Most memorable marketing campaigns of 2023
In the third article in our 2024cast series, we asked Scottish marketers what their favourite and most memorable marketing campaigns of 2023 were. Marketers from Baillie Gifford, CHAS, The TEFL Org, Thermo Fisher Scientific and more share their thoughts.
Life in plastic really is fantastic: we had a whopping number of responses passionate about the marketing campaign created around the launch of the Barbie movie.
“This year, ‘Barbie’ was the outright winner - regardless of if you went to see the film or not, you knew that Barbie was out. The sheer abundance of multi activity that took place to make the motion picture such a global success is plausible from a marketer’s perspective,” stated Frank Gormanley, Founder of Forever Great.
Nicola Thomson, Global Marketing Capability Lead at Edrington, agreed: “Barbie all the way!”
But what was it that made the pretty in pink campaign stand out? It was more than just posters and trailers: the campaign spanned so many marketing touchpoints. The Barbie Selfie Generator helped the public to join in the excitement, while dozens of partnerships (such as a Barbie dreamhouse AirBnB) helped kick it up a notch.
“It’s hard not to be impressed by the incredible marketing behind the Barbie movie this year, which completely smashed box office records. Understandably, the budget for this was astronomical (an estimated $150m). However, the weight behind the brand and seemingly endless budget could have resulted in complacency, but instead was an extensive and calculated global effort that captured attention through innovative activations and partnerships. It was wildly successful even beyond the box office, reigniting a franchise that will continue to span multiple generations,” said Richard Wardrop, Head of Marketing at Vault City Brewing.
The budget is a key issue: it is very easy to say the campaign was only so successful because it had a huge budget that lets face it, most of us will never see as marketers. But the marketers we spoke to believe the campaign goes above and beyond just the money.
“For me personally, what really set the Barbie Movie campaign apart was the heart and soul staying unapologetically true to its core values and what Barbie stands for. In today’s world it would have been so easy to alter the image and messaging of Barbie to meet today’s standards. However, while a bold move, this unwavering authenticity for me is what built the trust with such a wide audience. The team behind the Barbie campaign brought together a lovely combination of traditional and modern methods – from out of home to digital interactions, it was a simple yet innovative campaign with flawless execution,” noted Craig Graham, Regional Marketing Manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific.
It's not the size of the budget that matters, it’s how you use it: and Barbie has definitely shown that there are a number of ways to do it.
“We may not have the budget, teams nor scope and size of campaign focus - but we can learn from the execution that takes places across all aspects of media from digital and traditional, through to engaging in fashion, food, and music! Powerful,” Frank concluded.
While Barbie partially tapped into nostalgia for their campaign, so did Walmart for a Mean Girls themed Black Friday campaign.
“It may be 20 years since the film’s release but Walmart has brought back the cast of Mean Girls to promote their Black Friday Deals. Grool! Lindsay Lohan and co-stars (now as parents and teachers) recreate memorable scenes and deliver their - quotable by many a millennial word-for-word - well-known lines against the backdrop of the North Shore campus and Missy Elliott soundtrack (who also features), all with product placements and promotions front and centre. That’s so fetch!” explained Alan Moir, Sales and Marketing Manager at The TEFL Org.
The campaign dropped shortly after October 3rd (the unofficial Mean Girls day) and while it was an ad for Walmart, it also tapped into the excitement of the upcoming Mean Girls musical film, releasing early 2024. This helps tap into the key audiences and nostalgia of those who already had a level of excitement around the film.
“It works because like the stars of the original film in this ad, the original audience of the movie are now adults with both spending power and household decision-making authority. By aligning the ad with the demographic that grew up with the movie, it creates a connection that goes beyond just entertainment, making it a strategic, effective and fun way to resonate with the right target audience,” said Fiona Parker, Head of Production at Hydrogen.
Norwich City Football Club
This year, Norwich City Football Club’s World Mental Health Day campaign struck a chord with people around the world, no matter what team they supported.
A true work of storytelling, the advert encourages the public to check in on those around them, even those who may seem that they are coping, and that it isn’t always obvious when someone is struggling.
Ellie Murphy, Director at Flourish Marketing and CIM Scotland Chair, explained why the ad stood out for her: “Norwich City Football Club’s video for World Mental Health Day was definitely the most powerful marketing I’ve seen this year. It was mega impactful and the amount of people talking about and sharing the video proves how good it was at getting people to talk about a sensitive subject. Campaigns like these, coming from football clubs and other organisations can help to reduce the stigma around talking about mental health and suicide, and hopefully has a lasting impact across generations.”
Proof that if you do something fun with data customers are happy to share it, Spotify Wrapped has become a campaign that is an annual tradition.
This year also included thank you messages from over 40,000 artists (allowing musicians to thank their top fans) and showing the ‘listening character’ specific to your music tastes. The design itself was inspired by early naughties computer graphics.
