Timberland knows the typical twenty- or thirtysomething American probably has a pair of its boots. Similarly, Levi’s is well aware that its jeans reside in a healthy number of closets across North America and beyond — but what do these brands do with such broad, general market insights? A few months ago, we undertook a project to discover how the iconic brands we work with turn seemingly simple customer truths into impactful marketing.

Made, our first-ever customer campaign gallery, is a unique, behind-the-scenes look at some of the most powerful and creative work by Percolate clients.

These campaigns look different on the surface. But after speaking to the marketers that created them, we realized they share common values. Taken together, they provide critical lessons for marketers. Whether that’s redefining success or mining for ideas that will last 30 years, there’s something behind each of these iconic campaigns that any brand trying to leave a mark can relate to.

1. Engage first, sell later.

“We need to stop interrupting what people are interested in, and become what they’re interested in.” – David Beebe, VP Global Creative + Content Marketing, Marriott International

David Beebe’s words couldn’t ring truer in today’s information-heavy, attention-scarce digital world. Sometimes, all your audience wants is to be entertained. Marriott was a first mover in the hotel industry when it launched a content studio with former ABC-Disney and NBC producers at its helm. The success of its first initiative, Two Bellmen — a thoroughly entertaining film that we got to explore behind the scenes — was a nod to the consumer who wants to be entertained and interested by brands before being sold to.

2. Put product at the heart of it.

“We want to embrace our history and all those people who love our product.” – Jim Davies,VP Global Marketing, Timberland

Even though the best campaigns don’t sell to you immediately, they remain self-aware that product is the focus. It comes down to good storytelling: you lead with a compelling narrative, but let your product and its history form the backdrop for the entire show. Timberland used its latest campaign to embrace its history while keeping the iconic boot front and center. Embedded in the ideal of the American outdoors, “Made for the Modern Trail” is a modern spin on the brand’s classic values, for an audience that loved their “Timbs” but needed them to tell a more urban story.


3. Rethink your success metrics.

“Knowing you’ve helped someone grow awareness of their business and personal brand, and connected them with other people — that feeling of success is more gratifying than statistics,” – Lia Zneimer, Brand marketing manager, WeWork

Success isn’t as simple as sale volume and social engagement anymore.  The marketers we spoke to have reimagined their rubric for a successful campaign. KIND Snacks, with its #kindawesome campaign, is making consumers its advocates with a unique pay-it-forward campaign that rewards kind acts (and might motivate you to be a little more pleasant on your morning commute). They know they’ve been successful when people handing out “kindness” cards come back and ask for more. WeWork’s magazine Creator profiles the entrepreneurs that make up its 50,000-strong community, building community across its vast global footprint. And while audience numbers matter, the editorial team can also attribute success to the awareness they’re generating for the startups building pretty cool things.



4. Replace “aspirational” with “accessible.”

“To be a successful brand in this day and age it’s really important to have an authentic presence on all [of your] communications.” – Piper Stevens, senior director, brand loyalty and marketing Communications, Loews Hotels

Aspirational messaging might have worked in the past, but brands are slowly shelving aspirational marketing to resonate better with shifting consumer demographics and macroeconomic conditions. The days of glossy, airbrushed ads might well be coming to a close – or at least a pivotal moment – as luxury brands reexamine their positioning. Loews Hotels is challenging the status quo for hospitality advertising with its #travelforreal campaign, featuring real guests and their Instagram photos in its ads. Similarly, Kenneth Cole’s “The Courageous Class” features role models instead of fashion models in its ads — individuals overcoming challenging circumstances with powerful stories to share.

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5. Give it time

“We wanted to set this brand up for another 140 years of success. And we needed a big, broad, inclusive idea to do it.” – Jennifer Sey, CMO, Levi’s

It’s almost too easy to think that because attention is so fleeting, your brand needs to become something like an idea machine, pumping out new ideas (and content to go with it) as frequently as possible. But the best marketing platforms don’t change every year — they endure under the right conditions. Think Dove’s Real Beauty (2004), Nike’s Just Do It (1980s), and Mastercard’s Priceless — iconized by “For everything else there’s Mastercard” — that was launched in 1997. Levi’s “Live in Levis” campaign was based on similar thinking.  “Until Go Forth, we were reinventing a new campaign every year and you never really got any huge traction,” Sey told us. “We wanted to set this brand up for another 140 years of success. And we needed a big, broad, inclusive idea to do it.”