WARC winners show how social is evolving



I recently had the pleasure of being one of the judges for the second ever WARC Prize for Social Strategy, whose winners were announced earlier this morning. The award is focused on recognising social ideas that drive business results and, as such, is a fantastic showcase of best practice within the marketing industry.

It was clear from looking at the 32-strong shortlist just how much social communications have evolved and continue to do so. We’re seeing more longer term, strategic use of social to build brands, or create a meaningful role for brands in people’s lives. We saw the most effective brands and organisations shift their mindset from focusing on social platforms, to using social insights to create integrated ideas that people naturally want to share, talk about, and get involved with. And, from the more mature, large-scale efforts to the clever, low budget activations – all were working towards delivering real business value, not just likes and shares.

A number of key themes stood out for me. The first was the increasing recognition of value of social thinking to extend the impact of the creative idea. Three’s #HolidaySpam (Gold and Special Award for Channel Strategy winner) is a great example of this, turning a strong social insight into a robust channel strategy, amplified by clever, shareable and relevant content. Three focused on the consumer fear of huge roaming charges, and created a business case for dropping its own, in what was an industry-first. The “social” impact of this business strategy was increased holiday bragging, but it wouldn’t have made a real impact without people really buying into the idea.

So, while Three promoted the move with a tightly integrated campaign across TV, print, digital and social, it didn’t take a traditional broadcast approach – it created a major social content strategy, focused on high quality, sharable assets which gave consumers the tools to join in and become part of the idea. The result was a beautifully executed, creatively integrated, socially-led campaign, which shifted Three’s net social sentiment from -12% to +7% and produced positive results for Three’s business – in stark contrast to the loss one would perhaps expect from a phone company dropping a profitable revenue stream.

A second key theme for me was the power of social ideas to engage hard to reach audiences, of which Grand Prix winner Project Architeuthis was a great example. America’s Navy knew that cryptologists often stayed out of sight in the real world for fear of being branded a ‘geek’, but did talk to each other online. They were also in huge demand from a number of intelligence agencies, including the CIA and FBI. No amount of paid media behind a social post was going to help the US Navy reach this community. So, they launched Project Architeuthis, with the insight that “the brightest cryptology minds can’t resist the aroma of a nearly impossible puzzle”.

Without any media spend whatsoever the Navy created a furore on social media in this hard to reach community. Social was the perfect platform for the campaign – while a billboard or print ad is by nature, not particularly sharable, in Project Architeuthis participants used online and social platforms to spread the word amongst one another – even creating their own communities to help solve the puzzles. The campaign led to 100% achievement of the Navy’s goal for new cryptology recruits and proved that even the most of elusive audiences can be connected with, given the right idea and execution.

The third theme I thought noteworthy was an increasing awareness of the value of planning for social impact; that is, creating the right context and environment for your story to be at its most effective. Immigrant Council of Ireland’s Tinder Sex Trafficking Awareness Campaign, Bronze and Special Award for Not-for-Profit winner, jumped on the fact that Tindr was a new, exciting platform that was generating a lot of interest – and was strongly associated with sex. This combination of factors meant that executing a campaign on the platform that raised awareness around issues to do with sex – specifically, sex trafficking, was both relevant and very PR-able. On a low budget, Immigrant Council of Ireland generated a 700% increase in web traffic and a 73,333% return on investment. Better still, following the campaign, the Minister for Justice announced the Irish Government would introduce new anti-trafficking measures with legislation due for publication in early 2015, which was its main business goal.


Newcastle Brown Ale’s “If We Made It” campaign, Silver and Special Award for Channel Strategy winner, is another great example of a brand meticulously planning content for social effect. To do this, they identified the key media and content “codes” of Superbowl advertising, then mapped out common media rollout tactics, knowing that if they subverted and leveraged these, they were far more likely to generate a social response. The result? 1.1 billion impressions, an 18% increase in purchase consideration and a 22.2% increase in sales volume.

These campaigns are just a small snapshot of the quality on show at the prize this year. It’s been a fantastic experience to see the work that’s driving and influencing the future, not just of social communications, but also the wider marketing landscape. Understanding social thinking will be crucial for brands and agencies to create meaningful work that connects with their audience, while delivering real value to a business.