2019 has been another year of rapid change for the marketing community. The last twelve months have seen an industry in flux, wrestling with seismic changes in technology and consumer behavior. However, many brands have managed to pull off some spectacular wins.

We’ve chosen five campaigns that best captures the state of marketing in 2019. While all mix technological adeptness and killer strategic insights, it’s striking that all retain an appreciation of the fundamentals of marketing. Even in febrile times like this, it goes to show that a focus on brand, positive perception and the role innovation remains the surest path to success.

Greggs Goes Vegan

What happened? Veganism and convenience pastry aren’t natural bedfellows but in January this year British high street bakery Greggs hit marketing gold by launching a new line of vegan sausage rolls. Challenging the perception of the brand as a familiar, if cheap staple for time-strapped office workers, a smart, reactive social campaign deftly judo-flipped a Piers Morgan led backlash and drove a significant uplift for the company.

Why it mattered: It’s easy to be caught up by the innovation of all this, but the real impact of Greggs’ move becomes apparent when you climb the ladder and take a strategic overview. 

Since the appointment of CEO Roger Whiteside in 2013, the chain has been attempting to reinvent itself from a take-home bakery to a sit-down eatery, competing with the likes of Starbucks and McDonalds. However, this move has been hampered by its reputation among health-conscious urbanites. By plugging into the growing public trend towards veganism, the company has built a relationship with a demographic that usually writes them off, while the loud spat with establishment commentators has stoked up love for the underdog brand.

What did we learn from it? Perception is the metric that trumps all others. By finding a way to play an authentic part in an ongoing debate, the vegan sausage roll has been a well-spring of positive buzz for Greggs. According to YouGov, the campaign scored an average positive rating of 65 percent among the UK buying public, in turn contributing to a 15 percent rise in profits.

Mastercard Launches Into The Supersonic

What happened? One of the big stories of 2019 has been Mastercard’s overhaul of their brand identity, but while the news focused on Michael Beirut’s decision to remove the wording from the company logo, the financial giant’s introduction of a sonic identity has been equally as revolutionary.

Why it mattered: As Mastercard CMO Raja Rajamannar told panelists in Las Vegas earlier in the year “virtual real estate is shrinking—you need to optimize your brand presence and impact.” The last twelve months have continued to mark the rise of mobile and its associated formats of music streaming and podcasting gather even more momentum. More than ever, brands are being consumed simultaneously over multiple formats, and sonic branding is becoming another pillar in creating 360 identities that are easily recognizable in any space

What did we learn from it? Mainly that branding is increasingly retaking its position at the heart of marketing. As an audience’s fragment over a galaxy of different platforms and formats, companies need to develop robust brand identities constructed with easily recognizable cues and adapted to all circumstances.

Paddy Power Saves Soccer

What happened? Paddy Power is the master of the bait and switch. This year, the brand pulled a fast one on all of British football, first by announcing that it had garishly decided to sponsor Huddersfield Town’s new kit and then revealing it as a hoax and taking all the branding off.

Why it mattered: A gambling company sponsoring or not sponsoring a football kit might seem like the furthest you can get from brand purpose, but this campaign showed what’s possible when you tap into fan culture. Initially playing on the perceptions around the over-commercialization of sport and the increasing presence of betting firms in the game, the stunt went on to show the softer side of Paddy Power relentless ‘bad lad’ image. The move not only gave shirts back to the fans, but it also went on to highlight the role of fandom and community in football, eventually raising over £50,000 for local charities.

What did we learn from it? That brand purpose doesn’t always have to go big, but it always needs to feel authentic. Paddy Power drove success in this campaign by primarily knowing when to butt out, allowing unscripted moments to turn a social stunt into a remarkable brand-building campaign.

Taco Bell Defines The Essence Of Experiential

What happened? Another example of fast food going rogue, Taco Bell opened a 4-day pop-up hotel in Palm Springs last May. Called ‘The Bell,’ this high-class experience offered spa treatments, new menu items and even a taco-themed pool. It even led to one couple canceling a trip to Europe to spend their honeymoon immersed in Mexican-American food.

Why it mattered: Already being touted as one of the most “epic brand experiences ever,” this campaign has shown the massive logistical challenges that are needed to pull off experiential marketing properly. The parting shot of outgoing chief brand officer Marisa Thalberg, the Taco Bell hotel, is a product of years of planning and development. Over the year’s the brand has carefully tested how far it could push things with its audience and developed the right strategic partnerships to be able to pull the thing off.

What did we learn from it? Mainly, that experiential campaigns might not be for everyone. As more and more brands play in this space, brand experiences are going to become more and more outrageous to capture eyeballs. Spectacular executions usually require spectacular budgets—making this a tactic that only really works well for companies with deep pockets.

Aviation Gin Is The Ultimate Underdog

What happened? Going from a relatively unknown gin brand to one of the hottest new spirits on the planet, Oregon-based gin makers Aviation has spent the year running a digital campaign that achieved almost unseen levels of fan engagement.

Why it mattered: The ultimate example of what a challenger brand should look like in 2019, Aviation Gin’s marketing has been simple but effective. With a strategy that leans heavily on relatively simple digital activations and the pulling power of their celebrity co-owner Ryan Reynolds, their campaign managed to activate an owned fanbase while simultaneously educating and drawing in new customers.

What did we learn from it? That’s it’s still possible to do effective marketing on a tight budget. While having a mega-celebrity has definitely helped Aviation Gin, it’s the creation of videos with a clear sense of brand that has helped develop a devoted fanbase.