5 trends in the latest great work – a view from the jury room

Jason Lim JJ

Jason Lim, Chief Planning Officer for MediaCom U.S., recently sat on the jury for Adweek Media Plan of the Year and shared the five trends he observed while in the jury seat.

I had the pleasure of being on the jury for Adweek Media Plan of the Year Awards, and it did not disappoint. Entries were filled with innovation, thoughtful recommendations, and a clear ability to adapt as circumstances demanded. That agility was expressed across multiple fronts as many reflected the broader cultural topics we have collectively experienced in the past year, whether political, COVID, or racial injustice, which had substantive impacts on our collective behaviors and mindsets. Broadly, these are the prevalent themes that stood out:

  1. Relevancy is all about timing
  2. Social led the way
  3. Data-driven marketing is the norm
  4. Creating media opportunities vs. buying media inventory
  5. How media can be the message

Not all the campaigns I’ve referenced were winners, but I can tell you they were all amazing examples of the best of what our industry can do and how media for good (for audiences, community, and culture) can absolutely lead to media for growth (for brands and business).

Relevancy is all about timing
Campaigns often reference relevancy without the acknowledgment that relevance is often all about good timing. Campaigns that recognized this leaned into this truth with their executions.

Heineken in their doubling down in atypical seasonality periods, Red Wing forgoing sales promotions in favor of job postings - as a reminder of what Labor Day is all about, and Uber quickly shifting to encourage people to NOT move around. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Lego’s recreation of an entire print publication with Lego versions within hours of distribution as being simply inspired.

These examples all represent good reminders that agility and responsiveness (hence relevancy) is attained not by reactive behaviors but proactive ones. Setting aside flexible funds, planning for pivots in message, and scenario planning are all proactive measures that help with a brand's ability to be agile in the moment.

Social led the way
Social was the big winner IMO across the entrants. Brands leaned into platforms driven by value creation, authentic engagement, and utility. Brands like Kotex in solving real challenges in Russia for young women, to Ally Bank paying premium rewards as the first bank to accept Reddit Gold. Not surprisingly, TikTok's campaign promoting its own brand was led by an in-depth understanding of their audience. Pagoda, letting the creators build the message, and Charmin giving influencers the well-deserved bathroom break opportunity demonstrated an authentic understanding of the platforms and audiences. These executions broke through, not due to their scale but rather their depth. Embracing the platform functionality not just as a reach medium but as a brand extension allows brands to demonstrate value, not just talk about it. Centering how and why platforms are being used, not just the who will enable far greater depth in creating solutions to engage consumers.

Data-driven marketing is the norm
While data is clearly used everywhere, meaningful evolution was seen in areas like Can-Am addressing underlying bias in algorithms to ensure proper representation of the intended audiences and Census for actually bringing about the potential for personalization at scale. As we move more into a data-enriched, AI and MI media environment, we need to continue to be mindful of intended outcomes, not automated ones. Leading with strategic vision accounting for and adjusting away from bias and self-fulfilling logic, lest we perpetuate echo chambers vs. real growth. Brands need to ensure they are set up with learning agendas and test & learn scenarios that will extract insight and will be more critical as greater automated optimization becomes prevalent.

Creating media opportunities vs. buying media inventory
The creation of media environments like South Parks takeover of the Bronco’s stadium, filling with cutouts of residents of the town of South Park was both clever and effective. BNY Mellon leaning into the insight of “fastcasting” to stand out by slowing their ad down. Both of these examples showcase how brands leaned into insights and creativity to buy that which was not for sale. As we are inundated with ads today, brands need to be mindful of creating opportunities not by shouting louder but by seeking out moments to lean into experiences organically.

How media can be the message
Scotiabank and Doritos handed over media inventory to support local SMBs and underrepresented Black voices, literally making their media investments the message of support to their valued constituencies. While perhaps not always replicable, these and other brands chose to speak and behave with their media investments lending their platform and budgets to their valued audience. While many brands have already demonstrated this behavior in areas such as brand safety. Brands leaning into purpose can further this in areas like truth in journalism, investment in multicultural audiences, media owners, and content creators.

Congratulations to all who entered or won and thank you to Adweek for having me be part of it.

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