As I write this, the news of a vaccine being approved is everywhere and Christmas is in the air.
We made it, we survived 2020.
This has been one of the toughest years of our lives, yet all I’ve got on my mind is gratitude.
Everyone on the team is healthy. Our families are healthy. We have enjoyed our work. We even managed to disconnect and came back re-energised. On a personal level, I had a baby and got to experience seeing my first child’s loving reaction when he met his brother.
2020 has been a strange year. So much to dread and so much to be thankful for, all in one.
That’s why I decided to write a blog post to mark the end of 2020. But I’m not going to make it about business lessons or link building mistakes.
This post is a celebration of our team and what we can do together. It’s a portfolio of inspiration for other teams like ours. It will also be my diary.
2020 Round-up: NeoMam Campaigns I’m Proud Of
When the news of Covid-19 reached me, I was on the beach in Uruguay with my family. It was January 2020 and we had no idea what we were in for.
January 2020: Disney Tiny Houses
We launched this campaign at the beginning of the year. We had wanted to do something about tiny houses for a while and came up with this mad idea because we thought it was fun.
When my family landed in Paris on January 28th, military forces were questioning travellers about their itineraries. We realised that this thing was serious.
We were closing the promotion for this campaign around that time.
February 2020: World’s Oldest Companies
This project made us better at what we do. We had never undertaken such a huge desk research challenge before.
When I think of NeoMam content, I think of this map. We made a thing that will continue to get referenced and shared around the web for years to come:
Within a couple of weeks of closing this campaign, Covid-19 had been declared a global pandemic. Madness.
March 2020: Sydney’s Architecture
Every NeoMam project is an intercontinental project but this one went beyond:
The research was done by a content producer based in Scotland, the curation happened in England, the illustrations came from an artist living in China, we hired a photographer based in Australia, everyone was working with our art director (who lives in Lithuania), the final assets were prepared by our senior designer from Argentina, copy was edited by our Germany-based content lead, and the campaign was launched from Portugal.
This project didn’t perform as well as we were expecting. It was understandable, Australia went on full lockdown whilst we were doing follow-up rounds.
We decided to close promotion sooner than planned so we could focus all our efforts on another campaign we had launched for this client a few weeks before.
March 2020: European Castles, Reconstructed
A quintessential NeoMam piece: the reconstruction project.
The first time we reconstructed anything was back in 2018. Here we were, two years later, bringing European castles back to their former glory during a global pandemic.
By this point, everyone in the industry was on the same page: if we were to get results, we had to pivot and find ways to tie our link building campaigns or our clients’ brands back to the pandemic in a reactive way.
Well, we didn’t do that. We remained true to our vision of creating content that people will want to share for months and years to come.
And so we kept pushing our castle reconstructions. We knew that regardless of what was going on in the world, this was a piece of content that would inspire wonder in people – we felt that was exactly what we needed to share.
April 2020: Kitchen Design Evolution
A project that showed the passing of time, at a time when we all felt we would be stuck in limbo forever.
This campaign is part of a series for HomeAdvisor that traces the evolution of our homes. Every instalment has been a pleasure to produce and to outreach.
We like to look back with our content because there’s so much beauty to experience and so much to learn from the past. But when it comes to the home sector, in general stories revolve around what’s next: what future trends will be and what new styles will bring.
This year, however, the future felt so far away that looking into the past gave us something to hold on to, a reminder that all things must pass.
April 2020: Royal Home Inspo
I couldn’t write this post without mentioning this project.
Working on the floor plan below challenged the crap out of us:
It turns out that producing a detailed (and complete) floor plan of Buckingham Palace is not an easy feat. Just to give you an idea, the Trello card for this project had 253 comments — that’s 5x the usual number of comments for a given project. The majority of those comments were issues and roadblocks that needed to be solved.
But our team didn’t give up and for that I’m really proud.
May 2020: Pocket Treasures
When we set out to produce this project, we envisioned kids collecting things in their pockets while playing with their friends or on their way to school. Instead, we had kids going for walks with their parents or playing alone in the garden.
We worried, ‘what if kids don’t put anything in their pockets?’
But kids were having adventures of their own regardless of the pandemic:
The response to this campaign didn’t surprise me in the slightest as by mid May, we were all craving positive stories and things that would make us smile.
Which is the reason why I was so worried about launching the next campaign…
May 2020: Drowning In Clothes
We first discussed this idea during our last team retreat. We were in Thailand, we had been surfing and some of us were quite shocked by the amount of plastic in the water.
We wanted to create a project that would talk about waste, we wanted it to be visual and we wanted it to show the true scale of the problem.
None of us is a fan of fast fashion so that was where we went to with our idea: an industry that accounts for 35% of microplastics flow into the ocean, and that releases collection upon collection of garments made of polyester (a material that doesn’t biodegrade like natural fibres).
This video puts textile waste into perspective:
We almost didn’t launch this project because we felt it was too negative and we didn’t want to release more negativity into the world.
