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This article is abbreviated; the complete article was originally published by Adweek

In this ever-expanding brand marketing ecosystem, the challenge for advertisers to effectively reach their targeted audience calls for an audacious media plan. Sometimes it’s a simple execution with a powerful message, and then there’s a need for an off-the-wall, completely bonkers campaign to cut through the clutter. This year’s crop of Media Plan of the Year honorees celebrates 23 winning teams that check those boxes and everything in between with extraordinary campaigns that sparked national conversations.

Hearts & Science | P&G, ‘Walking The Talk’
 Cause Marketing ($1+ million)

P&G’s “The Talk” sparked one of the most critical conversations on race by a Fortune 500 company in recent memory this past year, spotlighting the discussions African-American parents have with their children to prepare them for prejudices they will face as they get older. With a message as sensitive as that, so too had to be the way in which it was introduced to consumers.

“We needed to be very, very careful,” says Jose Bello, senior director of total market planning, Hearts & Science. The agency initially identified “safe places” to release the campaign, then assessed in real time where next to place ads. A team monitored all social mentions beginning at 7 a.m. daily, ready to “pull the plug” if they became too hostile, explains Bello. There were “moments that were very difficult,” he admits, but P&G stuck to it. The CPG giant seemingly heeded the advice of one of the ad’s mothers who told her son to “keep showing up.”

Ultimately, “The Talk” garnered 95 percent positive feedback and 1.8 billion earned media impressions across 900 placements. P&G authentically reached both minority and mainstream audiences through integrations with the BET Awards, Oprah Winfrey and ABC’s Black-ish, which featured the full ad in an episode that alone generated more than 15 million views online and 4 million on TV. —Lindsay Rittenhouse

Hearts & Science | P&G, ‘Listening Up on Brushing’
Best Use of Voice

As any parent of young kids can attest to, it’s the campaign that defies all odds. Built specifically for voice, P&G’s “Chompers” for Crest Kids miraculously got children (target age was 3 to 9) to brush their teeth for a full two minutes—twice daily—with witty songs, jokes and facts delivered via sink-side voice assistance.

Brian Post, Hearts & Science brand director of strategy, says this was his first campaign solely concentrated in voice. He says it accomplished “the goal of getting kids to brush their teeth more” because it was “authentic and valuable.” Visuals would have only been distracting. Since research showed it takes 21 days of repetition to form habits, Hearts & Science created morning and night episodes for 28 days.

It was distributed across iTunes, Google Play and Spotify; plus, the agency created an Amazon Alexa skill that included winning streaks to further incentivize kids to brusha, brusha, brusha. Before using the podcast, only 6 percent of parents reported it was “very easy” to get their children to brush their teeth twice a day, 47 percent said their kids brushed every morning and 69 percent scrubbed their chompers at night before heading off to bed.

After “Chompers,” those numbers spiked to 68 percent, 73 percent and 89 percent, respectively. Downloads reached 2 million in August. —L.R.

OMD | Gatorade, ‘Keep Her in The Game’
 Best Use of Branded Content ($1 million-2 million)

By their teenage years, girls are abandoning sports 50 percent more than their male peers. It’s an issue that Gatorade wanted to do something about.

In hopes of counteracting this statistic, Gatorade partnered with AwesomenessTV to create Versus, a scripted series featuring female athletes (lacrosse players) as the starring characters. Each episode is about 21 minutes and is available to stream. The series was launched alongside a campaign called “Sisters in Sweat,” which spotlighted professional female athletes like Serena Williams, as well as famous women for whom sports played an important role in their lives, like fashion designer Tory Burch.

Susanna Earnest, managing director for OMD, the agency behind the campaign, says that Gatorade hoped the episodes would “candidly spark a conversation on the importance of keeping girls in the game.”

A scripted show felt like the right fit, particularly because there was a void waiting to be filled: There were a lot of stories that spoke to the experience of high school-aged boys playing sports. But for girls, the offerings were decidedly less. “We wanted to find something that would encourage girls who had a love for sports to stay motivated,” Earnest says.

