Brands can be creators, too. It’s a phrase that’s used so often that most probably tune it out. The point still stands, though; as video viewership and engagement continue to increase on the web, more brands are shifting their budgets to not only sponsor and fund great video programming, but create some of their own. When it comes to the latter, they’re still ads, but when done right, they’re ads people want to watch — imagine that.
Here are 10 brands that excelled on digital platforms in 2014. Most of the names you’ll be familiar with, which shouldn’t be surprising; most big brands don’t get to where they are today without being innovative, even in traditional marketing.
Pepsi has its own in-house content studio, The Creators League. The brand has partnered with Vevo to stream the Pepsi Summer Solstice Concerts, and has created original programming as well. Its music series, “Pepsi Beats of the Beautiful Game,” which pairs football-themed short films directed by filmmakers ranging from Spike Lee to Idris Elba with music from artists like Kelly Rowland and Janelle Monae, mixes art with commerce in a way that’s actually cool. Additionally, the brand has a deal with Maker Studios to co-create content for the YouTube generation, and is still scaring the shit out of unsuspecting targets with its Jeff Gordon “Test Drive” videos.
As PepsiCo’s CMO of global consumer engagement, Frank Cooper, put it, “If [Hollywood] doesn’t evolve, someone will fill that place of telling stories, especially across these new delivery systems.”
Thanks to the World Cup, for one, Nike has made it on to a couple of best-of-2014 charts this year, including Unruly’s most shared rankings as well as the YouTube ads leaderboard. In fact, two of the brand’s Word Cup-related ads, “Winner Stays” and “The Last Game,” were ranked by YouTube as among the best performing in 2014. “Winner Stays” just topped 100 million views on the world’s biggest video site. On the whole, Nike generated over 3.8 million shares across the web, good for third place on Unruly’s annual rankings.
One word: “Frozen.” The studio made such a splash (wrong analogy?) with this hit animated movie this year that it generated unimaginable amounts of earned media, in particular across YouTube, where “Frozen” sing-alongs and related toy reviews are rampant. Also, buying Maker Studios in early 2014 cemented Disney’s foothold in the digital community, while also acknowledging that it, too, had read the tea leaves and saw where entertainment could be going in the future.
Purina got some serious buzz from their “Dear Kitten” videos, which were created in partnership with BuzzFeed (you get the pun, kind of?). The main “Dear Kitten” video itself has generated over 19 million views so far, with a more recent one following with over 9 million views. That was not the only instance of Purina being digitally savvy. In August, the brand partnered with Collective Digital Studio to re-launch the YouTube channel Petcentric, which further widens the brand’s reach on the web.
With the launch of its Honda Stage initiative, which includes a YouTube channel, the car-maker has made a real effort on digital, shifting more dollars from cable advertising to the web. Honda partnered with big names in the space like iHeartRadio, Live Nation, Revolt TV, and Vevo to create branded, music content for the channel (wait, did I not mention Sean “P. Diddy” Combs?). Furthermore, the brand has also experimented with innovative formats and creative in digital advertising, like this “crime thriller” interactive one.
Making the top five on the YouTube ads leaderboard this year, Always gets its recognition here for making a campaign with a message — an important one. The brand’s major ad (which has gained over 53.7 million views on YouTube so far) kicked off the #LikeAGirl campaign, which encourages confidence among women and girls everywhere. The ad makes viewers question the negative connotation of doing something “like a girl” and helps to reframe it in a positive manner.
Like Honda (and Red Bull, who’s the oft-cited vanguard of the brand-as-creator movement), Marriott launched its own content studio in 2014 (simply named Marriott Content Studio). Since launch, the entertainment unit has struck partnerships talent like Taryn Southern, Sonia Gil of the Webby-winning “Sonia’s Travels,” and “What’s Trending,” hosted by Shira Lazar. Marriott is also exploring all kinds of digital and social entertainment formats, including a Snapchat series with YouTuber Neistat and analytics firm Naritiv, as well as scripted originals.
Beats by Dre
Beats had a big year, mainly by selling its streaming music service that to Apple for $3.2 billion. Championing sports-related digital video content, as well as branded videos starring some of the most popular stars in the US, the brand racked up views on YouTube. Its five-minute “The Game Before the Game” short film, for instance, came in seventh on YouTube’s sports ad leaderboard, with over 26.1 million views.
Though Budweiser would often be the token beer brand for a list like this, Heineken makes it here instead, even though it ranked 10th on YouTube’s ad leaderboard whereas Budweiser placed third. The ad that catapulted Heineken to 10th place for is why. With over 13.8 million views, it showcases comedian Fred Armisen playing a prank on unsuspecting people who stumble across a ringing payphone (with Armisen on the other end, unbeknownst to them, of course). This ad, along with the collaborative ad the beer brand did with Neil Patrick Harris (another actor who got special attention in 2014), shows the brand’s knowledge of celebrities to capitalize on and its ability to create videos that are worth watching in their own right, not just as ads.
Of course, we couldn’t leave Activia out of the list this year. The World Cup tentpole ad (featuring Shakira), “La La La,” generated the most social shares of any video ad ever, with over 5.8 million shares across the web, according to recent data from Unruly. The collaboration with the World Food Programme also made all this sharing virtuous, as it supports a good cause.
For other best-of-2014 lists, as well as profiles of the creators, networks, and stories that dominated the online-video news cycle in 2014, check out the rest of our 2014 “VideoInk Entertainers of the Year” special issue.