From the opening ceremonies in Sochi to the feel-good videos of the holiday season, I have compiled my picks for  Canada’s fourteen best social marketing campaigns of the year.

Spanning industries from auto manufacturers to sports franchises, crossing through the private sector and government agencies, from viral videos to customized websites to a renovated house in suburban Calgary, spend some time getting to know the marketers who are setting the pace on social platforms as we leave 2014 and launch into the new year.

Without further ado, let’s get things started:

#14. Volkswagen Canada – #Carstume

Halloween, like all major holidays, presents great opportunities for brands to connect with customers online. Showing off their appreciation for costume parties sneaking up and leaving party-goers stuck wearing a bedsheet, Volkswagen Canada provided some last-minute ideas of their own – the carstume.

Across Facebook and Twitter, VW posted instructions on how to make costume versions of the Beetle, Golf, and Westfalia, and provided printable assets (like a steering wheel, tire, etc.)

The result was a fun campaign that helped unite the brand with Volkswagen owners, while also encouraging folks to show off some of the more iconic vehicles that VW has produced. Unfortunately, the campaign didn’t quite catch on as much as it could have, and ends up at the bottom of the list.

#13. President’s Choice – #CraveMore

Feeling like you aren’t reaching your target audience on the big social networks? Here’s a solution: create your own social platform.

That’s exactly what President’s Choice did this year, when they worked with Google to launch an all-new website and accompanying “Discoveries” social network.

The new website puts its attention on interactivity, prominently featuring polls, user-submitted photos, a live activity map, and top search trends in Canada, and each individual province. While complex at first, it turns the attention back on the brand’s commitment to be personal with customers, which has been a big push since releasing the PC Plus App.

President's Choice website activity

The “live activity map” on the PC website.

Meanwhile, the Discoveries social network accompanies the new website, offering a forum for chefs, professional and amateur alike, to share recipes, vote on polls and read blog posts.

A subsidiary of Loblaws, President’s Choice also turned to social in rolling out #CraveMore to match their wider marketing overhaul. However, in spite of making Marketing Magazine‘s shortlist for Marketer of the Year, the company has failed to connect on the more traditional social networks, which is why they are stuck near the bottom of the list.

#12. Health Canada – #HealthyCanadians

Unfortunately, this campaign will likely be marred in the recent controversy concerning Health Canada’s public service announcements on marijuana use. Pundits have labelled it “political football,” social media users have relentlessly mocked it on YouTube and other platforms, and even large groups of Canadian doctors have declined to participate in the campaign.

Aside from this (massive) hiccup, Health Canada had been one of the federal government departments actually looking progressive and in-sync with social trends of the year.

One of the best examples comes from when they launched similar PSA’s for information on pregnancy. They went to Pinterest, a platform who’s demographics matched up, and even went so far as to adapt memes to help spread the message.

Pregnancy meme Health Canada

Health Canada showed some progressive marketing (for a government, anyway) by using memes to get information to pregnant women.









Health Canada has found similar success in their healthy eating and nutrition campaigns, as well, publishing recipes and cute, simple infographics that offer tips on healthy eating.

Despite the crash landing to end out the year, Health Canada has otherwise been a shining example in how governments can engage with their citizens, in a more welcoming and approachable fashion.

#11. Toronto Raptors – #WeTheNorth

When the Raptors re-branded themselves last year, just in time for the team’s playoff run, they helped elevate basketball in this country. “We the North” became the battle cry for the sport’s fans in Toronto, and across the country, taking a note from the Blue Jays on how to brand yourself as “Canada’s team.”

The fact that the rallying cry lent itself so nicely to the hashtag above surely isn’t a coincidence. Having reinvented the team’s brand, thanks in part to Drake’s role as “global ambassador,” the Raps now see unprecedented discussion online. As Marketing Mag reports, the hashtag trends during every single home game. According to Google, they were the top trending Canadian team for the whole year, beating out the Montreal Canadiens.

The simple rallying call also lends itself to strong visuals, an important part of any sports brand. Dramatic action shots and other graphics help to unite fans, and the team has been rewarded with high rates of engagement – both online and in the arena.

#10. Egg Farmers of Canada – #BeEggsquisite &

When representing a national body, and indeed a national brand, marketing in Canada can be tough.

In a bilingual country, even if you’re not mandated to communicate in both English and French, it’s typically a good idea to do so. Just ask Second Cup, which had three Quebec stores firebombed in the early 2000’s for not having French signage.

However, having engaging messaging that hits home in both languages is very difficult; particularly when you only have 140 characters to get your messaging out (trust me).

Yet, the Egg Farmers of Canada have stepped up to that unique challenge, and obliterated it. The not-for-profit organization that represents over 1,000 egg farmers coast to coast recently launched the punny #BeEggsquisite social campaign. In French, they kept the punnery, and went with #SoyezAudacioeufs.