The results were tangible: The six-episode series quickly earned over a million views. Earnest says that through interviews, Gatorade saw a “double-digit lift” in girls’ confidence about participating in sports, and a positive brand association with Gatorade as well. Andrew Hartshorn, vp, CMO for Gatorade, says: “We knew we had something special, emotional and thought-provoking on our hands right away.” —D.P.

PHD | Google, ‘Celebrity Voice’
Campaign ($10+ million)

Going into the 2017 holiday season, Google and PHD knew that 60 percent of U.S. consumers didn’t yet see the need for a smart home device like Google Home to assist with personal searches, questions and playlist requests, and help with things around the house.

So the tech giant and its agency decided to highlight the features and utility of the device and voice assistance in general to audiences by weaving the voice assistant directly into key entertainment events from Halloween to Christmas. The two-month marketing blitz keyed on some unique media and celebrity-driven integrations tied to the tried-and-true scaled reach of network TV.

High-profile product placements in TV shows like NBC’s Will & Grace, The Ellen Show and ABC’s Modern Family saw celebrities like Eric McCormack, Sofía Vergara, Nick Offerman and Amy Poehler addressing the device during episodes and around events like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting.

“We had so many of our favorite TV personalities and characters saying ‘Hey Google’ and using the Google Home in a wide array of situations,” says Nick Vernola, global media strategy director at PHD. They “showed just how amazing, magical and useful Google Home can be.”

And overall, they helped Google sell more than 7 million of its Home devices, increasing its market share from 23 percent to 31 percent.
Gabriel Beltrone

PHD | Old Navy, ‘Learning Through Song’
 Best Use of Branded Content ($2+ million)

Last fall, Old Navy needed a big back-to-school campaign that would break the category mold of relying on YouTubers and social influencers to move new jeans and backpackers but still capture the imaginations of moms and kids—despite their constantly changing shopping and media habits during that crucial time on the retail calendar.

To that end, agency PHD teamed up with Pharrell Williams’ iamOther collective to pair eight educators from around the country with songwriters to create original music videos about learning—inspired by Chicago educator Dwayne Reed’s 2016 viral hit “Welcome to the 4th Grade.”

Promoted through online channels like Upworthy, Vevo and mobile channels like video-sharing app (now TikTok), it also included an integration with Jimmy Kimmel Live that brought one teacher, Cedric Gardner, and his students to the broadcast.

The results? Old Navy’s third-quarter sales rose 4 percent year over year, bucking the category’s downward trend, while its ONward! program for underprivileged children was able to donate $1 million (including corporate matching) to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

Plus, says Jennifer Park, head of communications planning at PHD, “there was so much love and excitement for the teachers that were featured in the campaign from their local communities, giving them the rock star status they deserve.” —G.B.

PHD | Google Cloud, ‘Basketball Data Diaries’
Best Use of AI/Machine Learning

During 2018 March Madness, Google didn’t want to just be another tech sponsor for a big national sporting event. So it showed millions of college basketball fans—including business leaders glued to the action—how its Google Cloud services could bring the NCAA’s decades of historical data to life with ads featuring real-time predictions about the games they were watching.

In a war room outside the Final Four arena, PHD and agency partners Essence, Eleven, Gentleman Scholar and Cloneless relied on a pre-made creative toolkit capable of creating more than 100,000 unique spots. They fed first-half stats into Google Cloud-based software, crunched the numbers and, in less than 10 minutes apiece, assembled and delivered TV ads ready to air at the beginning of the second half.

Each of six predictions featured info like the current score and precise estimates—like the number of rebounds, three-pointers or assists from both teams. “It was contextual to the moment, it was relevant to the range of our IT audience and it told a simple data story for complex cloud technology,” explains Graham Bahler, strategy director at PHD.

Moreover, the data-based activation netted a 91 percent lift in product interest for Google Cloud, a 42 percent increase in brand search volume and 30 percent more new site visits—with a 19 percent increase in time on site. —G.B.