It might feel like 2023 has passed in the blink of an eye, but a heck of a lot has happened. Zoning in on the world of advertising and marketing, we’ve seen an industry in continuous flux, with some of the most famous older agencies disappearing in mergers, while new already-famous agencies got bought. There’s also been the rising up of many new setups, both in-house and out, proof that there are many ways nowadays for brands to get the type of marketing they need.
This was the year that AI appeared to fully come of age, to be talked about, feared, and celebrated in equal measure. We saw the cost of living crisis impact customers, companies, and brands alike, while brand purpose received its most significant kicking in years (but don’t give up on it yet, folks). And at the centre of the year Barbie rose forth: one film to rule them all.
Barbie not only dominated cinema of course – you’ll find her at the heart of our ad campaigns roundup of the year. Check out the full list below:
Louis Vuitton X Yayoi Kusama
The year began in a polka dot and pumpkins kind of way, as LV’s collab with adored Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama showed up seemingly everywhere: in ads, projected across Harrods in London (shown above), on 3D billboards, a museum style pop-up in Tokyo, and via giant inflatable sculptures of the artist in Paris and robot versions in New York. The campaign was so expansive it got people questioning whether the brand had gone too far, but was impossible to miss. It was a high point in a year where commerce seemed obsessed with art, with Coke shoehorning its way into art masterpieces and Stella Artois inspiring its own art show at Bella Artes Museum in Buenos Aires.
Heinz: Ketchup Fraud; Agency: Rethink
Heinz Ketchup had another stellar advertising year, appearing at the centre of the first global campaign for Heinz in its 150-year history in June, which centred on the obsessive tendencies of its fans. That was prefaced by this subtle print campaign, released in March, which quietly asserted the brand’s status via photos of restaurant workers caught in the act of refilling Heinz bottles with a cheaper substitute.
Vow: Mammoth Meatball; Agency: Wunderman Thompson
Wunderman Thompson is known for coming up with groundbreaking concepts to get people talking about complicated ideas, and this was never more in evidence than in the Mammoth Meatball, which starred a meatball derived from lab-cultured meat based on the DNA of woolly mammoths, in order to help publicise the work of Australian cultured meat startup Vow. The project garnered press all over the world as people attempted to get their heads around the idea.
Fiat: Operation No Grey; Agency: Leo Burnett Italia
Advertising for car brands has become so standardised in recent years that it seems impossible to distinguish one brand from another. This stunt campaign for Fiat felt like a breath of fresh air in June, as it introduced its new colour range by dunking a grey car (with Fiat CEO Olivier Francois on board) into a vat of orange paint. The ad proved wildly popular with viewers too.
Yorkshire Tea: Pack Yer Bags; Agency: Lucky Generals
Music made a powerful return to advertising in 2023, with brands opting for upbeat, cheerful tunes to bring a bit of optimism to audiences in a tricky year. Brands including McDonalds and Marmite made great use of pre-existing tracks in their ads, while 2023 also became the year of the branded music video. Liquid Death arguably led this trend with its takedowns of internet haters via the medium of song, but it was Yorkshire Tea’s unexpected entry into the category with a song written and produced by long-time agency partner Lucky Generals and Ninja Tune that was the branded bid for song of the summer.
Mattel/Warner Bros: Barbie
The Barbie movie wasn’t released until July but it felt like the whole first half of the year was spent gearing up for it, and it will likely be studied for its marketing prowess for years to come. By bringing Greta Gerwig on board as director and co-writer (with partner Noah Baumbach), Mattel and Warner Bros secured authenticity for the movie, which then allowed the brand to sell it to death via collabs with seemingly every brand available (including Airbnb, shown top) without losing credibility. A little bit of extra luck was gifted to the movie when the media latched onto its release coinciding with Christopher Nolan’s atomic bomb epic Oppenheimer, and Barbenheimer was born.
Ikea: Pee/Puke/Afterparty; Agency: Try
Ikea leant into its status as the go-to brand for functional yet attractive furniture in 2023, via campaigns including Proudly Second Best, which expressed how the brand would always be a back up to parents. This campaign from Try in Norway took the concept to extreme levels, however, by showing the stark realities of home life, as humans and their pets truly put Ikea’s furniture to the test.
Channel 4: Climate Change Season trailer; Agency: 4creative
Ad agencies have struggled to articulate the enormity of climate change in an adequate way, often leaning on terrifying images with an earnest voiceover to try and frighten people into action. In 2023, humour entered the fray via ads for organisations including Make Your Money Matter, starring Olivia Colman, and this ad for Channel 4’s Climate Change Season of programming. Both used satire to squarely place the responsibility on big business rather than individuals.
JD Sports: The Bag For Life; Agency: Uncommon Creative Studio
Supposedly a Christmas ad, this spot for JD Sports expertly expresses the brand’s place in UK youth culture (as Nando’s also did in the spring) by glorifying the retailer’s iconic drawstring duffel bag.
Apple: Fuzzy Feelings; Agency: TBWA\Media Arts Lab
Apple has released a series of epic commercials this year, from Run This Town to celebrate Rihanna’s half-time appearance at the Super Bowl, to a special effects epic for Airpods directed by Megaforce (who were also behind this year’s slightly surreal John Lewis Christmas ad). But while the UK is supposed to be the country of the Christmas ad, Apple is increasingly claiming that crown single-handedly via a series of beautifully crafted annual spots. This year was no exception, combining Anna Mantzaris’ exquisite stop motion animation with live action by director Lucia Aniello to create a heart-warming tale of the power of kindness. Happy holidays everyone.