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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.

GE wouldn’t commonly be seen as the type of brand that would embrace social platforms early and invest marketing budgets in content creation, especially since its range of products is so vast. But GE has been on the forefront of digital content exploration, particularly as an early adopter of both Vine and Tumblr. GE married the two in an experiment called #6SecondScience Fair, setting up a customized Tumblr blog where the brand curated hundreds of Vine videos of six-second science experiments published by fans using the #6SecondScience hashtag. The experiments could then be “liked” and reblogged on Tumblr, as well as shared on Facebook and Twitter.

The experiment complemented General Electric’s own Tumblr blog, which explores the changing worlds of science and technology through daily GIFs, photos and videos, often shared from GE’s Instagram and Twitter accounts.

Taco Bell put the quick-serve restaurant industry on notice when it released the Doritos Locos Taco (DLT)—a Taco Bell taco encased in a Nacho Cheese-flavored Doritos tortilla shell—in 2012. It’s the best of both worlds, like coffee and donuts or movies and popcorn. Soon thereafter, Taco Bell and Doritos came out with a Cool Ranch flavor, and in 2013, released a Fiery flavor to complete the trio. Taco Bell has sold over 600 million DLTs, more than one million each day.

The problem was that the DLT was only launched in the United States, leaving Canadians chomping at the bit for a taste. Not surprisingly, Canadian Taco Bell fans took to social media to voice their displeasure. Once the DLT finally arrived in Canada, creative agency Grip Limited invited some of those vocal detractors to a special fan event where they literally ate their words: Grip had taken their actual tweets and Facebook posts and used a special laser to burn the text directly on the DLT shell. Said one of the angry superfans, “This is one of the greatest moments of my life.” The #DLTCANADA campaign put an entirely new spin on social listening and response. 

If you’ve ever ridden a mountain bike, skate-board, motorcycle or pair of skis, you’ve wanted to strap a camera to your head while you did it. GoPro nearly has this market cornered, creating versatile, water-proof, heavy-duty, fisheye-lensed cameras small enough to mount to your headgear. The content created by its customers could entertain the Internet for centuries, so it’s no surprise that GoPro is one of the top brands on social media, particularly on Instagram.

Facebook-owned Instagram, which boasts more than 150 million users, launched its video capabilities in the summer of 2013, music to GoPro’s ears. Among a myriad of fashion and beauty brands primed for the platform’s filter-effects-filled photo streams, GoPro ranks just outside the top ten most popular brands on Instagram with over one million followers and just as many posting on the #GoPro hashtag. Its videos, like the one featuring a surfer riding a wave with his paraplegic friend strapped to his back, garner tens of thousands of “likes” and comments.

It’s not a sound strategy for brands to embrace every social platform that emerges, especially when resources are limited and social etiquette on the platforms hasn’t been established. But brands willing to invest in new social media platforms and blaze the trail instead of following along are not only getting a head start on creating a following, they’re also creating shareable content with hardly any competition. 
Even when the channels are established, there are always unique ways to push the content-marketing envelope through story-telling, innovation and risk-taking. If you’re not ahead of the social media marketing curve, you’re behind it. ca
Jon Thomas (vizify.com/jonthomas) is a senior digital strategist at TracyLocke in Wilton, Connecticut. He is an avid author and speaker on social media and brand storytelling.

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