Best Brand Activation Campaigns & Stunts – A Running List
By Manik Rege
Published On: June 18th, 2022Views: 304
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There are two approaches teams usually take when it comes to marketing.
First, there’s the traditional group that treats it as merely one of its organizational responsibilities or chores.
Then there’s the kind of agency or internal brand team that pushes the boundaries of creativity, turning ordinary companies into iconic “brands” that inspire, touch, and solve real problems for entire generations.
Today, I’m going to rave about the second kind.
In this collection, I’ll feature some of the best brand activation stunts I’ve come across in my personal research.
The campaigns are picked from both digital & offline realms. But what connects them all is that they go above & beyond to give the audience an unforgettable personalized experience.
That’s probably the reason why the product or idea that was promoted, is remembered long after the campaign is over.
So prepare to be dazzled & educated by these case studies of marketing done absolutely right.
There is no one that grills their competitors like BK. This is the boldest & most painful roasting campaign ever produced in the history of advertising.
With the ‘Burn That Ad’ campaign, anyone who launched the Burger King app in Brazil and points their smartphone at its main competitors’ OOH & print ads (read: McDonald’s) could enjoy the sight of it being burned up instantly – in augmented reality – and turn into a BK ad.
Once the flames burned away, the consumers were left with a screen that tells them they’d received a free Whopper to be savored at the nearest restaurant.
The BK app promo was created exclusively for Brazil to promote BK Express, a tech tool allowing any customer to pre-order and avoid lines.
The strategy allowed Burger King to outrageously & legally cannibalize the media investments of its main rival, such as billboards, magazine ads, discount coupons, and others, into ads of their own.
This is classic anti-marketing at its finest. BK effectively turned their competitor’s millions of dollars worth of advertising budget into their own, with just a simple tech gimmick.
Half a million Whoppers were supposedly given away all over the country. It won the Bronze prize at the CLIO Awards 2019.
I have to mention here that this isn’t the first time BK has trolled McD with tech innovation.
In the same year, it partnered with FCB New York to geofence thousands of McDonald’s locations across the States, then offered people a whopper for just $1 (a penny) if they visited those locations & opened their BK app there – basically conveying how quickly everyone will abandon their favorite clown for a whopper.
It pushed the app to the top “most downloaded” spot on both iOS & Android stores, stealing traffic from McD to their own outlets.
Perhaps we need a separate blog post just to explore this flaming rivalry in great detail.
Superbowl is one of the biggest sporting events in the States & brands spend a lot of money on getting advertising slots.
Volvo invested $0 in the commercials but still managed to be the #1 trending topic on Twitter during this time. How? By a classic example of ambush marketing.
They launched a contest incentivizing people to tweet to them whenever any car commercial from their competitors showed up during the match breaks. The tweeters could nominate a person in their life to win a free Volvo, which got everyone’s attention.
Whenever car commercials started, people turned to their phones to tweet to Volvo instead of paying attention to those brands, essentially wasting their advertising budget, with Volvo stealing away all of the attention.
This is as good as it gets – the sheer audacity to leverage your competitors’ entire marketing budget, make them look like fools, and then run away with the cake – it’s all sublime genius if you ask me.
This also reminds me of a similar case study from France, led by the optician/eyewear brand Droit De Regard. They noticed that their competitors hid pricing terms & conditions in small fine print at the bottom of their OOH ads or billboards.
So they set up a portable eye testing center in cars near such ads, inviting people to get free eye checkup tests and challenging them to read the fine print in the competitors’ ads.
When people discovered the hidden opaque T&Cs they were appalled, and Droit De Regard employees explained how their brand is more transparent in pricing (pun intended).
This not only turned off the customers from other brands but established Droit De Regard as a more trustworthy brand in the market. Next time, whenever they would see an eyewear ad, they would instantly think back to this experience.
So if you want to compete with other brands who are hurting your position in the market, think about how you can use their power against them and ambush consumers in the middle of their journey or interaction with those companies.
SNCF is a state-owned railway company in France. To promote its routes to the rest of Europe, it set up an innovative OOH campaign.
