2018 has been another vintage year for hard-hitting PR campaigns and marketing stunts.
From the worthy to the outrageous, there’s been so many great campaigns that caught our eye it’s impossible to include them all here.
However, the Freshfield team got together to single out 10 personal favourites.
Virgin Trains: #Avocard
Virgin Trains jumped on the back of this year’s millennial railcard chaos in one of the wittiest PR campaigns of 2018.
Giving a third off UK rail travel to those aged 26-30, the government’s millennial railcard launch was a disaster. The website crashed, the government only made 10,000 available, and some claimed they were harder to get hold of than Glastonbury tickets.
Enter Virgin Trains, which saved the day with its tongue in cheek #Avocard campaign. Playing on the stereotype of avocado-loving millennials, Virgin Trains targeted this age group through sponsored posts on social media.
Didn’t bag a Millennial Railcard? Have no fear! Simply present an avocado in place of your railcard when booking your ticket and you’ll be entitled to the same fantastic 1/3 off discount for one week only. Full details here: https://t.co/7Dp48RWzgp 🥑 #Avocard #railcard pic.twitter.com/NLhPfbD2yp
— Virgin Trains (@VirginTrains) March 13, 2018
It offered young adults the chance to bag a third off Virgin’s west coast rail routes by presenting an avocado in place of the millennial railcard when booking tickets – the same deal offered through the Government’s scheme. The campaign got excellent engagement, like this:
UNBELIEVABLY, I am the first person to use the #AvoCard travelling from Carlisle. The staff went daft, we had a right good giggle, captured a selfie for posterity and went about our days. Excellent initiative @VirginTrains. Can every day be an 🥑 day? #Millenials @CIHFutures pic.twitter.com/tkOr91qx5L
— Evie Copland (@eviecopland) March 16, 2018
Visa: All they want for Christmas is you
This campaign is about supporting your local high street over the festive season, celebrating independent retailers and stores. Visa focused on the real faces of the high street, our local shopkeepers, providing audiences with familiar faces, believable stories, and an overall heart-warming effect.
The campaign is multi-faceted, joining up television advertising, outdoor advertising, and social media. The main aim appears to be brand awareness, but Visa says it wants to see an increase in debit and credit card payments in independent stores over the coming months.
This campaign spoke to me a lot, so much so that I’ve decided to buy all my Christmas presents from independent high street stores this season, including those online too, such as Etsy.
Greggs: Gregory and Gregory
On-the-go food retailer Greggs fooled Michelin-starred chefs, Masterchef champions and the general public at a gourmet food festival by white labelling its new summer range.
Armed with posh plates and serving trays, the ready-to-eat food, all of which is available in its high street stores, was served to the unsuspecting public as a gourmet range by a ‘new company’ Gregory and Gregory. Cue surprised and disbelieving faces when they find out the food is actually from Greggs.
For me it’s a lesson in never judging a book by its cover. This was a great way for Greggs to show off its range of salads and wraps and once again show it’s about more than just greasy sausage roles and pasties. It was just one of several great stunts pulled off by Greggs in 2018. Bravo!
Banksy: Shredding the Girl and Balloon
At a Sotheby’s auction in October, Banky’s Girl With Balloon was sold for just over £1m. But no sooner had the hammer come down, the assembled throng in the auction room was stunned as they watched the canvas pass through a shedder installed into the frame.
Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s senior director and head of contemporary art in Europe, summed up the stunt when he said: “We’ve just been Banksy-ed”. It further added to the mystique around the anonymous artist who later released a video to show how he pulled off the stunt.
It made mainstream news, went viral on social and I even overheard two old ladies talking about it by the cheese counter at Booths. The stunt is now part of art history and, ironically, the shredded painting is now worth double the £1m that was bid for it.
Iceland and Greenpeace: Rang-Tan’s Story
What kind of advert gets more attention and audience by not being on the TV?
That was the situation for supermarket chain Iceland whose ‘Rang-tan’ video (actually produced by Greenpeace) was used to draw attention to the supermarket’s decision to ban palm oil from its own-brand products.