“This will no doubt be a favourite of many, but Spotify Wrapped continues to be a masterclass in marketing that must go down as one of the best campaigns of a generation. 2023 felt like a big step up from 2022, with the addition of the messages from artists standing out in particular. The level of anticipation Spotify has built for this campaign is astonishing as it is impressive, and we need only look at the amount of copycat social content generated from other brands to see that they have done something very, very right with this idea,” said Ewan MacGill, Associate Director at Frame.
Ewan’s right: no sooner was Spotify Wrapped announced than brands and creators began to release their own versions: such as Glasgow Airport.
Talking of campaigns that have been running for a few years…did somebody say Just Eat? The food delivery service launched the latest in their ad series with the vocal talents of Christina Aguilera and Latto. This is the latest in the campaign series which began several years ago with Snoop Dogg and was followed by a video featuring Katy Perry.
“The Just Eat "Did somebody say" campaign is my favourite because it brilliantly combines entertainment and marketing. The unexpected collaboration of artists Christina Aguilera and Latto shows the diverse food choices available on Just Eat, while their catchy music and visually stunning ad captivate audiences.
“This campaign not only builds the brand but also creates a memorable experience, cutting through the noise in a competitive food delivery market. The seamless extension of the campaign from above the line channels into digital and social channels further amplifies its impact and reach. I think they've done a remarkable job,” enthused Adam Dickson, Marketing Campaigns Assistant at Baillie Gifford.
Oh, and if you’re a huge fan of the ad, you can check out the song lyrics and even a list of all the food featuring in the advert here.
A trend in marketing this year was CGI ads, and the campaign that led them all: Maybelline’s mascara tube ad.
This CGI ad was so realistic that people actually posted about trying to find the tube station that it was installed in!
“Maybelline’s Sky High Mascara CGI ad went viral this year…and for good reason. It was the start in a trend of GCI and augmented reality ads that has grown in the second half of the year. The beauty of it (pun intended) was that it looked so realistic that people honestly believed it was a real train at a tube station. And of course other brands have been quick to jump on the success such as Loreal’s L’Oreal’s Infallible Matte Resistance lipstick CGI campaign in Paris.
“There can be a lot of times when marketers have a great idea but are constrained by budgets and the ability to actually create what they need, but this campaign helped to showcase CGI and that there is a way to do create something fresh,” said Gillian Williamson, Marketing Manager at Head Resourcing.
The creator of the campaign, Ian Padgham with production company, Origiful, has since coined this as ‘faux out of home’ – a concept that technically could exist in real life, but is instead made by CGI.
This has since been used by dozens of brands for fashion, make-up and even toothpaste. When the first CGI campaigns were launched so many people believed they were real: now people are getting more savvy but they are still impressive and stand out from more generic campaigns.
Can you make an ad for a company without showing what they sell? Sure you can, and McDonald’s provided it this year with it’s “Raise your arches” ad, playing on the golden arches of the McDonald’s logo.
The ad – directed by filmmaker Edgar Wright – was accompanied by influencer activity and filters on social media, and looked to tap into the idea that sometimes a decision to go somewhere isn’t said by words, but with gestures.
“Even though the ad didn’t feature any of their products, staff, restaurants - or even have anyone talking in it - it was still pretty clear from the initial few seconds it was a McDonald’s campaign with the red and yellow colour cues throughout, and the cheeky eyebrow raises mirroring the iconic golden arches,” said Alan Moir, Sales and Marketing Manager at The TEFL Org.
Finally, let’s turn to the work of B2B marketing. Workday’s Super Bowl ad “Rock Star” was a tongue in cheek message for everyone who calls their colleagues a rock star for doing their job (see also: unicorn, ninja, and/or guru).
The ad looked to raise awareness of the enterprise software to the general public, not just senior managers, and it did so in a way that was funny and relatable.
Sinead Thomas, Head of Marketing and Communications at CHAS, explained why she loved the ad: “One of their objectives was to expand awareness of their product beyond the C-suite to the broader population, so they had to really rethink the traditional approach to B2B campaigns and make themselves relatable to a much broader audience. Their use of self-deprecating humour really resonated and the campaign ended up being hugely successful, and eventually won awards. Absolutely brilliant stuff.”
So, what can we learn?
Looking at these eight campaigns our marketing rock stars (sorry!) loved, here’s what we can learn for 2024:
- Nostalgia is still a thing: from Barbie and Mean Girls to the design of Spotify Wrapped, nostalgia played a big part in our favourite campaigns. If you do go down the nostalgia route, tap into a time period that is important to your key audience
- Use emotions: Workday was a great example of how humour can be used no matter the industry, and this can be seen across various other campaigns as well. However, Norwich City FC’s ad played into sadness: while this may not be an emotion you want to use constantly, it can be powerful if utilised well
- Fresh thinking stands out: Maybelline’s CGI ad proves that thinking outside the box can make you ahead of the curve. With new AI tools, we may be seeing more opportunities like this in 2024