10 top social media marketing success stories

Upstarts such as Cards Against Humanity and iconic companies including Burberry are getting much more creative with social media. These 10 recent campaigns from the past year are examples of how quirky, unique and even risky social media marketing can be effective.

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Credit: Pexels
Bold and successful social media campaigns

Pop quiz. It's Black Friday, one of the year's biggest shopping days. Your company sells a product online that would make a great holiday gift. So you, (a) offer a juicy one-day discount; (b) ignore the day completely and do business as usual; or (c) charge customers $5 and give them absolutely nothing in return.

If you want to receive lots of social media buzz and even increase brand loyalty, the answer, surprisingly, is (c). Selling "nothing for something" is exactly what Cards Against Humanity, a company that sells party games "for horrible people," did on Black Friday 2015. The results of this upstart company's bold move, and those of some better-known brands, on social media just might surprise you.

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Domino's #EasyOrder

Domino's really wants to make it easy to order pizza. Beginning in May 2015, the company let customers request delivery of their favorite pizza by tweeting a pizza emoji to the @Dominos Twitter account, or by using the hashtag #EasyOrder. The tweet-based order system earned Domino's media coverage from the likes of USA Today, Forbes, and Good Morning America, not to mention a Titanium Grand Prix award at Cannes.

Domino's "is constantly cooking up new ways to reach consumers digitally," according to Lindsay Beltzer, manager of marketing communications at Tenet Partners. And it's working: more than 50 percent of Domino's orders come from digital channels today. The success of Domino's mobile and social efforts shows how brands today need "a completely different way of thinking about the customer's journey," Beltzer says.

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Taco Bell's 'blind pre-order' campaign

In February 2016, Taco Bell announced its "first-ever, blind pre-order" of a new, undisclosed menu item. Fans could order the mystery item online and pick it up between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. at their local shop on Feb. 6.

The cross-channel marketing strategy, which utilized Twitter, Snapchat and Super Bowl TV ads, "created pent-up desire" for a new menu addition, according to Beltzer. (The secret item, the "Quesalupa," was revealed during the Super Bowl.) The campaign also tapped into Taco Bell's most enthusiastic customer base and successfully integrated social media and TV promotions.

It's an example of how to create excitement among brand influencers by giving them early or exclusive access to new products or services, Beltzer says.

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Edeka's holiday 'Homecoming' on YouTube

German supermarket chain Edeka released a touching Christmas-themed video ad in which an elderly man is alone at Christmas because his grown children are too busy to visit. The #HeimKommen ad, which ends on a happy note, touched upon food, family and the true meaning of the holidays, while shining a light on the unfortunate loneliness some older people experience.

The video was the most viewed Christmas ad on YouTube, racking up 33.5 million views within a week, according to Socialbakers. Two weeks later, the video had scored 331,000 likes, 20 million views and 579,000 shares on Facebook, according to Oren Greenberg, founder of digital marketing consultancy Kurve. The campaign's success demonstrates how brands can effectively leverage holidays to touch audiences in meaningful ways, he says.

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Nivea 'Second Skin' YouTube video

Another holiday 2015 video that went viral came from skin care company Nivea. The "Second Skin Project" video featured a mother and her adult son who couldn't spend Christmas together, because one lived in Spain and the other in Paraguay. Using VR goggles and a fabric that supposedly simulated human skin, mother and son were reunited.

Spoiler alert: At the video's conclusion, viewers learn the Second Skin project isn't real. However, the video makes the point that while technology can bring people closer, it can also cause them to lose human contact. By using "the right tone" and a "non-sales-y approach," the video received more than 150,000 YouTube views and generated positive social media buzz for Nivea, says Kurve's Greenberg.

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PwC's #BallotBriefcase Snapchat campaign

Can you turn a briefcase into a Hollywood star? More importantly, should you attempt B2B marketing on Snapchat? Absolutely -- at least if you do it as well as the successful #BallotBriefcase campaign from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Auditing firm PwC has managed Oscar balloting for 82 years. For the 2016 awards ceremony, the company sought "to create a modern and savvy campaign" aimed at millennials by using Snapchat "to generate buzz internally and increase external visibility around the firm's involvement with the Academy Awards," according to the company. In its first two weeks, PwC's Snap Story on Snapchat jumped to over 700 views. Within three weeks, the campaign received 1,062 related tweets on Twitter and 406 Instagram mentions, PwC says. It also won a Shorty Award in the B2B category.