Pedestrians saw doors placed in the middle of the road, with labels to different travel destinations like Barcelona & Stuggart. When someone had the courage to open them, they were greeted with full-sized screens livestreaming artists from those destinations.
Some drew caricatures, others performed a mime, and all of them invited the “visitors” to meet them in person by traveling to their destination by train in the future.
This is so adorable, personalized, innovative, and unique. I feel many brands can replicate the idea in one way or the other – it doesn’t cost that much but leaves a sweet memory in everyone’s mind.
You’ve probably heard the concept of “gamification” in business school, but if you want a practical example of how it’s done to activate brands, this highly interactive campaign by O&M Paris is perfect!
It utilizes a simple but fun challenge along with an enticing reward to attract customers to play
Captures an untapped market in public spaces + soles a genuine pain point
Propagates the core value of the product (vocabulary & word knowledge) into the campaign
Basically, it just proves that knowing more words can literally get you free stuff in life (in this case, WiFi). That’s the whole point of the product, so we think this campaign is bang-on!
Like a jingle, this one’s going to be stuck in our heads for a while. We love the campaign because:
Empathy: It shows awareness about the troubles or pain points that customers are going through during COVID-19 and the Work-From-Home routine
Pricing: It chooses to try a rarely used technique called “empathetic pricing,” in which you understand your users’ situation & set the price accordingly. This P is often ignored in the 4Ps mix
Value Proposition: It perfectly integrates the value of the noise-canceling product into the story & purpose of the campaign. After all, if you’re in a really noisy work environment, you need Bose headphones the most, so you get to claim the biggest discount!
We’re amazed by the level of creativity and the seamless execution here. How does one even begin to conceptualize an initiative that’s so thoughtful yet so simple?
This is perhaps the most technologically advanced campaign on the list. It shows great awareness & research on the problem it is tackling and uses an interesting challenge to get people to make a good decision that benefits everybody.
Boasting a clear reward and sublime execution from start to finish, it surely deserved all the media mentions & awards the creators received.
Agency: Netflix Thailand (in-house) for “All Of Us Are Dead”
Netflix Thailand was aiming to get eyeballs plucked out for their zombie apocalypse K-drama, All of Us Are Dead.
In a striking OOH campaign, it decked a school bus with 3D LED screens in place of windows, which played gory clips of helpless teenagers stuck inside facing an army of the dead.
The fake bloody & messy school bus, with Netflix logos strategically plastered to convey the show’s launch message to the public, roamed the busy streets of Thailand for a few days.
Users shot videos of the bus from their cars & bikes, making the move go viral on social media. The majority appreciated Netflix’s creativity, saying it was aptly terrifying & catchy.
The setup was definitely contextual & relevant to the plot of the show (which is rare in today’s bland marketing campaigns).
Also since the bus was moving, it covered a lot of ground.
Others rightly pointed out that it was a dangerous stunt, as seeing a zombie-filled bus in the middle of the road might cause drivers to lose their attention on the road temporarily, leading to accidents or injuries.
In my opinion, it was just one inch too far, because I wouldn’t put the public’s health & safety at risk just to garner attention.
Maybe the 3D/AR concept could be used in malls or other closed spaces, which would be just as spooky for passerby but not cause accidents for moving vehicles on the road.
To promote their software & upcoming #CreativeDay event, AdobeNordic (Sweden) hijacked a bus stop billboard.
When commuters sat down to wait for their bus, a hidden team took their photos & started Photoshopping them from inside the van parked in the front.
The twist? The commuters could see the process in action on the digital live billboard. As the designers used their photos to create funny caricatures, each commuter was properly surprised by the result.
This is a brilliant brand activation activity because it closely involves the product, showing people the different PhotoShopping skills can make in their lives.
More importantly, it’s a great prank – nobody was harmed, insulted, or scammed. Just pure funny stuff with a personalized experience for each “victim.”
Few campaigns manage to solve real social problems and effectively promote their brand’s value proposition without coming off as greedy.
