2020 was a turning point for many industries, PR included. Amidst the clouds of COVID-19, we found a silver lining: a restored faith in the value of public relations. As marketing budgets were cut short during the pandemic, brands began to realize they needed an innovative way to connect with their audiences and build relationships that matter. The years that follow have proven that PR has become more important than ever.
Here’s our round-up of the 5 best PR campaigns of 2022 (so far):
1. LEGO: empowering through play
LEGO believes in the power of play as a vehicle for children’s learning. They stand by the idea that playful experiences can support children in developing the skills to serve them and their communities.
To showcase their commitment to play, the LEGO foundation has recently announced a donation of 600 LEGO Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Scanners to hospitals worldwide, to help children cope with the fear of MRI scans. What first began as a passion project for LEGO employee Erik Ullerlund, the initiative has now spread throughout the company. The team hopes the game sets will be used to help children understand the process of having an MRI scan and, through role playing and dialogue, build confidence and resilience.
“Play motivates the child’s natural curiosity and openness to try new, sometimes difficult, experiences. Because play facilitates a safe and comfortable “training space” for real-life events and consequences, it is a powerful way for children to develop their social and emotional skills.” - Lego Foundation
2. Keeping up with the Kardashians PR machine
They say the devil works hard, but Kris Jenner works harder. We normally wouldn’t be caught dishing the dirt behind this Hollywood-famous family, but we think this is an important PR campaign to mention, even if it is just speculation that there is someone behind it.
It all began on November 5, 2021, when a fatal crowd crush killed a total of 10 people at the Astroworld Festival, a music event founded by rapper Travis Scott. Scott is Kylie Jenner’s partner. Many concertgoers blame the rapper for not stopping the show while people were being injured. Others blame the event organizers for not implementing the necessary safety measures. In all cases, the event was investigated by the FBI and Travis Scott was heavily criticized in the media after the concert.
What followed this tragic event is a series of cover-up tactics and scandals that have distracted the public opinion from the Astroworld tragedy. Between poorly photoshopped images of kids, alternations to their body shapes, new relationships, pregnancies, engagements, and cheating scandals, it’s hard to keep up with the Kardashians PR machine. So many things have occurred in so little time, it seems like the news on the Astroworld investigation have flown under the radar.
It is speculated that it is the Kardashians themselves are the ones initiating the rumors for each of these scandals in an attempt to deflect public opinion. If you want the juicy details on each scandal, check out this podcast.
Want to know how?
3. Gender Pay Gap Bot
Every year, tons of companies hit their social media channels to show support on International Women’s Day. This year, a Twitter bot was set up to call out companies that congratulate the women on their team, but do not pay them fair wages. Any attempts of performative activism were shut down by the bot by highlighting the pay disparities between men and women in that specific company. The bot was set up by Francesca Lawson, a social media manager in Manchester, England, with her partner, Ali Fensome, a software consultant. The bot gathered information from a database published by the UK government, which in 2018, required organizations to report salary differences.
“The bot exists in order to empower employees and members of the public to hold these companies to account for their role in perpetuating inequalities.” Francesca Lawson told the New York Times. “It’s no good saying how much you empower women if you have a stinking pay gap.”
Whenever an organization tweeted about their International Women’s Day initiatives, the account responded by publishing the company’s gap. Some brands went on to delete their tweets after being called out. In other cases, the bot highlighted the work of companies that either pay women more or pay men and women equally.
4. Coinbase’s Super Bowl QR Code
The Super Bowl is probably one of the most important days of the year for communications professionals. This year was no exception. During the game, we saw ads from a wide range of companies like food delivery apps, SaaS providers, and of course, McDonald’s. It’s safe to say 2022 was the year crypto went mainstream.
Coinbase, a cryptocurrency exchange platform, participated (and won) in this year’s Super Bowl with a very simple, yet efficient TV ad. A neon-colored QR code bounced around in a black screen, just like a DVD screensaver, while a generic techno song played. Viewers were persuaded to scan the QR code to receive $15 in free bitcoin. During the first minute after the ad aired, Coinbase’s website received more than 20 million hits – and later crashed. Regardless of this result, this is clear: if the objective of the ad was to raise awareness, it sure hit the spot.
Of course, we can’t mention the famous ad without the controversy that followed it. After the ad went live, Coinbase CEO, Brian Armstrong, hit Twitter to speak about the process of making the ad. He claimed that the idea behind the ad came after they had already bought a slot on the Super Bowl but hadn’t thought of an idea yet. Although some ideas were pitched by agencies, Armstrong says, they were all celebrity cameo-oriented or simply going for a laugh. A few minutes later, Kristen Cavallo, CEO at The Martin agency, replied to that thread stating that the idea had actually come from their advertising agency. After being called out, Armstrong acknowledged the “creative agency” that helped the idea come to fruition (but didn’t actually name them). Beyond intellectual property and credit, Cavallo was looking to create a positive change in the industry where agencies are truly valued for their creative contributions.
