The year 2015 generated a treasure trove of marketing campaigns that pushed boundaries in radically new ways. I've selected 10 that rose above the fray to create awareness, enhance credibility and drive sales. (Two of the initiatives pushed boundaries in both positive and negative ways, but generated a mother lode of coverage regardless.)
1.) Demagogue or demi-god? Donald Trump's use of Twitter to speak directly to America. Love him or hate him, we cannot take our eyes off Donald Trump. While the man's malaprops, misstatements and maliciousness know no limit, The Donald's ability to bypass the media and speak directly to his adoring voter base is nonpareil. Marketers facing competitors who say the same old thing in the same old way should study Trump's direct, no-nonsense approach. If nothing else, it breaks through the clutter like a Category Five hurricane slices through a Caribbean island.
2.) Bringing bloodlust to the masses: UFC's knockout punch. The Ultimate Fighting Championship didn't pull any punches hyping the November bout between Holly Holm and Ronda Rousey. They created cool videos that generated 400,000 views on YouTube. Then, UFC placed Rousey on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. Ellen Tweeted a pre-fight trailer to her 50 million followers. The actual fight was aired on PPV, and attracted more than 1 million paying customers. That's championship marketing.
3.) Peace out: Burger King extends an olive branch to McDonald's. Burger King celebrated Peace Day by reaching out to its arch rival by suggesting they co-create a McWhopper. It was a brilliant creative move that generated one news cycle after another thanks to McDonald's CEO turning BK down flatter than either one of the chain's burgers. The end result was countless coverage and priceless good will for the King.
4.) Help us help you help us: The Newcastle Ale "Band of Brands" Non-Super Bowl commercial. Unable to afford the exorbitant cost of a Super Bowl commercial, Newcastle Ale enlisted the support of Parks and Recreation star Aubrey Plaza. Together, they created a video that enlisted other brands to share the cost of a commercial. The video was brilliant, laugh out loud funny and amazingly effective, garnering more than 900,000 views on YouTube. That sure beats spending $4.5 million on a 30-second Super Bowl spot.
5.) I scream. You scream. We all scream for Blue Bell ice cream. Blue Bell Ice Cream was forced to remove ALL of its product from store shelves after the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked the ice cream to a listeria outbreak that killed three people. The brand relied heavily on social media to keep their customers apprised of recall updates and their plan to return the product to shelves. BB's transparency about the recall, how it would change its processes, as well as how it would operate moving forward, ignited an already fiercely loyal fan base. They flooded Facebook with congratulatory notes for the corporation's openness and demanded the ice cream be made available as soon as possible. It was a textbook example of superb crisis management.
6.) The Man in the High Castle's oh-so-dark campaign. Amazon's guerilla campaign to attract viewers to its new series, 'The Man in the High Castle', was equal parts brilliant and offensive. The show is based on the premise that Japan and Germany won World War II and needed a true marketing Blitzkrieg to breakthrough. So, Amazon marketers wrapped 260 NYC stations and the Times Square Shuttle subway car with symbols from Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Not surprisingly, the campaign outraged many New Yorkers and was eventually yanked, but it ended up being TV's version of the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. In fact, The National Review said of the effort, "If Amazon wanted publicity for 'The Man in the High Castle,' it can declare 'mission accomplished".
7.) A crossover hit: Charles Schwab's campaign closes the generation gap. Marketers at Schwab neatly killed two birds with one stone with their creative campaign aimed at Baby Boomers and their children. The TV spot captured the attention of Boomers, who aren't asking enough questions about their retirement, as well as 30-somethings who need to begin saving now. What a great way to attract a new audience while not alienating an existing one.
8.) Owning the other L Word: Revlon's "Love is on" program. Unless you're Google, it's tough to actually own a word. But, Revlon made a valiant attempt this year in its efforts to own the word love. The cosmetics company's 'Love is On' campaign website included an invitation to share love stories that would subsequently be featured on a Times Square Jumbotron, a 'Love Starts Now' advice column from a Cosmopolitan Magazine expert and dream wedding ideas from 'The Knot.' I wouldn't be surprised if they also sponsor the next Broadway production of 'Romeo & Juliet.'
9.) Stay home daddy: Netflix's game-changing paternity leave program. Who would have guessed that the guys who bring us all those cool movies also pioneered a revolutionary paternity leave program? The program was so smart that Amazon duplicated it in hopes of turning around its dismal workplace image. You know a campaign is world class when another top marketer copies it verbatim.
10.) Don't Bogart that idea: The high-flying strategies of Big Cannabis. Despite suffering a lone voter defeat in Ohio, the marijuana industry grew like a weed in 2015. Thanks to a relentless marketing and education campaign, some 23 states now have laws legalizing pot in some form, and four other states and the District of Columbia have legalized it for recreational use. But Big Cannabis isn't chilling out. Advocates are already lighting up new campaigns in Nevada, Arizona, California, Maine and Massachusetts.