Everything about this initiative is a bullseye – it identifies a serious issue, offers a quirky yet practical solution, and manages to reinforce Fevicol’s ability to keep things (or people) stuck together in the most difficult scenarios.
It has a sharp insight to bank on, and the execution goes beyond ordinary solutions like tying each people’s hands with strings (which is what I would’ve come up with).
The whacky idea of giving away t-shirts with multiple heads allows the brand to actively promote the cheeky tagline “Ham Jude Rahenge” (Translation: We’ll stay stuck together), courtesy of Fevicol, of course.
When it comes to user-generated content (UGC) campaigns, this is as crazy as it gets.
Voice messaging is something that was just picking up in 2019, and Swiggy found the perfect way to capitalize on the trend.
“Let’s get people to DM us voice notes shaped as their favorite dishes” – that’s just the kind of delicious pitch that gets heads turning in conference rooms.
I love how bizarre it sounds, but also how simple it is in real execution.
When I first saw the contest being announced on Swiggy’s IG, I must admit I was skeptical about how much response it would get because it demanded a degree of creative effort, something that can be problematic in UGC or co-creation campaigns.
But Swiggy has always had a savvy audience of Gen-Zs who get their style of humor.
So it was a bold but calculated risk, and the results speak for themselves.
“The Voice of Hunger” received three Cannes Lions, a D&AD Pencil, and multiple awards at Kyoorius as well as Spikes Festival of Creativity.
To raise awareness among parents of its product, Lysol Laundry Sanitizer, which claims to kill 99.9% of bacteria, Lysol invited kids across the US to submit their stuffed toys for “teddy repair” at their specially set up rehab & spa facility for stuffed toys.
Applicants could go to the Teddy Repair campaign website, upload a picture of their toy and identify what needs fixing. Lysol selected 500 toys that have been “loved to pieces” and were most in need of mending.
Those selected wererepaired, cleaned, and most importantly sanitised with Lysol’s product. They were also fitted with an RFID (radio-frequency identification) bracelet to allow the children to track their toys during the repair process through their parents’ phones.
First off, this campaign is a whole new level of cute – I can’t get over how adorable it is. I like that the brand takes soft toys very seriously because kids are really attached to them and almost treat them as their companion animals/pets.
Secondly, it’s a smart move because appealing to kids would directly lead to positive brand sentiment for their mums, who are the target market. The campaign provides real value, utilizes the product as part of its process, and wins hearts through and through.
Simply brilliant – now I’m going to go look at some pictures from my childhood, it made me miss my teddy!
To engage youth on dating apps, Mattel tied up with Tinder India. What was their genius move? Creating a dating profile for UNO enthusiasts. Fans of the game could literally match with the UNO brand & have a real flirty conversation.
This isn’t the first time a brand has leveraged dating platforms to connect with youngsters who make up the largest TG on such apps but its certainly the best use case.
With this campaign, not only did the brand introduce UNO enthusiasts to the latest version of the game but also achieved 240 online conversations with Tinder users (the Tinder Profile got over 850 matches).
Many of the matched fans were also called for an exclusive F2F meetup party to share the joy of playing the game together!
This campaign is a bit different from all the other guerilla marketing examples featured on the list, as most of them are OOH-based and it is digitally driven.
But I still wanted to include it because it’s a classic example of how to drive loyalty for your brand by turning your customers into active promoters, unlocking a larger sales force than you could ever afford to hire.
Plus, since each customer has their own style, you’re allowing creativity to flourish when it comes to pushing your brand out there.
Through its “SIDE:BIZ campaign,” Diesel gave users the power to “build their own custom Diesel fashion store,” add their favorite products to the shop page, and then share that link with their circles.
In return, both Diesel’s initial customers and their referred friends could earn discounts, freebies, and access to exclusive events. In other words, Diesel harnessed the power of nano/micro-influencers (under 10k followers).
So this is almost like setting up a unique referral code or an affiliate marketing mechanism, but it’s way cooler because each person gets their own page to share.
I think many D2C e-commerce brands can replicate this technique with a bit of programming wizardry – it’s just amazing to know you can create your own “website/page” on a brand’s shop, and then earn by promoting it to new shoppers.