The campaign itself is what you’d probably expect: recipes and photos of dishes that include eggs, with the odd nutritional fact sprinkled in. But, while the Egg Farmers themselves may not have huge engagement rates, they teamed up for a Twitter Q&A and giveaway with Food Bloggers Canada, and the hashtags have been picked up and adopted quite widely since.

With it, the Egg Farmers have managed to tap into the elusive foodie demographic. and combined with the style points for the French hashtag, they end up in the twelfth spot on the list.

#9. Tim Horton’s – #DonutForDeadmau5

Remember when Tim Horton’s capitalized on the How I Met Your Mother idea of putting a timbit inside of a strawberry vanilla donut, creating The Priestley? They received acclaim from customers and marketers alike.

Proving that their social media team isn’t a one-hit wonder, the Canadian coffee giant was quick to pounce on another celebrity-inspired creation. After Deadmau5, the famous Toronto DJ, tweeted at the company requesting a personal donut, Tim’s went to work to make it so.

They quickly threw together their response, and the next morning tweeted a photo of a dual-timbit combination that mimics the DJ’s iconic mouse mask.

For Tim’s, this is just the latest in a series of excellent promotional opportunities from the DJ. Previously, he’s taken Pharrell on a half-hour, filmed coffee run to a Tim’s in Toronto, where he talked about how he should own stock in the company because of how often he eats there.

#8. Toronto Public Health – #CondomTO

Canada Health Infoway gave this campaign top prize in the Public Health Social Media Challenge, and for good reason.

One of the most creative health-based campaigns of the year, Toronto Public Health came up with branded condom wrappers to help reduce stigma around condoms and to help provide better education on their use. The wrappers featured double entrendre street names, and were distributed around the city with the encouragement to “Put it on!”

To help raise awareness of the health campaign, Toronto Public Health decked out a van and took to the streets, handing the limited edition condoms out as they went, particularly focusing on the World Pride events taking place in the city in late June. They encouraged people to snap photos and tweet out the location of the van, building up a buzz on Twitter and other social media.

Condoms were also given out to local businesses and associations, helping to spread the word even more, and ultimately succeeding in getting critical information about safe sex to members of the community.

#7. Playland – #PlaylandHotSeat

Eight teens get to visit Vancouver’s Playland for free, but the Internet decides what they do next. Using a web-app and social media, viewers can watch their every move through GoPro streams and decide their next steps, be it taking on the biggest coaster or eating a pizza and mini donut sandwich.

People following along on the livestream could tweet “I challenge the Hot Seater to…” and then off they went. Some were fun, like asking the person to sing a Barry Manilow song, while others, like making someone drink a large milkshake before riding the park’s most winding coast, may be considered torture in some places.

The campaign itself is pure genius. Not only does it allow the park to engage with customers in a totally innovative way, the GoPros capture the sights and sounds of the park, offering a captive audience willing to basically watch an hours-long advertisement. They get to see and experience the rides, and build up interest in a future visit. Plus, everyone likes to have a playful laugh at someone else’s expense, right?

#6. Canadian Football League – #TheGreyCupAd

What better way to promote the country’s professional football league than to hand the advertisement for the biggest game of the year over to the fans?

The CFL asked fans to submit videos from the playoffs on Vine, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook. In just two weeks, the league received over 2,000 videos, made their selections, edited and sliced film, and then rolled out the finished product as a 60-second ad on TSN during the Grey Cup.

Playing up the CFL’s relationship to its fans, and its place in Canadiana, is nothing new. In the past, their major campaigns have included names like “This is our league” and “It reflects us all.” But by reaching out for user-generated content, the league took that extra step in demonstrating its fans undying allegiance to the sport, which tends to live in the shadow of the Goliath south of the border.

In addition to putting out a neat spot, the campaign also gave the CFL important interactions on social media, and helped expand the game’s reach in a way it hasn’t been able to before.


A video posted by bj blayney (@bjblayney) on Nov 11, 2014 at 10:03am PST

Also, big points for maintaining our collective sanity by informing contributors to film horizontally.

#5. Tim Horton’s – #TimsNextDoor

As one of the country’s biggest and most prominent chains, it’s no surprise that Tim Horton’s knows a thing or two about pulling off effective social campaigns. It was a busy year for the coffee and donut shop on social media, with a number of campaigns to choose from, including the #TimsDark bus, the crocheted restaurant in Fort Frances, and round two of the Dueling Donuts contest.

However, the best campaign that Timmy’s put together has to be their #TimsNextDoor campaign, geared at recruiting employees.

In short, they rented a house in a typical Calgary suburb. Overnight they transformed the house into a pop-up restaurant (pop-ups are still so hot right now). In the morning, neighbours found a Timmy’s right down the street, with the overall message being, “We’re not just in your neighbourhood. We’re your neighbours.”

