2020 hits & misses – from user generated content to celebrity singalongs

Mike Drysdale, general manager of Dear Storyteller, looks back on the year's success stories and misplaced moments.

Not all marketing campaigns are created equal. In 2020 we saw evidence of this everywhere. As advertisers hit the panic button to get their messaging out during COVID – phrases like “unprecedented times” and “we’re in this together” became memes in their own right. But there was more to 2020 than the pandemic.

From virtue signalling to viral hits and video game tourism, these are the hits and misses of marketing in 2020.

The UGC moment: Doggface208 and Ocean Spray – hit!

User generated content like Doggface208’s TikTok masterpiece should be a dream come true for marketers. Yet I can’t help but think if most clients saw this execution in a brief they would run in the other direction, citing a breach of brand guidelines.

In reality, Doggface208 probably created the best Ocean Spray ad ever made. By capturing his c’est la vie, carefree attitude, alongside the dulcet tones of Fleetwood Mac, the TikTok resonated with people on a level that had to be shared.

Ocean Spray’s response was timely and well played, buying the star a truck to replace the one that had broken down. Oh, and did I mention it was filled with Ocean Spray? That’s storydoing.

Gal Gadot’s ‘Imagine’ moment – miss!

Celebrities. We love them, they entertain us, make us laugh and tell stories that remind us we’re not alone. But sometimes they just don’t read the room. It may not have been an ad for a company but the damage done to the personal brands of these celebrities was as bad as any PR disaster.

Gal Gadot and friends’ ill-advised/out-of-tune attempt to ease people’s pandemic-induced anxiety through a rendition of “Imagine” reminded the advertising world of a crucial lesson: actions speak louder than words and storydoing beats storytelling every time.

The most dramatic moment: #FreeFortnite – hit!

A heavyweight corporate battle played out in real time this year, via an ad created by the world’s most popular video game: Fortnite.

In an incredible spectacle of corporate theatre, Fortnite was removed from the app store for finding a way to bypass Apple’s fee for in-game purchases. The ban led to Fortnite immediately releasing a spoof of Apple’s Iconic “1984” commercial while also announcing that they were suing the company. The spot ended with a powerful call to arms saying:

“Epic Games has defied the App Store Monopoly. In retaliation, Apple is blocking Fortnite from a billion devices. Join the fight to stop 2020 from becoming “1984” #FreeFortnite”

The virtue signalling moment: L’Orėal Paris / others – miss!

The moments that missed big this year had a common theme. They centered around a breakout term that took on a whole new meaning in 2020 – “virtue signalling”. The most simple definition is when a brand speaks about moral values in order to enhance their own image.

For L’Orėal Paris, it was posting a branded black tile in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement with the message “speaking out is worth it.” This came three years after sacking Munroe Bergsma their ‘face of modern diversity’ specifically for a series of Facebook posts she wrote speaking out against systemic racism.

L’Orėal Paris took action following the backlash by making a 25,000 pound donation to mermaids gender and UK Black Pride while also re-engaging Munroe as a consultant under their new president Delphine Viguier.

The COVID-19 moment: Quarantining – Budweiser – Hit!

We love an ad that touches on mental health and supporting your friends. We love it even more if it’s a throwback to an all-time, nostalgia-filled, classic. That’s what Vaynermedia did when they tracked down the original actors from the classic Budweiser “Whassup” commercial and used dubbing to add quarantining references to the original ad to run during lockdown.

During a period where it felt like every Covid-19 commercial was exactly the same, this light-hearted trip down memory lane won the day.

The tourism moment: Play NZ – Tourism New Zealand – Hit!

How do you sell tourism during a pandemic? One unconventional option is to turn your entire country into a video game. The Play NZ campaign from TBWA\Sydney was a revelation this year for a number of reasons. Chief among them was the campaign’s nine minute long hero video. A piece of branded entertainment, led by video game streamer Loserfruit and Kiwi actor Julian Dennison, that marketed New Zealand as a real life video game.

The spot mimicked the visual language and conventions of “open world role-playing games” to show off New Zealand in a truly unique way to a hyper engaged audience. With no sign of travel and so many people in lockdown, Tourism New Zealand’s strategy to make the most of a 75% rise in gaming between March and July was a master stroke and one of my favourite spots of the year.

Mike Drysdale is the general manager of Dear Storyteller.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.