The best marketing campaigns of 2023

Khoros Staff

The year 2023 came and went, which means it’s time for a roundup of the year's best marketing campaigns. With this rotation around the sun, the world saw the rise of artificial intelligence and large language models as well as a global banking crisis and a Hollywood “double strike.”

Many brands rose to meet new challenges and created campaigns that inspired us, made us laugh, pushed boundaries, and, yes, sold products.

We compiled a list of some of the best marketing campaigns of 2023 with examples, providing insights into their success and sharing tips on how you can replicate that success for your brand.

1. Mattel and Warner Bros: Barbie the Movie

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.

This campaign was not a typical advertisement. In the movie trailer promoting Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie, the slogan “If you love Barbie, if you hate Barbie, this movie is for you” portrayed that the movie isn’t exactly what you think it is. But it didn’t start or stop there. 

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. 

A key factor in their success was capitalizing on various product partnerships over the last year such as theBarbie pink Xbox console and the Barbie Malibu DreamHouse 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.

The result? The movie brought over $1 billion to the box office worldwide in only three weeks with a marketing spend of 150 million, which was the same cost for the movie production. It quickly became the fourth biggest collective box office turnout in history and one of the only female-dominated among the top-grossing movies of all time.

The Barbie movie was so successful because the marketing team followed a breadcrumb strategy, essentially releasing new elements of the movie at a time evoking curiosity and engagement. The Barbie movie marketing also utilized compelling stories and themes of friendship, empowerment, diversity, inclusivity, and self-identity which resonated with young girls to millennials from all different backgrounds. This strategy created and strengthened emotional connections with its target audience.

2. Dove: #TurnYourBack

Dove’s award-winning Reverse Selfie campaign made our list of top marketing campaigns of 2021, and the brand continued to knock it out of the park in 2022 and 2023. The #TurnYourBack campaign for 2023 centered around digital distortion from social media filters that diminish the confidence of the young women who use them as part of their #NoDigitalDistortion mission.

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.” This marketing campaign aimed to raise awareness that these filters are unrealistic expectations of beauty and they negatively impact young women’s self-esteem.

The powerful statement even made it to the Oscars where Nischelle Turner posted a photo of her back with the caption “I am turning my back on Bold Glamour and digital distortion. I am enough. You are enough. #TurnYourBack.” The hashtag #TurnYourBack had over 110 million views on TikTok alone.

The success of the campaign is evident in the company’s finances with a 10% 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.

The next time someone who has seen these videos goes to a supermarket with soap on their shopping list, will they buy the soap from brands that further perpetuate unrealistic expectations of beauty in their advertisements, or Dove?

David Ogilvy, known as the Father of Advertising, once famously said “Advertising is only evil when it advertises evil things.” These Dove campaigns are a testament to that statement and the power of brands striving to make a positive change.

3. Dunkin’ Donuts: Superbowl commercial

One of the best Superbowl advertisements of 2023 was the Dunkin’ Donuts tongue-in-cheek ad with Ben Affleck. In fact, 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.

In the Superbowl ad, Ben Affleck works a busy drive-thru window at a Dunkin’ in a Massachusetts establishment. The actor is greeted by customers’ reactions from confusion to delight before Jennifer Lopez–his wife in the ad–confronts him. The humorous campaign hit home for many Superbowl viewers.

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% increase in social conversations after the Superbowl, according to Meltwater.

After such a successful campaign with Affleck, Dunkin’ continued their collaboration and made more commercials, where he was mistaken for Matt Damon by Dunkin’ employees in one of them.

This marketing campaign made perfect sense for Dunkin’ as Ben Affleck has been a long-time fan of the coffee company. The actor is constantly photographed with a Dunkin’ drink in his hand. Their marketing team was clever in the sense the ad was playing up the celebrity’s self-deprecating qualities. The ad was relatable, authentic, and funny which hit the mark for a campaign with a celebrity.

4. Heinz and Absolut Vodka: #AbsolutelyHeinz

Sometimes the most innovative marketing campaign is a collaboration you never saw coming. Heinz and Absolut Vodka decided to team up to create a legendary (but limited edition) vodka pasta sauce in March of 2023 in the UK. Heinz brought the expertise in delicious pasta sauce while Absolut Vodka helped take it to the next level.

It all started when the American model, Gigi Hadid, posted her Penne alla vodka sauce recipe on TikTok in 2020. The recipe went viral with lots of users wanting to attempt the dish themselves. Although completely unexpected and a little late to the game, Heinz and Absolut Vodka launched their vodka pasta sauce in a jar offering convenience for vodka sauce fans. They added a Heinz twist to the Absolut slogan, “Absolutely Heinz. Ridiculously Good.” with other fun tweaks to promote their collaboration.

