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2023 Marketing: The Best Campaigns of the Year

The 2024 calendar is crowded with award shows from the Golden Globes to the Emmys to the Grammys to the Oscars, each with its hoopla of red-carpet fashion and teary-eyed acceptance speeches.

This is also a good time of year to look back at the marketing world over the past year and the campaigns that caught our attention.

Spoiler alert: this year’s movie awards and marketing awards both sport a shocking splash of pink (Hi, Barbie!).

Yes, when we rewind the 2023 marketing year, it appears that we were all living in a Barbie world!

“We can’t share the best marketing campaigns of 2023 without mentioning Barbie The Movie, starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling. Even if you aren’t a fan of Barbie, you couldn’t escape the noise around Mattel and Warner Bros.'s new movie, which dominated the summer of 2023. It was by far the most successful marketing campaign of the year,” gushed Khoros in its “The Best Marketing Campaigns of 2023.”

Barbie’s billion-dollar success may have made other campaigns feel like they were “Just Ken” but there were other marketing highlights in 2023 from such heavyweight companies as Dunkin, Heinze, Absolut, Dove, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Heineken, and Pepsi.

Marketing 2023: A Mixed Scorecard

When it comes to the overall grades of marketing in 2023, it’s a bit of a mixed scorecard.

“Despite the better-than-expected economic climate, a preponderance of challenges acted as creative handcuffs for marketers in 2023. The few brands that were able to break through relied on tried-and-true tactics rather than creative disruption,” summarized Marketing Dive.

That harsh assessment was balanced by more optimistic takes.

“Many brands rose to meet new challenges and created campaigns that inspired us, made us laugh, pushed boundaries, and, yes, sold products,” wrote the Khoros staff.

Canadian marketing firm Brand Vision Insights agreed: “The world of marketing in 2023 was an exhilarating playground of creativity and innovation, where brands aimed to break through the noise and connect with their target audiences in unforgettable ways.”

Perhaps, Lestraundra Alfred, writing for HubSpot summed it up best when she wrote that “it was an interesting year to be a marketer. Expectations were high, budgets were low, content moved at the speed of light, and marketers had to make magic happen through it all.”

Counting Down the Top 10 Marketing Campaigns of 2023

As in any award-giving and “best of” lists there is always room for healthy debate and difference of opinion. Here’s our  “Top 10" Marketing Campaigns of 2023:

  • No. 10: TSB “The Elephant in the Room”

    From across the pond UK-based TSB’s “The Elephant in the Room” was voted the Marketing Campaign of 2023 by Marketing Week readers.  Tiny the Elephant was introduced by TSB as the brand mascot replacing long-time brand spokesperson, actor David Schwimmer.

    “The bank’s campaign, which tackles financial taboos and introduces a new brand mascot, struck a chord with the voting public,” said Marketing Week.
  • No. 9: MMB’s Toaster Swatches

    MMB used this clever "toaster swatches" campaign to tout its R180 toaster that "lets you toast like never before."

    Design Rush claimed this campaign as the best of 2023: “MMB’s creative print ad campaign for Revolution Cooking’s line of smart toasters uses color swatches as an inspiration for this product’s key trait: the ability to make the toast exactly how a user likes it. The ad features an array of differently burned toasts, arranged according to how well-done they are, pointing out the fact that there can be as many different ways to make toast as there are shades of a single color.”

  • No. 8 Pepsi: 125 Years

    Pepsi went all out for its 125th-anniversary marketing campaign, celebrating over 125 days with a marketing blitz that featured iconic moments of the past, present, and even future for the cola brand with a design overhaul.

    "Pepsi deployed traditional spots, social media content, SMS promotions, and an experimental component," said Practical Ecommerce.

    Marketing Dive said that “brand refreshes have been in vogue in 2023, but few have met the moment like Pepsi … the refresh, which emphasizes its zero-sugar offering, saw the PepsiCo marketer pivot away from minimalist branding to instead embrace a louder, more vibrant look.”

  • No. 7 Heineken Gamer Night Out

    A great example of a marketing campaign targeting a specific demographic that a business wants to reach is Heineken’s “Not All Nights Out are Out” campaign. Aimed at the gaming community in Brazil (87 percent of the population plays online games), the ad is a great blend of music, visuals, and storytelling.

    “Heineken brings together the best of both worlds by combining the social side of gaming with a little buzz. That’s what we call speaking your audience’s language,” says GWI.

    Brand Vision Insights said, “Recognizing the growing influence of gaming culture and its dedicated audience, the brand devised an innovative approach to connect with gamers on a personal and authentic level.”
  • No. 6 McDonald’s Grimace’s Birthday

    Cue the nostalgia as McDonald’s celebrated Grimace’s birthday last summer with plenty of festivities including a birthday meal and a limited edition purple shake inspired by Grimace’s iconic color.

    "Our fans have amazing childhood memories of their birthdays at McDonald's...and Grimace's Birthday is all about paying homage to the amazing, fun moments we all share," said Tariq Hassan, Chief Marketing and Customer Experience Officer at McDonald's USA.

