The Winningest Moments for Brands on Social Media
Social media is an essential component in every brand’s marketing toolbox, and the smartest companies find ways to use it to establish a unique voice, create a viral campaign or make a powerful statement. All to boost engagement and increase sales, of course.
From Oreo’s stellar responses to pop culture events to Charmin’s dedication to toilet humor, these are the brands who could give lessons in how to win at social media.
When 16-year-old Carter Wilkerson asked Wendy’s for free nuggets in exchange for retweets, it turned into a lesson in how simply talking to your followers can lead to incredible marketing opportunities. Wendy’s told Wilkerson he’d get a year’s supply of chicken nuggets if he could get 18 million retweets, and he accepted the challenge. He didn’t quite hit the target, but 3.5 million retweets makes it the most retweeted tweet of all time (overtaking Ellen DeGeneres’ infamous celebrity Oscars selfie).
It was enough to get him his nuggets, and Wendy’s also donated $100,000 in Wilkerson’s name to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. Oh, and Wilkerson’s personal Twitter following rose from 138 to almost 100,000 and #NuggsForCarter has a custom emoji featuring a box of Wendy’s nuggets.
Oreo: You Can Still Dunk in the Dark
Oreo’s Twitter account was always fun, quirky and clever about reacting to live pop culture events, but it really put itself on the map during the 2013 Super Bowl. When a blackout hit the SuperDome, Twitter went crazy with clever jokes and companies tried to cash in during the darkness, with varying degrees of success.
By far the best effort came from Oreo — their “You can still dunk in the dark” tweet — went viral, proving that you don’t have to spend millions on a TV slot to get your slice of the Super Bowl audience. The on-the-fly tweet, the work of digital agency 360i, was “designed, captioned and approved within minutes,” according to the agency’s president Sarah Hofstetter.
KFC: 11 Herbs and Spices
KFC has 1.35 million Twitter followers, but only follows 11 accounts. They might seem like a bizarre selection, but look a little closer and you’ll notice that there are five Spice Girls and six guys named Herb (including Santa Clara University Head Coach Herb Sendek and a martial artist called Herb Dean). Yes, KFC follows 11 herbs and spices on Twitter. Of course, it wouldn’t have been cool to announce this, so they patiently waited until someone noticed. That was @edgette22, who shared his discovery and wrote, “I need time to process this.”
BarkBox: ‘Dog Mom Anthem’
BarkBox, a monthly subscription box service for dogs, is known for doing brilliant stuff on social media. The so-called “BirchBox for dogs” posts funny images and memes of dogs, but their biggest hits on social are their comedy videos, such as “Dog Mom Anthem” featuring T-Spoon and ZZtophalf, which became the best performing piece of brand content in May 2017 and 2018 (as determined by Unmetric).
The genius lyrics include: “Never leave the house without my lint roller; Hell yea I got a geriatric pug in this stroller; His instagram is popping I don’t mean maybe; He gets more likes than my sister’s baby.”
Oscar de la Renta: Instagram Previews
Streets ahead of less digitally innovative fashion houses, Oscar de la Renta made high fashion history in 2013 when the Fall line made its debut — not on the pages of Vogue, Tatler or Elle, but on Instagram. Via the label’s then-publicist OscarPRGirl (aka senior vice president of global communications Erika Bearman, who left the role in 2015), followers got a first look at the new line and, crucially, a sense of real-time engagement with the brand. Today, using Instagram for live previews, shoppable content, runway reveals and backstage and front row highlights is standard for everyone from Balmain to Marc Jacobs, but OscarPRGirl (RIP) deserves credit as an early adopter.
Toilet paper isn’t the sexiest product to promote but Charmin are so good at social media, they were hailed the “sassiest brand on Twitter” by Time Magazine in 2014 — an accolade they responded to with typical humor, writing “we prefer cheekiest.”
Five years later and Charmin are still at the top of their Twitter game, embracing toilet humor to entertain their 82,000 followers. With their genius hashtag #tweetfromtheseat and the heart of their social strategy, they’re still as witty as ever. On National Toilet Paper Day (yes, it’s a thing) on Aug. 26, 2014, Charmin enlisted the help of Times Square’s infamous musician-performer “The Naked Cowboy” to distribute 20,000 free rolls of toilet paper, promoting the stunt on Twitter with the caption, “Dumps like a truck.”