The marketing campaign featured out-of-home ads across London and social media campaigns with the hashtag #AbsolutelyHeinz, aiming to get creators involved on Instagram and TikTok. Heinz and Absolut successfully utilized social media advertising by targeting mega influencers to create awareness around their new product. They also used niche marketing where they gifted 150 nano and micro-influencers the sauce to try and share with their audiences online.

@kristinacooksit @Heinz UK x Absolut collab and I am here for this!!! Look at this packaging! Video coming soon #tomatovodka #tomatovodkapasta #absolutelyheinz #pastasauce Swimming Pools (Drank) - Kendrick Lamar

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.

Why was this campaign so successful? Two beloved and well-established brands merged to create a unique and exclusive product. Offering a limited edition of the product helped it quickly become a collector’s item. The uniqueness generated a lot of organic social buzz with the help of creators’ content going viral. Tapping into the influence and credibility of creators proved to be a powerful tool for the Heinz and Absolut Vodka campaign.

5. General Motors and Netflix: Superbowl commercial

The General Motors and Netflix Superbowl ad also made our list of the best ad campaigns of 2023. This campaign was built on the 2021 campaign starring comedian Will Ferrell and the car brand’s electric vehicles (EV). This year, they teamed up with Netflix.

The commercial features Will Ferrell traveling through various scenes of popular Netflix shows in a General Motors electric truck. “General Motors is going electric and Netflix is joining in by including more EVs (electric vehicles),” says Ferrell at the beginning of the ad.

Both Netflix’s and GM’s Chief Marketing Officers agreed that entertainment has a large influence on culture and that Netflix in particular drives thoughtful conversations that impact cultures. GM aimed to build an EV culture through storytelling that highlights the experience of driving and owning an electric vehicle. Netflix was the perfect partner because of their storytelling, commitment to sustainability, and their track record of influencing cultural trends.

The next day after the commercial aired, General Motors stock rose nearly 5 percent. Even more impressive, reported there was a 50% increase in site traffic to the EV models advertised in the Superbowl commercial eight minutes before and after it aired. It was also rated number 13 on USA Today’s Ad Meter.

This marketing campaign stood out due to its partnership with Netflix calling out the top hit shows over the past few years. The ad normalized the use of EVs with a take-home message that both of the brands are committed to sustainability.

The best marketing campaigns of 2023 honorable mentions

Although these campaigns didn’t crack the top five, here are a few more that caught our attention from the past year.

Popcorners: Breaking Bad

Ranked #3 by TheDrum as the most effective Superbowl ad, Popcorners creatively incorporated a popular TV show, Breaking Bad, into their commercial. Actors representing two of the characters are filmed cooking a batch of the air-popped snacks.

Amazon: Saving Sawyer

Tugging at pet owners’ heartstrings, Amazon shared a Superbowl commercial that tells the story of a dog who starts to act out when people begin to leave the house. But a purchase on Amazon saves the day for the lonely pet.

Coca-Cola: Create Real Magic

Coca-Cola embraced AI by inviting fans to get creative and participate in the creation of their ads with the help of OpenAI's GPT-4 and DALL-E tools. The Create Real Magic campaign created a sense of co-creation and ownership.

Make the most of your next marketing campaign with Khoros

From unexpected collaborations to shedding light on real issues to capitalizing on product and influencer partnerships, today’s best marketing campaigns continue to surprise us with their creativity and ingenuity.

Yet one thing that all of these recent marketing campaigns have shown us is that no matter where your campaign takes place (OOH, events, print, digital, etc.) it can generate buzz online, specifically through social media.

Social media provides brands with the opportunity to share campaigns with audiences everywhere—even ones that may not be directly affected by the campaign. As the world of social media becomes increasingly expansive, keeping up requires a good deal of strategy and effort.

Khoros provides brands with powerful social media management tools and processes. Our social listening services provide brands with empowering, accessible insights that encourage customer engagement, promote the creation of meaningful content, and accelerate and improve ROI.

Get ahead of the competition in 2024. Read our Social Media Pocket Guide and request a demo to see how we can help you level up your marketing!

A look back at past years

Best marketing campaign of 2022

Heineken’s The Closer

In our haste to figure out how to return to work in 2022 after COVID-19, many of us forgot to think about how we return to post-pandemic leisure time. Heineken’s solution? A Bluetooth enabled beer opener called The Closer can put nearby computers into sleep mode.

