GoodBoyBob Lab Rats commercial

Annual Awards 2024: Trends & Observations

In a year marked with drama and a fair amount of despair, we saw creativity and design rise up in 2023 to help us through the dark times and make us laugh, cheer and think. Plus, there were an awful lot of rebrands

If you were to pick one word to sum up 2023, you might choose turbulent. In the global sense, we saw war, divisive politics, unstable economies and increasingly disturbing evidence of climate change. If we zoom in on the advertising and design industries, there was change aplenty there too, and not always of the celebrated disruptive kind. Mergers of major companies saw famous legacy names disappear from the industry forever, and it was a year of brutal cuts and redundancies. Despite this, we also saw a flurry of startups emerge, with markedly different styles of leadership from what we’ve seen in the past, which make for interesting developments in the future.

Change in more established companies bore fruit too, as can be seen in the winners of our Most Creative awards, introduced this year in the Annual Awards to celebrate agencies and studios creating consistently innovative and interesting work.
Design Bridge and Partners, which has won the Most Creative Design Agency award, entered 2023 as a new agency formed by the merging of the studios Superunion and Design Bridge, both owned by WPP.

The shift saw the creation of a new agency significantly enlarged and, according to CCO Emma Follett, offered other exciting new possibilities. “It’s a good time to be vocal – when else do you get the chance to talk about what the agency believes in?” she says. “What’s the future of the agency? What am I a part of now? You get to reignite that passion and excitement about what you create together.”

IKEA Big Blue Bag
Still from Lab Rats commercial for GoodBoyBob; Above: Ikea Big Bag on Oxford Street in London, by Mother London

Mother London, winner of the Most Creative Advertising Agency this year, saw a 7% increase in revenue on 2022 – its highest ever. It also enjoyed creative success with campaigns in a mix of mediums for brands such as Ikea, Reese’s and Greenpeace. CCO Felix Richter put Mother’s strong year down to diversifying its creative teams. “If I look at our work highlights from last year, it was very often teams with new people and people who have been here for 15 years,” says Richter. “That really has come together nicely, where the high calibre that was already here, and people with different perspectives joining in, have led to interesting new things.”

Talking of turbulence, one company that has weathered more than most of late is Channel 4, which has faced the challenges of a rapidly changing sector and a major downturn in advertising revenue. It has used creativity to blaze a path forward, with its in-house agency 4creative producing a startling set of new idents, as well as working with Pentagram on a new masterbrand to help make the channel fit for the future.

This, alongside a number of entertaining and provocative campaigns, saw 4creative pick up the Most Creative In-House Agency award. “There’s a great thing in being a landmark public service broadcaster and the heft that comes with that,” says 4creative ECD Lynsey Atkin. “I think you can stand there and feel like Channel 4 remains a flag-bearer for British creativity.”

The other most significant talking point of the year was AI, whose influence on the industry remains both hotly debated and as yet unclear. Opinions fit broadly into two camps (with plenty of shades of grey in between): those who see it as something that will dumb down the creative quality of the industry and lead to mass losses of jobs, and those who see it as a new opportunity for creative experimentation. Both of these prophecies may well come to pass while the industry realigns to accommodate this new force.

If you need hope that craft and innovation won’t disappear altogether, though, there’s plenty to be found among the winners in this year’s Annual Awards. 4creative’s aforementioned idents are a tour de force in beautifully crafted work, while Apple continued its reputation for creating impeccable short films-cum-product demos via work including The Lost Voice, directed by Taika Waititi. And if your tastes run more to the lo-fi, there is much to love in ticket booking service Dice’s charming campaign, rooted around its brand character.

We’ve also got plenty of examples of innovative approaches using tech in this year’s awards, from WeTransfer’s clever collaboration with Jungle, which offers new perspectives on how to launch an album in the streaming age, to creative ideas that have sprung from data, resulting in beautiful work, as in the case of Aston Martin, which created a campaign based on the physical data of drivers.

BBC Earth Experience
David Attenborough in the BBC Earth Experience

Sky News also used data to demystify politics and lobbying, creating vital knowledge for readers in the age of misinformation. And if you just wanted to be wowed by an exhibition, tech offered us that too, as seen in the BBC Earth Experience and other examples.

2023 also saw the continuation of the ‘great rebranding’, as more companies undertook new design approaches to reach new audiences. An outstanding moment in this sphere came from London’s National Portrait Gallery, which reopened last year after a three-year refurbishment with new branding created by Edit.

We also saw the ongoing merging of design and advertising, as more agencies in adland launched design departments or separate studios. One of these, Not Wieden+Kennedy, a spin-off of the London ad agency, launched with a bang, creating a logo generator titled Not Machine, a project that proved a winner in this year’s Annual Awards. While this combining of the worlds of advertising and design is not without controversy, it shows no signs of abating.

WeTransfer and Jungle Collaboration
WeTransfer and Jungle music collaboration
NOT Wieden_Kennedy Brand Launch
Branding for the launch of Not Wieden+Kennedy, a new design arm at the London agency

In advertising, the biggest trend of the year was the ditching of brand purpose and the reinstating of humour. Perhaps in recognition of the dark times we are enduring, brands have seemingly given up preaching to us about social change and instead are out to entertain. From Uber One and John Lewis, to GoodBoyBob and Ikea, brands chose to stand out by making us laugh or feel cheerfully surprised.

This occasionally came with a serious edge, though, as charities and activist groups also used humour to reach audiences that might be overwhelmed by more earnest messaging. In this year’s Annual Awards alone, we have campaigns from Make My Money Matter, Greenpeace and Channel 4, all of which use humour to tackle climate change and lobby against big oil firms. Another big winner was BBH London’s work for the charity Girl vs Cancer, which used provocative copy to address the impact of illness on sex.

The tactic of shock and surprise to make us pay attention has long been a core part of the advertising playbook, but this is increasingly offered with a smile or a wink rather than a barrage of frightening information. While we may watch the infiltration of AI into the creative industries with interest, it seems unlikely to come up with anything this nuanced and clever. Not yet, at least.