Despite a better-than-expected economic climate, a preponderance of challenges acted as creative handcuffs for marketers in 2023. The few brands that were capable of break through relied on tried-and-true tactics relatively than creative disruption.
The tone of 2023 was set early by a Super Bowl ad season described by some as secure, lazy and boring. Marketers never seemed capable of get out of the block as the yr went on. Most noteworthy efforts fell into the categories of rebrands, refreshes and repositionings as marketers sought to reconnect with evolving consumers relatively than wowing them with splashy campaigns.
On the media front, surging spend on retail media and connected TV were met with concerns about fraud, fragmentation and FTC intervention. And while generative artificial intelligence dominated headlines — replacing last yr’s shiny object, the metaverse — brands weren’t capable of incorporate the tech into their promoting in a meaningful way, with one notable exception.
Instead, successful marketers leaned much more aggressively into campaigns around nostalgia and pop culture, sparking joy for otherwise beleaguered consumers. With that in mind, Marketing Dive has assembled the standout creative work from 2023: Campaigns that made a difference, even when the playbook stays acquainted with marketing at a crossroads.
McDonald’s shakes loose for Grimace’s birthday
No stranger to turning childhood nostalgia into buzzy marketing, McDonald’s struck gold — or perhaps, purple — with a summer promotion around brand mascot Grimace’s birthday. Paying homage to memories of birthday parties at PlayPlaces, the multichannel campaign included ads, an 8-bit video game, merchandise, a Snapchat augmented reality experience and a phone number to text with birthday wishes.
The most engaging element of the campaign was a limited-edition purple shake that drove greater than 3 billion views on TikTok and helped boost sales growth. In a surprising viral trend, young consumers flocked to the platform to share clips of themselves drinking the berry-flavored treat and imagining surreal, often horrible uncomfortable side effects.
“Part of showing up authentically in culture means sharing the pen with fans so that they could make the brand their very own,” said JJ Healan, vp of U.S. marketing, brand, content and culture at McDonald’s, in emailed comments. “And sometimes, meaning they take the conversation in an unexpected direction. But we’re here for nevertheless they need to have a good time with us. Thanks to our fans, Grimace’s Birthday was one of our most socially engaging campaigns of all time.”
The Grimace birthday campaign was billed as a continuation of McDonald’s efforts to satisfy consumers at the intersection of nostalgia and culture, a theme to which the QSR continues to return. The marketer in November partnered with Crocs (one other brand that has benefited from a cultural obsession with nostalgia) for a limited-edition line of shoes, socks and Jibbitz charms inspired by Birdie, the Hamburglar and — of course — Grimace.
Mattel says, ‘Hi, Barbie!’
Mattel and Warner Bros. “Barbie” movie was nothing short of a world sensation, generating $1.36 billion at the box office, with sales of the toy up by 25% after the film’s release. Numbers like these mark a turnaround for the brand from a decade ago when it was losing social currency with the parents who make purchases despite retaining an affinity with kids. That all modified this yr, explained Lisa McKnight, executive vp and chief brand officer at Mattel, during an Advertising Week panel.
“The perception has only improved. Parents with daughters and young kids alike really see [Barbie] as a task model, see this brand as something that’s connected to culture, that’s inclusive, empowering, and celebratory and fun, and that is necessary, too,” the executive said. “You need to be purpose-driven, but you furthermore mght need to bring joy, fun and slightly bit of entertainment — that’s what persons are searching for.”
This yr, Barbie was seemingly in all places as brands of all stripes looked to get in on the motion. Dating app Bumble gave consumers the likelihood to match with characters from the film while a Barbie selfie generator went viral with 13 million users. Barbie’s significant market penetration was a win for each the brand and partner marketers.
“[There were] literally over 165 partners around the world on this movie, and we said ‘no’ to people,” McKnight said. “The engagement level — the amount of those that desired to have a playdate with us — was incredible.”
