Red Bull: Stratos, one of the Best ads of the 21th Century.

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Red Bull: Stratos, one of the Best ads of the 21th Century.

Pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria jumps out from the capsule during the final manned flight for Red Bull Stratos in Roswell, New Mexico, USA on October 14, 2012.

“Historians and archaeologists will one day discover that the ads of our time are the richest and most faithful daily reflections any society ever made of its whole range of activities.”
–Marshall McLuhan

In 1999, as the 20th century came to a close, the Ad Age staff set out to examine all the ways in which advertising has entertained, moved and motivated us over the years. They decided to rank the 100 best campaigns of the century, in a special issue, to celebrate their creativity and impact.

Now, Advertising Age is updating this list with 15 of the best ad campaigns of the 21st Century. In the last 15 years, advertising and marketing, and the media it used to get out its messages, has experienced an incredible upheaval as digital media and interactivity changed the dynamics of how consumers see and pay attention brand messages.

Control shifted from marketers and traditional media timing their messages and forcing consumers to see ads as a trade-off for the content they wanted to see to the consumer wielding remote control and computer mouse. Traditional media found itself scrambling to stay relevant as digital media wreaked havoc with the guarantee that consumers were likely to see ad messages. Expensive journalism distributed free online amassed audience but not ad dollars and wiped out a whole generation of magazines and newspapers, while DVRs, podcasts, streaming video services like Netflix and Hulu challenged TV and radio models. Out of this massive shift, marketers and agencies got very innovative in turning these new tools to their advantage.

Several of these winning campaigns are on this list because they led the way in thinking about how to use these new tools effectively and entertainingly. Some of these ad campaigns are here because they changed the way consumers thought about the world around them and some are examples of great solid marketing built on spot-on insights and beautifully, perfectly executed.

Advertising Age tapped the expertise of leading creators and marketers to derive this list of 15. They asked our judges to consider three criteria, the same three questions that were used for the original Top 100 Ad Campaigns of the 20th Century:

  1. Was it a watershed ad or campaign, discernibly changing the culture of advertising or the popular culture as a whole?
  2. If it itself was credited with creating a category, or if by its efforts a brand became entrenched in its category as No. 1.
  3. Was it simply unforgettable?

They gave the judges a list of 50 nominees from which to vote on their top 15 and then rank them. These winning campaigns are those that got the most judges’ votes to be on the list, and ranked the highest. Ad Age Members were also asked to weigh in on their picks, and you can see the results of that poll here.

One of the judges, Greg Hahn, CCO, BBDO New York, noted of the finalists, “Looking at this list you can see what these executions have in common. They all have a strong voice, a POV, and a client that was willing to go outside of the tried and true. These all broke through because they broke out of the norm. They remain as standouts because they were inherently right for the brand. There are a million logical reasons why each of these shouldn’t have worked. Thank God the right people ignored all of them.”

Red Bull: Stratos.

Red Bull insists its mega-stunt, dubbed “the mission to the edge of space,” was not an advertising campaign. And that’s exactly why the ad and marketing industry can’t get enough of it.

“It’s all brand behavior here.…That wasn’t an ad. It was behavior unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” said Mike Byrne, chief creative officer at Anomaly.

Indeed, in an environment where it’s incredibly hard to capture consumers’ attention, an energy drink managed to captivate the world with its Stratos project. In October 2012, Red Bull helped Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner freefall jump from 24 miles above the earth, breaking five records, according to officials at Guinness World Records. Mr. Baumgartner became the first human to break the sound barrier without engine power.

“The Red Bull Stratos project was, first and foremost, a scientific mission documented by our broadcast and editorial teams for seven years. Red Bull Stratos was not an advertising campaign,” said Red Bull spokeswoman Patrice Radden. She declined to comment further for this story.

And while that may be true on the surface, footage from the stunt was featured in an ad campaign that kicked off in January 2013. Additional footage was released in the months following the stunt and continued to boost the brand.

A year after the stunt, a video showing the fall from Mr. Baumgartner’s perspective—with just the sound of wind and the flapping fabric of his protective suit—racked up 5.3 million views. That brought the campaign’s cumulative views to more than 207 million, according to Visible Measures.

All told, Stratos generated millions in earned media and helped boost sales.

In the six months immediately following the stunt, Red Bull’s sales rose 7% to $1.6 billion in the U.S., according to research firm IRI. According to the private company, it sold more than 5.39 billion cans in 2013, an increase of 3% over 2012.

“Red Bull does such a brilliant job thinking of marketing as an action not as messaging. They don’t talk about stuff. They just do stuff. The culture loves them for it and all the spectators do as well,” said Andrew Keller, CEO of CP&B. “It’s established itself as a brand for people that take action by taking action and sponsoring action. Simple. Smart. And [Stratos] was the biggest and boldest yet. The world tuned in as if we were landing on the moon. And under the gaze of all that attention, the client had no idea what would happen. No one did. And people are still talking about it. That’s great marketing.”

The event was carried on nearly 80 TV stations in 50 countries. The live webcast was distributed through 280 digital partners and racked up 52 million views, making it the most-watched live stream in history. Red Bull Media House, the brand’s global media company, even earned a Sports Emmy for Outstanding New Approaches-Sports Event Coverage earlier this year.

Across the board, TV stations, news reports and journalists all referred to the event as “Red Bull Stratos” rather than shortening it to simply “Stratos,” as is so common with branded events.

“The amazing thing about this campaign is that we don’t feel any odiousness to see the logo,” said Naoki Ito, chief creative officer at Party. “This brand changed the concept of sponsoring.”

by: Natalie Zmuda