The employees of the pop-up shop went out into the community to help neighbours with everyday tasks, while the company encouraged people to serve their neighbours. A good place to start? Working at Tim’s.

Across social media, photos of the house spread as the lucky neighbours shared shots of everything from the food itself to the makeshift washroom. The company received positive press across Alberta, Canada, and even internationally. For a company which has always played up its role as a national symbol, we shouldn’t expect anything less than this brilliant campaign.

#4. TD Bank – #TDThanksYou An ATM that gives out gifts and free money to loyal customers? A cameo from a two-time Silver Slugger and a five-time MLB All-Star? Selfies of staff and long-time customers? It’s not often that banks can garner positive, feel-good sentiment, but TD did just that this year. President & CEO Tim Hockey even got into the festivities, snapping a selfie with a customer of 60 years.

The real success of this campaign, though, was a viral video of an “Automated Thanking Machine,” set up in branches across the country, which rewarded long-time customers with touching gifts.

For one, it was tickets to see her ill daughter in Trinidad. For another, a trip for her family to Disney World. And for one big Blue Jays fan, an opportunity to meet Jose Bautista and throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a game. Unsurprisingly, the campaign trended, the video went viral (over 18 million views, and counting) and the bank received an avalanche of positivepress, domestically and abroad.

#3. Air Canada – #ACGiftOfHome

WestJet brought tears to the eyes of Canadians across the country with their 2013 holiday spot, which featured a blue Santa asking passengers flying from Ontario to Alberta what they wanted for Christmas. Helpers went on a shopping spree, and when the planes touched down, the passengers were surprised to find those gifts waiting for them in the luggage carousel. The success from that video kicked off a year of similar, feel-good stories from Canada’s second biggest airline.

Facing growing concerns of customer satisfaction (their flight attendants were voted second worst in an informal poll this year), Air Canada realized the importance of capturing feel-good media attention with a strong, emotional YouTube spot.

So far, the company’s #ACGiftOfHome video has soared past three million views. In it, two pilots give out free, round-trip airfare to all patrons at the Maple leaf, a Canadian pub located in London. As expected, the video received widespread media coverage domestically, and reinforced the Canadian sense of community abroad.

#2. Molson Canadian – #AnythingForHockey

With a massive $375 million contract to be the official beer sponsor of the National Hockey League (with its sister company, Coors), it’s no surprise that Molson has focused a lot of attention on marketing to the Canadian hockey fan.

Like most brands today, Molson took to social media channels Twitter & Facebook to spread the word of the #AnythingForHockey campaign. The brand’s entire Twitter account is dedicated to the campaign, and they’ve been successful using simple social messaging: imposing phrases of pride on a set of blank hockey boards. During the 2014 Winter Olympics, Molson had one of the most viral posts of the entire tournament, combining the country’s national pride and obsession for hockey.

Where Molson really captured the hearts and attention of online users was through YouTube. Molson began rolling out video spots that rewarded hockey diehards, be it with a trip to the Winter Classic, box seats to a Leafs game, or even a beer fridge delivered to the beaches of Indonesia. A few short spots ran on television, referring viewers back to the full-length YouTube videos.

The videos share stories of Canadian hockey players showing off their love for the game. The “Rent-A-Goalie” spot was one of the first to capture this relationship, before the campaign culminated with the “Hockey Heaven” spot.

Taking place on an outdoor rink atop a mountain, Molson gave Vitaly Lanochkin, and his dad Andrei, the former coach of the Estonian national team, an outlet for a quick game of shinny and to remark on their journey from Estonia to Canada, which was driven by a desire to play the sport.

With stunning views, a touching story, and hockey’s equivalent of the “Field of Dreams,” Molson should have no problem riding this wave of good karma into the new year.

#1. Canadian Olympic Committee – #WeAreWinter

You couldn’t escape this hashtag during the Olympics.

For those that don’t know, the Winter Olympics are kind of a big deal here in Canada. In the 2010 Vancouver Games, Canada set a new record for most gold medals in a single Winter Olympics, so expectations and excitement were high. Perhaps one of the few things Canadians pride themselves on more than athletic prowess is our resilience to the frigid, blistering climate we call home.

Pouncing on these two sources of national pride, the Canadian Olympic Committee unveiled this brilliant campaign across a number of platforms, particularly Twitter & Instagram, capturing stunning photographs of historic moments in Sochi.

Meanwhile on YouTube, they provided short, yet dramatic, mini-documentaries providing background on the journeys of seven of Canada’s Olympians.

It became such a rallying call that a number of other major Canadian companies began to use it, as well.

Still to this day, the hashtag is used when Canadian athletes perform at other events or are featured in the media. Overall, an excellent campaign to unite Canadians during the Games, and worthy of the best campaign of the year.

Feel like one campaign got slighted, or that an undeserving campaign made the list? Want to share your favourite campaign of the year? Please share your thoughts below!

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