Ad Age’s annual list of America’s Hottest Brands features some of the most groundbreaking players in business today--including cannabis brand Cookies, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and country music icon and philanthropist Dolly Parton.
Despite worldwide shutdowns from the pandemic, these brands were able to deftly navigate an ever-shifting business landscape. At In Depth: America’s Hottest Brands, Ad Age brought together several of the executives behind the brands on the list to discuss how they found success during the unprecedented time. They also shared how they are plugging into pop culture trends, including via limited edition “drops,” and gaining notice, sometimes without the use of paid advertising.
Couldn’t make the event? Watch the stream here.
Here are 5 key takeaways from the sessions:
1. Don't always go for the obvious campaign
When the coronavirus first arrived in the U.S, it seemingly dominated all media, advertisements included. Commercials featuring mask-clad physicians, hands pressed against locked windows, ambulance sirens and hospital beds seemed to overwhelm the airwaves. Still, not every brand was convinced that this approach was the correct one. Executives from Dick’s Sporting Goods and health care apparel brand Figs said they skipped the maudlin COVID ads in 2020, opting for optimistic, even celebratory campaigns.
“One of the things we saw a lot of people doing were these kind of ‘We’re all in this together,’ soft piano music in the background-type of ad, and it almost made it more depressing,” said Ed Plummer, chief marketing officer at Dick's Sporting Goods. The retailer wanted to put more optimism and inspiration into the marketplace. “So we launched ‘See you out there’ from a brand perspective, which encouraged people to get outdoors.” The strategy paid off, as revenue soared last year—and the growth has continued into the second quarter of this year, the company recently reported.
Figs followed a similar approach, according to Dennis Seydel, who joined the brand earlier this year as chief brand officer. He said Figs “flipped” to pursue the reverse of the “We’re in this together” ads. “We launched one of our biggest brand campaigns in the middle of 2020,” he said.
2. Drop culture is on the rise
Livestream-shopping platform NTWRK takes drop culture to the next level, providing users access to exclusive deals only available on their app. The drops are interactive, personal, blink-and-you’ll-miss-its experiences, offering the customer an activity and a product. NTWRK keeps the idea of interactivity at the core of what they do.
“We are conditioning the U.S. retail consumer to shop in a different way,” said Jason Brown, who joined NTWRK as chief marketing officer from Foot Locker last month.
Cookies is also taking advantage of drop-culture buzz, releasing limited-edition strains and merchandise customers line up to get their hands on.
“People like new things, people want to try things that are new, that are limited, that not everybody can have,” said Cookies founder and CEO, a rapper who goes by the name Berner. “As a curator for menus of cannabis, as a cannabis smoker, I want to try the new stuff all the time, so when you do a drop, and you highlight what it is that you’re dropping and you make an event out of it, and it really is truly limited… it really works well.”