Marketers of the Year No. 9: Adobe
Awkwafina, Ava DuVernay, Conan O’Brien, Gwyneth Paltrow, Stanley Tucci, Wes Anderson, Common, Taika Waititi, Chelsea Handler, Zendaya. It's a lineup you’d expect to see at the podium of the Oscars or the Golden Globe Awards. But in October 2020, these A-Listers gathered in an unexpected place—Adobe MAX.
Like other big events this year, the technology brand’s annual conference celebrating creativity and makers went all-virtual. It featured not only top Hollywood names but also top artists and influencers including Shepard Fairey, Tyler the Creator, Ai Wei Wei and Roxane Gay—who all stepped in front of the camera to discuss their processes, inspirations and their drive to create.
MAX is just one example of how Adobe’s marketing, in 2020 in particular, has helped the brand become synonymous with creativity. While the company’s core product is its suite of creative tools available through subscription, the company has expanded into its Experience products including marketing analytics, websites and services to measure the impact of content and creativity—which together have provided fuel for the brand’s need to innovate, says Chief Marketing Officer Ann Lewnes.
“The growth of the company has been about entering into these new businesses and super-charging the businesses we’ve had, taking advantage of the explosion of creativity, and I think that ignited a sense of experimentation, of excitement about doing a lot more breakthrough things on the marketing side,” Lewnes says. Adobe's most recent earnings report showed that the company achieved record quarterly revenue of $3.23 billion in the third quarter of 2020, reflecting 14 percent year-over-year growth.
While other high-profile celebrities have appeared at the MAX confab (attendees in recent years included Billie Eilish, Dave Grohl, Ron Howard and artist Takashi Murakami), according to Lewnes, 2020 was unprecedented in terms of the abundance of top talent—and it had to be. Arriving months into the pandemic, “we felt like 'Hey, there’s a lot of Zoom fatigue, we’ve got to make this thing a blockbuster,'” she says.
“It was so hard—I can’t even describe to you,” Lewnes adds as she looks back on the event, almost as if she’s catching her breath. Adobe MAX 2020 required unprecedented coordination across various internal departments as well as extra heavy lifting from Adobe’s longtime MAX production partner, Pix. “We had our video production team internally shooting all of these people everywhere—and we did it safely,” she says. “We had to stream the whole thing, too”—all for an international audience over the course of three days. “I think that’s the whole story about 2020. It’s been a year where everyone has to come together, even if it’s virtually, to make things happen,” she says.
All told, the event saw 21 million total video views across all channels, 2.2 million visits to the Adobe MAX event site and more than 50 million social interactions. It helped, of course, that the event was all digital and it was the first year Adobe opened it up to the masses. But Lewnes says the success of MAX and its ultra-quick turnaround for its b-to-b event, the Adobe Summit in March, provide a blueprint for what may come in the near future. “Digital will be a huge component even if we go back to having live events because of the tremendous reach you can achieve,” she says. “We had millions of people attend MAX; normally we have tens of thousands of people. That ability to engage a much broader community is something we totally want to do.”
Events are just one part of Adobe's overall marketing plan, and just one example of what Adobe in particular excels at—nurturing and leveraging the talents of its vibrant community of creators. Adobe’s rallying cry is “Creativity for All,” and last year it partnered with Live Nation to debut the Adobe Creative Tour, which has invited users to create videos and artwork for various musical artists.
This year saw challenges, including asking creatives to rethink artwork for Lady Gaga as well as a new helmet for DJ Marshmello. The tour reached 67 million users in 2019 and is on pace to exceed that for 2020.
While Adobe is a digital-first marketer, over the course of the year it has turned out a number of “traditional,” albeit visually stunning ads. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Photoshop, the company teamed with Goodby Silverstein & Partners on a stunning Oscars spot full of mesmerizing artwork by various creators, set to Gene Wilder singing “Pure Imagination” from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”
Lewnes says Goodby has largely helped to make the brand what it is today. Adobe in 2020 has also closely worked with 72andSunny on a number of campaigns that address the challenges that have plagued the world over the course of the pandemic.
Their “Honor Heroes” campaigns called on talents to use art to pay homage to frontline workers, while the “When I See Black” effort highlights the work of Black creators. More broadly, 72andSunny also created a Photoshop ad that takes viewers on a “Fantastic Voyage” through a world remade by an imaginative creator—an uplifting idea that felt welcome after a year of extreme social upheaval.
Traditional advertising including spots help to increase Adobe's visibility across a broader base. But it’s also an opportunity to assert what Adobe stands for. “I think our advertising is very optimistic,” says Lewnes. “Especially this year, people want to see things that make them feel good and aspire for the future, and that’s what our advertising has been very focused on.”