WARC’s Chiara Manco looks back at past winners of the Jay Chiat Awards to uncover successful strategies that can help marketers tackle today’s unique challenges.

With some of Adland’s biggest events and award shows cancelled worldwide, the 4A’s Jay Chiat Awards – which are traditionally awarded in October – also fell victim to a tumultuous 2020. But while this year’s global strategy competition was cancelled, past winners touch on some of the very topics that are currently front of mind for modern marketers.

Moving to digital

Worldwide lockdowns forced brands to shift their focus and investment online. And while for some brands the transition may have been an acceleration of an already happening digital transformation, for others it was a complete U-turn.

For all such brands, whose presence is mostly offline, the Gold-winning New York Public Library paper can be a great source of inspiration – after all, is there anything more analogue than libraries? To get more Gen Z to immerse themselves in books, the Library moved them online. It realised that the issue was not with the content – American teenagers still liked stories – but rather the medium, and so created Insta Novels, a digital library of books accessible through Instagram Stories.

Beautifully designed and seamlessly woven into the platform, Insta Stories started out with three books but looks set to expand much further. At the time the 2019 paper was written, Insta Stories had been read 300,000 times, included in schools’ curricula and even been considered by Instagram as a permanent feature on the platform.

With interactions rapidly moving online, comes a greater need to ensure that the digital world is a safe space. Australian youth mental health organisation headspace created Reword, a tool to combat online bullying. A free Google Chrome extension, Reword scans typed text to identify insulting words or patterns to then alert the user and encourage them to rethink and modify their messages and posts.

In six weeks, Reword was installed by more than 150,000 users and introduced in more than 260 schools. By tracking the amount of times the tool suggested alternative wording, headspace calculated a 67% reduction in bullying behaviour per user. The initiative earned $150,000 in media and won the Jay Chiat Awards Grand Prix in 2017.

Striving for an inclusive society

2020 has not all been about the pandemic. This year has seen issues of equality, diversity and inclusion being brought into the spotlight and put firmly at the top of the agenda for businesses and brands worldwide.

The Ad Council faced a similar situation in 2016, when the social and political climate in the US was fraught with nationalist sentiment. The Council looked to expand on its Love Has No Labels campaign – which had been launched the year prior to tackle unconscious bias of relationships – to encourage unity and the embracing of diversity. To do so, it chose the most patriotic, all-American spokesperson it could find: WWE wrestler John Cena. In a three-minute monologue, the wrestling star invited viewers to rethink their notion of patriotism, pointing out how the large majority of Americans is in fact made up of minorities and reminding that “to love America is to love all Americans”.

The film, published on Facebook, immediately went viral, garnering more than $4.2m in earned media coverage. But perhaps the true measure of its success lies in the fact that it continued to be shared organically into 2017, when Black Lives Matter protests, women’s marches and travel bans covered headlines nation-wide.

Meanwhile, in the UK, L'Oréal Paris expanded its True Match range of foundation shades to cater to a wider range of skin tones. Partnering with 23 British influencers that matched the foundation’s 23 shades, it combined PR and a social media roadblock to communicate its updated tagline, ‘We are all worth it’.

Winning Bronze at the 2017 Jay Chiat Awards, the campaign achieved a 29% increase in sales and recruited 372,000 new users, inspiring the competition to expand their own ranges.

Keeping our spirits up

It’s no wonder that 2020 has taken its toll. Limited real-life social interactions, lockdowns restricting our movement and, for many, worries about work and money, have all played a part in making us feel overwhelmed and fatigued.

During such challenging times, the importance of humour for our mental health is not to be underestimated. Some past Jay Chiat Awards winners use humour as a creative strategy brilliantly, from Life Direct Insurance killing off its own mascot to get Kiwis to think about life insurance, to Mucinex calling out Americans taking the day after Superbowl off work claiming to be sick. (For more on strategic applications of humour, read Shagorika Heryani's piece ‘Humour: a strategic shortcut to likeability’.)

As 2021 approaches, we look forward to reading next year's Jay Chiat Awards winners, which will no doubt continue to contain important learnings for marketers.

Jay Chiat Awards winners from 2009 to 2019 are available to read on WARC.com.