Branding can be a dangerous game. If you get it right, customers may come rushing through the doors. Get it wrong, and you risk suffering relentless mockery from all corners of the internet. From shameful grocery bags to a pizza made for bees, here are the eight best brand moves of 2019, listed in chronological order:
1. Netflix helps a competitor
After actress Sandra Oh won a Golden Globe award in January for her performance in Killing Eve, Netflix tweeted its appreciation for the critically acclaimed BBC America show. The wrinkle: Killing Eve wasn't streamable on Netflix. When Twitter users pointed this out, Netflix replied, "Try Hulu!" The tweet went viral, and ended up helping both services: Hulu surely saw a boost in Killing Eve streams (though it has not released numbers), and many Twitter users said they'd subscribe to Netflix after seeing it pull off such a class act.
2. Vitaminwater gives away a bunch of money
If you had an extra $100,000 in your budget, you might pour it into R&D, or give yourself and your employees bonuses. Not Vitaminwater. As 2018 ended, the Coca-Cola-owned company launched a contest: Offer to give up your smartphone for a year and potentially win that $100,000. In February, Vitaminwater announced its winner, a filmmaker and author named Elana Mugdan. Throughout the process, the company generated a lot of publicity--more than 100,000 entries were submitted--and promoted discussion of the health benefits of spending less time on screens.
3. Clif Bar offers to "help" Kind Snacks
In March, Clif Bar ran an open letter to Kind Snacks then-CEO Daniel Lubetzky in The New York Times. "We would like to issue a challenge: do a truly kind thing and make an investment in the future of the planet and our children's children by going organic," the letter read, before pledging to share both "our expertise" and 10 tons of organic ingredients. A genuine offer to help? Sure. A shot at a competitor for not offering all-organic products? Also yes. That's a win-win.
4. Allbirds ups the ante on its sustainability efforts
Allbirds's brand value depends heavily on its commitment to environmental sustainability, from creating new eco-friendly materials for its products to maintaining a low carbon footprint. And to celebrate Earth Day in April, the San Francisco-based footwear business upped the ante by imposing a carbon tax on itself. For every pair of sneakers sold, Allbirds now funnels 10 cents to its Carbon Fund, which invests in clean energy projects. Already known for being at the forefront of corporate sustainability efforts, the brand didn't have to make the move--which is exactly why it was so savvy.
5. East West Market induces public shame
In June, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau announced an initiative to ban single-use plastics as soon as 2021. East West Market, a grocery store in Vancouver, decided to get a jump on teaching its customers to live without them. The business put some, ah, unique verbiage on its plastic bags--like "Dr. Toews' Wart Ointment Wholesale" and "Into the Weird Adult Video Emporium." Using the bags comes with a 5-cent surcharge and the prospect of public humiliation. Unexpectedly, they quickly became sought-after collectors' items for many East West Market customers. "We wanted to address an issue, but we've also made something popular, so it's turned out great," shop owner David Lee Kwen told The Guardian.
6. Papa John's UK makes a pizza for bees
To raise awareness for bee conservation, in July Papa John's UK made a one-inch "Beezza" topped with wildflowers and filmed a bee enjoying it. The company gave out wildflower seed packs on social media, enabled customers to donate to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust when placing an order, and made a human-friendly version of the Beezza called the Bee Sting. "This tiny, flying insect is in fact the most effective pollinator of tomatoes," the chain said at the time. More tomatoes means more pizza, and that's a win for everyone.
7. Two companies collaborate to pair wine with Cheez-Its
Wine and cheese: a classic pairing. Less classic but pretty darn convenient: wine and Cheez-Its sold together in the same box. The limited-time promotion, a July collaboration between Kellogg's and House Wine, featured a Costco-size amount of crackers and four bottles' worth of red wine for sharing with friends. It sold out within an hour, but even now, you're probably still thinking about recreating the combination at home.
8. Popeyes gets into a Twitter war
Not all publicity stunts are planned. In August, fast-food chain Popeyes released a new chicken sandwich that drew plenty of favorable comparisons to Chick-fil-A's signature menu item. So when Chick-fil-A tweeted "Bun + Chicken + Pickles = all the [heart] for the original," Popeyes interpreted it as an attack. In retaliation, the company tweeted simply, "... y'all good?" The response went viral, adding to the already-building national craze for the new Popeyes sandwich, and the chain quickly sold out. Three periods, two words, and a question mark. Sometimes, that's all it takes to get customers in the door.