There are brands that do marketing as one of their daily activities.

Then there’s marketing that turns ordinary companies into iconic “brands.” Today, I’m going to rave about the second kind.

In this collection, I’ll feature some of the best brand activation stunts we’ve come across.

They delve into both digital & offline realms, going above & beyond to give the audience a personalized experience.

That’s probably why the product in the spotlight is remembered long after the campaign is over.

Prepare to be dazzled, inspired, and educated by these case studies of marketing done right.

Burn the Ad ~ Burger King

  • Agency: David The Agency São Paulo (Ogilvy)
  • Year: 2019 for Burger King Brazil

There is no one that grills their competitors like BK. This is the boldest & most painful roasting campaign ever produced in the history of advertising.

With the ‘Burn That Ad’ campaign, anyone who launched the Burger King app in Brazil and points their smartphone at its main competitors’ OOH & print ads (read: McDonald’s) could enjoy the sight of it being burned up instantly – in augmented reality – and turn into a BK ad.

Once the flames burned away, the consumers were left with a screen that tells them they’ve received a free Whopper to be savored at the nearest restaurant.

The BK app promo was created exclusively for Brazil to promote BK Express, a tech tool allowing any customer to pre-order and avoid lines.

The strategy allowed Burger King to outrageously & legally cannibalize the media investments of its main rival, such as billboards, magazine ads, discount coupons, and others, into ads of their own.

This is classic anti-marketing at its finest. BK effectively turned their competitor’s millions of dollars worth of advertising budget into their own, with just a simple tech gimmick.

Half a million Whoppers were supposedly given away all over the country. It won the Bronze prize at the CLIO Awards 2019.

I have to mention here that this isn’t the first time BK has trolled McD with tech innovation.

In the same year, it partnered with FCB New York to geofence thousands of McDonald’s locations across the States, then offered people a whopper for just $1 (a penny) if they visited those locations & opened their BK app there – basically conveying how quickly everyone will abandon their favorite clown for a whopper.

It pushed the app to the top “most downloaded” spot on both iOS & Android stores, stealing traffic from McD to their own outlets.

Perhaps we need a separate blog post just to explore this flaming rivalry in great detail.


Toy Car Rides ~ Uber

  • Agency: DDB Paris
  • Year: 2019 for Uber

8 years after Uber launched in Paris, France, there were dozens of new ride-hailing apps in the market.

To stand out from the crowd, Uber bought back their magic to the streets by recreating people’s favorite toy cars from their childhood.

Yes, they actually custom-made functional, life-sized versions of these toy cars which people could sit in & ride around the city.

This campaign works because:

  • It takes a normal product (cars) & reinvents it with novelty
  • It adds special value to the actual ride-hailing service

People simply loved the concept & felt like they were taking a trip down the memory lane.

The whole idea of tapping into everyone’s nostalgia is sheer genius, and the execution is visually flawless.


Creativity is Essential ~ Bombay Sapphire

  • Agency: AMV BBDO (London)
  • Year: 2021 for Bombay Sapphire

Most “non-essential” offline businesses gave up during the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Bombay Sapphire Design Museum & art gallery could’ve easily hung their gloves, too.

But their agency & internal team decided to fight, the legal way. They turned the entire museum into a grocery store and commissioned artists to create beautiful packaging art for everyday grocery items such as milk, rice, beans, and so on.

This way, they could call themselves an “essential business,” and continue operating.

I simply love this initiative because:

  • It makes the best out of a dire situation
  • It turns the tables on the core problem & embraces it rather than resisting it
  • It benefits not just the museum but the commissioned artists too
  • It’s well in line with the Museum’s philosophy & industry (relevance)

The campaign attracted massive footfall from curious customers who loved getting the chance to shop normal items that now felt rare & exclusive because of their packaging, underscoring Bombay Sapphire’s motto that Creativity is indeed an Essential activity.


Orchestra Burger ~ McDonald’s

  • Agency: TBWA/NEBOKO
  • Year: 2017 for McDonald’s Netherland

This brand activation campaign has left us drooling for more. What a way to introduce a new product. Hats off to the creators behind it

  • Focuses on the key experience that the burger stands for, which is the premium feeling of royalty and special treatment.
  • Chooses to engage with customers one by one and not all at once, making the campaign truly memorable for a lifetime!
  • Creatively uses the same setting where customers will actually be eating the burger – transforming a normal @mcdonaldsnl outlet into a grand orchestra house!