    The results? “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,” said Marketing Dive.

    The campaign’s engagement was off the carts with Marketing Dive reporting more than 3 billion views on TikTok.

  • No. 5 Coca-Cola Creates Real Magic

    Coca-Cola went in the opposite direction of nostalgia when it embraced AI by inviting fans to get creative and generate original artwork with iconic creative assets from the Coca-Cola archives.

    Khoros said the campaign “created a sense of co-creation and ownership.”

    Brand Vision Insights called it a “bold move that exemplified their commitment to digital innovation” and that “by tapping into generative AI, Coca-Cola positioned itself as a pioneer in the marketing landscape, showcasing its willingness to embrace cutting-edge technologies to captivate audiences. The campaign resonated particularly well with the tech-savvy Gen Z audience, who value authentic and interactive brand experiences.”

  • No. 4 Dove #TurnYourBack

    Dove continues to score points with consumers – and increase sales! – with its self-esteem projects such as the #TurnYourBack campaign which aimed at social media filters that can hurt the confidence of young women.

    “A popular AI-generated TikTok filter called Bold Glamour represents “ideal” beauty that looks very real. Dove’s campaign against the use of beauty filters in TikTok was a call to upload videos turning your back to filters (literally) with the saying “Turn your back on bold glamour,” explained Khoros. “The success of the campaign is evident in the company’s finances with a 10 percent increase in revenue annually. As with other campaigns in Dove’s Self-Esteem Project, products are never featured. In this case, the product is the brand, specifically the way that the customer will feel about the brand after watching the commercial.”

    Says GWI: “Dove really hits the nail on the head with its target audience.”
  • No. 3 Heinz and Absolut Vodka: Vodka Pasta Sauce

    Sometimes you must think outside of the box or in the case of Heinz and Absolut Vodka, think outside of the bottle as the two brands teamed to create a limited edition vodka pasta sauce.

    Using a twist on the Absolut slogan (Absolutely Heinz. Ridiculously Good), the catchy campaign created a lot of buzz.

    “After only one week after the campaign release, the hashtag #AbsolutelyHeinz had 6.2 million views on TikTok. As a result, consumers rushed to try the match made in heaven,” reported Khoros. “Two beloved and well-established brands merged to create a unique and exclusive product. The uniqueness generated a lot of organic social buzz with the help of creators’ content going viral.”

    GWI said that “Heinz and Absolut Vodka were right on the money with this one. It’s like all the stars aligned. With food collaborations on the rise, they’re the poster child for how to connect with existing customers and expand into new markets while capitalizing on social media trends.”

    Brand Vision Insights said that “Heinz and Absolut's partnership exemplified the potential of exploring cross-industry collaborations to reach new and diverse audiences.”

  • No. 2 Dunkin’ Super Bowl Commercial with Ben Affleck

    Super Bowl ads can still work! Just check out Dunkin’s snappy Ben Affleck commercial launched during last year’s big game.

    “The ad campaign landed near the top of USA Today’s Ad Meter. The coffee brand set the example of an effective use of celebrity collaboration in an ad campaign,” said Khoros. “The ad was the number one trending spot on YouTube and the number 17 trending spot on Twitter in the U.S. after the commercial aired. Dunkin’ Donuts saw an 837 percent increase in social conversations after the Super Bowl, according to Meltwater.

    HubSpot said the pairing of Dunkin’ and Affleck – both with connections to Massachusetts -- made sense as the actor has been photographed over the years sampling the brand’s offerings.

    “The Superbowl commercial kicked off a series of Dunkin’ Donuts ads starring Affleck, and the partnership is a great example of brand alignment and a celebrity endorsement that just makes sense,” said HubSpot.

    Practical Ecommerce said the Dunkin’ marketing campaign was a “reminder of the power of the simple, funny video on social media with young audiences.”

    Marketing Dive had high praise for the Superbowl offering saying that “amid a sea of forgettable celebrity cameos and goofy humor at the Super Bowl was one union that played to the strengths of both the brand and the ambassador: Ben Affleck’s appearance in a Dunkin’ ad that the Hollywood star directed.”
  • No. 1 Barbie(the movie)

    No surprise here as Barbie was the runaway marketing campaign success of 2023!

    “The Warner Bros marketing team got very creative, as they released different elements of the campaign one at a time starting with an image of Margot Robbie in a pink convertible at CinemaCon back in 2022 before the movie arrived in theaters on July 21, 2023,” said Khoros. “A key factor in their success was capitalizing on various product partnerships over the last year such as the Barbie pink Xbox console and the Barbie Malibu Dream House for rent on Airbnb. Other elements of their marketing campaign included content on social media, advertisements in outdoor spaces, influencer partnerships, merchandise tie-ins, and interactive online experiences.”

    Variety called Barbie The Movie a “pink publicity machine” and anointed it as the marketing campaign of the year.

    “Mattel and Warner Bros. “Barbie” movie was nothing short of a global sensation, generating $1.36 billion at the box office, with sales of the toy up by 25 percent 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,” said Marketing Dive.