Ten of the best – and worst – social media campaigns of 2021

From lockdown to the rule of six, to the green, amber and red list – 2021 has been a very hard year to predict so far.

But some things in life are guaranteed, and for social media strategy, that’s brands being excellent – or at times really missing the mark!

We know no one has the time to keep up with everything that’s happening on social media, especially with billions of posts being made every day on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

That’s why we’ve put together our top 10 best and worst social media campaigns the internet has seen so far in 2021.

Our pick of the best – social media campaigns we loved

England Football Team – seizing the narrative

It may not have been the dream ending to the Euros the England football team hoped for, but their social media content pushed the boundaries in more ways than one this summer.

As they prepared for the tournament, controversy over some fans booing the taking of the knee rumbled on to a point where England had to do something, and they came out strong.

An open letter from Gareth Southgate made their position clear, and on a divisive topic, his message about coming together to support the team set the tone for their inspiring run to the final.

In addition, the team were vocal when stars Rashford, Saka and Sancho faced online abuse following the penalty shootout, England again stepped up support for their young stars, prompting lots of well wishes from fans and other brands.

No filter from Dove on body image

Beauty and skincare brand Dove has long been known for its celebration of diversity of body image, and this year they again delivered a powerful social media campaign on the subject.

#NoDigitalDistortion was a campaign targeting Gen Z, the first generation to grow up entirely surrounded by social media, to combat harmful modern beauty standards emphasised by digital image editing.

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A post shared by Dove Global Channel (@dove)

The content centred around a video showing the reverse process of a teenage girl taking and uploading a selfie for social media. Called ‘Reverse Selfie’, it soon went viral with a number of social media influencers and celebrities sharing on Instagram.

As of writing this, it now has over 200,000 views, and the campaign is aiming for lasting impact by asking users to take the #NoDigitalDistortion pledge, which asks adults to speak with young people about the potential damage online editing can do.

Team GB and TikTok hit the gold standard

The build-up to the Olympics was a challenging one this year, with headlines often dominated by Covid, rather than the athletes taking part. However, TikTok managed to bring Olympians directly to users with the introduction of an official #AskTeamGB hashtag.

It allowed TikTokers to send questions into Team GB with the chance of having it answered directly by one of the athletes. Headed up by Tom Daley, who introduced the campaign with a pinned video, questions have now been answered by an array of gold medal Olympians including Max Whitlock.


Reply to @hollydaniel10 preparation is everything for @maxwhitlock 💪😴 #AskTeamGB

♬ original sound – Team GB

Now, the #AskTeamGB hashtag has been played over 60 million times, so there’s no doubt that this was a clever move from TikTok and TeamGB to cut through to and engage with a new audience.

NHS England use the power of influencers to promote vaccine

In surely the most important campaign of the year, NHS England turned to some of the biggest influencers you could think of to promote take-up of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Launched in February, it focused on the older generation and those in high priority groups to make sure they got their jab. A video was produced starring Elton John and Michael Caine, in a spoof audition tape style.

Light-hearted, but with a serious message and well produced, the campaign hit home with the vaccination drive continuing at rapid pace in the months that followed.

Football gives trolls the silent treatment

Back in April, the Premier League and football equality and inclusion organisation Kick It Out, took a powerful stand against online abuse with a campaign like no other. Rather than create content, they stopped creating and called for a blackout of any social media activity during a four-day period.

It was backed by clubs and players, with the likes of Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane posting messages explaining why they were switching off all socials.

The blackout was even taken up outside of football with many other organisations showing their stance against abuse. It goes to show that when it comes to delivering an important message, sometimes less is more.

Weetabix and Heinz cause Twitterstorm

In February, Weetabix and Heinz used a simple shock tactic to see huge returns from one simple tweet. Weetabix posted the following, suggesting that they can be paired with a topping of Heinz beans for an easy breakfast.

The campaign caught on in a big way, with the weirdness of the tweet alone securing a great number of likes and shares, but what really set this mini campaign alight was the contribution from the social media teams of other well-known brands.

