedly weird or funny, or maybe even a bit controversial.
Successfully courting social marketing means taking a risk, but make it a calculated one. Root your efforts in authenticity, and try to find the organic connection between your brand and your customers. Then, sit back and watch the social shares roll in.