Fresh eyes

11 winning PR campaigns from 2016 (and what they teach us)

Make America Great Again
Andrew Taylor Senior PR & Comms Manager

Written by Andrew Taylor,
PR & Communications Director at Freshfield

Trump, Shakespeare, five pound notes and Nutella donuts. It could only possibly be Freshfield’s round-up of the PR campaigns that smashed it in 2016.

From election battles and product launches to shock tactics and health awareness programmes, we’ve highlighted those campaigns that most impressed us and those that hold valuable lessons for businesses of all sizes.

The British Heart Foundation – #RestartAHeart

By Jen Peacock

According to The British Heart Foundation, if you have a cardiac arrest away from a hospital in the UK, you have less than a one in ten chance of surviving. This statistic formed the basis of the charity’s campaign supporting Restart a Heart Day, an initiative designed to increase the number of people equipped with lifesaving skills.

It focused on engaging with schools, workplaces and communities, with social media one of the main platforms to communicate the message using an added interactive element. On Twitter, when users clicked the heart button on the pinned tweet stating ‘your heart stops and you go into cardiac arrest, heart this tweet to see what happens next,’ an automated reply delivered the sobering news that you hadn’t survived.

Different, engaging, thought-provoking and possibly controversial (some Twitter users expressed they didn’t appreciate the mortality factor), to date the tweet has received 2,711 retweets and 21,878 likes, with the BHF reporting an increase in enquiries from people wanting to undertake CPR courses.

Donald’s presidential campaign is a ‘Top Trump’

By Simon Turner

Put aside your political and personal stance on Trump (for the record, he’s not my type of corndog). But his road to the White House was a brilliant PR campaign. Some in the sector hail it as one of the best of all time. How did he do it?

Clear message: He had one simple slogan “Make America Great Again”. He over-communicated this throughout the campaign, such as when he posted this to-the-point tweet below on November 5. And he backed it up with how he planned to do it. Do you remember Hillary’s message or what it stood for? Trump’s use of language was also excellent. He used many one syllable words during his speeches and talked about “putting America first”. The best marketing is simple.

Headline grabber: While his strong words created some unsavoury headlines, he has a nose for news and creating stories with real impact. His controversial plans to build a wall along the border with Mexico is an obvious example. He was willing to stick his head above the parapet and it worked.

He engaged on social media: While most politicians are on social media, very few are as active or engaging as Trump. He was proactive, provocative and on the front foot – many of his Tweets and messages created news stories.

He focussed on earned media: He spent less than his rivals on advertising, letting his stories and his talking fuel his campaign. His message was so powerful and disruptive, the media advertised for him.

‘A Play for the Nation’ creates a new generation of Shakespeareans

By Laura Cullen

Celebrating 400 years since Shakespeare’s death, The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) set out to prove “Shakespeare is for everyone”. At a time where theatre ticket sales are in decline and people are more concerned with the Kardashians than Cleopatra, it was no easy task.

The RSC’s research identified that amateur theatre groups have loyal, generous audiences who support family and friends, but don’t always attend professional theatre. So when it staged a touring production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ it invited local amateur dramatic groups to audition for the parts of The Mechanicals (including Bottom, a leading role.) Hundreds attended an open casting and 14 groups of seven ‘regular people’ were chosen to perform alongside the professional ensemble in their respective regions (often areas with low arts engagement), and at the infamous Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford. It was ambitious and risky, but proved to be, if you’ll pardon the pun, a ‘dream’ collaboration.

The initiative attracted a wealth of regional and national media coverage. A BBC documentary, The Best Bottoms in the Land, followed the amateur actors’ journey, and dedicated social media accounts amassed thousands of followers. A video, Meet the Bottoms, below, became one of the most watched on the RSC’s YouTube channel with more than 10,000 views, while the play’s trailer reached 30,000 views.

The RSC called 2016 a “blockbuster year” with a 2.3 per cent increase in ticket sales – proof that genuine, meaningful partnerships with relevant organisations can hold the key to reaching and engaging new audiences.

Krispy Kreme shares a Nutella ‘secret’

By Laura Wild

Everybody loves to be in on a secret. So, when Krispy Kreme launched its Nutella donut this year that’s exactly the approach they went for, sending a memo ‘accidentally’ to their entire database about this yummy new treat – quickly followed by another email to recall it.

At first glance Krispy Kreme fans thought they knew something others didn’t and had been included in this secret. The follow up email asking fans to not share it on social media resulted in the best PR they could want, because everybody started shouting about it on their social channels.

Krispy Kreme used email and social media to get the story out there, largely bypassing traditional media and making the most of these simple tools, and then when it did hit the headlines it was as much about the stunt as it was the donut launch. A simple concept which made a big impact.

New fiver offers a ‘product launch’ masterclass

By Andrew Taylor

The Bank of England’s campaign to launch the new polymer £5 note used a number of channels and focused on the key benefits of cleaner, safer, stronger. Communication began well in advance of an official unveiling of the note at Blenheim Palace in June 2016, a full three-months ahead of it entering circulation in September.

The Bank launched a dedicated website ‘The New Fiver’ that enabled people to explore the plastic note, gave a detailed timeline of its introduction, and explained how the old cotton paper note would be phased out. Much of the media coverage centred on the new note’s ‘indestructible qualities’, a hook that was exploited fully through media interviews in which many journalists, including the BBC’s John Humphrys, failed to tear or damage the note.

