The Best Marketing of 2017

Our picks for this year’s most important campaigns and brands

When we sat down to talk about the best marketing of the year, Target Marketing’s editors brought a lot of nominations to the table. They included marketing that inspired us, campaigns that moved us ... in some cases just campaigns that made us go buy something.

These six efforts are the ones that we felt had to be recognized.

You’ll read about an email campaign that got a 95 percent open rate, a national candy bar that changed prices based on how mad people were, and our pick for the most inspiring TV commercial in a year when there was some incredible competition.

We have no qualms telling you these were our favorites, clearly biased by our own tastes and marketing experiences. But we also think they’re six brands and campaigns that every marketer needs to know. Each one of them found a way to take what they do to a level we didn’t even think you could reach until we saw it for ourselves.

Online Marketing: Xfinity ‘Bad Weather Trigger’

It’s one thing for a cable company to call out satellite for its supposedly poor reception in stormy weather. It’s another to target satellite subscribers with those ads when their TVs are actually out!

That’s exactly what Comcast did with its Xfinity “Bad Weather Campaign.” In a program honored by the DMA ECHO awards, the goal was to “position Comcast Xfinity as a better alternative and drive satellite customers to make the switch.”

Comcast used advanced targeting information to run online banner ads reflecting current weather and circumstances at exactly the times satellite was most likely to be knocked out. Like the proverbial devil on your shoulder, these banners encouraged satellite customers to make a switch exactly when they were most likely to be furious at their dish providers.

Overall, the Bad Weather Campaign hit satellite companies where it hurt. It was 9 percent more effective at driving orders than its benchmarks, had a 17 percent higher clickthrough rate and improved online conversions over 32 percent. —Thorin McGee

Social Media Marketing: Snickers ‘Hungerithm’

Taking the popular “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” commercial to the next level, Snickers teamed up with agency Clemenger BBDO Melbourne in Australia to create an algorithm to monitor people’s moods based on what they were saying on social media. Established by the idea that people get a little angry — or “hangry” — when hungry, prices of Snickers candy bars would drop at Australian 7-Eleven convenience stores when anger was measured as going up by the algorithm.

The Hungerithm analyzed approximately 14,000 social media posts a day, had a 3,000-word vocabulary, and could understand sarcasm and slang. In-store prices of the candy bars could drop as low as 82 percent off, bringing the price of a Snickers down to 50 cents, and prices were updated more than 140 times a day, based on the real-time data.

According to the agency, the Hungerithm campaign achieved 30 million media impressions and boasted a 15 percent increase in year-on-year sales at 7-Eleven. And when it comes to awards, Hungerithm cleaned up nicely, taking home a total of 21 Lions from Cannes, in categories ranging from Direct: Use of Real-Time Data to Cyber: Use of Social Data and Insight, as well as a Gold ECHO in the Consumer Products and Services Category from the DMA. —Melissa Ward

TV Marketing: Audi ‘Daughter’

The 2017 Super Bowl saw more political/socially driven TV spots than usual, with German automaker Audi teaming up with Venables Bell & Partners to produce its 3Q spot, “Daughter,” taking a stance on gender equality in the workplace.

Featuring a young girl battling it out against a field of boys in a soapbox derby race, the only audio is a dad’s voiceover asking difficult questions: “What do I tell my daughter? ... That her dad is worth more than her mom? That despite her education, her drive, her skills, her intelligence, she will automatically be valued as less than every man she ever meets?”

The 60-second ad, fittingly directed by female director Aoife McArdle, wraps up with a shot of the daughter and dad walking over to an Audi vehicle, then is completed with the brand’s commitment of equal pay for equal work as white text on a black screen. The campaign was also part of its #DriveProgress initiative. —M.W.

Email Marketing: USPS Informed Delivery

In May, a month after its nationwide rollout, the USPS email option that lets customers see pictures of their incoming physical mail had more than 2 million customers scrolling through their daily messages. As of presstime on Nov. 2, about 6.5 million Americans were using “Informed Delivery,” with 95 percent opening the notifications daily or almost every day.

It’s a big move for the legacy letter carrier to beat out channel-native competitors in the email space for this honor. As for how USPS did it, Product Innovation VP Gary Reblin says: “Informed Delivery creates an unprecedented opportunity for marketers, mail owners, mail service providers and agencies to engage users through synchronized digital and physical touchpoints.”

Reblin says the number of users is growing by the day, with customers in 6,981 ZIP codes taking the survey that showed their delight with the service.

About 95 percent are “satisfied or very satisfied with Informed Delivery” and 96 percent would recommend it to friends, family or colleagues, according to survey results. As of Nov. 15, iTunes users rated the app 4-plus out of five stars. —Heather Fletcher

Direct Mail Marketing: Carestream Touch Prime Ultrasound System

We couldn’t stop playing with the paper model — previously featured in our last issue as our case study — of the Carestream Touch Prime Ultrasound System during the editorial voting process on the best direct mail campaigns of 2017.

Carestream’s debut into the ultrasound machine market in 2016 came with a mail send of 1,400, 10-inch-tall models with changeable displays and moveable parts. A year into the campaign, the model is still yielding leads. As of October 2017, the company told us it had $7 million in sales opportunities and $15 million total in pipeline.

The model clearly accomplished marketing goals. Erica Carnevale, Carestream’s North American marketing manager, says: “Entering a crowded, competitive, new market required a disciplined multichannel approach.”

“Challenged by regulations for marketing to healthcare providers, we needed a creative concept that had value to the target audience, but no monetary value,” Carnevale said about the complicated legal environment for healthcare marketers.

“It also needed to break through marketing clutter and have a long shelf-life for consideration in long equipment purchase cycles,” she concludes. —H.F.

Best Brand Marketing Overall: Airbnb

This is the most subjective category on this list. We could sit here all day and talk about what actually makes a brand, “The Best Brand.”

But Airbnb is essentially a vacation rental facilitator that found a way to put all the magical open spaces of Sweden on its site as “rentable.” It worked with Audi to give audiences a chance to book a dream stay in a chic salt flat bungalow with two supercars to play with.

And Airbnb still found the space to tackle social issues on several continents. In Australia it took a stand on same-sex marriage with the “Until We All Belong” ring — a ring with a space symbolically left out until Australia closes the gap on marriage equality. In America, its #weaccept Super Bowl ads told people of all nationalities that, regardless of the U.S. political climate, they were welcome.

All the while, the company pushed its largest brand rollout yet, touting app updates that made the experience more personalized and would help users “Live like a local.”

Airbnb came up several times as we went through our nominations. But its marketing was so audacious that we were at a loss as to where to put it. Are these social media campaigns? Are they online marketing? Some had TV components, but they were hardly TV-centric.

In the end, we had to admit that Airbnb in 2017 was branding at its best. It inspired customers while it sold to them, and we think that’s the key to target marketing today. —T.M.