Brands That Truly Got This Year: Top Purpose-Driven Marketing & Advertising Campaigns in 2020

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Lauren Maginness

I never imagined that what I counted down the clock for on December 31, 2019—the New Year, let alone the new decade—with eyes bright, surrounded by my closest friends in my NYC apartment, would actually bring the year in which “unprecedented times” truly needed to be retired from all Merriam-Webster dictionaries.

2020 was a year when the unexpected happened one day and the unfathomable the next. The physical and emotional impact catalyzed by the pandemic drove brands to evolve to better meet the changing needs of their customers and communities, while also making it much harder for them to stop people in their ever-changing, minute-by-minute scroll. Brands faced a revolution, one where health and safety became a new priority, political division cut through our nation and powerful movements like Black Lives Matter gained real traction across our nation after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and where we now head into holiday season where perhaps we might tap our wine glass to the computer screen as a cheers to our distanced friends and family.

As 2020 comes to a wrap, it’s worth noting which brands broke through, rose up to 2020’s countless challenges through innovative, dynamic and scroll-stopping purpose-driven marketing campaigns or initiatives: those that shared underrepresented voices, those that provided connection when in reality we might not have had it, and those that brought us pure joy throughout a seemingly mine-field of a year.

Here are my 2020 list-makers:

The editing masterpiece [insert chef’s kiss]: Nike (#client), “You Can’t Stop Us”

Nike’s campaign, “You Can’t Stop Us,” launched during the pandemic and reimagined sports imagery at a time when we needed them most. The campaign researched 4,000 sports action sequences and chose 72 of them to combine into 36 split-screen moments, where the action on both sides appears to meld into one. The editing of that old footage was immaculate, and serves an incredible example of mastered creativity and design. What I loved about the campaign other than the genius craft behind the split screen footage, was that in a time where our world felt heavy, it reminded us all of how sports connect us to one another—whether in moments of loss or triumph.

Activating Anti-Racism: P&G’s “The Choice”

Shortly following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis this past summer, driving a coast to coast outcry for Black Lives Matter, Proctor & Gamble understood that this moment was one where individuals and companies have never needed to step up more with deliberate, sustained action. During Oprah Winfrey’s town hall on race in America, P&G debuted a powerful ad, “The Choice,” around supporting the Black community and encouraging white Americans to actively fight and stamp out racism. The spot highlights the brand’s commitment to the Black community and explores how Black Americans are to respond when “over and over and over that our lives do not matter” and how white Americans should work to be anti-racist. P&G is no stranger to speaking to pressing societal topics, and The Choice marks P&G’s pulse, and direct appeal to what’s happening in our society, following groundbreaking ads like “The Talk" in 2017 and “The Look” last year.

Keeping calm and carrying on—on election night: Calm Sponsoring CNN’s Election Night Coverage

During the CNN coverage of the tight presidential election race—that went on for days—many viewers noticed a teensy brand logo tucked in that juxtaposed with what was being discussed on the cable network’s broadcast of ‘Key Race Alerts’ coverage. When the cable news network announced key race alerts throughout the evening, the updates were accompanied with a “brought to you by” graphic featuring the logo for the wellness and meditation app, Calm. What made this campaign successful was how subtle, brilliant and hilarious its placement was, driving an immediate discussion about it on Twitter (see here, oh, and here). Ad Age reported that according to analytics company, Talkwalker, Calm saw 9,700 mentions, a 248% increase from the previous day, generating more than 56,000 engagements. Calm cleverly and effectively tied their product offering directly to a major culture moment in a comical, conversation driving way to show an all-too relatable use case.

Apple Working From Home

Last year, Apple released a hit ad, The Underdogs, which showed a team of coworkers racing to design a prototype for a big pitch. Now, the team is back by popular demand in a sequel that portrays the trials of being on a creative team during quarantine. Both ads seamlessly promote the Apple at Work product suite, and this year’s ad showcases a handful of frequently overlooked capabilities built within our iPhones, Macbooks and more that can help professionals working from home during the pandemic. The ad embraces the reality that people are only willing to learn about product features when they urgently need to use them, or when someone else points them out.