If there’s a lesson to be learned from this campaign it’s that DVD screensavers can get people excited like no other. Also, give credit where credit is due.
5. Airbnb for Ukraine
It’s easy to feel distraught by reading the news from Russia’s invasion in Ukraine. The only thing that helps ease the anxiety is action. Airbnb is stepping in to aid more than 10,000 Ukrainian refugees by offering short-term housing. Many users are using Airbnb as a donation platform in order to provide temporary shelter for refugees. If you’d like to host a refugee or donate money to emergency stays, here’s how you can help.
Another innovative way people are helping Ukrainian citizens is by making false reservations in Ukrainian cities, in order to get money to hosts quickly.
People are currently making false reservations in Ukrainian cities and immediately notifying their hosts that they won’t come. This way, the reservation fee is still wired to them immediately. Hilary Mak, a 57-year-old from Manchester, England told The Washington Post: “I have donated to charities, but I thought maybe this was a way to connect to people in an individual way … and to let them know that people are behind them and want to do whatever they can to help.”
Yesterday I shared an idea to support Ukraine by booking rooms for rent on AirBNB. 24 hours later, 100's of people are booking AirBnBs in Ukraine as a way to send immediate monetary assistance to people in hard-hit areas. The messages in response from the hosts are so moving pic.twitter.com/ai2Je8VKCt— IG: @quentin.quarantino (@quentquarantino) March 3, 2022
6. Penguin Random House: The unburnable book
Across America and around the world, there is a growing movement to ban and even burn books. A recent report by PEN America showed that over a 9 month period, 1,586 books were banned in school districts across the US impacting 2 million students. Whether you agree with the motives or not, book banning is clearly a significant trend.
Concerned by the implications of the bans, Penguin Random House created the unburnable book. The book, a one of a kind copy of A Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, was printed on fire resistant materials normally reserved for aerospace engineering. Penguin Random House explained the stunt, “[the book] is designed to protect this vital story and stand as a powerful symbol against censorship.”
After a period on public display, the book was sold at auction by Sotherby’s with all proceeds going to PEN America’s work on free expression.
7. Mars: removing Bounty from Celebrations
There is perhaps nothing that embodies Christmas in the UK more than a large variety box of chocolates. Nobody knows the reason it’s just a tradition and everyone knows that in Britain, you don’t mess with tradition. That’s why when Mars recently announced that they’d be removing one of the miniature chocolates (a coconut delight called ‘Bounty’) from their Celebrations box all Hell broke loose on Twitter. Celebrities and news reporters shared their outrage with their millions of followers, creative Tweeters produced memes and the debacle even featured in a segment on This Morning, a popular TV news program.
The controversial Bounty bars are to be removed from Celebrations chocolate tubs as part of a pre-Christmas trial after it was found 39% of consumers want the coconut-flavoured treats axed!— This Morning (@thismorning) November 3, 2022
Are you a Bounty fan? 🥥 pic.twitter.com/TBJOgpzFdi
The real genius in the story is that Mars isn't even axing Bounty bars. Instead, they’re temporarily removing them from a small selection of boxes that will only be sold in Tesco supermarkets. One Tweet and a simple press release was enough to generate national news coverage and put their chocolates top of mind ahead of peak sales season. Did Mars pick on Bounty because of the word’s link to monetary rewards? This word nerd likes to think so.
2021was also a stellar year for PR. If you’re looking for some inspiration from last year’s best PR campaigns, here are some suggestions.
VanMoof’s disruption of the status quo
VanMoof is not afraid to speak its truth. Even if it ends up being banned on television. In 2020, VanMoof released a powerful TV ad to promote the release of their new generation of smart e-bikes. The ad depicted the chaos that is caused by the car industry, including traffic jams, crashes, and pollution. France’s regulatory authority deemed the ad controversial, as it “created a climate of fear”. This ban put VanMoof in the spotlight and they put it to good use - the e-bike company used this ban to highlight what they truly stand for: disrupting the status quo.
This year, VanMoof followed up with another ad that seeks to spark a change in the way we move. Specifically, it encourages citizens to break pre-pandemic mobility habits and choose a better way to get from point A to point B. The spot depicts a chaotic scene we all know too well: traffic, over-crowding in public transport, anger, frustration, and of course, pollution. This time around, the e-bike pioneer has chosen not to broadcast this spot on French TV as they “prefer to focus their attention on the potential of other markets that are ‘more open to change than France’". Now that’s a statement.
Tesco’s solidarity with the hospitality industry
Everybody loves a wholesome display of solidarity - especially when it comes from corporate enterprises. Every business (except maybe those making face masks and rubbing alcohol) took a hit in 2020. The hospitality industry was hit the hardest. By mid-April, restaurants, bars, and pubs slowly began opening up again in the UK. That’s when Tesco took a stand and displayed its true colors.