Influencers come with a hefty price tag, and if you’re a small or young brand looking to leverage their influence, it’s next to impossible to write such a huge paycheck.
In this case, one inroad can be delighting these celebrities personally with your products, so that they’re self-motivated to mention or promote you online (because they’re all looking for juicy experiences & topics to share on their socials).
This brings your marketing budget down to $0.
Many brands have gifted their products or done something special to get their target influencers’ attention. This is one such case.
Back Market, a French startup and European leader in refurbished products decided to expand to the US.
It didn’t have the budget for celebrity influencers – many of whom really wanted Back Market products and had already tweeted about that years ago.
So, to promote its refurbished products, Back Market decided to refurbish their tweets.
It retweeted them as if they were published the day before and sent them the smartphones of their (past) dreams, creating the biggest online influencer campaign ever, for free.
Their “Refurbished Tweets” were recognized across the country by fans as well as some of the influencers who thought it was a good move, driving an insane amount of traffic to their website.
The campaign also won a plethora of awards.
That’s one wild way to get people to place orders!
Agency: Ogilvy for Thai Health Promotion Foundation
Most anti-smoking awareness campaigns contain graphic images of cancer victims that do not really impact smokers as the repeated exposure has normalized such messages to the point that people no longer care. This campaign re-triggers emotions by introducing a wildcard in the mix – a kid!
Would you allow your kid to smoke? If you won’t, then why do you continue pursuing the bad habit. This was the tough question pedestrians were faced with, which is why it drove such a strong impact. The campaign is brilliant because:
It’s a low-budget project. All you need is two child actors. Makes the best use of resources
It hits the spot hard – bringing kids into an issue always stirs up hot emotions in people’s brains
It ends with a useful & simple CTA, offering help to smokers by giving them a hotline to call
Perhaps this is why it will go down in history as the best anti-smoking campaign ever. This case study shows us that brilliance actually lies in simplicity.
If you’re having a discussion on how brands can use data analysis to create more meaningful and personalized product usage experiences for their customers, this should be the leading case study.
Hellmann’s used real-time shopping cart data from people who bought their mayonnaise in supermarkets to suggest personalized recipes with their product as an ingredient.
These recipes would be automatically printed by a bot on their bill upon checkout, which meant that Hellmann’s didn’t have to invest extra in creating separate recipe cards.
So people could go home and make something delicious with the other products they had just bought that day, simply by referring to their shopping receipts.
As the recipe suggestions are unique for each shopper based on their shopping data, this campaign not only adds value to their shopping experience but also positions Hellmann’s as a versatile product that can be used across many cuisines/dishes rather than just in sandwiches.
Overall it’s a simple but scalable initiative that would impress any home cooking enthusiast.
Firstly, I love the psychological insight behind it – creating exclusivity for a product by making it “secret” shot up people’s curiosity. This is what helped the campaign go viral on social media because folks who did figure it out wanted to brag about their discovery, and everyone else was searching for a way in.
Furthermore, since they had to work hard to find the secret menu items on the app, they valued them more (it possibly even skewed their perception of the taste).
Secondly, the campaign leverages the creativity of the brand’s own employees. Most food franchises would immediately dismiss such an idea because it would mean going off the script, and they’re understandably anal about following recipes and SOPs to the tee.
But taking a cue from how Starbucks encourages their baristas to innovate new products, KFC also let employees hone their skill by suggesting new products which became the flagship items on their hidden secret menu.
Thirdly, because of this engagement activity, people downloaded and used the app more so it’s got that sticky element that is crucial for user retention.
Overall, it’s a stellar growth hacking campaign for me, one that every mobile app’s CRM team should study when trying to brainstorm ideas to keep their app users invested in their product.
One way to get people’s attention is to make a big faux pas. Because who doesn’t love calling out a brand for messing up?
That’s the bold risk this supermarket in France took. It deliberately misidentified vegetables on its posters, leading to a media frenzy of folks alerting the brand of its mistake.
Within 24 hours, Intermache revealed that it was all deliberate. The reason for this sleight of hand?
