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The biggest marketing moments of 2016

From the Brexit campaign to Beyoncé's Super Bowl masterstroke, CNBC takes a look over the past 12 months in marketing.

January – Unilever moved to zero-based budgeting

SeongJoon Cho | Bloomberg | Getty Images

This didn't mean that one of the world's largest advertisers had slashed its ad budgets to zero, it meant the consumer goods giant would move away from basing budgets on previous years' spend and would instead make all departments justify their expected expenses. Its 2015 annual report stated: "With growth…set to remain constrained for some time to come, it is even more important that we bear down on all spending areas."

February – Beyoncé slayed the Super Bowl

Beyonce performs onstage during the Pepsi Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.
Getty Images
Beyonce performs onstage during the Pepsi Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.

Being booked to perform at the Super Bowl is great exposure for celebrities, but Beyoncé used this year's half-time show as just one piece of her marketing effort for her Formation song and tour. She released the song the day before the sporting event – her first in 14 months - and then announced her world tour with an ad that aired just after her performance. Super Bowl broadcaster CBS charged around $5 million for a 30-second ad spot at the event, but as Beyonce was a paid performer, it's unlikely she had to stump up the cash.

March – SXSW showcased a McDonald’s Happy Meal

People were asked to decorate the inside of a Happy Meal box using VR paint tools at the McDonald's Loft at SXSW.
Source: McDonald's Corp.
People were asked to decorate the inside of a Happy Meal box using VR paint tools at the McDonald's Loft at SXSW.

Brands made big plays at this year's South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, with CNBC's Michelle Castillo hailing it "the place to be for top so-called experiential marketing". Visa, Spotify and Gatorade respectively showed off the future of digital payments, had a house party and let people make their own sports drinks, while McDonald's used VR goggles to transport people inside a Happy Meal box, where they could create their own artworks.

April – Coca-Cola redesigned its cans

The world's 13-largest brand, with a valuation of $80 billion, according to Millward Brown's BrandZ study, changed its packaging design to feature red discs across its four main drinks, with various colors featuring on each: regular (red), Zero (black), Light/Diet (silver) and Life (green).

This is a Big Deal in marketing, because "packaging is our most visible and valuable asset," according to a statement from chief marketing officer Marcos de Quinto, and is a further element of the brand's new global "Taste the feeling" global strapline, which replaced "Open happiness" in January 2016.

May – Regulators approved AB InBev takeover of SAB Miller

On May 24, the European Commission ruled that the deal to create the world's largest brewer would not hurt consumer prices, paving the way for the $107 billion takeover, which shareholders backed in September. Euromonitor suggested that the biggest gain for AB InBev would be SAB Miller's African presence, where it sells lager brand Skol and local variants Hero and Balimi.


June – Brexit meant Brexit

Supporters of the Vote Leave campaign cheer as they wait for Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London, during the first day of a nationwide bus tour to campaign for a so-called Brexit in Truro, U.K., on Wednesday, May 11, 2016.
Luke MacGregor | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Supporters of the Vote Leave campaign cheer as they wait for Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London, during the first day of a nationwide bus tour to campaign for a so-called Brexit in Truro, U.K., on Wednesday, May 11, 2016.

While Britain's vote to leave the E.U. sparked a stock market crash, the resignation of the British prime minister David Cameron and a global fallout, the Brexit campaign was arguably impressive for its marketing simplicity, with "Vote leave" a snappier strapline than "Britain stronger in Europe". Added to this, the word "Brexit" became part of the vernacular much more easily than "Bremain".

July – Pokémon GO took over

Pokemon Go app on an iPhone, Tokyo, Japan, July 22, 2016.
Toru Hanai | Reuters
Pokemon Go app on an iPhone, Tokyo, Japan, July 22, 2016.

The game that ended up distracting drivers, luring armed robbery victims and taking over the world was launched on July 6 and went on to make $200 million in net revenue globally in its first month. In marketing terms, it was also hailed as a transformer of retail's fortunes, as it can be used by shops to get people into malls, said analysts, while the game itself provides a potentially lucrative platform for marketers.

August – The biggest brand at the Rio Olympic Games was…

People pose with the Olympic rings at the Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro, on August 3, 2016.
Kirill Kudryavtsev | AFP | Getty Images
People pose with the Olympic rings at the Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro, on August 3, 2016.

The jury was out, with the BrandAgility Index from PR firm Waggener Edstrom listing Samsung as the 'winner', based on online mentions by consumers, while Coca-Cola was cited by social media analyst Sysomos as top of the list. Whichever marketing campaign triumphed, sponsors including GE, Dow, Samsung and P&G will have had to justify their $200million-plus outlay for four-year global contracts. Under Armour was also hailed as the "best case study" by experts sourced by Reuters for its sponsorship of 250 sportspeople at the games, rather than shelling out to be an official Worldwide Olympic Partner.

September – An alcoholic ruled Instagram

September came around and with it the launch of the iPhone 7 in San Francisco, but over on the other side of the Atlantic, a much smaller marketing story was bubbling up. Mysterious model Louise Delage clocked up nearly 65,000 Instagram followers in around a month, chilling on a yacht with a glass of wine, posing on a beach with a beer and drinking champagne in a bath. At the end of the month, French charity Addict Aide revealed that it was actually a fake account, to highlight alcohol addiction. The campaign got widespread press coverage and nearly a million views on YouTube.

October – WPP spent billions with Google

Sir Martin Sorrell
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
Sir Martin Sorrell

WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell has called Google a "frenemy," but this year he estimated the marketing group would spend $5.6 to $5.7 billion on ads with the site, by far its biggest spend on behalf of its clients, compared with $4 billion in 2015. "Number two would be Murdoch, around $2.25 billion," he told CNBC at London's Festival of Marketing in October, referring to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp brands. Google and Facebook are set to continue their dominance of online ad budgets, taking 71 percent of media money by 2020, according to OC&C Strategy Consultants.

November – Brands trashed on Trump and Clinton campaigns

Photographer | Collection | Getty Images

Trash bag maker Hefty advertised across major political news sites in the days ahead of the election in a bid to bring "relief" from the political ads that Americans "hate," according to a report in the New York Times. "It's kind of like everybody's sick of this conversation and the low trashy depths that this election has gone to," said Jason Peterson, chief creative officer of Havas North America, which runs Hefty's advertising. It wasn't the only brand trying to sooth emotions during the presidential campaigns; painkiller Excedrin used the message "Debates bring headaches; Excedrin brings fast headache relief," during the final TV debate.

December – Arnie was back as the star of 2016’s most watched ad

YouTube released its most watched ads of the year on December 7, with Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Arnold's Fight" ad for smartphone game Mobile Strike the most watched of the year. One of five ads on YouTube's list that was first aired at the Super Bowl, it has now had nearly 103 million views. Eighty-one percent "watch time" of the five Super Bowl ads on the list was via smartphone, with more than 205 million combined views.

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