Biggest Social Media Marketing Moments from 2021

Marketers no longer have the luxury of spending weeks conceptualizing a cool campaign for their companies.

While that’s certainly still an open avenue, many consumers nowadays expect their favorite brands to be in sync with trending moments and topical conversations on social media.

There’s enormous pressure on social admins to respond to global online events with witty references (easter eggs) and relevant but seamless product integrations.

Of course, the real challenge is to do all that within the day has ended, and the world has moved on to some other fleeting discussion.

Funnily enough, it’s these corporate brands that crack breaking news stories faster than media outlets themselves.

Business schools now teach a separate branch of digital marketing, known as RTA (Real-Time Advertising), so this genre is certainly worth discussing for marketing students of all ages.

Thankfully, 2021 was full of interesting case studies to help us get inspired by the brilliant work of both corporate and independent creators across India.

Age-old pioneers of the technique like Zomato and Fevicol, as well as small new startup entrants like Dunzo and Ixigo, all managed to successfully breathe life into our feeds with plenty of great ad-hoc creatives.

So as the year draws to a close, here’s a handpicked collection celebrating some of the hottest social trends of 2021 that got brands busily buzzing online.

If you want to access the full list of all the stories starting from the #DalgonaCoffee hashtag in early 2020, check out my personal Google Sheet Tracker here.

Below each trend, I’ve added the date on which it started or peaked (went viral), along with the category (Tech, Pop culture, Sports, etc.), and the geographical coverage (India or Global).

A special thanks to Social Samosa, Mad Over Marketing, and other online aggregators for making it super-easy to identify the most innovative takes on each topic.

#USvsIND Flag Comparisons

{January 2 I Post Format I India}

This was arguably the first trend/popular tweet or post format of the year.

A journalist on Twitter posted a couple of cultural comparisons using Indian and American flags, showing differences between how things are said or done in the country.

For example, in the States, people say “Excuse me” but in India, our local slang for it would be “Side, please.”

Hopping on the funny comparison trend, Content creators enjoyed poking fun at how we have a very unique way of communicating and doing things in our country.

Sitting Bernie Sanders

{January 20 I Politics/Trade I Global}

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris took the oath as the 46th President and the 49th Vice-President of the US respectively.

Losing contender Bernie Sanders grabbed the attention of netizens with his outfit as well as socially-distanced demeanor.

Brands creatively used the now-iconic pose to promote their products and/or connect with their customers.

Pawri Ho Rahi hai

{February 6 I Pop Culture I South Asia}

Dananeer Mobeen, a 19-year-old social media influencer from Pakistan, posted a video with her gang up in the mountains, in which she mocked fake American accents used by brown people.

The catchy meme “ye ham hai, ye hamari car hai, aur ye hamari party ho rahi hai” (this is us, this is our car, and we’re partying) caught on very quickly.

Brands got to work with their own versions of the party tune.

Godzilla Vs Kong

{February 15 I Pop Culture I Global}

In the trailer for Warner Bros. produced “Godzilla Vs. Kong,” the two giant Titans are seen face-to-face in a fight.

Memers decided to parody the scene by adding the “doge” funny dog icon in the scene, and it was shown scaring both the beasts away.

KFC Spain allegedly kick-started the trend by sharing the template first.

Brands used it as a template to depict how one element defeats two other things/situatons. For example, the joy found in a big bowl of ice cream would be good enough to defeat the temptations of having both chocolate and cake.

Shweta, your mic is on

{February 18 I Pop Culture I India}

A Zoom call of an online class where among 111 participants was leaked on YouTube, in which a girl named Shweta forgot to mute her microphone, revealing her private conversation about another boy’s romantic/sex life.

The internet apparently found the goof-up hilarious and immortalized it into the national meme archives under the hashtag #ShwetaYourMicIsOn.

On a more serious note, it did get people talking about how the lockdown had created an atmosphere of anxiety because of the inconveniences caused during online Zoom meetings.

Suez Canal Blockage

{March 23 I Politics/Trade I Global}

A container ship “The Evergreen” blocked Egypt’s Suez Canal by getting wedged in between, causing international trade to come to a halt at the narrow but vital waterway passage.

Brands decided to meme out the situation, using the ship’s image (with rescue efforts by small vehicles underway) as a template to depict the magnanimity of certain situations compared to the trivial efforts taken to remedy them.

For example, one brand joked about how drinking green tea is a very small step in pursuing your weight loss goals.

F.R.I.E.N.D.S Reunion

{May 13 I Pop Culture I Global}

The popular sitcom FRIENDS, which ran for a decade from 1994 to 2004, announced a special reunion episode of their star cast, set to release on May 27 on HBO Max.