The video highlights the plight of orangutans that have been brought to the brink of extinction by logging for palm oil. However, the ad was ‘banned’ after being judged to breach the rules which allow advertisers to get their videos aired.
Since then, tens of thousands of people have shared the video on social media, and the ‘ban’ led to the story going viral with attention from international media and celebrities. All great publicity for Iceland, but time will tell what good it does for the cause it was designed to promote.
Diesel: Go with the Fake
In the run-up to New York Fashion Week, the designer brand pulled off a risky, but highly effective PR campaign in New York City.
It secretly launched a one-off store in an area of Manhattan popular among shoppers looking for knock-offs of well-known fashion names. Throw in a convincing sales assistant and a hidden camera or two and you’ve got Deisel, the brand that could easily be mistaken for Diesel.
Shoppers got their Deisel jeans and other clobber at low, low prices and were so astounded by the quality they chose to ignore the misspelt logo. Luckily for them, they later found out their Deisel goods were actually genuine and that only the logo was a fake.
This could easily have backfired for Diesel given the fashion industry’s zero tolerance approach to counterfeiting, but the end result was quality engagement by way of a cheeky campaign that got people talking about the brand.
KFC: A finger-lickin’ good lesson in crisis communications
Sorry seems to be the hardest word, but fast-food giant KFC gave us a masterclass in the art of apology earlier this year when disaster struck – it ran out of chicken.
Customers took to social media in droves complaining their local stores were closed. In response, KFC served up full-page adverts in the Metro and the Sun showing an empty bucket bearing three letters: FCK.
— James Herring (@itsjamesherring) February 23, 2018
In the absence of fried chicken, the brand delivered a delicious dose of self-deprecation, backed up by a heartfelt apology which began “we’re sorry” and included the frank admission “it’s been a hell of a week”. It did the trick, with people calling the apology genius, brilliant, witty and gutsy.
There But Not There: The Tommy silhouettes
Launched by Remembered to mark the centenary of the Armistice, this emotive campaign had an ambitious aim: to place thousands of ‘Tommy’ silhouette sculptures in communities around the UK.
Working with councils, schools, sports clubs and historical societies, the sculptures appeared in places where soldiers lived, worked, went to school, or anywhere they were missed. For example, Arsenal footballers used the sculptures to honour members of their team that died in the conflict:
Yesterday @aaronramsey @emilesmithrowe_ and @carljenkinson stood alongside our #ThereButNotThere Tommies in remembrance of the @Arsenal footballers who died in WW1. Helping us raise funds to support veterans today and commemorating the fallen. #ArmisticeDay100 #FootballRemembers pic.twitter.com/WWQEyXHrfr
— There But Not There (@Remembered2018) November 11, 2018
There But Not There was a poignant reminder of those who never came home and the communities they left behind. The Freshfield team was able to learn about one of its own local Tommies when one of the sculptures appeared in Winckley Square outside our Preston office.
People were also given the opportunity to purchase miniature Tommy figures and lapel pins, with all profits going to Remembered’s beneficiary charities. I liked this campaign because it had real impact and achieved every one of Remembered’s aims – Commemorate, Educate and Heal.
H&M: Harry & Meghan
For me great creativity is simple, grabs your attention and puts a smile on your face.
H&M pulled off a masterstroke with its lovely piece of reactive advertising when Harry and Meghan made their Royal baby announcement in the autumn.
Was it planned or off the cuff*? Either way, it did the job for me.
(*the advert, not the baby)
easyJet: The Flybrary takes off
To help it connect with families this summer, easyJet took a step back in technology and looked to the world of children’s books.
The company’s research into child literacy concluded that almost four in ten parents (38%) said their child has fewer than 10 books at home and on average, British children aged between six and 12 have not visited a public library in more than six months.
The easyJet response was to stock more than 300 aircraft with 17,500 children’s books in passenger seat-pockets translated in seven languages.
The fleet of Flybraries enabled children to start reading books on a flight and then when they landed they could turn to their phones and tablets to download free samples of the books.