Creative Sparks: Our Favorite Digital Marketing Moments of 2021

Two people look thoughtful as they gaze at art hanging on a gallery wall.

This year came with its fair share of challenges and opportunities. Brands stepped up and skillfully navigated these difficult times with creativity, innovation, and optimism. We’re applauding 10 of our favorite marketing moments from 2021, all of which were featured in our weekly newsletter, The Spark. May these moments inspire your marketing in 2022 and beyond.

Da Vinci of Debt

College students typically want two things: beer and to save money. Beverage company Natural Light created the "most expensive piece of art in the world" to highlight the U.S. student debt crisis. The installation was valued at $470 million — the cost of earning all 2,600 real college diplomas used in the piece. Natural Light focused on the hot topic of school debt relief to reach its target audience of cash-strapped college grads, bringing attention to both the brand and its student loan plan in an artistic way. 

Uptown Funk-y Fusilli

To avoid every foodie’s nightmare (overcooked pasta), Barilla cooked up the “Playlist Timer” on Spotify, a series of playlists timed to correspond with the perfect cooking time for popular pasta shapes. With catchy titles such as "Boom Bap Fusilli" and "Moody Day Linguine," these lists provided listeners with an entertaining and immersive brand experience. They cost Barilla $0 to hit on two major cultural trends: cooking and social audio. 


Remember the good old days, when no one knew what an  NFT was? Taco Bell was one of the first brands to hop on the trend with its digital taco art piece that eventually sold for more than $180,000. The piece helped introduce NFTs into the marketing world — educating the public and giving brands the opportunity to more effectively engage with consumers who value these unique, digital assets.

An Honest Mistake

When an HBO Max intern mistakenly sent a test email to part of its mailing list, the company turned a cringe-worthy misstep into a unifying moment by quickly crafting a lighthearted and supportive tweet:

A screenshot of HBO Max's tweet explaining their intern's mistake. @HBOMaxHelp

HBO Max reminded us that we’re all only human — and demonstrated that brands can bounce back from mistakes in creative and personable ways. 

In Space, No One Can Hear You Slurp

During this year’s space tourism race,” 7-Eleven sent a Slurpee on a private flight into space. By adeptly inserting its brand into a trending conversation, 7-Eleven capitalized on a cultural shift, documenting the whole space journey on its social media platforms and attracting fans along the way. 

The Uncomfortable, Yet Necessary Conversations

To help families raise an anti-racist generation, We Are, the Ad Council, and the Anti-Defamation League teamed up to create the  Dear White Parents campaign, encouraging adults to talk to their children about racism early and often. Dear White Parents provided an excellent example of how marketers can use their resources to demonstrate brand values for a wider audience in an impactful way. 

Read All About It on #BookTok

The TikTok community began to use the #BookTok hashtag to post reviews of their latest reads and recommend stories they’ve enjoyed. Barnes & Noble became an active participant, creating in-store shelves and online pages dedicated to #BookTok’s most popular titles. Building off of already-existing digital momentum, the nationwide bookseller creatively engaged in a growing trend while also driving recognition for its brand.

Nick Jr. Nostalgia

Nick Jr. tapped into nostalgia to help celebrate the 25th anniversary of Blue’s Clues. The show’s original host Steve posted a video address to Twitter, provoking a significant emotional impact on adults who grew up with him and his dog Blue. With almost 40 million views to date, it was named Twitter’s most popular brand tweet of 2021, proving the power of empathy marketing.

Disney+ Brings Out the Stream-ers

Speaking of 2021’s greatest tweets, Disney+ was the most tweeted-about brand this year, largely thanks to its #DisneyPlusDay campaign. The House of Mouse created brand activation to celebrate the second birthday of its streaming service with a cross-platform approach through livestreams, social updates (including celebrity appearances), a universal hashtag, and even its first TikTok. By coordinating messaging across all channels, Disney+ amplified its efforts and brought the party to numerous audiences, both real and virtual. 

TikTok Gives You Wings

The National Audubon Society, a conservation organization for protecting birds, took to TikTok to reach a younger audience. Three and a half million views later, you could say its social strategy soared. With content that flawlessly balanced humor with (feathered) facts, Audubon successfully reached an entirely new audience, while sticking to its original, education-driven mission.

Ignite Your Marketing Mind in 2022

These creative campaigns may have a shelf-life, but you can subscribe to The Spark, our weekly digital marketing newsletter, and keep the creative juices flowing all year long. 

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