On the morning of Oct. 14, 2012, Austrian sky diver Felix Baumgartner strapped himself to a helium balloon that carried him 24 miles above Roswell, N.M., to the edge of space. Then, with just a spacesuit and parachute, he made a nine-minute, supersonic jump that catapulted him into history books as the first person to break the speed of sound in free fall--at 833.9 mph, or Mach 1.24--without mechanical intervention.
This multimillion-dollar stunt wasn't funded by NASA or SpaceX. No, this spectacle, seven years in the making, was the work of Red Bull. The energy-drink giant's "Stratos" campaign resulted in the most-watched YouTube live stream of all time (8 million concurrent views), a global broadcast seen in more than 50 countries and a documentary, Space Dive, produced by Red Bull with National Geographic Channel and the BBC.
But marketing efforts don't need to change history to be effective. The most innovative campaigns push boundaries in simple yet clever ways that can captivate audiences--consumers, the media and competitors alike--and change the way they think about a brand or concept. With that in mind, Entrepreneur searched for the most brilliant strategies from startups, corporations and charities in 2012, and asked experts to identify what made them so great. Here are our favorites.
Band-Aid Augmented-reality app Image courtesy of Band-Aid
Johnson & Johnson hired powerhouse New York City marketing agency JWT to create the augmented-reality Magic Vision app for Band-Aid's Muppet-theme bandages. Once the app has been downloaded to a smartphone, it can be used to scan a bandage and unlock cute animations featuring Kermit and friends. The objective, according to JWT, is to "turn moments of pain into moments of delight" and to distinguish the product from a slew of generics that vie for the attention of young kids and their moms. The campaign has earned more than 115 million media impressions, and the app has a 4.5/5-star rating on iTunes.
"Expanding on a product's usefulness as an activation device for technology has a lot of potential," says Michael Milligan, chief creative officer of New York City-based JWalk, a marketing agency whose clients include Lacoste and fitness club Equinox. "It allows Band-Aid to have a new relationship with their audience and opens up the concept of healing in new and innovative ways."
Lesson: Incorporating cool, on-point technology helps you stand out in a crowded market and woo tech-savvy consumers.
Help Remedies Interactive and pop-up store Image courtesy of Help Remedies
Help Remedies, a New York-based seller of first-aid products, kicked boring pharma marketing up a notch with What's Wrong U.S.? , an interactive website that tracks ailments like blisters, stuffy noses and sleeplessness across regions, based on weekly retailer data. Additionally, for the month of November the company crossed into retail, opening a hip-looking pop-up pharmacy in Washington, D.C., offering relief for all kinds of pain, from headache pills to a "relationship judge" to help people with heartache. Live window displays enacting blister-inducing situations and bouts of nausea attracted foot traffic; the Night Pharmacy cocktail bar helped draw in customers, too.
These are "very, very good ideas," JWalk's Milligan says. "I've always been a big fan of repackaging basics and using design and communication to present things in a more compelling way."
Lesson: If you add value to customers' lives with real content and helpful, fun services, they won't soon forget you.
Mellow Mushroom Fan-fueled video campaign Image courtesy of Mellow Mushroom
In a bid to attract Twitter followers, restaurant chain Mellow Mushroom and Atlanta ad agency Fitzgerald+CO put together the amusingly unnerving video series "Follow Us and We'll Follow You." The clips, edited from hidden-camera footage and set to ominous music, show actual @MellowMushroom Twitter followers being followed in real life. Intentionally creepy mushroom-wearing mascots surreptitiously track the restaurant's fans through a farmers market, library--even on a paddle boat. The fourth-wall-shattering campaign got thousands of likes on Facebook and was featured in a write-up in The New York Times.
Ryan Berman, founder and chief creative officer at San Diego-based i.d.e.a., who has worked on campaigns for everyone from Subway to UNICEF to Ringling Bros., chalks up the promotion's success to an understanding of what makes social media aficionados tick: personal attention. "Many users on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram believe they are the star of their very own reality TV show," he jokes. "Those types of people … would probably love to be stalked by an oversized mushroom."
Lesson: The best way to drum up viral views and win over fans in social media is by engaging people both online and offline--and making them the stars of your show.
Ikea Real-world product integration Image courtesy of Ikea
With a couple of attention-grabbing guerrilla stunts, IKEA drove home the point that its products can spruce up even the tiniest of spaces. The furniture company has set up living areas on subway platforms, in narrow urban alleyways--even underneath outdoor staircases in Tokyo. Most prominently, it constructed a fully furnished 581-square-foot apartment in a Paris Metro station, where five volunteers lived for six days. The "small spaces" idea was brought to life digitally via SmallestStoreintheWorld.com, a 10.5 x 8.8 cm pixel web banner containing a fully functional catalog and shopping portal.
"Just like a picture being worth a thousand words, this is an excellent example of how to show off usefulness in a place with a high-density population," says Matt Murphy, CEO of Fusion92, a Chicago marketing agency that has worked with Disney and Sony. "Nothing is like walking into a home and literally experiencing the product, and IKEA found a neat way for people to be able to touch and feel and see how the furniture can be used."
Lesson: Demonstrate the value of your product by bringing it directly to where consumers happen to be. You'll be that much closer to making a sale.
Uber Viral brand awareness
Over the past three years, Uber, a San Francisco-based car-service startup, has quickly expanded into 20 cities by deploying a "where you need them to be" strategy at conferences and events. In 2012 Uber employed conversation-starting promotions like an on-demand ice cream truck, which celebrated the company's ability to provide customers with many different car types, and the President's Day "Ubercade," in which riders were met with two SUVs and a sedan that swooped in and whisked them away in true diplomatic fashion.