Scrabble Wifi ~ Hasbro

  • Agency: Ogilvy & Mather Paris
  • Year: 2013 for Scrabble

You’ve probably heard the concept of “gamification” in business school, but if you want a practical example of how it’s done to activate brands, this highly interactive campaign by O&M Paris is perfect!

  • It utilizes a simple but fun challenge along with an enticing reward to attract customers to play
  • Captures an untapped market in public spaces + soles a genuine pain point
  • Propagates the core value of the product (vocabulary & word knowledge) into the campaign

Basically, it just proves that knowing more words can literally get you free stuff in life (in this case, wifi). That’s the whole point of the product, so we think this campaign is bang-on!


Noise-o-Meter ~ Bose

  • Agency: Wunderman Thompson Dubai
  • Year: 2021 for Bose Headphone

Like a jingle, this one’s going to be stuck in our heads for a while. We love the campaign because:

  • Empathy: It shows awareness about the troubles or pain points that customers are going through during COVID-19 and the Work-From-Home routine
  • Pricing: It chooses to try a rarely used technique called “empathetic pricing,” in which you understand your users’ situation & set the price accordingly. This P is often ignored in the 4Ps mix
  • Value Proposition: It perfectly integrates the value of the noise-canceling product into the storyline & purpose of the campaign. After all, if you’re in a really noisy work environment, you need Bose headphones the most, so you get to claim the biggest discount!

We’re amazed by the level of creativity and the seamless execution here. How does one even begin to conceptualize an initiative that’s so thoughtful yet so simple?


Offline Hour ~ Pizza Hut

  • Agency: M&C Saatchi UAE
  • Year: 2019 for Pizza Hut Meta

This is perhaps the most technologically advanced campaign on the list. It shows great awareness & research on the problem it is tackling and uses an interesting challenge to get people to make a good decision that benefits everybody.

Boasting a clear reward and sublime execution from start to finish, it surely deserved all the media mentions & awards the creators received.


The Bapu Reminder ~ Tata Salt

  • Creator: In-house marketing team
  • Year: 2019 for Tata Salt India

This is a brilliant “alive OOH” campaign that managed to stop passersby in their tracks and deliver an effective message that is in line with the brand’s overall mission of national prosperity.

It works because:

  • There’s a clear trigger to draw attention to the billboard (Gandhiji’s voice)
  • It uses IoT-based digital technology to track movement and respond to engaged viewers
  • There’s a timely brand activation element at play as this was released on Mahatma Jayanti

Interactive billboards like this one are hard to find in India but popular in the US, so it’s good to see a brand trying out something innovative for our local market.


Smoking Kid ~ Thai Health Promotion

  • Year: 2012
  • Agency: Ogilvy for Thai Health Promotion Foundation

Most anti-smoking awareness campaigns contain graphic images of cancer victims that do not really impact smokers as the repeated exposure has normalized such messages to the point that people no longer care. This campaign re-triggers emotions by introducing a wildcard in the mix – a kid!

Would you allow your kid to smoke? If you won’t, then why do you continue pursuing the bad habit. This was the tough question pedestrians were faced with, which is why it drove such a strong impact. The campaign is brilliant because:

  • It’s low budget. All you need is two child actors. Makes the best use of resources
  • It hits the spot hard – bringing kids into an issue always stirs up hot emotions in people’s brains
  • It ends with a useful & simple CTA, offering help to smokers by giving them a hotline to call

Perhaps this is why it will go down in history as the best anti-smoking campaign ever. This case study shows us that brilliance actually lies in simplicity.


Sub on a Billboard ~ Subway

  • Year: 2022
  • Agency: Above+Beyond for Subway UK

Subway has always had “freedom to customized your sandwich” as one of the central tenets in its communication.

For its UK market, the brand leveraged a 3D holographic billboard on the busy Westfield Stratford City street.

Scanning the QR code at the bottom of the billboard would let users construct their own personal sub in real-time for all the world to see.

This campaign gives the customers the power to interact with the brand one-on-one, and celebrate their taste in public, and therefore, has a high recall/shareability factor.

I also love the last bit of touch in which their sub artists delivered the actual subs to the people who participated in the campaign, resulting in instant gratification.


