Talking to lettuce, and wonky cookies: Twitter Canada’s best brand campaigns of 2020

Twitter Canada has released its annual round-up of the year’s best brand campaigns, work that arrived in a wholly unique year in which brand voice became more important than ever.

“It was actually a pretty major change,” said Jamie Michaels, head of Twitter Next, which works to help brands maximize their on-platform marketing and communications. “Either you [had to be] showing some compassion, giving back, or providing levity, which was a really big deal for a lot of the brands that made it to the top.”

The list is comprised of a diverse group of companies from across the marketing spectrum, united by programs that inspired or delighted in a year in which emotions were raw, and people had zero tolerance for faux sincerity or naked opportunism. “They all read the room really well,” said Michaels. “They understood their audience… and knew how far they could push it and really get great response.”

It was also a year that saw several global marketing giants including Amazon, American Express, and Wendys deliver strong made-in-Canada marketing solutions rather than simply adapting global programs. “The Canadian audience is a little different, and if you want to stand out among the No Names and Tim Hortons of the world, who really get the culture here, you’ve got to play into it,” said Michaels.

Here is an overview of some of the campaigns highlighted by the Twitter Next team (the complete list can be found here).

Best campaign connecting to culture

A mayonnaise brand in a video game? Welcome to 2020.

Tapping into the massive cultural success of the Nintendo Switch game Animal Crossing: New Horizons, #HellmannsIsland used Twitter’s strong reputation in gaming culture to attract people to its in-game island, where players could convert the game’s virtual waste (spoiled turnips) into real food for people in need. “They did a great job of connecting to the conversational aspect of that game,” said Michaels.

Best campaign to make us feel connected

Wendy’s Canada’s #GrownWithLove campaign was based on the insight that talking to plants can help them grow faster and stronger (backed by actual science from the likes of the Royal Horticultural Society). It was a prime example of a brand addressing the consumer need for levity and entertainment in an otherwise solemn year, said Michaels.

While Wendy’s has earned a well-deserved reputation for its sharp and irreverent social media presence, Michaels said that the campaign benefited from the sheer unexpectedness of inviting people to “speak” to lettuce.

Best use of brand voice

Michaels described 2020 as a “build year” for No Name, which continued to further hone the brand voice that made it a breakout sensation on the platform last year.

That was achieved through highly relevant initiatives such as its “haircutting guide,” inspired by the rise of so-called “COVID cuts,” the creation of a wonderfully nondescript background for video calls, and live-tweeting NHL playoff games with matter-of-fact tweets like “ten people are chasing a circular object.”

“In our mind they still killed it this year,” said Michaels. “They made themselves even more relevant with the brand voice they built. It’s very Twitter-y.”

The best pivot of a brand’s voice

This was also a year of “pivoting,” said Michaels. The pandemic forced many brands to adopt a new tone of voice that reflected the unease felt by so many people. That didn’t have to mean sombre, however.

Tim Hortons, for example, stepped out of its traditionally earnest and Canadiana-cloaked comfort zone by adopting what Twitter described as a “fun and light-hearted” approach that saw it post tweets like “How are Timbits made? Wrong answers only” and “Is a Honey Cruller a donut or is it its own brand of dessert? Yes.”

In an October tweet Tim Hortons used the cliche email introduction “Hope this email finds you well,” with with an image of sloppily decorated cookie decidedly at odds with how its baked goods are portrayed in conventional marketing.

Michaels singled out the tweet as a “turning point” for the brand, one that demonstrated a willingness to joyfully upend expectations. “I can only imagine how hard that was to get approved,” he said. “We’re so proud of the work we’ve done with that team to get them to be a really entertaining brand.”

The best launch campaign

Launching products has become a “core job” on Twitter, said Michaels, and GMC Canada’s launch of the Hummer EV helped a brand with a dubious historical reputation earn share of voice.

“I’m not in the market for an electric SUV, but even if I didn’t work at Twitter I would know they launched [the Hummer EV] and would have a point of view on it,” said Michaels. “That’s great marketing on Twitter.”

Perhaps even more impressive, he said, is that GMC accomplished this on a platform that has become something of a sandbox for Tesla’s Elon Musk, the head of one of GMC’s primary competitors in the EV space.

The best campaign in support of small business

Small business was a core marketing focus globally for American Express this year, and Amex Canada’s #ShopSmallStories spotlighted local businesses at a crucial time through its use of short videos and pop-up shops.

The campaign then took the idea one step further by temporarily turning over its Twitter account to each company for a limited time, suddenly providing them with access to a significant audience. “It was such a great way of giving back,” said Michaels.

The best brand use of Twitter in a unique way

Twitter users tend to over-index when it comes to believing conspiracy theories, providing Amazon a perfect opportunity to promote its new pandemic-themed show Utopia (although it was recently cancelled).

Amazon created a Twitter program called the “#Utopia TV vs. IRL Challenge,” which invited Twitter users to vote on whether scenarios actually happened in the world of Utopia or in real life, such as “Rainforests are being destroyed at a pace of 8 million hectares per year.”

“It was a really savvy approach to take,” said Michaels. “The Twitter audience is all about that, and I love how they played into it.”

Chris Powell