Well, that flew by. Q1 2018 is already over, meaning it's time to take a look back at what stuck out in the marketing world during the first leg of the year.
Some brands relished their successes by keeping things lighthearted on the creative side and experimenting with bleeding-edge tech like blockchain, while others were hindered by high-profile blunders that could cause lasting reputation damage and have brought fresh scrutiny to digital advertising and social media overall.
Below, Marketing Dive breaks down clear brand winners and losers from the year's first quarter, and the marketing lessons learned from their touchdowns and fumbles, respectively:
Social media enters its struggle period
This one's an easy pick not just for its widespread coverage but also how the repercussions continue to reverberate weeks after the fact and will likely continue to do so for much longer. In March, news broke that Cambridge Analytica, a data firm with ties to Donald Trump's presidential campaign, shadily accessed Facebook data from what's now estimated to be 87 million users' profiles, sending tempers flaring and new regulatory threats toward the social media giant.
Some users dumped their Facebook accounts in protest, making the hashtag #DeleteFacebook a trending topic elsewhere in the social media world. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg took out a full-page apology ad in newspapers and magazines in an attempt at damage control, however, backlash continues, and the executive is expected to testify before Congress on April 11.
Facebook rival Snapchat had its issues, too. They started in February when Kylie Jenner tweeted that she doesn't use the video messenger anymore, causing the brand's stock price at the time to drop over 6%, translating to roughly $1.3 billion in lost market value. Then, in mid-March, a similar incident occurred after Rihanna urged fans to delete the app over an offensive third-party ad that distastefully played into a domestic violence incident the pop star was victim to.
It wasn't just Jenner, Rihanna and their respective fans leaving Snapchat and other platforms. Statistics from early March indicate 34% Gen Zers are abandoning social media altogether, and that 64% of the age group —typically viewed as inseparable from their phones and mobile apps — are taking a break from it. Whether or not these developments will result in a dip in advertising revenue for social media, which has been a consistent growth leader, remains to be seen.
Big brands whiff on progressivism
At a time when many marketers realize having a socially-conscious element in advertising can pay off, some brands still fell flat in Q1 through tone-deaf creative. Heineken, for example, pulled an ad for Heineken Light that critics, including Chance the Rapper, asserted was racist. The spot showed a bartender sliding a bottle of beer past several black people until it reached a lighter-skinned woman with the tagline "Sometimes lighter is better."
Other companies tripped up their progressive messaging, but not for lack of trying. On International Women's Day in March, McDonald's gave a salute by flipping its golden arches for the first time, turning them into a 'W' for women. While the gesture might've been well-intentioned, critics brought up how the fast-food chain has allegedly ignored sexual harassment claims from female employees, and also how it's fought raising the company-wide minimum wage. The minimum wage is an issue that research shows disproportionately affects women.
These shortcomings highlight how brands must be careful to look at the big picture when considering a progressive message and also take into account the growing power of consumer backlash on channels like social media in holding them accountable for slip-ups.
Smiles and dancing strike a chord
On the other end of the spectrum, lightheartedness was one of the themes that emerged in Q1, especially through movement. Cheetos showed support for the U.S. curling team during the Winter Olympics with a music video that put a spin on the Dougie dance craze from 2011. H&M also had actresses Winona Ryder and Elizabeth Olsen meet for a passionate dance in Buenos Aires, while Drew Barrymore put on a bubbly musical number for shoe brand Crocs.
Lay's took a cheerful approach as well through a new "Smile With Lay's" campaign targeting millennials. Emphasizing how people need things to smile about in today's tumultuous landscape, the effort featured a Times Square pop-up with a giant ball pit, personalized packaging and a partnership with the nonprofit Operation Smile helping children born with cleft conditions.
Oddball stunts spice up the food space
Starbucks capitalized on the age-old desire people have to know their futures — and tried to repeat a Unicorn success of its past — with the Crystal Ball Frappuccino. People who ordered the limited-edition beverage received sachets of candy sprinkles in one of three colors, each representing a different future characteristic. Neither customers nor baristas knew which color a pack contained, adding an element of excitement and shareability to the product.
To help people take the stress out of Valentine's Day gift-giving, fast-food chain Wingstop also set up "wing luv kits" to individuals who called a special toll-free hotline number. Buyers could then do away with traditional gifts to instead create a bouquet of chicken wings.
These marketing efforts didn't take themselves too seriously but still resonated. Moving forward, advertisers must remember that lighter campaigns work well when people want a break from the bummers of real life.
Next-gen tech shows promise
In Q1 2018, technologies that have often felt far off moved closer to the forefront of marketing as well. At South By Southwest, The Home Depot and L'Oréal dished on how artificial intelligence is quickly becoming table stakes for their businesses, informing everything from team alignment to channels like chatbots.
Blockchain has also been a hot topic that started to show some real traction past the buzzword bubble this quarter. Unilever CMO Keith Weed in February extolled on how a fledgling partnership with IBM to explore blockchain technology is already saving time and resources for the CPG giant and could greatly increase transparency across the digital media pipeline.
The tech-related Q1 successes emphasize how marketers could miss out if they see next-generation technologies just as fads, especially when such big-name brands are delivering positive results with them.