The episode featured the original front-runners like Jennifer Aniston (Rachel), Matt LeBlanc (Joey), and Matthew Perry (Chandler).

This was alongside special guest appearances by David Beckham, Justin Bieber, BTS, and more!

Brands tried appealing to the fandom by quoting witty inside-jokes, references, and other popular lines from the show.

Bitcoin Crashes

{May 16 I Finance/Business I Global}

Elon Musk, Tesla’s celebrity CEO, has been playing a pivotal role in popularizing cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Dogecoin, and Ethereum.

Reddit and other niche internet forums have also contributed to the mass-investing rush by retail traders.

In late May, however, Musk sent a cryptic tweet that some fans assumed was an indication of Tesla selling all its Bitcoin holdings. Furthermore, there was a floating announcement of Tesla no longer accepting it as payment.

Because of mass speculation, leading to panic selling, the bubble broke at last, and the share value plummeted horribly.

Brands and indie designers flocked to invest in the “dip” and made their bids to please young fans who were trolling the mining community.

Fortunately for Bitcoin miners, Musk tweeted in favor of the cryptocurrency in the following week, helping it recover some of the lost market share and public confidence.

Nonetheless, this story did result in some hilarious puns as featured below.

Ronaldo dumps Coca Cola

{June 15 I Sports I Global}

Cristiano Ronaldo (CR7), the world-famous Portuguese football player, was attending a conference for the UEFA Euro 2020 championship.

He swept aside the Coca-Cola bottles placed on his podium and held up a bottle of water, indirectly encouraging everyone to drink water over the cold drink.

This was followed by a $4bn loss in the company’s stock price, which was obviously caused by a multitude of reasons, but on the surface, looked like a direct effect to many fans.

In any case, brands couldn’t resist making the connection and went to town with the bubbling controversy.

Baspan Ka Pyaar

{July 7 I Pop Culture I India}

A young boy Sahdev Dirdo from Chhattisgarh was recorded by his class teacher singing “Bachpan ka Pyar” in his cute voice and a peculiar accent.

The song went “You’re my childhood love, don’t forget me. I’ve loved you so much.”

The famous rapper Badshaah made a remix of his audio, which pushed the audio to the trending list on the Reels Instagram platform, and spun into countless recreations/spoofs.

Of course, brands sang along with their customers with cute puns referencing the lyrics.

Neeraj Chopra Bags Gold

{August 7 I Sports I India}

23-year old Javelin Throw Athlete, Neeraj Chopra, hailing from Panipat (Haryana) secured a gold medal in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics games.

He threw the javelin as far as 87.03 m in the first attempt, and 87.58m in the second, which was farther than all the other competing athletes.

This was independent India’s first-ever athletics medal, and Chopra became the second Indian to secure an individual Gold after Abhinav Bindra.

Brands welcomed the proud moment with illustrations honoring Chopra’s historic triumph.

Money Heist S5 Drops on Flix

{September 3 I Pop Culture I Global}

Spanish series La Casa de Papael (acquired and translated by Netflix as “Money Heist”), premiered its fifth season (part 1) over the weekend.

It had quickly become the most-watched international series on the platform since its acquisition by the streaming giant in 2017.

Millions of fans around the globe were waiting in excitement for the episodes to drop, and meet their favorite characters, including the Professor and Tokyo.

Brands raided the moment with their quirky memes and inside references of the characters/plot.

iPhone 13 gets trolled badly

{September 14 I Tech I Global}

Apple’s new iPhone 13 model had a peculiar camera setup at the back. Plus, it didn’t really excite many fans with its allegedly sub-par features.

Brands were quick to troll the release with their funny memes about the iPhone being too pricey and/or overhyped for its actual worth.

#IndVsPak T20 World Cup Fever

{October 24 I Sports I India}

Political rivals India vs. Pakistan clashed on a Sunday in the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup T20.

Pakistan broke their 12-0 loss streak against India by securing a dominant first World Cup victory over the arch-nemesis.

What began with the signature “Mauka Mauka” tagline trolling on India’s side ended up with memes reflecting shock and disappointment.

Your Name on Urban Dictionary

A sticker on Instagram stories by some popular account was prompting people to search their own names on Urban Dictionary, and share screenshots of what they got.

Brands parodied the trend by creating custom memes of the format, defining what their names would mean in slang, had they really been created on the urban-speak language-defining website.

So that was my list of social media trends in 2021. If you found it useful, tweet it to your fellow marketers.

Which one’s your favorite? Which brand do you think outperformed the others in terms of speed, creativity, and relevancy to their product/service? Did I miss any important ones?

Don’t forget to share your views in the comments below.

Here’s wishing you a Happy New Year! Let’s hope that 2022 brings us more of such cool trends to enjoy, both as content artists and consumers…

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