Digital marketing is like any other skill: If you want to succeed, you need to pay close attention to top-tier talent. What are the best marketers doing? What are the principles behind the most successful campaigns? Who completely changed the game? And, most importantly, how can you learn from the best of the best?

To give you a boost on brainstorming, we’ve collected some of the all-time best digital marketing campaigns. We can’t help but be inspired when we think of these genius methods for connecting with buyers and raising brand awareness. Take a look for yourself and consider how you can use the same innovative techniques to grow your company.

Nike: “Dream Crazier”

During the 2019 Academy Awards, Nike aired their 90-second ad, “Dream Crazier.” After only one day, the video had 28 million views on Twitter and use of the hashtag #justdoit increased by a whopping 2261%. What did Nike do so right with this marketing video?

“Dream Crazier” celebrates the resilience of women athletes by showing real footage of the greatest triumphs—and controversial moments—in women’s sports. The images themselves are plenty inspiring, but Nike’s brilliant move is to pair this footage with a message about the double standards that plague fierce and ambitious women who compete in a world that has historically been thought of as men’s territory. Even more genius: the ad focuses on the word “crazy,” an accusation that is well-known by women in a multitude of contexts. The overall message is that sports history has been defined by so-called “crazy” women, and the result was that buyers all over the world immediately connected with the encouragement to turn sexist criticism into fuel for their ambitions—sports related or not.

Even better, the ad ends with a call to action that seemingly has nothing to do with Nike. “Dream crazier,” is a much more shareable message than “Buy Nike.”

Why it’s genius: This video connects modern buyers to the athletes who inspire them by highlighting a struggle that unites them all. It also creates trust between consumers and the brand by framing Nike as a company that cares about issues that are bigger than athleticwear. 

Dollar Shave Club

Do you remember how much harder things were back when you had to leave your home and go to another location to purchase a razor?

Neither do we. And yet, Dollar Shave Club’s highly niche concept of low-cost monthly razor delivery found immediate fans thanks in part to some bold viral video marketing. Beginning with their irreverent launch video, DSC immediately connected with buyers through humor and a weirdly inspiring message about the pointlessness of modern shaving technology. The company kept up their distinctive voice with consistently entertaining content, including more viral videos and blog posts such as “Is It Bad to Pluck Nose Hairs with My Fingers?”

The result? The launch video was viewed more than 26 million times. Dollar Shave Club has over a million subscribers. And Unilever bought the company for $1 billion. So there’s that.

Why it’s genius: DSC created an extremely shareable ad by making a direct and confident sales pitch wrapped in non-stop humor.

Airbnb Neighborhoods

Digital marketers can look to Airbnb for several examples of excellent digital marketing, from their viral videos to an eclectic Instagram feed that inspires the traveler in all of us. But what impresses us most is Airbnb Neighborhoods.

Airbnb Neighborhoods is a study in what it truly means to invest in content marketing. As a business that serves travelers, Airbnb has put together some of the most comprehensive guides available to frequently traveled cities. 

The Internet is loaded with listicles about things to do in major cities, but Airbnb Neighborhood allows users to zero in on individual neighborhoods and search categories like “Sightseeing,” “Drinks & Nightlife,” and “Parks & Nature.” They can narrow their browsing down to walkable areas, artsy neighborhoods, and authentic local experiences. There are maps for easy reference, tips on transportation. Our favorite detail: the photos featured on Airbnb Neighborhoods are taken by local photographers, providing an insider perspective. This move further establishes the Airbnb travel experience as an authentic one.

Why it’s genius: Content marketing that is useful, demonstrates an intimate understanding customer needs, and does what everybody else is doing in a better and more complete way.

Mastercard: “Sound of Priceless”

If you knew even one Cubs fan during the 2016 World Series, you are well aware of how deeply cathartic that victory was for Chicagoans. Fans kept their faith in the Cubs alive for seven decades, and as the team inched closer to that World Series win, Mastercard recognized the opportunity to connect with cardholders on a deeply personal level.