The success of the launch has since been overshadowed by the revelation that animal fats are used in the manufacture of the banknote. A backlash by the vegan community and some faith groups presents new challenges for the Bank as it prepares to launch the new tenner in 2017.

Team GB’s gold rush proves cult of ‘the everyday hero’

By Emma Rawlinson

Team GB created history in 2016 amassing a record 67 medals and finishing second in the medals table. In doing so they became the first nation in Olympic history to win more medals at the Games immediately following the one they hosted.

But the athletes weren’t the only winners, with many brands and sponsors basking in the glory too. In the build-up to the Games our athletes were introduced across all forms of media and advertising deals, while British Airways gained huge publicity by returning the champions in style. The people behind the medals made the headlines every day for 16 days and we were glued to our screens because they were ‘normal’ people achieving remarkable things.

The brand association continued long after the event with follow-up TV interviews, the wedding of cycling King and Queen Jason Kenny and Laura Trott splashed across lifestyle magazines, plus a number of winning athletes in the running for Sports Personality of the Year. If there’s one thing we can take through to 2017, it’s that the world embraces everyday heroes.

Vote Leave taps into public sentiment

By Paul Tustin

Regardless of your personal stance, the referendum and vote to leave the EU was, indeed, defining in terms of public opinion and how it is formed.

Both campaigns, to Remain and Leave, left much of the country dissatisfied in the way they were conducted and how they shouted their way through the rocky issues. Lobbyists on either side issued lots of information, and misinformation.

In the end, the Leave campaign won because it was able to tap into public sentiment, a sentiment borne out of rejection and frustration with the status quo. Its ‘take back control’ mantra was memorable and fully exploited this disatisfaction.

The result proved that the public will cannot be taken for granted in any way and that the art of listening and understanding the average ‘person on the street’ has a place in any public opinion campaign.

Lidl keeps on surprising

By Ben Hewes

Ok, so the Lidl Surprises campaign has been running for a couple of years, but 2016 saw the debut TV ad. One of Lidl’s customers who had doubted the quality of the supermarket chain’s food, was invited to visit a Scottish farm to meet a beef farmer who supplies the company.

This campaign ticks so many boxes – engaging with an audience directly and demonstrating Lidl’s connection with its customers, showcasing the provenance of its food, supporting British farmers – so many great ‘foodie’ messages.

And best still, there are so many chances for follow-on videos (seafood has been planned, along with wine and fruit & veg) it’s a creative campaign that can run and run.

Marriott hotels check out VR

By Michael Gregory

The march of technology continues and it’s no surprise that I’ve included virtual reality (VR) as a new way of engaging your target audiences and influencing their thoughts about your organisation, service or product. Years ago VR was an expensive plaything but now it’s entered the mainstream partly due to the capabilities of smart phones and the introduction of ‘cheap’ 360 cameras.

Sports, food, travel, automotive, clothing and music brands have all successfully used VR. A favourite of mine is Marriott’s teleporter and you can see from the film how it can convince consumers to go and stay at one of its many hotels.

With VR you ‘live and breathe’ the brand. It becomes more engaging and, used correctly in the right arena, blows traditional marketing techniques out of the water. Of course there are companies that are jumping on the VR bandwagon and using it for the sake of saying they’re doing ‘VR’. Like all successful marketing, it has to have an objective behind it.

‘Like My Addiction’ highlights a social problem

By Sam Booth

After joining Instagram on August 1, 25-year-old Parisian Louise Delage racked-up an impressive 66,000 followers in a little over a month. Like many other stylish twenty-somethings, Louise liked to post pictures of herself dining out and socialising in swanky locations. Turns out the account wasn’t all it seemed though. It was a fake, created by French advertising agency BETC to raise awareness of alcoholism among young people for Addict Aide’s ‘like my addiction’ campaign.

Despite hundreds of likes per post, the account’s followers had little idea they were part of a social experiment until Louise posted a video on Instagram and YouTube – she’d been holding an alcoholic drink in almost every picture yet it had gone unnoticed. Exactly the point.

Summer was great

A photo posted by Louise Delage (@louise.delage) on

The campaign cleverly executed the brief – to raise awareness of “the difficulty of detecting the addiction of someone close to you — a friend, a child or a parent” by turning an issue on its head and tapping into current social trends. ‘Like my addiction’ skilfully utilised an attractive female to harvest likes and capture the attention of the audience, highlighting how a worrying trend of image sharing acts as an enabler for the invisible illness.

Barnardo’s focuses on the future

By Alice Davies

Instead of focusing on the harrowing experiences that children have been through, the message of this campaign is that a child’s future shouldn’t be limited or defined by the neglect or abuse they’ve suffered.

They may be victims, but the campaign reinforces the message that these children are survivors too.  The ad states that “incredible things happen when you believe in children”, opening up a world of possibilities for not just the children in the ad, but those who are suffering currently. It’s emotive, but not melancholy and really inspires you to look further.

The children featured in the ad are also older than other children’s charities adverts too, which is a new angle and exposes the public to the fact that it is ALL children who are vulnerable and at risk.

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