Throwback Thursday: strategy in 2014

Let's look back on the past year (so far). In '14, brands challenged gender norms and wearable chatter skyrocketed.
feb march coverThat’s (almost) a wrap folks. This year, we celebrated our 25th anniversary, so each Thursday we visited the stacks of old magazines to bring out the biggest and baddest news from the past two and a half decades.
We’re almost ready to wrap things up, with this week checking back on the big stories from the mag in 2014. But first, a caveat: we launched our first daily newsletter edition, focused on marketing news and innovation. And what a year it’s been. So check back next Thursday as we highlight some of the biggest news stories from the year that didn’t quite make the pages of the magazine.

Another wave of branded content

Even though branded content, advertorials and sponsored content have been topics of conversations for years, the space is having a heyday as brands realize the potential of something to consume in a content-demanding world. In our March feature, we checked out companies like Dempster’s, Volkswagen and WestJet, which all took their content to the next level, banishing the traditional media-partner approach and doing things their own way.

And soon everyone was doing it – creating content that is. (Check out some cool executions from Kotex, Frank & Oak, Canon and Denny’s).

But heed industry advice: branded content is not an ad. So it needs a different type of touch.

 A new creative frontier


It’s a wild west out there in creative ad land. PR and media shops have been bolstering their creative power ranks, while brands are exploring new partners in their voyage to reach consumers. Major shuffles of the last year included Saatchi’s Helen Pak’s migration over to Facebook and Taxi’s Jordan Doucette moving to Edelman. Veritas launched a new division dedicated to creative thinking. We here at strategy thought the time was ripe to launch our inaugural PR Agency of the Year award (which went to North Strategic, in case you missed last month’s issue).

We also explored this phenomenon in our June feature: The Creative Wild West. Everyone, it seems, was saddling up to take a stab at the creative space. And the question remains: who will come out on top?

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Hipsters, makers and crafters, oh my

AbsolutWho knew the big trend of 2014 would be the return to handcrafting. Blame the hipsters (Taxi’s North American design CD, Dave Watson sure does), but this year we saw a huge boom in creative that had that distinct vintage vibe.

And closely associated to that hand-crafted feel was the rise of maker culture. These makers popped up everywhere, blurring the line between creator and consumer, and smart brands like Absolut and Cadbury tapped into communities of tinkerers and techies to create new solutions, all made from scratch. 

So what’s with this shift to making things from scratch? In our November piece, anthropologist and founder of Human Branding Johanna Faigelman mused that millennials are to blame: having grown up in such a teched out world, where they made little themselves, millennials have romanticized the notion of making things by hand.

Tim Hortons’ big year

Canada’s iconic brand turned 50 this year, and that was just the start of a whirlwind ride for the QSR. After securing its dominance in the hearts and minds of Canadians, the brand tried its hand at some new advertising techniques, taking its famous “Tims True Stories” and turning it on its head by involving actual Canadians in the commercials, first with a 50th anniversary push, then when it launched its dark roast (the first new blend for the brand in its 50 years), and again in September for a recruitment drive.

Oh, and it merged with Burger King to help it on its international expansion plans (no big deal, or anything). Is it any wonder we named it our overall Brand of the Year this year? 

Agencies and brands challenge gender norms

Cheerios webWelcome to the 21st century, ad folk. While there’s still a ways to go, agencies and brands started actively talking about, and challenging, gender norms this year. In our October issue, we featured Cheerios‘ new masterbrand campaign from Cossette, which featured a gay couple with their kid, while earlier this year Nissan created an ad that featured a cool-as-a-freezer mom on a not-so-typical soccer run. Microsoft even did a study demanding brands ditch the Marlboro Man stereotype (guess what, 60% of dudes enjoy cooking).

And it’s not just in ads we’re seeing change. This year, Cannes launched a new women’s initiative specifically geared at getting more ladies in top spots at advertising agencies (an issue we highlighted back in 2013).

Want more reason to ditch the stereotypes? Check out the column by Lyranda Martin Evans, CD at KBS, on marketing like a girl or David Grisim, CMO at Exact Media’s column on ditching the dad as a buffoon stereotype. Or, if you’ve got some time, read through any of Marketel senior writer Jessie Sternthal’s work on why its time to break the mold when chatting with women. 

 Creative Report Card

And of course, everyone loves lists, so check out who topped this year’s creative report card. 

And don’t forget to check back next week as we go through some of this year’s biggest news stories, from agency exec shake ups to mergers and closures.

Want more strategy Throwback? Catch up on the headlines from 198919901991199219931994199519961997199819992000200120022003,
20042005, 2006200720082009201020112012 and 2013.