The Best and Worst Marketing Campaigns of 2016


The Best of the Best

Donald Trump: MAGA



He fought the media


He fought the Clintons.


He fought his own party.


He even fought himself.


Regardless of the barriers, Donald Trump managed to make one of the most unprecedented Presidential runs in American history; an anti-establishment (or so he proclaims) outsider infiltrating the exclusive world of politics, running on a platform that catered to the disenfranchised and conjured internal revolution.


Think of Trump outside of his beliefs and consider what he accomplished. Despite the outrageous, often intolerant statements, he has made, none of it mattered to half of American voters. In fact, they were actually enamored with the personality traits he got criticized for.


Unlike his opponent, Trump spoke to those who were the most desperate and willing to listen to new ideas, rather than in an echo chamber of elites and loyal hardliners. He seized on the opportunity of those who felt wronged. It’s even obvious in his slogan – Make America Great Again – that he’s speaking to people who feel the country is on a downward slope.


The message, much like his rhetoric, was simple and devoid of the vague platitudes politicians use as a crutch. From his supporters’ perspective, he was a refreshing dose of honesty from someone outside of Washington that may actually represent their interests.


When he wasn’t filling stadiums, he was taking to his much-discussed Twitter account.


His Twitter utilization should be the envy of every marketer. He even continues to use it, disrupting the ‘President –> Media –> Masses’ tradition by transmitting his thoughts directly to the people.


Had more pundits been paying attention, maybe they would have noticed the numbers he was pulling in:


“An average Hillary tweet over the course of November received 3,742 retweets and 8,559 likes, while an average Trump tweet garnered an average of 13,641 retweets and 32,838 likes.”


A simple ‘MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN’ tweet received 53,000 retweets and 110,000 likes. Hillary’s top tweet in the same period was a picture of her with Beyonce. That received 26,000 retweets. Even her best tweet of the campaign overall was a reply to Trump.


It was the message that mattered. It was clear that Reagan-inspired slogan, as opposed to the cliché ‘Stronger Together’ of his opponent, resonated more with the voters in battleground states that could flip an election.


Royal Caribbean: 360 Degrees of Entertainment


There is no movement bigger in digital marketing right now than perspective. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be witnessing significant investments made in virtual and augmented reality technology. The idea is not just to play a game or watch a video, but to actually be in the game and be a part of the video.


As a result, you get clips of a girl playing a VR video game being visibly frightened because of just how realistic the game play is:



Or you get Pokemon Go, an augmented reality mobile game that capitalized on milennials’ yearning for nostalgia.


Virtual reality has yet to be fully adopted by brands, most likely due to the expenses and current day limitations, but they have adopted another innovation: 360 view.


This is best exemplified by Royal Caribbean. The cruise line’s marketing team masterfully wielded the opportunity to offer users a new perspective.


One from the top of their ship:



And another in the front row of one of their shows:



You can read my full write-up on the ads and their allure of exclusivity here.




You will find trailers few and far between that can outdo the heart stopping, eerily silent trailer that was Dunkirk.



Seriously, did Christopher Nolan himself direct it? The disturbing ambiguity of a clothed solider walking into the open ocean, bodies shrouded under windswept sands as others look on, and the piercing siren of a Stuka Dive Bomber growing louder over hundreds of helpless, cowering soldiers before fading to abrupt blackness?


I’m in.


Apple: Shot with iPhone 6


What social media has become most notable for is vaulting otherwise regular people to immediate internet stardom. It began with musicians on MySpace, today it’s YouTubers and Instagrammers. Many of them had achieved no fame beforehand and simply gained it by reacting to an existing video or playing a video game.


Apple decided to take advantage of this explosion in narcism propped up by social media. By keying into the demographics of people who love to showcase where they are, what they’re doing, and who they’re with, all Apple asked was, “Rather than taking those pictures and just posting them to Instagram, why not send it to us, instead?


And make sure they’re taken with an iPhone6!”


The ads are obviously entertaining and appealing, but they also showcase the iPhone 6’s camera quality. If you go to YouTube and search ‘shot with iPhone 6’, the front page is cluttered with videos boasting over 20,000 views each. This one submitted by Apple even has over a million:



Kim Kardashian Debuts Emojis, Wins Again


I might become public enemy number one after this blog is published for touting Donald Trump and Kim Kardashian as marketing geniuses, but it had to be said.


Kim, who lacks any sort of singing, dancing, acting talent, proved just how loyal her following was when she debuted her branded custom emoji keyboard.


The $1.99 app, with emojis mainly consisting of her physical assets and material luxuries, was “generating $1 million in gross income per minute at its peak.”



Much in the same vein as Trump, if you live in an echo chamber of likeminded individuals, you have no idea how these people are popular. You watch CNN or MSNBC and are convinced nobody likes Trump. You read comments below a post on about Kim on Yahoo and are convinced nobody likes her, either.


But when you step back and realize you’re not in their intended demographic, you realize that people absolutely buy into both. They’re just not the type of people you associate with, since you obviously have different interests.


The Worst of the Worst


Bud Light


I already wrote extensively on how badly Bud Light missed the mark with its ‘Party’ campaign starring Seth Rogen and Amy Schumer.



It turns out that a politically-driven, left-leaning ad campaign geared towards milennials, while completely ignoring the base white conservative audience, wasn’t a great idea.


