The Best Branded Visual Content of 2016 So Far

Nayomi Chibana

Written by:
Nayomi Chibana

Visual Branding header

Every year, the best and the brightest brands on social media are honored with the equivalent of an Oscar for their highly influential online campaigns. In the past week, The Shorty Awards, the most prominent awards show for social media influencers, announced this year's finalists and winners.

To provide you with some timely inspiration for your own social media campaigns, we've compiled samples of this year's award-winning branded visual content created by the 2016 winners, which probably include some of your favorite brand names, such as Hulu, Netflix, National Geographic and Domino's.

So, without further ado, here are this year's best visual content creators on social media:

1 GIF Images

hulu gif

Viewers can search Hulu's extensive GIF catalog to find the perfect image to share on social media.

As predicted by Randy Krum of Cool Infographics, animated GIFs have exploded this year, dominating all social media channels, including Facebook and Twitter.

The reason for their rising popularity is not hard to understand: The result of converting a few seconds of video into a small, looping image file that can be shared anywhere, GIFs communicate so much more than just a still image and are more versatile than larger video files.

This year's winner in the Animated GIF category was none other than the video streaming site Hulu. A favorite among binge watchers, it has gone beyond the creation of a few isolated GIF images--which often get lost in cyberspace after the moment passes--to creating a searchable archive of tagged GIF images.

Comprised of high-quality, high-resolution GIFs that are perfect for sharing on social media, Hulu's GIF catalog has something for everyone: Memorable moments  from both classic and new shows are included, which can easily be tweeted or shared on other platforms.

Another aspect of the campaign's effectiveness was the site's integration with the Tumblr platform, which is an ideal place to build brand loyalty and acquire new fans.

2 Data Visualizations


Netflix created unique graphs to visualize the staggering figures related to cocaine trade.

This year's winner in the Data Visualization category was another video streaming giant, Netflix.

In this highly popular campaign for the hit series Narcos, this global brand had the task of creatively visualizing the jaw-dropping figures related to the economics of the cocaine trade. They set out to do it not only in a visually appealing manner but also one that would appeal to a wider audience, including bilingual viewers.

For example, in the graph above, the Netflix team compared Colombian exports with seizures of Colombian cocaine.

Or, in the data visualization below, the total number of people employed by the Medellin cartel was compared to those employed by global companies such as Google and FedEx.


Another distinctive element of this campaign was the use of a consistent visual style to create a cohesive campaign, which was highly successful in terms of engagement, ultimately making Narcos one of the most mentioned Netflix original series of the year.

3 Emojis

dominos emoji order

Domino's now allows users to order pizza via text message using an emoji of a pizza.

Emojis--which are small images and smileys used to convey emotions via text message, email and social media--are another form of visual communication that have become increasingly popular.

Since people love texting and tweeting emojis, Domino's came up with the brilliant idea of allowing customers to order a pizza by simply texting or tweeting an emoji of a pizza. (Before ordering, customers must go to to create an account, save what is called an "Easy Order" and link it to their Twitter handle.)

This innovative e-commerce initiative was so successful that online ordering now accounts for up to 60% of all orders placed with Domino's. Besides, it is also estimated that the campaign generated around 1.2 billion earned media impressions.Because of the way it deftly used a pop culture trend to its advantage, the initiative was covered by some of the largest media outlets, including Time, USA Today, Good Morning America, Jimmy Fallon and The Today Show.

4 Memes


Beats created this mini-site, which allows users to create a customized "Straight Outta Compton" meme.

In anticipation of one of last year's most popular movie titles, "Straight Outta Compton" (a movie about the career of rapper Dr. Dre, who began his unlikely ascent to stardom in his home town Compton), the multi-billion dollar company Beats by Dr. Dre partnered with Universal Pictures to create buzz around the film before its release.

Starting from the premise that everyone is proud of their home town, the campaign launched a tool on that anyone could use to create a customized meme with the name of their city and an image.

Users could then either download the image or, in most cases, share their meme on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

The campaign was so successful that it literally hijacked the Internet. Beats established itself as the first brand to become a number 1 trending topic on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at the same time.

Not only did the campaign reach 1.2 billion people worldwide, it generated around 9 million "Straight Outta Compton" memes and 27 million video views.

Big brand names like Snickers and 7-Eleven also jumped on the meme-creating bandwagon, using the tool to create their own shareable images. The buzz was so huge that even the White House felt compelled to use it to sell its nuclear deal with Iran to the public, creating this meme:


5 Live Streaming Video

streaming video

USA promoted its show Mr. Robot by live streaming an enactment of hackers deleting your debt.

The simultaneous winner of the live streaming and contest or promotion categories was the TV network USA.

To promote its new show Mr. Robot, the network launched an ingenious campaign, which entailed building a real-life hacker hideaway and conducting a live stream event on the social gaming platform Twitch. In order to really engage users, the campaign set out to hack its way to deleting $100,000 of debt in real-time on Twitch.


USA created a real-life hackers lair for the live stream event.

Given that many of the platform's users are self-proclaimed techies, Twitch was the perfect place to promote a show on vigilante hackers. During the three-day live stream, the group of fictitious hackers played video games with the audience and even destroyed some hard drives in the process.


Every half hour, viewers were given a code they could use to "reclaim" part of the $100,000 that the group was supposedly redistributing to the public. The winners were actually announced on live stream and payed on the spot via PayPal.

6 Photography and Graphics


National Geographic launched a virtual high-five chain that made ripples across 85 countries through social media.

Known for its stunning images and videos, it's no surprise that National Geographic was the winner this year in the photography and graphics category. For World Lion Day, a worldwide social media campaign was launched with the hashtag #5forBigCats, which was designed to raise awareness of endangered cats in the wild through a virtual high-five chain.

The compelling photographs and high rate of celebrity participation allowed the campaign to receive more than 27,000 virtual high fives across 85 countries around the world. In addition, $200,000 was raised for National Geographic's Big Cats initiative and media mentions were received from CBS, Yahoo and Mashable, among others.

7 Video

As covered in our previous post on how to engage audiences with video content, the key to effective visual storytelling in the form of video is to forge an emotional connection with the audience.

This year, the winner in the Video category was Macy's with its holiday season "Believe" campaign. In the three-minute film seen above, a girl and her brother make other people's holiday wishes come true with a magic "Wish Writer" pen.

At the end of the video, the audience is invited to give back and make someone else's wish come true by making a donation to the Make a Wish Foundation.

The success of the video campaign was enormous, confirming the notion that customers still respond to a message of giving back to others. In total, the campaign achieved more than 10 million video views and collected more than $2 million in donations.

8 Virtual Reality

As predicted in our article on visual storytelling trends to watch out for 2016, virtual reality has exploded this year, becoming increasingly mainstream. This year, Discovery won The Shorty Award in the Virtual Reality category, with its selection of more than 50 short-form virtual reality experiences.

Ranging from gold mining and surfing to endangered species trafficking (see video above), the topics covered are diverse and always lend themselves to gripping narratives designed to spark debate and conversation around meaningful social topics.

One of the key features of VR stories are their unique ability to literally transport viewers to the heart of a story, thereby evoking a greater degree of empathy, awareness and, hopefully, a desire to enact real change.

Six months after the launch of Discovery VR, audience engagement has gone through the roof as fans have shared their experiences with peers on social media platforms.

How about your branded visual content? If you have a piece of visual content you would like to share with us, simply write us in the comments section below, and we'll get back to you as soon as possible.


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About the Author

Nayomi Chibana is a journalist and writer for Visme’s Visual Learning Center. Besides researching trends in visual communication and next-generation storytelling, she’s passionate about data-driven content.

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