Coca-Cola leads the way with generative AI
The hype around generative AI made it the yr’s biggest story across marketing, technology and culture at-large. But whilst tech giants and agency holding corporations made huge investments, most brands haven’t fully embraced generative AI of their creative efforts — with some noteworthy exceptions.
Coca-Cola jumped on the hype train early as the first marketer to leverage a partnership between management consultancy Bain & Company and OpenAI, the developer of AI software like ChatGPT and DALL.E, to launch its “Create Real Magic” platform. Since then, Coke has used generative AI at music at festivals, at a takeover of the Las Vegas Sphere and to make digital holiday cards.
Coke used AI to assist create a latest beverage — a launch that saw strong initial results, per a recent earnings call — and the company continues to search for each consumer-facing and non-consumer-facing applications of the technology, Selman Careaga, president of the global Coca‑Cola category, told Marketing Dive.
“As long as we feel that we are able to create something that folks can engage with and create a very good experience for our brands, we will certainly proceed to make use of the tool,” the executive said. “And also, to create, internally, some of our processes — if we are able to make something faster and use higher insights, as well, I feel we’ll proceed to make use of that tool.”
As generative AI moves from buzz to make use of cases, expect marketers seeking to create magic of their very own to follow Coca-Cola’s lead into 2024 and beyond, as Careaga hinted at “other exciting stuff coming up that we’re working on.”
State Farm’s red era
The stars aligned for State Farm this yr for a campaign which leveraged the hype surrounding the relationship between Kansas City Chiefs tight-end Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift. During an Eagles game on Oct. 1, Jake, the State Farm mascot, cozied as much as Donna, mother of each Travis and Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce. During the game, Jake sat with Donna and recreated moments from her interactions with Swift the week prior.
The stunt, which saw the pair eating chicken nuggets, amongst other callbacks, was made possible through a collaboration with Maximum Effort, which is owned partially by Ryan Reynolds, a private friend of Swift. The whole thing got here together over a really short period of time.
“The truth is, something like that only happens whenever you create the conditions for it years, a long time upfront,” said Alyson Griffin, head of marketing at State Farm in an interview with Marketing Dive. “It’s rare you could catch lightning in a bottle by likelihood… brands need to sort of work on their brand and make the conditions right in order that something like that may occur.”
Donna and Jake’s adventure paid off for the brand, comparable to the effect of 1,700 cable ads, based on Griffin. There was also a 15 times search increase for State Farm online, while State Farm advertisements that aired during the game proved simpler than usual.
Swift has turn into a marketing darling in recent times, especially together with her Eras Tour set to generate $4.1 billion, making the solo tour the highest-grossing in history. Her star power is so strong, Heinz got here up with a latest condiment, “Ketchup and Seemingly Ranch,” in lower than 24 hours after a tweet about her selection of condiments at a Kansas City football game went viral.
Dunkin’ builds brand with Ben Affleck, Ice Spice
Amid a sea of forgettable celebrity cameos and goofy humor at the Super Bowl was one union that played to the strengths of each the brand and the ambassador: Ben Affleck’s appearance in a Dunkin’ ad that the Hollywood star directed.
The partnership acknowledged long-running memes about the Boston native’s love for the Massachusetts-based breakfast spot and managed to deliver each authenticity and actual laughs. Dunkin’ didn’t stop there: In April, it returned with a spot that played off Affleck’s relationship with Matt Damon, his partner in production house Artists Equity, with which Dunkin’ recently formalized a relationship.
Then, in a push to have interaction with younger consumers, Dunkin’ enlisted upstart rapper Ice Spice to call and promote a limited-time drink that blended the chain’s Pumpkin Munchkins Donut Hole Treats into its Frozen Coffee, an effort Dunkin’s marketing team was capable of pull off by moving at “the speed of pop culture,” CMO Jill McVicar Nelson said in emailed remarks.