Ryan Graves, Uber's vice president of operations, says each promotion attempts to infuse the brand personality into the ride experience: "Fun and efficient all in one. We like people to tell stories and subtly include Uber. We believe that every interaction with an Uber rider is … a chance to turn a normal user into a passionate evangelist."
Lesson: Give customers an experience they'll want to brag about to their friends (aka your future customers).
Puma Shopping as a game Giving shoppers a run for their money: Olympian Usain Bolt powers Puma's campaign. Image courtesy of Puma
Puma devised an in-store campaign to pump up sales of shoes endorsed by Jamaican sprinter and Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt. Customers intending to buy "the fastest trainers in the world" grabbed a time-stamped ticket upon entering the store, and the faster they got back to the register with their purchase, the greater the discount they received.
What's commendable is how Puma was able to create a connection between the product, the celebrity endorser and the consumer, says Jason Abelkop, chief marketing officer of nationwide restaurant chain Buffets. "Generally speaking, most organizations do a poor job of activating sponsorships," he says. "They spend a lot of money on celebrity endorsements, but few take it to the next level."
Lesson: Empower and entertain your customers, and you'll drive up sales.
Popcorn, Indiana Targeted expansion Image courtesy of Popinator
Popcorn, Indiana, a purveyor of whole grain, gluten-free popcorn and chips (actually headquartered in New Jersey), scored major media buzz after unveiling the Popinator, a desktop popcorn "launching machine" designed in conjunction with New York City-based viral marketing agency Thinkmodo. A video showing off the voice-activated device, which shoots popped corn kernels directly into snackers' mouths with a high degree of accuracy, got picked up by national news networks and has garnered more than 20 million media impressions; traffic to the company's website jumped 2,800 percent in a week after the release.
"We didn't have a huge marketing budget," says director of marketing Jeff Dworzanski, "but we were looking for ways to spread brand awareness and demonstrate how we are innovative by building a physical device that shows a new way of snacking." Dworzanski notes that interest in the Popinator was so massive that the company is considering ways of commercializing it.
Lesson: To get people talking about you, explore ideas that showcase fun new uses for your product. The bonus: additional potential revenue streams.
Uniqlo Targeted expansion Local motion: NYC-based fashion blogger Leandra Medine. Image courtesy of Uniqlo
As big as Japanese fashion retailer Uniqlo is--global 2011 revenue was estimated at $10 billion--it's still relatively unknown in the U.S. So when the company continued its U.S. expansion last year, adding stores in San Francisco and New Jersey to its three existing Manhattan locations, it made a grand entrance, with an advertising blitz that included a branded blimp and a Facebook sweepstakes starring feline YouTube star Maru, whose videos have nearly 160 million views.
To heighten appeal in specific markets, Uniqlo cultivated local interest. Its "People" print and online campaign featured homegrown celebrities from each city wearing items from the brand's 2012 collections. In San Francisco, ads showcased 49ers football great Joe Montana and startup founder Brit Morin; the New York cast included choreographer Benjamin Millepied and fashion blogger Leandra Medine. The campaign, says Uniqlo marketing director Jean Shein, "worked on two levels--as independent campaigns to boost sales of specific items, and as a group to give a full picture of the brand to both new markets and to reintroduce ourselves to New Yorkers."
Lesson: Make it personal, and tailor strategies to specific markets. Nothing annoys more than mass-market "spray and pray" strategies.
Samsung Taking on the competition Image courtesy of Samsung
Samsung went head-to-head with rival Apple in its campaigns for last summer's launch of the Galaxy S III smartphone. In ubiquitous TV, outdoor, online and print ads, Samsung took clever jabs at the iPhone 5--everything from the crazy queues at Apple Stores ("All I'm saying is that they should have a priority line for people who've waited five times," one guy complains) to the iPhone's overhyped "new" features ("The headphone jack is going to be on the bottom," someone gushes).
Samsung implied that Apple might be getting too big to be cool in one memorable ad that showed kids holding spots in line for their parents. At the same time, Samsung backed up its campaign by advertising the Galaxy S III's own powerful features.
John Ellett, co-founder and CEO of Austin, Texas-based digital marketing agency nFusion Group and author of The CMO Manifesto, says the campaign was impressive for having the balls to challenge a beloved brand in a way that actually made Apple loyalists stop and think. "It effectively used humor and truth and storytelling to highlight the differentiation in a way that's getting people to say, 'Maybe there is a choice.'" Indeed, in third-quarter 2012, the Galaxy S III was the bestselling smartphone in the world.
Lesson: Don't be afraid to tackle the competition head-on--even the giants in the field. You could win over all sorts of admirers.
Oroverde Cleverness for a cause Make like a tree: OroVerde's Donation Army captured pedestrians' attention. Image courtesy of Samsung
OroVerde, a German foundation that works for rainforest preservation, teamed with Ogilvy & Mather's Frankfurt branch to create the Donation Army. Trees in a pedestrian-heavy area of the city were decked out to look like a brigade of homeless beggars, with donation cans and wooden hands holding cardboard signs proclaiming: "Need money for my family in the rainforest." The cost-effective campaign solved two common problems faced by charities: It eliminated the need to recruit dedicated volunteers, and it solicited donations from passersby in a clever, non-irritating way.
Ellett of nFusion says the "ultra-simple idea" resulted in major stopping power among pedestrians, because the image of the tree army was both familiar yet jarringly out of context. "The intrigue factor got people to like it and open up their change purse," he says.
Lesson: Create a visually arresting campaign and people will pay attention (and that's more than half the battle).