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Six Brands Ahead of the Social Media Curve
by Jon Thomas

Social media hit mainstream marketing in the mid-2000s, and ever since, brands have been investigating exactly how to navigate the constantly changing landscape. Platforms zig and zag, and just when a brand gains traction on one platform, another emerges, requiring a new understanding and additional resources to cultivate.

The constant flux of this roadmap of channels can cause trepidation when it comes to advertising and marketing. Most brands tread carefully, waiting for others to dip their toes in the waters of a new social media channel. But some follow the Facebook mantra of “move fast and break things,” jumping right in and learning the ropes.

While there are inherent risks in doing this, there is the reward of being first and being seen as groundbreaking and innovative, even if what a brand did was, in fact, fairly simple. Here are six brands—and the creative agencies behind them—wasting no time embracing new channels and continually innovating along the way.

Vine, the six-second looping mobile video app bought by Twitter in 2012, had been popular with brands for months, but Dunkin’ Donuts was the first to bring the format to mainstream television. During the first Monday Night Football broadcast of the 2013 NFL regular season, Dunkin’ Donuts aired two Vine videos, created by ad agency Hill Holliday. The first, which ran for only five seconds at the end of the pregame show, featured a latte flipping a coin (similar to the coin flip that starts an NFL game). Later in the game, in near-real time, Dunkin’ Donuts broadcast a Vine video on air and via Twitter that recreated the first scoring play—a fumble return for a touchdown by the Washington Redskins—with white foam coffee cups scoring against clear iced coffee cups, hashtagged with #DunkinReplay and #MNF.

Trident, working with VanyerMedia, also created a simple but catchy Vine video for its layered gum, starring Nicholas Megalis and Rudy Mancuso, non-celebs who have risen to stardom on Vine. The brand created a seamlessly looping video with a catchy jingle—“Layers of flavor, that’s how the world gets paid. Strawberry, citrus, grape, lemonade.” The video aired 100 times in two weeks on the cable channel Fuse, accompanied by the hashtag #paymeinlayers.  

These commercials weren’t the next coming of Apple’s “1984” or Budweiser’s “Wasuup?” but they did break boundaries in the marriage of social content and television while many brands were still figuring out how to set up a Vine account.

Chipotle is no stranger to digital and traditional media accolades. In late 2011 the brand released its first long-form ad on YouTube, promoting its dedication to quality ingredients and emphasizing the importance of developing a sustainable food system. The ad grabbed a Cannes Film Lions Grand Prix award and, when it first premiered on television at the Grammy Awards in 2012, even upstaged some live performances, according to audience members’ posts on Twitter.

In late 2013, Chipotle upped the ante, producing an incredible three-minute animated film that takes place in a not-so-distant future when scarecrows, who traditionally protect food, are now working for Crow Foods, protecting “what we call food, but is seriously overproduced on a dramatic scale,” as described by the project’s director, Brandon Oldenburg of Moonbot Studios. Fed up with the status quo, one scarecrow rebels and opens his own fresh food storefront with ingredients grown on his farm. The film ends with a banner above the new storefront proclaiming “Cultivate a Better World,” Chipotle’s story platform.

Chipotle and Moonbot Studios released an accompanying app-based game in September 2013, in which the Scarecrow tries to foil the evil plans of Crow Foods and break the crows’ monopoly on food production and supply in the city of Plenty. Between the film and the app, Chipotle pushed the boundaries of branded content to tell a story while providing content that audiences engage with and share, some-thing few brands have been able to do. Thomas
Jon Thomas ( is a senior digital strategist at TracyLocke in Wilton, Connecticut. He is an avid author and speaker on social media and brand storytelling.