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Dollar Shave Club's #RazorBurn campaign

Upstart razor company Dollar Shave Club (DSC) used its typical wise-guy humor to boost its social media presence in a cross-channel campaign that won a 2016 Shorty Award in the Retail & E-Commerce category.

The #RazorBurn campaign poked fun at established razor companies that claim their blades are so high quality "you can use them for a month," according to DSC. The campaign featured images of old, worn-out, "gross" razors with humorous captions, such as "Your razor's so old it eats dinner at 4:30."

The campaign resulted in a 24 percent lift in overall social media mentions for the company, social followers increased by 6 percent, and it bumped DSC's Twitter engagement up 31 percent, according to the company.

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Cards Against Humanity's Black Friday campaign

On Black Friday 2015, when seemingly every business in the world tried to sell consumers something, Cards Against Humanity offered to sell absolutely nothing -- for $5.

The party game "for horrible people" took its Web store offline the day after Thanksgiving. Instead of buying its game, people could give the company a fiver and receive zero in return. Cards Against Humanity didn't even say what it planned to do with the funds.

The stunt received major media coverage, and the company took in $71,145, which it distributed to its employees. The move was talked about on Twitter, Facebook and other outlets, and it's a good example of how companies can develop strong brand voices and delight target audiences in unpredictable ways, according to Christine Rochelle, director of digital marketing at lotus823.

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Burberry's Mr. Burberry Snapchat campaign

In April 2016, Burberry became the first luxury brand to run a native Snapchat-Discover-channel ad, according to Digiday. The 24-hour campaign promoted the company's new Mr. Burberry fragrance, and it featured exclusive video content, including a stylized and sexy promotional short from noted director Steve McQueen. As of this writing, McQueen's "Mr. Burberry" film received nearly 300,000 views on YouTube.

"Snapchat makes everything urgent, yet fleeting, much like the lovers in Burberry's campaign," says Lily Croll, strategy director with Wire Stone. "Marketers feel pressured to extend the lifetime for every piece of content, but by making some pieces exclusive to a window in time, brands are able to elevate the value of their content."

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20th Century Fox's 'Deadpool' promotion

20th Century Fox went all-out for its "Deadpool" film promotion, according to Wire Stone's Croll. The irreverent campaign "wove the titular character's voice and humor into a bombardment of marketing tactics," she says. "Everything was leveraged from email to TV appearances, billboards to custom emojis, a Fandango takeover -- all accompanied by and interwoven with a constant social media backbone. Growing excitement between the @deadpoolmovie Twitter handle, celebrity fans and lead actor Ryan Reynolds blurred the lines between promotion and fandom."

The first "Deadpool" movie tweet hit the Web in March 2015, nearly a year before the film's release, and it since earned more than 55,000 retweets and 52,000 likes. The movie's Twitter handle has nearly 450,000 followers. The campaign "smartly used Reynolds' genuine Deadpool fandom to elevate (not alienate) diehard fans," Croll says.

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Krylon's 'first-ever Pinterest yard sale'

The 127 Corridor Sale, known as "the world's largest yard sale," happens during a four-day weekend every August along Highway 127, which stretches more than 690 miles from Michigan to Alabama.

Last summer, Krylon, a spray-paint company, sent "DIY experts" to buy 127 "worthless" items along the route and transform them into something desirable, according to the company. After the yard sale ended, Krylon listed all of its transformed items for sale online, becoming the first brand to use Pinterest's buyable pin feature. All of the proceeds (roughly $2,000) went to charity.

As a result, Krylon's Pinterest following increased by 4,400 percent, and the company estimates it gained $2.7 million in earned media on a $200,000 budget. The campaign also won a 2016 Shorty Award in the Pinterest, Home & Décor category.