So it shouldn’t be surprising when the campaign was wrapped up a few weeks ahead of schedule. The news came on the heels of the “company cutting its revenue forecast for the year in response to a disappointing third quarter [Between July 1st and September 30th] that saw declines in Bud Light sales.”


While I included it in the linked article, I feel I have to reiterate this point: “Sales of Bud Light declined during the openings of the NFL and NCAA football seasons, the Olympics, the height of barbeque season, and the end of the MLB season.”


It was a bold, yet mystifying move by Anheuser-Busch’s marketing team. But if their goal was to reach out to other audiences, then they succeeded. Their spokesman boasted of “positive signs in brand health evolution, driven by milennials and Hispanics.”


The main issue is why they would launch a campaign knowing it would alienate their fanbase. Does this go back to the previous point about echo chambers? Did a bunch of ad executives with similar beliefs and no understanding of their core base convince themselves this would work? Surely they can’t be this out of touch?


Regardless of their intentions, Bud Light succeeded magnificently as one of the worst sustained ad campaigns of the year.


A mattress company I refuse to name


Mentioning their name would only bring attention to their business, but I truly have to give these mattress store employees credit.



They turned what would have been nothing more than a poorly produced mattress ad that would be seen by tens of people at best, into a viral sensation that sits at 9.3 million views.


Then again, the store closed immediately after the video got out and Americans, you know, didn’t take kindly to their country’s greatest atrocity being used as the butt of a bad joke.


It re-opened a few days after closing, but the damage had been done. Why brands continue to insist on trying to capitalize on tragedies is beyond me, but maybe we can get some insight from these next winners:


Urban Outfitter


Surprise, surprise, Urban Outfitters is back at it again with the tasteless outfits.


What else could they touch on? They’ve riffed on dead Kent State protestors, Jesus, depression and anorexia, Lord Ganesh, Native Americans, and Jews, so what other group of people and their tragedies could they possibly exploit?


Well, they went the Holocaust angle yet again (If you’re going to be offensive, at least be original), but this time targeting gays. Tell us if you see a comparison:




Considering this is a trend of Urban Outfitters, it would be naïve to think these are accidents, even though they keep assuming that they have no idea what we are seeing or talking about.


Another job well done. Looking forward to the glove collection with a stitching of a nail in each palm. No, it definitely does not look like a crucifixion. Why would you even think that?


DJ Khaled’s Catchphrases (When used by brands)


Hey, remember DJ Khaled? Remember major keys, watering plants, keys to success, and supposedly getting lost on a jet ski in the dark?



The Miami-based DJ paraded himself as a brand on his Snapchat. Each day, followers were greeted with tips on living a successful life and Khaled’s daily life of a celebrity living in South Florida.


Like Kim and Trump, DJ Khaled was yet another celebrity that had mass appeal, yet outsiders wondered exactly who he was and why people kept spouting off about “Major keys” and “Walking the pathway to more success”.


Again, these are elite level marketers that know how to brand. They may be invested in different industries, but they all place their primary focus on branding. Through repeatable catchphrases (“Make America Great Again!”), mastery of their preferred social media outlet(s), media manipulation, ubiquity, and/or using their assets to their advantage (This), the three have been able to develop cult followings that have left outsiders perplexed.


The Khaled craze was fun for a month. Unfortunately, because trends rule the marketing world, brands had to capitalize on his success. The results were uninspired tweets that desperately pandered to milennials:






It’s one thing for a restaurant to try it, but is it necessary for MasterCard to get in on the act?


Strategies like this always remind me of Steve Buscemi’s 30 Rock character going undercover as a high school student:



And speaking of obvious pandering and lacking creative thought…


Hillary Clinton: Stronger Together



I promise you I’m not a Russian hacker. I’m just one of the millions of Americans who listened to Hillary Clinton and saw an out-of-touch politician painfully doing whatever it took to connect with the youth of today.


She tried it in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Trump was the first Republican to win Iowa since George Bush in 2004, and just the second overall since 1988.)


She did whatever what you want to call this on Ellen‘s show. (Hillary won 55% of the millennial vote, down 5% from Barack Obama in 2012.)


She tried to connect with black people through the power of hot sauce. (16% of black males with a college degree voted for Trump. Overall, Clinton won the black vote 88% to 8%. Obama had an 87-point edge in 2012 and a 91-point edge in 2008.)


She celebrated a Cinco de Mayo rally with a mariachi band. (She won Hispanics by a 36-point margin. By comparison, Obama won by 44 in 2012. Over 30% of Hispanic males voted Trump. Also, just imagine for a moment if Trump were the one who brought out a mariachi band to a Cinco de Mayo rally.)


Oblivious. Manufactured. Out of touch.



Her campaign failed to deliver any sort of notable enthusiasm and spent more time criticizing Trump than talking up any policies. She was a cardboard cutout of every run-of-the-mill politician, minus the appeal that even she couldn’t fake. Any attempts to feign a likable personality backfired and rightfully so.


I’ve seen car dealership ads at 3AM with more authenticity.


Unlike Trump’s campaign, no matter your opinion on it, her campaign’s branding attempt was poor and completely missed the mark. It took a cue from Bud Light by abandoning its base to pander to other groups; its figurehead couldn’t conjure any excitement; transparency was forced; and the overall message was cliche and tired.


In the spot they’re in now, any other brand would step back and reevaluate their approach.


Instead, it’s everybody else’s fault but the message and the face. I think we can safely say the 2020 Democratic presidential run will be just as removed from reality as this one.

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