The supermarket brand ran ads across print media, digital billboards, and social media to urge their customers not to shop with them, but instead to head to their local pub or restaurant to support the hospitality industry. This unexpected, yet friendly campaign reinforced Tesco’s commitment to the local communities it serves.
“What we saw during 2020 was a real opportunity for us as a brand to reconnect with the nation and be on the side of customers in a pretty tragic year.”
-Emma Botton, Marketing and Communications Director at Tesco
Football’s biggest names unite against racism
Football is a beautiful game. But when the passion of the game meets racism, things can get pretty ugly. Racism and online abuse aren’t new. The problem is that the number of spiteful comments has been increasing online. This year, Manchester United revealed the results of a study that showed a 350% increase in abuse directed towards their club’s players, with more than 2,500 racist posts targeting players from September 2019 to February 2021.
Football players and clubs took this matter into their own hands by boycotting social media in mass protest over racist comments. These athletes argue that social media platforms should have tougher regulations to help eradicate online abuse. The objective of this four-day social media blackout was to portray what social media platforms would look like without the participation of football’s biggest stars.
Cricket players, rugby unions, and more athletes joined the social media blackout as well. The Premier League also supported the boycott, saying it would not stop challenging companies “until discriminatory online abuse is removed from the game and wider society”.
"Hate is a strong word. But the racist relying on black English footballers to bring them glory as if they were their servants, then turning on them as soon as they fell short of their dreams, have my deepest contempt," tweeted Musa Okwonga, an English soccer writer.
Naomi Osaka’s brave stance on mental health
Naomi Osaka is the No. 1 tennis player in the world. At 23, she has amassed four Grand Slam titles and is the reigning champion at the US Open and Australian Open. As a Japanese-Haitian-American woman, Naomi represents the modern world on and off the courts.
In June, she stunned the world by skipping a press conference at the Roland Garros to protect her mental health. This consequently caused her to miss the tournament. Her brave stance on mental health caused a whirlwind of negative comments and backlash, to which she replied “It’s OK not to be OK”.
Naomi is no stranger to the spotlight. However, she has been very vocal about how excruciating press conferences can be. In a statement, she clarified:
“The truth is that I have suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that. Anyone that knows me knows I'm introverted, and anyone that has seen me at the tournaments will notice that I'm often wearing headphones as that helps dull my social anxiety. Though the tennis press has always been kinds to me (and I wanna apologize especially to all the cool journalists who I may have hurt), I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world's media. I get really nervous and find it stressful to always try to engage and give you the best answers I can.”
The bold move was motivated by Osaka’s wish to critically examine the industry and refresh the traditional format of press conferences, for the sake of an athlete’s mental health. Although her actions did cause her to miss out on an important tournament, Osaka won a lot more than a trophy.
Raising awareness for mental health issues resonated with a larger audience. Athletes across disciplines voiced their support for the tennis player’s actions. Her sponsors defended her decision. Osaka was even chosen to light the cauldron at the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo. Naomi Osaka sparked a very much-needed conversation around mental health. In the future, we might not remember who won the French Open, but we will always remember Naomi Osaka.
U.S. Ad Council’s efforts to get everyone vaxxed
Perhaps the best, and biggest PR campaign of this year (and probably of the decade) was a combined effort around the globe to get people to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated. Although the rapid development of the vaccines against COVID-19 is an incredible achievement, it came with many challenges like production, distribution, and most of all, acceptance. PR pros around the world faced a challenge unlike any other: getting more than 70% of the population to accept and receive their shot.
One of the most remarkable PR campaigns is one executed by the Ad Council in the United States. The Ad Council is a non-profit organization that relies on brand partnerships and incredible pro-bono talent from top agencies in the industry. This year, they came together to create a PR campaign that can save more lives than any other, one aimed at educating citizens about the positive effects of the vaccine.
They faced a tough scenario: a country more divided than ever. With racial injustice, lack of trust in public institutions, and the polarization of politics, the Ad Council had to pick a message that would resonate with people across the political spectrum. After several studies, they realized that the average US citizen did not want to be forced to make a decision, instead they needed to know they had the freedom to choose. That’s where the slogan “It’s Up to You” was born.
Instead of showing Americans the negative side effects of not getting vaccinated or imposing an order for the common good, the Ad Council drew upon a feeling that unites us all: nostalgia. The TV ads and social media messages referenced the events we could potentially get back to if we all got our jab, such as visiting grandparents or going back to places of worship. The ads were backed by digital “toolkits” filled with information for people to make their own decision. These messages were also replicated to opinion leaders in the Black and Hispanic communities.
To date, 371 million doses have been administered across the country. So was the campaign successful? History will be the judge of that.