But we saw a trend rising with people using their time at home for decluttering. This gave us the opportunity to raise awareness of the dangers of fast fashion while encouraging people to reuse, reduce and recycle.
May 2020: Visualising Netflix
When Surfshark first got in touch to work together, we didn’t know that we would be releasing the test project during a global pandemic.
When we finished our round of ideation, the UK was going into lockdown so we knew what was coming next: a lot of Netflix.
This project compared the quality of Netflix libraries in 70 countries:
One thing we can all agree on is that 2020 and Netflix came hand in hand.
June 2020: Smile, You’re on Camera
We have normalised the fact that surveillance cameras are everywhere but we don’t usually stop and think about what happens with that footage.
With this project, we wanted to shine a light on the impact that widespread use of surveillance could have on our privacy:
On May 25th, a white police officer named Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. The death of George Floyd ignited protests around the world against police brutality and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
That same week we were sending follow ups for this campaign, and the news was out that police departments across the US were using facial recognition technology to track down BLM activists.
All of a sudden, our client became a source for journalists who were covering the story and wanted to give practical tips for readers planning on joining the protests.
Six months later, the map keeps being shared and referenced throughout the web.
June 2020: Short Changed
We launched this campaign in time for the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, according to which UK employers are prohibited from paying women less than men for the same job.
We knew that although unequal pay is now illegal, women are still underpaid and undervalued across the UK:
This project confirmed that even in professions where they are the majority, women are still more likely to get paid lower salaries when compared to their male counterparts.
June 2020: #TakeMeBack
This wasn’t a good year for the travel industry, and so it wasn’t a good year for travellers either.
Some people managed to squeeze a vacation or two in between lockdowns but the vast majority of us stayed at home, dreaming of trips to come and remembering where we’ve been.
This project maps out the destinations travellers missed the most this year:
By the time we closed promotion, many restrictions had been removed across the UK and we were all feeling a bit more positive.
July 2020: Women Trailblazers
With this project, we wanted to put a face to the female entrepreneurs leading some of the world’s most impressive companies:
We noticed that every other team producing content about businesswomen had taken the data approach, missing the opportunity to tell personal stories about these amazing women.
July: Spotify World Map
Yes, another world map. We produced a lot of great maps this year so you should expect to see a few more down the line.
We saw a lot of content powered by Spotify data produced by other teams, and we loved the idea of doing something with it ourselves.
This is our Spotify campaign:
We also built a Spotify playlist for those who wanted to travel around the world from the comfort of their home:
A bit of a mad idea, I know. It didn’t secure hundreds of links but it performed well and it was one of the most interesting pieces of content we produced in 2020 IMO.
August 2020: YouTube Moneymakers
This was a free project for a test client after we had failed to build the guaranteed number of high authority links.
After two poorly performing projects, we knew we had to do something big to show this client that we were capable of delivering the results they came to NeoMam for.
Enter this labour-intensive project, where we identified the most popular YouTuber in nearly every country and calculated their estimated earnings:
When we decided to offer a link guarantee back in 2014, we did it because we were trying to save the business and we needed a way to show potential clients that we were serious about getting results.
Six years later, I learned that the guarantee makes us a better team every time we honour it. Looking at a low performing campaign for what it is (a failure on our part), empowers us to experience a free project as an opportunity to apply everything we learned.
“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”
August: World Heritage in Danger
Another reconstruction project, this time one I had been meaning to make for at least a year but that kept refraining from suggesting out of fear.
Many of the UNESCO cultural sites on this list have been destroyed by Isis, civil war and urbanisation so I worried it was too charged a concept.
Luckily, I mustered the courage to propose this idea because it went on to become one of the biggest campaigns of the year:
A few weeks ago, Mark Perkins (creative director @ Cow) shared the story behind their Christmas Tinner campaign for GAME. What resonated the most with me was learning that the campaign almost didn’t happen after the account manager decided to leave the idea out of the client presentation because “they didn’t think it would get coverage”.
Reading that made me realise that whenever I hide a concept, I do it because I listen to the little account manager in my head telling me “you’re not good enough to come up with good content ideas.” That’s why I cherish this one, because I pushed through that and it paid off.
September 2020: Pop Culture Polly Pockets
I still can’t believe we made these.
The moment the sketches were ready and we shared them with the team, we knew this was going to be a huge success:
The downside of producing these concepts has been receiving so many messages from people who were heartbroken to learn they are not real Polly Pockets they can buy. I can’t see us creating a link building campaign around an out-of-stock product that is definitely “coming soon” any time soon 😛
September 2020: Netflix World Map
Another Netflix campaign, another map, another research-intensive project.
For this project, we used Google search volume data to identify the most popular Netflix Original show and film in every country:
One week into production, we found a campaign based on the exact same premise of this project making the rounds… *facepalm*
We decided to keep going because we were confident our study would be more comprehensive but of course, it was a gamble.