Inspired by a rival player’s claim that “Wrigley wasn’t that loud” because Cubs fans lacked passion, Mastercard used a sound meter to measure the cheering volume at Wrigley Field. Then, when the historic victory did indeed happen, the company was ready with a guaranteed-to-go-viral video featuring statements of joy from fans, recording of the cheers at Wrigley Field, and a shot of the sound meter—scientific proof of how much Chicago loves their Cubs. Not only did the video succeed in celebrating the fans themselves, but with the slogan, “The sound of priceless,” Mastercard found a way to associate the feeling of a long-awaited victory with Mastercard’s well-known brand message:

You can’t put a price on an experience, no matter what your credit card statement says.

Why it’s genius: Not only did Mastercard identify an opportunity to make its cardholders (and prospective cardholders) feel seen and understood, but they did so by seizing on a timely, buzzworthy event.

Doritos: Crash the Super Bowl Contest

You may start to notice a recurring theme among some of the most successful digital marketing campaigns: Customer visibility.

Any time you can find a method to make your buyers feel seen, discovered, or celebrated, you endear your brand to them. Doritos took this concept to the extreme with their annual Crash the Super Bowl Contest, inviting consumers to create and submit their own creative ideas for the brand. This contest ran for ten years, inviting the public to vote on the top ads and ultimately selecting one customer-created commercial to run during the Super Bowl.

Given that the Super Bowl is Game Time for marketers as well as athletes, the Crash the Super Bowl Contest was a bold move. But by handing creative power over to consumers, Doritos drew the focus of not only contest entrants, but also fans following the contest and buyers who voted. According to Ad Age, the company credits the contest for growing the Doritos brand from $1.54 billion to $2.2 billion over the course of a decade. Not too shabby.

Why it’s genius: User-generated content is always a powerful tool for marketers, as it personalizes the brand to the consumer and raises brand visibility. By taking that same concept to the highest level, Doritos increased buzz and established the brand as bold—and frankly pretty chill.

Always: #LikeAGirl

There is a way to get people talking about your product, no matter what you sell. Always proved that with their unforgettable #LikeAGirl campaign.

The company had two challenges to overcome. First, as competitors began appealing to young women on an emotional level (versus touting product quality), Always began to lose relevance for the 16-24-year-old age bracket. Which led to the second challenge: making feminine hygiene products a buzzworthy topic among young women.

The solution was a video that tapped into an experience just about every girl and woman is familiar with but rarely asked to think about. They rounded up younger girls who had not yet been influenced by societal definitions of what it means to be female and older girls who had. In the video, each girl is asked to throw, fight, and run “like a girl,” and their responses draw a clear line between how girls initially view themselves (powerful and capable) versus how a little more societal influences teaches them to define “like a girl” (weak and unskilled).

The video itself collected over 90 million views and became the #2 viral video in the world. The relatability and resonance of the message was evident through the #LikeAGirl hashtag campaign, which inspired 177,000 tweets in the first three months.

Why it’s genius: In addition to tapping into a deeply personal and ultimately empowering message for buyers, the #LikeAGirl hashtag made it easy for their target market to immediately join the conversation. By empowering women to empower themselves, Always managed to get young people buzzing about a feminine hygiene product.

ALS Association: #IceBucketChallenge

If you’re still not totally sure what dumping ice-cold water on your head has to do with ALS, you’re not alone. But the ALS Association’s viral ice bucket challenge raised $220 million in 2014, so having a clear connection doesn’t really matter.

If you missed the Ice Bucket Challenge, the concept is simple: An individual is recorded having a bucket of ice water dumped on their head. They share it on social media with the hashtag #IceBucketChallenge, and they ideally tag someone else to do the same.

The Ice Bucket Challenge is a brilliant example of how user-generated content can create a full-blown movement. Rather than leaning on somber statistics and heart-tugging personal anecdotes, the ALS Association increased awareness and generated some major funds by tapping into the fun and comedy of regular people watching each other’s antics. Celebrities also got into the action, which of course boosted visibility and popularity big time.

Why it’s genius: Extremely shareable content and a game people want to get in on.

What Will Your Next Move Be?

Even if your company isn’t the size of, say, Mastercard, you can still take some inspiration from campaigns like these. The success of these viral videos and engaging hashtag movements come from creativity, resourcefulness, and a personal understanding of the interests and values that define buyers. Whether you’re a new start-up or a fast-growing, mid-sized company, a little innovative thinking can go a long way.

Granted, when you’re running a business, you don’t have a lot of time to envision or execute game-changing digital marketing campaigns. If you could use a little extra support, we’re always here for you. Reach out anytime to discuss the possibilities for your business.