Lidl, Specsavers and National Rail to name just a few got involved to add their own spin on the saga, and it was mutually beneficial as all comments enjoyed big numbers, boosting their brand reach and impressions.

This is an example of using the real-time, off-the-cuff nature of Twitter to an advantage, and when you’re quick enough to react to the topic on everyone’s mind, you can get yourself into the spotlight too.

Cuthbert the Caterpillar’s trial by Twitter

An intellectual property dispute doesn’t sound like the catchiest angle for viral social content, but that’s exactly what Aldi turned their recent battle with Marks & Spencer’s into.

When M&S accused Aldi of copying the original ‘Colin’, of caterpillar cake fame, Aldi’s social media took a tongue-in-cheek approach to the argument, with a series of tweets pointing fun at the argument.

With the campaign tag #FreeCuthbert, caterpillar cakes were firmly at the centre of the zeitgeist with plenty of brands and memes getting in on the act.

Aldi even took it further when they reintroduced Cuthbert to stores under a charity #CaterpillarsForCancer campaign, marking his return with a 40,000 ft skydive posted on social media.

It was a lesson in turning a sticky situation into entertaining, viral content which only served to make Cuthbert more popular.

A digital and social approach to Census 2021

Taking place every 10 years, the census is essentially a headcount of everyone in England and Wales. Organised by the Office of National Statistics, it helps the Government understand our population and the communities within. We know it doesn’t sound super exciting.

The ONS knew that too and faced a huge challenge in the run-up to the 2021 Census as coronavirus restrictions continued, meaning the campaign had to be digital-first for the first time ever.

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A post shared by Census2021 (@census2021)

Slick content was put together with a focus on all the different communities that make up England and Wales, to drive maximum engagement and take-up of the Census. The campaign also included short social video content from various professors, doctors, and community workers explaining how Census data is used for the benefit of us all.

In difficult circumstances, it was a campaign that hit the right note with an inclusive focus and a direct message.

Epic fails – campaigns that bombed in 2021

Burger King flip flop on International Women’s Day

A widely recognised awareness day across the world, International Women’s Day (IWD) is an important one in any social media manager’s calendar. It certainly was for Burger King, who planned to offer their support with a shock tactic that failed to pay off.

On the morning of IWD on 8th March, they tweeted this…

Shortly after, they followed up with a thread explaining that they were drawing attention to the fact only 20 per cent of professional chefs in the UK are women, and that they were supporting culinary scholarships for their female employees.

Did it work? Absolutely not. The original tweet was deemed a cynical play by the brand, and the reception was overwhelmingly negative, so much so that Burger King were forced to delete the tweet and issue an apology.

It should serve as a lesson to brands everywhere that all publicity isn’t always good publicity – and when addressing sensitive topics, every detail needs to be thought and planned out carefully.

Twitter Fleets get a frosty reception

On social media, even the platforms themselves aren’t immune to making a mistake. On Twitter, this was with the introduction of Fleets – at the time described as a tool for ‘sharing momentary thoughts’, they were designed to be for those tweets that end up in drafts.

In reality, they were simply stories, as used on Snapchat (the pioneers of the story concept) as well as Instagram and Facebook. In this already crowded market, Fleets failed to appeal to users, who were already using a different platform to post temporary content through stories.

Usage of Fleets was drastically low, and in August, Twitter accepted this move hadn’t worked out and axed them altogether.

You can read their explanation in full here – or just take our word for it when we say this was a case of providing a function no one was really asking for, but ignoring what users are asking for (hint, an edit button, hint!).

And there you have it! That’s our pick of the best (and some of the worst) social media campaigns so far this year. There are still a few months of 2021 to go, and we’re excited to see what else is in store.

Didn’t see your favourite campaign of the year so far? Let us know what we’ve missed!

Alex Whiteside

Alex Whiteside

I have been working in digital marketing for the last four years, originally beginning in-house at an independent estate agent whilst completing my post graduate diploma in Digital Marketing and Data Analytics. I’ve worked with brands like Checkatrade, Eureka! and MBNA. Specialising in social media and influencer marketing, I love working collaboratively with clients on brand marketing – and I’m always nose deep in the latest social updates!

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