“Connecting the brand to culture isn’t nearly being trendy for the sake of it or for celebrity cache — we use these moments to maintain Dunkin’ top of mind as a every day ritual, and to create affinity with the next generation of coffee drinkers,” the executive said.
In the same way the chain played off Affleck’s pop culture association with Dunkin’, the Ice Spice Munchkins Drink pulled inspiration each from Dunkin’s donut holes and Ice Spice’s fan base, referred to as “munchkins,” as a sweet-toothed offering for consumers who never saw Affleck and Damon in 1997’s “Good Will Hunting.”
“Our Ben Affleck and Ice Spice campaign was such a fun technique to take tried and true pumpkin spice season up a notch with a star-powered collaboration nobody saw coming,” Nelson said. “Their connection and shared real love for Dunkin’ made the spots resonate with audiences across all demographics and interests.”
Pepsi marks visual overhaul with one hundred and twenty fifth anniversary marketing blitz
Brand refreshes have been in vogue in 2023, but few have met the moment like Pepsi, which unveiled a complete design overhaul — its first in 14 years — in the spring. The latest look’s official introduction was timed to have a good time the brand’s one hundred and twenty fifth anniversary in the fall as part of a monthslong marketing blitz.
Years in the making, Pepsi’s rebrand swapped the soda’s muted color scheme for an electrical shade of blue paired with sharp black tones. The refresh, which emphasizes its zero-sugar offering, saw the PepsiCo marketer pivot away from minimalist branding to as a substitute embrace a louder, more vibrant look. It’s a theme that others have adopted recently and one meant to embrace what Pepsi bills as a “disruptor” popularity.
Pepsi in August kicked off 125 days of promotions spanning traditional spots, social content, SMS promotions and experiential ploys, including a Pepsi 125 Diner concept. Nostalgia is a robust focus of the marketing, which has manifested in multiple ways, including through the reimagination of decades-old collabs and the resurrection of past commercials from stars like Madonna. Each element is supposed to have a good time “Pepsi’s past in the service of constructing Pepsi’s future,” based on Jenny Danzi, senior director for Pepsi Trademark.
“We are fully ourselves with this rebrand and we’ve seen a very good response — people want merch, people love the product,” said Danzi. “People are very clear that that is the Pepsi they’ve known and loved and we expect it’s making us appealing to audiences which may not have been fascinated with Pepsi top of mind.”
Taco Bell liberates Taco Tuesday
Taco Bell looked to free Taco Tuesday from its trademark shackles in 2023. Eventually, LeBron James got in on the motion. During a 30-second commercial, the basketball star might be seen being “bleeped” each time he attempts to say the previously trademarked slogan.
The brand ultimately found success in July after Taco John’s abandoned the trademark which it had held in every U.S. state with the exception of New Jersey since 1989. The rival chain announced it could donate $100 per location to the Children of Restaurant Employees (CORE), calling on Taco Bell to do the same.
To have a good time the liberated trademark, Taco Bell teamed up with DoorDash to present away $5 million in free taco orders on Sept. 12. The money went to participating vendors and elevated the relationship between the two corporations, which has existed since 2022, beyond the transactional.
“The surest, fastest technique to have a good time it was through delivery,” Taco Bell Chief Digital Officer Dane Mathews said at Advertising Week. “If we wanted to succeed in the taqueros, if we desired to amplify and have a good time their ability to make use of Taco Tuesday, the most simplified, straightforward platform to do this with was DoorDash.”
The Yum Brand’s chain saw remarkable success with its efforts, which prolonged far beyond liberating the trademark. #TacoTuesday generated $1.1 million earned media value (EMV) from 103 creators across 14 posts. This impressive performance makes #TacoTuesday the brand’s sixteenth most successful hashtag by EMV, based on data from CreatorIQ.
The success of the effort speaks to Taco Bell’s strong position in the QSR landscape. As Mathews said at Advertising Week, “We imagine it’s a way for the category and taco culture to proceed to thrive in a burger world.”
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