The winners of the 2020 Marketing Society Brave Awards are brands that unashamedly went against the grain to achieve business and social impact, writes WARC’s Chiara Manco.

The Marketing Society Brave Awards recognise daring strategies that push boundaries and take taboos head-on. The 2020 winners are a must-read for brands willing to break out of their comfort zone to achieve meaningful impact. 

Guinness Clear: daring to challenge drinking culture

This year’s Grand Prix winner, Guinness, encouraged responsible drinking at a time when alcohol consumption in Great Britain and Ireland is usually all but responsible: the Six Nations. The stout brand wanted to encourage fans to refrain from binge drinking to savour every pint and every moment of camaraderie. This would require breaking the stigma associated with ordering water at the pub.

Through AMV BBDO, the brand launched Guinness Clear and wittily promoted it on TV and social media, through celebrity endorsements and sampling at the Six Nations. Before and during each match, Guinness’ pint of water would remind fans to ‘Make it a night you’ll remember’.

Perfectly incarnating the Made of More spirit – having the confidence to carve one’s own path – Guinness Clear smashed stigma, and objectives. It not only achieved the highest profit ROI of any Guinness campaign in Ireland (£21.25:1) and Great Britain (£8.2:1), but also shifted attitudes around drinking water in pubs.

UNILAD: breaking the law to expose injustice

Meanwhile, internet media company UNILAD openly denounced a discriminatory law – by breaking it. In the UK, while heterosexual men can have unprotected sex with multiple partners and still donate blood, sexually-active gay or bisexual men are banned from blood donations, even if they practise protected sex with a single known partner.

UNILAD partnered with FreedomToDonate and launched the Illegal Blood Bank: the world’s first blood donation clinic for gay and bisexual men, following the same medical standards as the NHS. To ensure fairness in the process, risk assessment was based on individual behaviour rather than assumptions based on sexual orientation. A guerrilla-style campaign recruited donors and raised awareness of the discriminatory law, while a protest in the form of OOH installations brought the issue to the attention of the government on the day of the December General Election.

Breaking the law helped UNILAD put an institutionalised injustice under the spotlight. The initiative, through Elvis Communications, led to a 140% increase in conversations about blood donation on social, and even prompted a response from the NHS, which committed to investigate the new risk assessment method. At the Brave Awards, the campaign won Best Not for Profit Marketing.

Formula 1: rethinking consumer relationships

Formula 1 built more meaningful relationships with its fans through an engagement programme that completely transformed its business model. In the lead up to the 2018 season, Formula 1 realised it had neglected its fans: TV did not allow for a direct relationship with them and on top of that, the business had been very much focused on securing broadcasters and brokering deals with circuits.

The solution lay in a strategic U-turn: Formula 1 transitioned from sports news channel to entertainment source. It launched a fan engagement programme that treated the season as a drama series, hooking fans with backstories, inside news and analysis. Email communications were custom-made, reaching each fan with the editorial content most appropriate to their interests and only pushing relevant offers in terms of merchandise.

By daring to think differently, Formula 1 achieved an ROI of 7:1. Fans who engaged with the programme and were subscribed to F1 TV stayed 20% longer and showed a 13.5% increase in viewership compared with those who didn’t. The campaign, through Ogilvy and Mather London, won Best Relationship Marketing at the Brave Awards.

Paddy Power: from backlash to success

Irish bookmaker Paddy Power masterfully trolled its audience to make a statement against heavily-sponsored football shirts. It’s become the norm for betting brands to advertise their sponsorship of football clubs by plastering their logos on players’ jerseys. To disrupt the status quo and expose football’s reliance on betting brands, Paddy Power decided to make its sponsorship logo-free. But instead of simply promoting the fact, it first set out to dramatise the issue.

A fake kit release for Huddersfield Town featured a super-sized Paddy Power logo emblazoned across players’ jerseys, causing outrage from fans and derision from commentators and clubs. But the stunt didn’t end there: Huddersfield Town players wore the fake shirt at the first pre-season friendly. Negative sentiment towards Paddy Power quickly escalated, until the brand revealed its true intentions, and the real unsponsored kit.

The risk taken by Paddy Power with its provocative stunt paid back. The brand recorded a 15% year-on-year increase in registrations, and new customer retention improved by 16%. The work of agencies VCCP, Octagon and MediaCom, the campaign earned Best Creative Use of Media at the Brave Awards.

ITV: suspending communications for a greater cause

For World Mental Health Day, UK broadcaster ITV disrupted primetime programming to encourage families to engage in conversation. To bring to life its new brand purpose ‘More than TV’, ITV looked at the mental health space. Wanting to go beyond raising awareness, it sought to get people to look after their mental well-being more proactively.

The night before World Mental Health day, ITV recruited Britain’s Got Talent’s hosts Ant and Dec to address the nation, before interrupting the show with a message to the audience to ‘Use our silence to talk to each other’. What followed was a silent ad break, featuring silent ads from Oral-B, Gillette, SEAT, Dunelm and Network Rail. The campaign was taken off air through radio and print, while a website was launched featuring information and useful resources.

ITV’s campaign saw a broadcaster asking people to stop paying attention to the TV set, and focus on themselves instead. The bold move, through Uncommon Creative Studio, improved perceptions of ITV, with one in three viewers saying they are more likely to watch its programming as a result. With 36% awareness, it became the most recognised mental health campaign in the UK, earning it awards for the Most Inspirational Story and Transforming Corporate Culture.

Best of the rest

It would be remiss not to mention some of this year’s Highly Commended papers. Bodyform’s Viva la Vulva was the latest instalment of the brand’s commitment to break taboos around femininity: an unashamed ode to vulvas of any shape, colour and size. Meanwhile, Heinz adopted a challenger brand mentality and directly called out its competition to promote its mayonnaise. Finally, KFC offered a masterclass in crisis management, successfully recovering from its infamous chicken shortage.

All winners of the 2020 Marketing Society Brave Awards are available to read on WARC.