Starbucks: Names on Coffee Cups
Writing customers’ names on coffee cups is something that’s impossible to do online, but this now-legendary Starbucks operation has resulted in the ultimate accidental social media marketing. (Or is it accidental? Is that just what they want us to think?) By writing people’s names on their coffee cups, Starbucks has a huge online presence — all for the cost of a few marker pens. People love to share their names on cups on social media. It makes you wonder whether they spell people’s names wrong on purpose to get more free publicity.
Domino’s: Pizza Legends
Domino’s know how to tap into hot social trends, and they also know that today’s pizza lovers might be short of time or lazy, or a combination of the two. Since people love emojis almost as much as they love pizza, the company offered digitally-savvy customers the ultimate in convenience ordering via a service that let them order simply by tweeting the pizza emoji. Domino’s also know how to create a community and make the most of user-generated content: their Pizza Legends campaign in the UK allows people to create their own ultimate pizza design via the website, then give it a name and share it across social media.
Burger King: The 'McWhopper'
Burger King reached out to its No. 1 rival McDonald’s in 2015, using YouTube to propose a joint menu option, a hybrid burger called the “McWhopper.” And they pulled out all the stops, even taking out a full-page ad in the New York Times to publish an “open letter” to McDonald’s that asked, “How about we call a ceasefire on these so-called ‘burger wars’?”
The campaign was a huge success for Burger King — not because it ever came to fruition (which wasn’t the point in the first place), but because they came out of it looking awesome... and McDonald’s didn’t. (Their CEO Steve Easterbrook turned down the proposal in a Facebook post, writing, “A simple phone call will do next time.”)
One brand harnessing the colossal power of user-generated content (UGC) is online clothing retailer ASOS. By using their hashtag #AsSeenOnMe, followers have the opportunity to be featured on the ASOS Instagram feed, which in turn gives them lots of exposure. As the backlash against the idea of a “perfect” body continues, this clever tactic shows clothes on “real” bodies and sends the message that ASOS is approachable, forward-thinking and inclusive. The brand got even more brownie points recently when it helped a girl shamed on Tinder for her ASOS dress get the ultimate last laugh: after getting wind of her experience on Twitter, they reached out and featured her on their site as a model.
Dove is really clever about its social messaging, developing their “Self Esteem Project” throughout several high-profile campaigns, like #NoLikesNeeded and #SpeakBeautiful. It strikes a chord with its audience because it’s more than just marketing — it’s a dynamic, inspirational approach, tackling an issue that’s relevant (and very personal) to everyone.
In 2016, Dove’s #MyBeautyMySay campaign used digital interactive billboards in New York, Los Angeles and Toronto to broadcast some of the sexist remarks that had been made about female athletes in the media. When the comments appeared, the images of the women faded away and spectators were invited to respond. Dove extended this online, giving users the ability to click on a sexist quote and automatically send Dove’s protest tweet to the person or company responsible for it.
Innocent: Laugh-Out-Loud Content
Long before other brands were using humor to charm the public, UK drinks brand Innocent was an OG kooky brand voice, posting genuinely hilarious content on its social media pages. It recently created an entire campaign inspired by a dress that broke the internet when Scottish musician Caitlin McNeill posted a picture of it on Tumblr with the question, “guys please help me — is this dress white and gold, or blue and black?” In Innocent’s case, the product is a new “Bolt from the Blue” smoothie that’s clearly green but they insist is blue. However, it’s the pun-tastic exchange between Innocent (or whoever is in charge of their social pages) and their followers that provides the most amusement.
P.S. It’s blue.
National Geographic: ‘Your Shot’
National Geographic has more than enough of its iconic photography at its disposal, but as well as posting its own images on Instagram, Nat Geo encourages its followers to share their own visual content via their “Your Shot” online community, which has its own Insta account. Every week, Nat Geo’s “Your Shot” editors select their top 12 images and share them on their blog and social channels. And the potential perks are huge: Impress the editors enough and you could find yourself on assignment with their experts.
Cancer Research UK: #nomakeupselfie
UK charity Cancer Research acted quickly to capitalize on the #nomakeupselfie trend of early 2014, resulting in donations amounting to more than £8m ($10 million). It’s a great example of how staying on top of what’s happening in social media can work to your advantage — without having to do much at all.
In this case, the hashtag is believed to have started with author Laura Lippman to support actress Kim Novak, whose looks were criticized at the Oscars. Somewhere along the way, the hashtag #breastcancerawareness and links to donate to Cancer Research got added, and it grew from there.