Voice Doodler ~ Wyeth Illuma

  • Year: 2021
  • Agency: Ogilvy for Wyeth Illum

This campaign actually recognizes a problem that its target audience (kids & parents) might be facing, and provides a meaningful tool to help them resolve it.

What I like about the app they’ve built is that it not just leverages technology brilliantly but helps in the personal growth of the users.

I like the small touch they’ve added for ensuring sales from the initiative (ROI) – it seems parents can only activate the app by purchasing a can/box of the nutrition product.


The Sound Penalty ~ Paradiso FM

  • Year: 2017
  • Agency: 3yz for Radio SulAmérica Paradiso FM

Brands always wonder what to do with consumer insights, so this campaign is a perfect case study of how you can make a real social impact by tapping into people’s behaviors.

This initiative works because:

  • It understands how drivers behave while using the product – their timing, patterns, and related social issues that come with the app usage
  • It uses simple geo-tracking technology to derive an insight no one would’ve thought of using for their app, which is the driver’s car speed.
  • It offers a clear punishment for breaking the rules (which would also cause harm to many lives), thus influencing or nudging user behavior in the right direction.

I also loved how the ad video actually showed us the campaign in action from a driver’s perspective, which really “drives” the intended social message (pun intended).


Zombie Bus ~ Netflix

  • Year: 2022
  • Agency: Netflix Thailand (in-house) for “All Of Us Are Dead”

Netflix Thailand was aiming to get eyeballs plucked out for their zombie apocalyptic K-drama, All of Us Are Dead.

In a striking OOH campaign, it decked a school bus with 3D LED screens in place of windows, which played gory clips of helpless teenagers stuck inside facing and army of the dead.

The fake bloody & messy school bus, with Netflix logos strategically plastered to convey the show’s launch message to the public, roamed the busy streets of Thailand for a few days.

Users shot videos of the bus from their cars & bikes, making the move go viral on social media. The majority appreciated Netflix’s creativity, saying it was aptly terrifying & catchy.

The setup was definitely contextual & relevant to the plot of the show (which is rare in today’s bland marketing campaigns).

Also since the bus was moving, it covered a lot of ground.

Others rightly pointed out that it was dangerous stunt, as seeing a zombie-filled bus in the middle of the road might cause drivers to lose their attention on the road temporarily, leading to accidents or injuries.

In my opinion, it was just one inch too far, because I wouldn’t put the public’s health & safety at risk just to garner attention.

Maybe the 3D/AR concept could be used in malls or other closed spaces, which would be just as spooky for passerby but not cause accidents for moving vehicles in the road.

What do you think?


Live PhotoShop ~ Adobe Creative

  • Year: 2013
  • Agency: Abby Norm for AdobeNordic

To promote their software & upcoming #CreativeDay event, AdobeNordic (Sweden) hijacked a bus stop billboard.

When commuters sat down to wait for their bus, a hidden team took their photos & started Photoshopping them from inside the van parked in the front.

The twist? The commuters could see the process in action on the digital live billboard. As the designers used their photos to create funny caricatures, each commuter was properly surprised by the result.

This is a brilliant brand activation activity because it closely involves the product, showing people the different PhotoShopping skills can make in their lives.

More importantly, its an applaudable prank – nobody was harmed, insulted, or scammed. Just pure funny stuff with a personalized experience for each “victim.”


Kumbh Mela Inseperables ~ Fevicol

  • Year: 2017
  • Agency: Ogilvy & Mather for Pidilite Industries

Few campaigns manage to solve real social problems and effectively promote their brand’s value proposition without coming off as greedy.

Everything about this initiative is a bullseye – it identifies a serious issue, offers a quirky yet practical solution, and manages to reinforce Fevicol’s ability to keep things (or people) stuck together in the most difficult scenarios.

It has a sharp insight to bank on, and the execution goes beyond ordinary solutions like tying each people’s hands with strings (which is what I would’ve come up with).

The whacky idea of giving away tshirts with multiple heads allows the brand to actively promote the cheeky tagline “Ham Jude Rahenge” (Translation: We’ll stay stuck together), courtesy of Fevicol, of course.


Conclusion

So that concludes our list of some cool marketing campaigns from around the world.

Which one did you enjoy the most and why? Did we miss any noteworthy case studies? Do you think creative stuff like this makes a difference for the business at all?

Don’t be shy – share your thoughts & suggestions in the comments.

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