To differentiate our client’s project, we went one step further and identified every country’s most popular Netflix Original by genre – we made separate world maps showing the top pick for anime, kids, comedy, documentary, drama, reality TV and even stand-up specials.
That decision gave this project a huge edge and allowed us to target hundreds of sites across a wider range of verticals.
October 2020: The Simpsons x Wes Anderson
This time however, we gave ourselves a really challenging task: to reimagine different sets in the show as if they were to have been part of a Wes Anderson movie.
We dropped Easter eggs all over these designs and it was a lot of fun:
Even though you might think we make it easy on ourselves when we come up with ‘another reimagined idea,’ it actually is a big challenge every time we do something like this.
We don’t want to do the same thing over and over so every project along these lines requires more from us.
In this case, it was quite hard to balance Anderson’s iconic aesthetic with different Simpsons sets in such a way that viewers could see both at the same time — and that is exactly what makes these images so awesome.
October 2020: The View from Above
When I first pitched this idea to the team, they didn’t like it so I archived it. I’m a sucker for visuals and I love seeing stuff from above, so I thought I was definitely biased.
A year later, I was going through my backlog of concepts and I saw it again: it was love at second sight.
This time however, the idea of experiencing famous landmarks from a new perspective was a good armchair travel experience:
A reminder not to throw away ideas. I keep mine in a dedicated Trello board and make a point of scrolling through them every few months, hunting for treasure.
November 2020: Twitch-onomics
A few weeks before launching this campaign the leaderboard in our study changed when Ninja signed an exclusive deal with Twitch. Panic.
That meant we had to go through the entire thing again and recalculate everything. Then we had to update all the designs and rewrite the accompanying blog post.
It was hectic but it paid off.
November 2020: Broadband World Map
The last world map on the list, and a project that surprised us (and continues to surprise us) as more links pop up.
Here are the countries with the most and least affordable internet:
The topic of broadband prices had been covered many times before but we felt there was an opportunity to put the data into perspective.
December 2020: The Queen x Barbie
We kick-started the last month of 2020 with a project we’ve been obsessed with for over a month.
Back in September we got to create a series of fictional Polly Pockets, so we have been discussing what other toys we could come up with since then… Cue to Barbie.
Barbie is an icon so we needed to find the right approach to make her shine, and I think we did:
It’s early days to know whether the world will love these concepts as much as we do but I’m so proud of what we created that I had to add the project to this list.
December 2020: Which Leaders Have The Biggest Vocabulary?
This year has been a big year for us in terms of hiring. We want to stay as small as we can for as long as we can, so closing 2020 with five new people on board is a huge deal.
When we hire, we do it to delegate responsibilities we don’t enjoy or that we aren’t good at, so we can all focus on work we love and are great at. That means that every new hire elevates the entire team.
The campaign I’m sharing here is a result of this new team’s work:
I’m writing this on the day of the launch so it’s too soon to know whether it will be a successful campaign in terms of links. This project made the list because it brought everyone together (old and new team members) to do something we had never done before. And if it fails, we will honour our guarantee working together with the same passion.
December 2020: Surveillance Cities
I’d like to close this post with another campaign that has just been launched this week.
To create this project, we collected data on CCTV usage around the world and identified the cities with the highest concentration of cameras per kilometre square. The result? A ranking of the most heavily surveilled cities on the planet.
We produced a bunch of different assets to give options to readers who wanted to explore the data. My favourite one is the comparison tool:
With a few weeks left in 2020, we decided to tackle surveillance again because we feel it’s an important topic to discuss. Only time will tell if journalists and writers agreed with us on this one.
Looking Back On 2020
I didn’t want to make this about showing off so the final selection of campaigns includes great results and great execution, as well as not-so-great results and not-so-great execution.
The one thing all these projects have in common is the hard work this team put into creating them out of thin air at a time when all of us were worried and anxious. That is what I want to highlight.
This post is a celebration of what we have achieved as a team. Together we navigated a global pandemic and didn’t stray from our vision of producing awe-inspiring, creative and interesting content that people will continue to share for months and years to come. We made ourselves proud.
I’d like to invite you to think about your great moments of 2020, the things that you’re most grateful for. Take a moment to look back at the positive side of this year before you turn the page.
Here are a few things for which I am thankful:
- The tough decisions we made over the years that unknowingly would keep our business safe throughout a global pandemic.
- The work that kept us going as the world was standing still. For 7 hours a day Mon-Fri we were all working as we always do, living a life that was closer to normal than most.
- The fact that this year I was entrusted with leading the agency. We’re heading into 2021 with our plans set for the next ten years, we know where we are going and how we will get there.
- The realisation that over the past 12 months we launched over a hundred campaigns and built thousands of links without compromising our vision.
- The news of the vaccine, which means that there is a big chance we will be able to move forward with (a new kind of) normal life soon.
- The thought that you made it this far. Thank you for spending your time reading about our journey this year, I hope you enjoyed checking out our work.
Bring on 2021.