From heartwarming to humorous, binge-worthy to cringe-worthy, 2021 was full of historic brand moments worth commemorating. And though some brands may have faltered while others flourished, they all share one thing in common: their trials and triumphs taught us thought-provoking–and often entertaining–brand lessons we’ll carry with us into 2022 and beyond.
Tesla: for proving it pays to listen, adapt and innovate with speed and clarity of vision.
And that it doesn’t hurt to have an eccentric visionary in the driver’s seat. By listening and adapting to market forces, exceeding unmet consumer needs with speed and style, and catalyzing a movement through a mission that resonates, Tesla has solidified its position as the world’s fastest growing brand (up 184% 2020-2021). If 2021 is any indication when it comes to Tesla’s potential, it appears the stratosphere’s the limit.
Lyft and Tinder: for proving there’s power in consumer-centric partnership.
The most successful partnerships are often surprising ones. Coming together on a new in-app feature that allows Tinder users to give their date a free “Lyft”, the Lyft and Tinder partnership is a great example of how taking an unexpected approach to enhancing consumer experience can pay off by creating new value propositions for the cross-sections of the brands’ respective audiences…and let’s
not forget, for l-o-v-e.
Burger King: for demonstrating how a throwback in design can move a brand forward.
Merging modern with retro to embrace today’s more “digital-friendly design language”, Burger King served up its first new look in twenty years. The refreshed identity deploys design as a tool to smartly communicate not only a visual transformation, but also a transformation in food quality, company commitments and brand ethos to better serve the needs of the modern consumer. Dare we say it’s a redesign fit for a king?
Airbnb: for showing that staying true to your core mission and members has staying power.
Aimed at smoothing over strained brand relationships brought on by Covid-19 for its brand, members and hosts, Airbnb launched its “Made Possible by Hosts” campaign–the brand’s latest advertising endeavor targeted at tugging on our heart strings. Utilizing quirky, heart-warming photography, soundtracks and narratives, the campaign feels like a warm blanket, harkening back to simpler (ahem, pre-Covid) times that highlight the magic of humble moments shared with family and friends.
Spotify: for proving that without proper execution, a catchy idea can only carry you so far.
Mocked in many a TikTok, the copywriting for this year’s Spotify Wrapped categories strained to connect to 2021 trends in a way that felt aged, forced and unidentifiable for the breadth of Spotify listeners–making the overall tactic seem both awkward and out of touch. That said, Spotify is one of the few brands that we know is spying on us, and we kind of love it. Despite the eye-rolling copy, we’re all still eager to reminisce and share how our year unfolded in song.
Abercrombie & Fitch: for reminding us that a true transformation starts from within.
Abercrombie & Fitch was clinging to superficial ideals that went out of style years ago. Finally deciding to shed its prep and privilege with a new CEO committed to an accepting, body-positive approach instead, the brand has successfully regained mind and market share with values that prioritize inclusion and celebrate diversity and individuality. A timely transformation in the age of generational resurgence, Abercrombie & Fitch has made a multi-generational comeback as a brand that represents both style and substance.
Robinhood: for discovering the unfortunate consequences of misaligning actions and promise.
When it comes to the most notorious brand blunders of 2021, we could make a solid argument that trading app Robinhood deserves to wear the (hypocritical) crown. In a move that hindered trading access rather than empowering it, Robinhood betrayed their brand promise and their customers in the process⸺making their mission of “democratizing finance for all” seem like a deceitful facade. Giving into the very system they assured audiences they would fight against, the foundation upon which Robinhood’s entire brand was built came crumbling down–resulting in a loss of trust audiences aren’t likely to forgive or forget any time soon.
Saysh: for using brand as a platform to inspire and empower an entire industry.
Following her infamous 2019 sponsorship breakup with Nike over a lack of proper maternity protections for sponsored mothers, the country’s most decorated track and field Olympian, Allyson Felix, continued to stay true to her convictions⸺launching her own footwear and women’s lifestyle brand, Saysh. An ode to strength and femininity, Saysh has generated immense backing and influence for its women-centric design and bold brand positioning. With Saysh, Allyson Felix is making serious strides in the sports world with powerful messages of strength and solidarity to empower women everywhere.
Starburst: For leveraging creator culture to ignite a social movement.
The viral resurgence of Starburst’s 2007 Berries & Cream commercial into TikTok mashups successfully combined oddvertising and Y2K nostalgia together with creator culture. Simultaneously bizarre and buzz-worthy, #berriesandcream became one of the year’s most humorous examples of how encouraging fan engagement across the right channels can take brand work from forgotten to eternally iconic “Berries and creeeeeeeeeeam!”