March 11, 2024

A-List & Creativity Awards 2024

No. 9

Agency won social media for Pepsi, Bose, Duracell and more

By Garett Sloane

From left, first row: Avery Akkineni, Gary Vaynerchuk, Claude Silver and Rob Lenois. Second row: Lisa Buckley, Brittany King, Sarah Murphy and Nick Miaritis. Third row: Aaron Howe, Jon Morgenstern, Marc Yudkin and Harriet Flory. Fourth row: Alan Harker, Kaylen McNamara, Jennifer Ruza and Wanda Pogue. Fifth row: John Terrana, JC Bonilla and Peter Chun.  

VaynerMedia didn’t just rule social media in 2023, it rewrote the rulebook.

VaynerMedia showed the normally unexciting category of batteries could have breakout social media moments after Duracell’s brand jumped into the “Scandoval” trend around the Bravo reality TV show “Vanderpump Rules.”

The campaign is instructive as to the way the agency operates—its teams are always on social media, always listening, fast to react with a comment, and then they build those moments into bigger campaigns, sometimes all the way to the Super Bowl. In this case, Bravo sparked a hot moment on social media after Tom Sandoval broke up with Ariana Madix, cheated on her and blamed her for not keeping enough batteries in the drawers. The moment ignited a social media firestorm, “Scandoval,” and people were sharing videos with themes about “how to keep a partner” by stocking up on batteries. VaynerMedia, as Duracell’s social media agency, showed up in the comments section of one video: “Guaranteed to last 10+ years, unlike Tom.”

“Off of a very innocent, well, not-so-innocent [comment] given the character who delivered the comment, a comment was made on the show,” said Wanda Pogue, VaynerMedia’s chief strategy officer, recounting “Scandoval.” “And we were able to latch on to that, to comment through our community management, and see the energy that was around that and then build off a bigger idea.”

By the end of the “Vanderpump” season, Duracell was out of the comments section and on Instagram with a video filmed in the house where the breakup happened, starring Madix. “I buy my own batteries now,” the reality TV star says in the sponsored Instagram post for Duracell. The spot was filmed within days after Duracell made its comment on the drama, Pogue said. The commercial also ran on Bravo before the “Vanderpump Rules” reunion episode in June.

“Something pops up and then we make an ad about it,” said Gary Vaynerchuk, VaynerMedia CEO, breaking down what he calls the SIC strategy, pronounced “sick,” or “socially inspired content.”

“What I love about the Duracell ‘Vanderpump Rules’ one is the Instagram [post] is the big ad, right,” Vaynerchuk said. “The reason ‘Vanderpump Rules’ really matters is it fits what I think the future is, which is that it did well in social and that’s the ad, that’s the millions of views.”

Return to form
Psyched for social is where VaynerMedia appears to play best, relishing the role the agency took on from its founding as the shop that understood social before most. In 2009, when VaynerMedia formed, it was pre-Instagram and pre-Snap. Even as VaynerMedia has earned its stripes in the Super Bowl and chalked up wins as a global agency, 2023 represented a bit of a return to form, Vaynerchuk said. The agency is strategically chasing social media as its North Star, especially since TikTok has returned a spark to the creative medium.

VaynerMedia hit $209 million in U.S. revenue in 2023, a 9% increase from 2022, according to the agency. It also topped $1 billion in ad spend pumping through its energetic media desk for the first time in 2023. VaynerMedia’s buying arm has built a stingy reputation when handling clients’ money, day trading for the cheapest ad placements with the highest return, whether that’s with a free, organic social media post or helping a brand change its strategy from big upfront deals with TV networks to placing spot commercial orders in streaming TV. 

VaynerMedia also signed Visa at the end of last year, representing the financial firm as social agency of record.

One of the fastest-growing parts of VaynerMedia is its consulting business, which grew 46% year over year in 2023, according to the agency, although it did not release an exact revenue figure.

