This year’s WARC Media Awards winners showed the potential for brands to capture not only our imagination, but also our actions.

The 2020 WARC Media Awards attracted entries which spanned the whole spectrum of integration. All of the winners brought something new to the category and provide a wealth of inspiration for new ways to engage. The judging sparked some extremely enjoyable debates too – is a campaign still integrated if it only lives in paid media? How about if it only lives in paid social, but is perfectly native across three different social platforms?

Integrate for deep involvement

A number of cases stood out for their focus on customer involvement. Whilst participation is nothing new in brand marketing, it is definitely having a moment. There was a new take on this theme too – one which served both brand and activation objectives. By weaving activity through channels, drawing people ever nearer to the product (both figuratively and literally), three incredible cases have proven that true participation pays dividends.

Walk the walk

Job-hunting in Sneakers demonstrated a novel way for Band-Aid to stay connected to college students as they leave home (and the family first-aid kit). For college graduates, job hunting is like running a marathon in brand new, foot-murdering ‘recruit shoes.’ Blisters are par for the course, and so also, therefore, should be plasters.

This campaign was a call to change the formal footwear rule. Targeting both HR professionals and students at the same time, it gave both groups a genuine role. Using Twitter to drive the debate, OOH to target students at train stations as they limped from one interview to the next and PR to fan the flames, this was surround sound which made the topic unignorable.

No opportunity was unexplored. The results prove that, when a cultural insight is activated this well, brands can reach new levels of engagement. Band-Aid’s audience approach was particularly good: whilst the core target of young adults didn’t take much notice of mainstream media, they did take notice of the HR departments in whose hands their fate lay. The campaign created a virtuous circle between the two audiences, connecting them in new and positive ways – held together by Band-Aid.

Reward time spent with your brand

Volkswagen Sweden’s The No Show Room showcased a brand launch in which the audience was a crucial component. Reductively, it’s a treasure hunt. However, the detail and media craft involved set a new standard for this type of brand activity.

The campaign was all about demonstrating the product benefit of the Passat Alltrack: it can go were other cars find it impossible. To win an Alltrack, consumers had to be as relentless as the car itself. The co-ordinates for the location of the car, hidden in the Swedish wilderness, were distributed across paid, owned and earned channels – giving a rewarding reason for people to invest time with brand communications. As one participant tweeted “I’ve spent 50 hours looking for clues.”

The campaign was the perfect blend of channels. Clues were buried on the Volkswagen website and appeared in an anthem spot on TV, PR coverage of the Sweden ski team, social media, search and even Google reviews. More than 15,000 people took part in the hunt and sales enquiries went up by 60%. Its simplicity was its strength. All people had to do was to join in.

As the authors remind us, “Advertising is not dead: brands must entertain their audience, and people will follow.”

Give established platforms new power

Tesco Food Love Stories was established well before COVID-19 hit, but the way it was executed during the first part of the UK lockdown shows that even established ideas can invite people in.

Tesco's winning paper demonstrates that by simply adding ‘remote’ to its love stories, the supermarket was able to tune in to the mood of the nation and stay relevant through a period of constant change. The campaign wrapped around store safety and brand messages, bringing the two together in our common use of food as an emotional connector.

Matching the media strategy directly to that of changing consumption (more TV, press, radio and VOD) meant the campaign stayed in step with the nation. It drove over 300,000 new customers and secured Tesco’s top talkability.

Post-pandemic precipitation

As we gradually emerge from lockdown and resume the things that we loved to do, it will be interesting to see whether we continue to have such intense involvement with brands.

It became clear over the past year that those which have been relevant, present and inclusive have won out. We have also seen impressive exploration of new channels and new uses of old channels: OOH has become the collage of our COVID-19 experience, search is finally getting the focus it deserves as it tracks our shifting priorities, and radio has provided a soundtrack to a society in shock.

The cases in the 2020 WARC Media Awards have shown the potential for brands to capture not only our imagination, but also our actions. They did it by being empathetic and entertaining, by showing that the relationship between brand and consumer is just that: a relationship which grows stronger if both parties have a positive part to play.