This marketing campaign follows workers of all stripes as they fail to disconnect from their work despite the late hour. Fortunately, a nearby coworker, bartender, or friend opens a Heineken with The Closer, and the person’s devices shut down. While the ad is fairly tongue-in-cheek (taking a video work call on your laptop in a bar bathroom is hopefully still a far stretch for most) it still hits on a problem that many workers face on a daily basis.

This grounding in reality saves The Closer from feeling too much like a gimmick. That, and the fact that The Closer product itself was only sold for a very limited amount of time. “Don’t have the closer? Be the closer” their dedicated The Closer page says, providing simple examples of ways for you to become your own Closer in your day-to-day life.

But Heineken took it a step further, using their environment as a clever way to advertise. To promote The Closer, they traveled around New York City, identifying office buildings where people were working late. When they found one, they projected an image on the building that called attention to the situation, turning late workers into… well, advertisements for not working late.

When you think about brands that have your well-being at heart, beer brands aren’t typically the first thing that comes to mind—but maybe Heineken can change that.

The Closer campaign is the first in an overarching campaign entitled "For a Fresher World." It follows their popular Shutter Ads campaign that helped bring over 7.5 Million Euros to over 5,000 bars that shuttered during the pandemic. All of them re-opened.

Best marketing campaign of 2021

Dove’s reverse selfie

In April 2021, Dove launched their “Reverse Selfie” campaign, which aims to combat the negative effects of selfie culture on young girls and women. Research suggests that by the age of 13, 80% of girls distort the way they look online — and Dove’s campaign remarks on how this digital distortion can damage self-esteem and why it needs to change.

The campaign shows the digital distortion process in reverse, then encourages people to have #TheSelfieTalk to promote confidence and body positivity on social media. The campaign is a spiritual successor to the brand’s iconic 2006 film “Evolution”, and is also connected to their larger Self Esteem Project featuring a dedicated webpage with information and resources for parents and teachers along with an option to take a #NoDigitalDistortion pledge. To top it off, Dove has partnered with iconic women including Lizzo, Shonda Rhimes, and others to address digital distortion and “stamp out unrealistic beauty standards.”

Although the campaign never shows or advertises the brand’s products, they’ve received widespread praise from the press and public as a result of the conversations it’s started. The takeaway here is that a campaign doesn’t always have to be product-focused, message-driven marketing can be just as effective for brands.

Best marketing campaign of 2020

Facebook’s first-ever Super Bowl commercial

For the first time ever, Facebook aired a commercial during the Super Bowl. The 60-second ad aired during the fourth quarter and promoted Facebook Groups. The ad, called “Ready to Rock?” featured celebrity appearances from actor Sylvester Stallone and comedian Chris Rock, as well as highlighting several “rock” themed Facebook Groups, including Table Rock Lake, Moab Rock Climbers, Rock Buggies, and Rocky Balboa Going the Distance.

The quirky commercial drew a lot of praise for its fun play on words and for including real people who are members of the featured Facebook Groups.

In recent years, the social media giant has seen a decrease in U.S. usage rates while other social media networks have gained popularity. So this commercial was a great way to renew interest in their platform and highlight features that may not have been as popular when more people were using the network.

This ad is also a great example of targeting. If Facebook was concerned about decreased usage in the U.S. market, what better way to reach Americans than to advertise during the most-watched event of the year?

The takeaway for brands from Facebook’s 2020 Super Bowl marketing campaign is that advertising in new places or on new platforms can help your business reach a wider audience.

Best marketing campaign of 2019

Budweiser revisits its 50s, 60s, and 70s ads

In honor of International Women’s Day, Budweiser released a series of vintage-styled ads highlighting positive depictions of women. Appreciating their own metaphorical glass house, the brand returned to their own ads from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Instead of characterizing women as wives, and ultimately aiming to sell Budweiser to their husbands, this campaign instead focuses on the storylines of women.

When looking to improve your brand image, identifying where you have fallen short in the past is a pathway to reinvention. Ultimately, by adjusting their image, Budweiser showed they are not a beer for men, rather a beer for people. As a result, they have positioned themselves to become more appealing to more audiences.

Best marketing campaign of 2018

OKCupid’s DTF (all head over heels) campaign

With their controversial “DTF” ad campaign, OkCupid took a risk by redefining the acronym:

But the risk paid off, as Adweek reports the campaign boosted OkCupid’s social mentions by 50%, and it resonated with women and the LGBTQ+ community. Even though the ads weren’t welcome everywhere (like the entire Chicago Transit Authority), OkCupid demonstrated the effectiveness of disruptive marketing.

Campaigns that appeal to social media users won’t always appeal to the boardroom, but that’s okay. Even though OkCupid couldn’t run their ads everywhere, their campaign still had a huge impact that resonated with their target audiences.

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