Kaylen McNamara, VaynerMedia’s chief business officer, said the agency often advises brands with the goal of standing up a client’s own internal social media team.

“We are very eyes wide open to the fact that if done right, in-housing all of your creative and media is the best idea,” McNamara said. “But unlike most agencies that would not want to accept that, because that’s a huge reduction in the agency’s role when that happens,” McNamara said, “we believe that we’ll evolve enough, if that were to be true, we’d have plenty of other ways to kind of keep ourselves in business … we’re going to help you hire and bring it all in-house and we’re going to reduce our fee just to a consulting fee.”

VaynerMedia helped Bose rethink the audio brand’s media planning, according to Jim Mollica, chief marketing officer at Bose, which expanded its business with VaynerMedia in 2023, sending its media spend to the agency on top of social media work, specifically on TikTok. Bose last year named VaynerMedia its global agency of record.

“They just thought about TV in a really sophisticated, different way,” Mollica said. “And as digital TV and traditional media started to connect, there were more opportunities to reach consumers across each one of those touchpoints in a more choreographed way with all kinds of creative variants.” That’s why Bose committed to Amazon Prime Video’s Black Friday game with the NFL, which was an opening to kick off holiday sales with a live sporting event and to target ads across the e-commerce platform.

“That’s where they were pushing us, to more real-time purchasing, and buying audiences, and uploading first-party data,” Mollica said, “and it was just a really thoughtful way to do business, and so we transferred all media to them last year.”

Over the holidays, VaynerMedia even encouraged Bose to take some of its ad spend and move it to Flywheel, the e-commerce marketing specialist, to take advantage of a spike in potential consumers on Amazon, Mollica said. 

“There were moments where they took money out of their budget and said ‘There’s an opportunity within Amazon and we see it,’” Mollica said. “‘Let’s shift dollars and let’s attack.’”

Floating root beer
VaynerMedia found some money for PepsiCo, too, last year, reviving Mug Root Beer, which the beverage maker had stopped promoting, according to Greg Lyons, chief marketing officer, PepsiCo Beverages North America. Vaynerchuk had been asking to get some paid support for the brand for a few years, Lyons said, before PepsiCo agreed to put a “little bit of money” behind it.

“That’s the type of partner Vayner is, they just continue to push our brands forward and bring us ideas,” Lyons said. “We would not be supporting Mug right now if it were not for Gary, and that business is growing double digits right now.”

Vaynerchuk clearly takes some pleasure in Mug Root Beer and sent Lyons a note in February when an Instagram post from Mug hit 4 million views on Instagram. “We have really made Mug Root Beer dramatically more relevant,” Vaynerchuk said, “and if you go look at their TikTok, you’re, like, man they do well. It’s a Wendy’s in our industry, it’s a Slim Jim, it’s one of those accounts that’s really working.”

VaynerMedia has bigger brands within its PepsiCo portfolio to promote, too, not least of which is Pepsi. The agency also handled the launch of Starry, the lemon and lime soft drink branded for Gen Z. The drink made it to a Super Bowl commercial in 2024, propelled by a creative idea that was based on, what else, social media.

Starry’s @starrylemonlime first TikTok post at the start of 2023 has more than 60 million views. It shows a person looking for “the perfect soda” stumbling on a case of Starry. By this year’s Super Bowl, Starry’s commercial starred Ice Spice and the Lem and Lime mascots with the tagline: “It’s Time to See Other Sodas.”

The work sprouted out of the way VaynerMedia tests hundreds of social media posts and gauges what works in social, which bubbles up to bigger campaigns.

“It becomes social within social,” Vaynerchuk said. “When something goes viral organically, go spend that half-million dollars in media to amplify it, because you’ll get what you want. Or, version two, when something goes viral in social, take that as the brief, think it through, and create a campaign that has the essence of it, and go execute that. Those are the two ways to do it.”
And those are the VaynerMedia Rules. 

Reprinted with permission from Ad Age. © 2024 Crain Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
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