11 Social Marketing Examples and What We Can Learn From Them

There are over five billion social media users on planet Earth, which means that social marketing is a powerful tool for inciting awareness and excitement for your brand.  But tread carefully. Social media can give, but it can also take away. When social marketing is done poorly, even loyal customers cringe in embarrassment. Take, for example, Kendall Jenner’s now-infamous Pepsi video. Pepsi thought it 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 12 of the best social marketing examples of the last few years and explain why they worked so well.

1. The Barbie Movie Lets Everyone Play Along

Even before the Barbie movie debuted in theaters in 2023, it had already achieved peak cultural saturation through an expansive and coordinated media campaign that relied heavily on social marketing.

Along with teaser ads and branded product lines, Warner Brothers released a Barbie Selfie Generator that lets anyone participate in the Barbie experience. Fans posted their funny Barbie selfies across social media channels, generating buzz and enthusiasm for the movie. The Barbie movie shattered all expectations and grossed over 1 billion dollars worldwide.

Source: BarbieSelfie

Takeaway: Encourage potential customers to identify with your brand. Allowing potential viewers to “play” with the Barbie brand encouraged them to remember the fun and possibilities of playing with Barbies and increased their enthusiasm for the movie. 

2. Spotify Wrapped Makes Everyone a Taste-maker

In what is frequently considered one of the most successful viral marketing campaigns of all time, Spotify leveraged their yearly recap feature to turn their users into inadvertent evangelists.

Each year in December Spotify pulls user data to create a custom year-end update for each individual user. In 2023, in addition to revealing their most listened-to songs, the app assigned one of 12 distinct listening character types to their users and let them know which geographic area their listening tastes most aligned to. 

It’s become a year-end ritual for Spotify users to share their Wrapped profiles across social media and boast, or laugh, about their musical tastes. In 2021, 120 million Spotify users accessed their Wrapped, and the #spotifywrapped hashtag has over 66.5 billion views on TikTok alone.

Source: Spotify newsroom

Takeaway: Create a campaign that appeals to users’ individuality to encourage social sharing.  Bonus points if it highlights your product’s functionality to create a flywheel effect that invites new users to try you out. 

3. Dunkin Donuts Clowns Around with the DunKings

Dunkin Donuts has a long history of successful social media campaigns and a light-hearted willingness to make fun of its brand. In 2023, it found perfect brand synergy with the actor Ben Affleck, who has frequently been photographed by the paparazzi while on Dunkin’ runs.

During the Super Bowl, Dunkin Donuts aired a commercial featuring much-loved sons of Boston Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and Tom Brady, as a group called the DunKings rapping about the brand for Affleck’s real-life wife Jennifer Lopez. The ad was funny and self-effacing and quickly was dubbed the best commercial of the night by fans and media alike. 

In the days following the big game, Dunkin dropped several follow-up vignettes on Instagram and YouTube, which only enhanced the buzz around the collaboration.

Source: Dunkin Donuts 

The Lesson: Find the perfect brand partners, and don’t be afraid to get goofy.

4. Netflix treats fans like equals on TikTok

If you want to talk to GenZ, TikTok is the social media channel to be on, but most brands haven’t yet worked out how to do it right. Netflix taps into this audience by approaching them not as marketers but as fellow movie and television fans.

People are already sharing their opinions and thoughts on popular shows on TikTok, so Netflix’s job is to simply add fuel to those fires. For example, for the movie The Gray Man, Netflix created TikTok-specific behind-the-scenes movie content and interviews with the directors for the #filmtok community. For the series Moneyheist, they created a branded hashtag challenge where users could create a custom rap about the series. 454,000 unique users took advantage of the challenge, generating over a billion views. 

The Lesson: Embrace your audience’s enthusiasm to turn them into brand evangelists.

5. 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.

The Lesson: True altruism can go a long way. Sometimes, centering others is the best way to raise awareness of your brand identity.

6. 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 buy products directly from 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.

Lesson: Make the path to conversions short and easy for shoppers.

7.  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 hit it perfectly by aiming their sass at competing corporations, not customers. A quick Google search will show you thousands of articles about the company’s social media presence. Their unique voice helped capture over 3.5 million Twitter followers.

The Lesson: Don’t be afraid to show some personality. Just make sure it comes across as genuine and not forced.

8. 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.

The Lesson: 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.

9. 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.The campaign surpassed even Disney’s expectations, eventually garnering over 200,000 shares, which Disney echoed by upping its donation to $2 million. 

The Lesson: 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. 

Referral Marketing – The Best Practices You Need to Know

Written by veteran referral marketers, this guide will help you optimize your referral marketing program and supercharge growth.

Get the Guide

10. Dove Finds Beauty in Everyone

It’s been over twenty 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 Lesson: 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.

11. 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 awareness for the WWF. 

The Lesson: Cause-related campaigns create a perfect opportunity to help, while showing others how you’re making an impact.

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, funny, or even controversial.

Successfully courting social marketing means taking a risk but making 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.

Most Recent Articles