To bring the country’s attention to the sad fact that many young kids don’t even know what different healthy veggies are called, which may affect their eating habits and health in the future.
Intermache then followed it up with an app that helped kids learn about their veggies in an engaging manner. It also launched a campaign to connect kids from school with farmers, leading to an interest in green consumption among youngsters.
This is a good example of how to use deception for a good cause. Usually, brands do it with ulterior motives but Intermarché got it just right!
There are two key takeaways from this gem of a campaign.
Firstly, the brand was very proactive in deeply understanding and hacking a real problem for its market category. The rise in online shopping is not great news for a scented candles and perfume product that needs to be experienced and felt in person.
So they knew they had to find a creative way to talk with their customers – they didn’t simply accept defeat because of changing times.
Secondly, instead of going off track, they decided to leverage a key part of the online shopping process itself, making it an opportunity instead of an obstacle. Glade knew that many of the fragile products that are shopped online are delivered with packaging that includes air wraps/pillows for safety.
So they collaborated with Walmart to become a part of that process, delivering value by supplying air pillows for their boxes. The only catch? These pillows were filled with scents from the Glade range, enabling shoppers to pop and smell them.
Once people decided on their favorite scent, the QR code on the pillow enabled them to buy it online, closing the experience gap through a unique experience.
So Glade basically monetized “air” damn. I love their persistence. I love the thought process. I LOVE the system hacking here – too good!
Most “non-essential” offline businesses gave up during the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Bombay Sapphire Design Museum & art gallery could’ve easily hung their gloves, too.
But their agency & internal team decided to fight, the legal way. They turned the entire museum into a grocery store and commissioned artists to create beautiful packaging art for everyday grocery items such as milk, rice, beans, and so on.
This way, they could call themselves an “essential business,” and continue operating.
I simply love this initiative because:
It makes the best out of a dire situation
It turns the tables on the core problem & embraces it rather than resisting it
It benefits not just the museum but the commissioned artists too
It’s well in line with the Museum’s philosophy & industry (relevance)
The campaign attracted massive footfall from curious customers who loved getting the chance to shop normal items that now felt rare & exclusive because of their packaging, underscoring Bombay Sapphire’s motto that Creativity is indeed an Essential activity.
For this list (and all other lists on the blog), I specifically added marketing work that I felt could provide some direction to young marketers looking for their muse.
However, there are some brand activation campaigns that are too bloody good to replicate or even take inspiration from.
Their execution is fine art, and I wouldn’t even dare to add them on this list because I wouldn’t know where to start the analysis.
I know it sounds counterintuitive to not place them on a list that is about the “best work in marketing,” but my point is that they’re well above it so all you can do is watch in awe & move on.
On another note, there are also some campaigns I liked but they didn’t quite make the cut as I want to give the spotlight to underrated or less-talked about campaigns in the list above. So I’m noting some simple but moderately creative honorable mentions below, too.
Here’s a list of such brilliant pieces of technical execution.
To promote small businesses, Cadbury creates a hyper-personalized YouTube video ad through machine learning to generate thousands of versions of Shah Rukh Khan speaking the names of different stores around the end target viewer’s geo-location.
This means a person living near Mumbai’s MG Road will see & listen SRK recommend the stores that are actually around them (by Ogilvy, 2021).
Coca-Cola Australia prints the most popular names in the country on their Coke bottles, sparking a nationwide hyper-personalized viral campaign which gets Aussies queuing for their named bottle of Coke (by Ogilvy & Mather, 2012).
That calls for a Carlsberg ~ Bikers
Carlsberg set up a prank at a movie theater, filling it with an intimidating biker gang. If couples/individuals overcame their prejudice & dared to take their seats despite the crowd around them, they’d be greeted with a Carlsberg bottle (by Duval Guillaume Antwerp, 2012).
So that concludes our list of some cool marketing campaigns from around the world.
Which one did you enjoy the most and why? Did we miss any noteworthy case studies? Do you think creative stuff like this makes a difference for the business at all?
Don’t be shy – share your thoughts & suggestions in the comments.