Digital Ad Campaigns of 2017: The Best and Worst

Digital ads are increasingly central to the perception and sales of brands worldwide. They’re a key part of the business strategy driving the brand.

That said, what are the best and worst digital advertising campaigns of the year?

According to the industry publication Marketing Dive, the best and worst both center around similar attempts to capture the hearts, minds, and pocketbooks of Generation Z, the current crop of teenagers and young 20-somethings. Market research indicates that they are concerned about issues as long as they perceive the message as genuine.

They are also highly receptive to diversity in advertising, reflecting the increasing diversity of the U.S. itself and that they are one of the first generations where white Americans will no longer be a majority.

Heineken: A Message That Resonates?

Marketing Dive gave its first “best of” nods to a digital advertising campaign for Heineken beer. The campaign, entitled “Worlds Apart,” shows multiple people first addressing the camera on a series of hotly contested issues: climate change and feminism, for example. They have edgy opinions articulated across the spectrum.

They then talk to each other on a personal level. Ultimately, the “worlds apart” of politics are bridged by, you guessed it, a certain distinctive green bottle of beer.

The campaign gets high marks for engaging the politics of the year, which were notably major and notably fraught, and for appealing to Generation Z by meaningful dialogue that seemed authentic and not easily resolved.

Heineken’s “Worlds Apart” campaign got the first ‘best of’ nod in Marketing Dive’s ratings.

Pepsi: A Message That Got Pulled

Another beverage marketer, however, received negative kudos, for one of the worst digital ads of the year.

It was Pepsi’s “Live for Now” ad, which starred Kendall Jenner as a bystander-then-participant in a protest march. Like the Heineken ad, it focused on disagreements. The ad centered on an orderly march, viewed at a distance by Jenner. After watching the marchers and their signs, she pulls off her blond wig, wipes off bright magenta lipstick, and joins the march, grabbing a Pepsi and sharing one with a police officer as she does so.

The ad received negative responses not only from the digital marketing industry, but from consumers, who created something of a firestorm on Twitter and other social media criticizing the ad. For one thing, the marchers dealt not with specific and currently debated issues, as the Heineken ad did, but with generic signs and a nonspecific protest.

For another, the ad implies that Pepsi is an accessory to a well-turned-out march, but — unlike Heineken — doesn’t offer itself as a bridge between genuinely disagreeing people, but as an accessory shared by a group of culturally diverse cool people. In other words, not so much a “pub talk can bridge a divide” but “looking cool and sipping a Pepsi is in.”

The ad thus failed to draw the engagement of Generation Z or any other generational cohort, and was quickly pulled off the market.

The take-away for digital marketers? Appealing to a demographic matters as much as it ever did. But the appeal has to feel authentic to them and be targeted both to concerns and to image, not to image alone.

The best and worst digital ad campaigns of the year both engaged 2017 as a political year and attempted to appeal to Generation Z. Heineken was generally agreed to have developed a winning campaign, while Pepsi pulled one of their most heavily promoted spots.

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