Trend alert: crowdsourced campaigns

Melissa Schlechtweg I’m a Junior Creative focused on crafting work that ranges from copywriting to graphic design. I strive for pixel-perfect visual communication and telling a compelling story because I believe human connection is key to impactful work. When I’m not developing stand-out creative, you can find me wandering the blank pages of my forthcoming novel, breaking grammar rules, and killing my houseplants.

To remain relevant in advertising, brands must stay in a constant state of evolution—refining their platform and defining new ways of connecting to their key consumers. To do this in 2022, brands are engaging crucial Gen-Z and millennial audiences for fresh ideas through socially-sourced marketing campaigns. The success of this strategy is catching like fire, lighting up trend reports with engagement numbers in the thousands.

Is this the start of a new trend? Maybe!

We’ll take a look at two recent campaigns by Old Navy and Taco Bell, who solicited creative direction from the very people they’re targeting—a smart approach to boost omnichannel brand engagement and brand loyalty. (Not to mention the highly entertaining creative coming out of the crowdsourcing.)

Let’s check out what went down and why it worked.

Old Navy’s “Written by the Internet” Campaign

In internet culture, Old Navy has a reputation for optimistic, upbeat branding. So in November 2021, when high-school senior Samuel Beasley uploaded a TikTok video with the caption “We about to get the most fire Old Navy commercial ever,” the internet responded—and Old Navy’s agency of record took note.

After sharing the video with Old Navy executives, the brand’s latest spring commercial was launched. Over 1,300 users engaged with the original TikTok, responding with what they’d like to see in an Old Navy ad. These users became co-creators in an unprecedented move by the retail giant, who used comments that aligned with their brand to script their new commercial. (Don’t worry, according to an Old Navy spokesperson, commenters were asked for permission to use their ideas and were compensated as writers.)

The result? An incredibly fun ad featuring all of Old Navy’s signature vibes (bright, colorful, and upbeat) with the comments and users’ social media handles overlaid on the relevant frames.

“To be the most democratic and accessible brand, we must listen to our customers and give them what they want. Even when it comes to how we are marketing to them,” said Jamie Gersch, CMO of Old Navy, in a statement to AdWeek

Engaging with consumers in this way—especially Gen-Z and Millenials, who are currently the most powerful consumers—is a smart move to increase social engagement and brand loyalty. 

“It’s really cool that I am influencing a commercial, and that Old Navy is enabling people to put their influence into their commercials,” said Beasley in a statement to Gap Inc

Taco Bell’s “Nacho Fries” Campaign

Taco Bell has been advertising their Nacho Fries with fake movie trailers since 2018, but this is the first time they’ve crowdsourced ad direction from their fans. This year’s campaign launched with a Twitter post soliciting original ideas from fans with the hashtag #FriesChallenge. 

As a limited menu item, spurring excitement for Nacho Fries is an important piece of their marketing strategy. Thousands of Taco Bell enthusiasts responded to the post—1,258 “fry-natics,” according to the released ad.

The resulting creative direction landed on a comedic time loop concept that puts Nacho Fries—and the fans who inspired it—front and center. 

The genius of this campaign is in the fact that it created brand buzz and engagement before the ad even came out. By using a dedicated hashtag and soliciting creative participation through a social network like Twitter, Taco Bell broadened the potential reach of its campaign. And—as an installment of a larger, multi-year campaign—the Nacho Fries movie trailers have become an event to look forward to each year, ensuring a broad range of engaged Taco Bell fans beyond 2022.

As brands look to the metaverse (and their fans) for new advertising potential, both Old Navy and Taco Bell have shown that tried-and-true methods can still feel fresh—as long as there’s a bit of a twist to the approach. 

Our key takeaways? 

  1. Give your key consumers a voice in how they participate with your brand to increase brand loyalty. 
  2. Don’t be afraid to be zany and fun. Fully buy into what your consumers are asking for. 
  3. Think omnichannel. Tap into organic conversations that are already happening around your brand to boost engagement across platforms.

Looking for a fresh approach to marketing? Give crowdsourcing ad ideas a try — even if it means leaning into a time loop storyline featuring a villain set on hunting down Nacho Fries.