*

How will 2023 be remembered by creatives? #YearInReview

Published by

2023 will hardly be remembered as a banner year for may of us as the cost-of-living crisis started digging deeper and the political spectrum on both sides of the atlantic started to devolve into a cynical and hateful mess.

For creatives from all walks of life, it's also a year where they were forced into a more existential crisis, as AI became the sphere of influence in our industry around which everything else seems to now gravitate.

As usual, given we're now fast-approaching the end of the year, I reached out to some of the top minds in the creative industries to gather their thoughts on the year that was 2023. And it's not all doom and gloom either!

 

Sam Wheatman, Managing Partner at business development agency Future Factory

*

For the majority of agencies there will be a shared feeling of ‘thank fuck that’s over’ when they think about 2023 coming to an end. It’s safe to say this year has been a pretty rough one for our industry.

The cost of everything soared and consumer confidence plummeted, which resulted in a domino effect that impacted marketing spend and brand decision-making.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. I have faith the fog will lift and when it does it will be the agencies that have spent the year nurturing relationships, both old and new, that are the winners.

However, no need to panic if this isn’t what you’ve been doing - it’s never too late to change tact! Get out there, nurture your network and build your pipeline for 2024 and beyond.

 

Luke Taylor, Co-founder and Creative Partner at UnitedUs

*

It’s hard to look past the AI tool boom in the creative industries this year. At the start of the year, AI was on everyone’s radar, but it was mainly used in niche areas and for R&D projects, whilst everyone looked to grasp and harness its value to studios and creatives alike. However, by summer, the software hadn’t just lept forward; it had rocketed to a new sphere of influence in our industry.

The software jumps have been so vast that creatives can realise their ambitions quicker and more proficiently than ever, but that positive has been tempered by a widely felt anxiety around AI’s potential to impact the roles of creatives in years to come.

This is understandably particularly felt by people in junior positions. I only see that trend continuing into 2024, and the creative industry needs to have broader and more open forums on the opportunities and protections put in place around skill-sharing, protecting IP, and the role human emotion and life experiences play in creating AI-generated design and artwork.

 

Neale Horrigan, Executive Creative Director at elvis

*

Now the barrage of mainstream Christmas ads has hammered a final, very predictable nail in its coffin, I don’t think anyone’s going to remember 2023 as ‘The year of creativity’.

More ‘The year that didn’t deliver’.

We’re heading into a recession! That didn’t happen.

We’re all going to lose our jobs to machines! That didn’t happen.

We’re going to have a summer! That didn’t happen either.

So, because of this, it felt like as an industry we spent the majority of the year huddled in the brace position, not wanting to make any sudden moves or even lift our heads up.

Which understandably doesn’t make for game changing work, brave clients, or any kind of positive change. But as 2024 winks at us from the horizon, we need to get up and dust ourselves off. Yes, A.I will continue to redefine us, and budgets will continue to challenge us, but creativity has to save us.

Which is fortunate, because as an industry we’ve got bags of the stuff. So, bring it on.

 

Riaz Farooq, Senior Creative Director at Pixel Artworks

*

2023 will be remembered for immersive 3D! Creatives explored more ways to excite audiences with techniques sprung 10 years prior, in the form of projection mapping. Broader marketing campaigns woke-up to immersive storytelling, powered by technology.

This actively pushed boundaries, challenging specialist studios like ours, to consider new convergences of tools and playful layering of tech. Breaking beyond the fourth wall has never been cooler!

What we have witnessed are techniques emerging in VOOH and AR that have given merit to virtual advertising, making physical ads seamlessly blur the lines within digital environments. Interactive outdoor is no longer a niche as we’ve seen brands and consumers play and share their experiences in real-time.

Whether you have long understood the principles and laws of perspective or are just riding the wave of this year’s expanding trend, you will certainly be seeing much more from brands in this awe inspiring space in 2024."

 

James Callahan, CEO & Co-Founder at FutureDeluxe

*

2023 could be defined as a year of consolidation: not only did WPP shock adland by merging Wunderman Thompson and VMLY&R, it was also the year that the production side of the industry felt the impact of the merger between two visual effects powerhouses: MPC and The Mill.

The rationale behind such moves is clear: bring together two big players, stop them competing, save on costs and create an unrivalled behemoth that no one else can challenge.

But that isn’t quite how the folding of MPC into The Mill has panned out. Clients seem to miss being able to choose between two big studios. And in another economically challenging year, that additionally threw curveballs like the writers’ strike at studios, bigger companies struggled to adapt.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, smaller outfits are going the other way. Rather than merge, they are building collectives - or “murmurations” - of smaller businesses. This model, as adopted by the likes of Forever and Residence, fosters growth by building collectives, as opposed to piling all growth into one business through a merger.

These murmurations give choice back to clients, safe in the knowledge that smaller studios, when part of a collective, have all the benefits and safety nets of mega studios. So, 2024 could be the year when murmurations beat mammoths.

 

Ann Wixley, Creative Director at Wavemaker

*

2023 will be remembered for a gear shift to more diverse work. By that, I mean a recognition that a traditional TV ad is just one of many ways for a brand to show up to engage fragmented audiences. Distinctive brand ideas that can travel and flex have never been more important for growth. 

Conveniently, this kind of integrated work calls for a different type of creativity that is on the rise - media creativity. This is a combination of understanding context and platform and being aware that getting innovative with HOW a brand shows up is just as important as WHAT the brand has to say.

We’ve found creative and brand ideas tailored to the media moment central to driving impact and effectiveness. It’s been a creative definer this year and will continue building momentum into 2024 and beyond. 

There has also been a welcome drive to help more people into the industry. In a sense, advertising learned to advertise itself and showcase what it has to offer everyone. After all, diversity of people leads to diversity of ideas. I believe this is one of the reasons there has been more of a range of creative campaign work this year. 

Similarly, the abundance of talent and ingenuity at play is opening up how we work inside the agency and with our partners and clients, including where we get our inspiration. Fandoms and Social have become powerful sources for the industry, as has AI which is a powerful tool for inspiration and will level the playing fields for production.

With this, we’re seeing a flattening of the creative hierarchy to value more varied creative skill sets. This puts us in a super exciting position to break free of even moreconventions and boundaries in 2024.

 

Tom Bellamy, Executive Creator Director at SocialChain 

*

Another year, done and dusted.

The first year that felt like we were properly back – in full swing, living and loving the new hybrid work-life balance.

It's been another fast-paced, energetic, ever-changing world of Social – We’ve seen trends come and go, and come back again. Creators rise and fall, and in all honesty, it's been a lot to take in, process and have fun with.

But if I were to look back and pick my top two moments of the year, the gongs would go to TikTok and Twitter… sorry, of course, I mean X.

First, let’s talk about TikTok – the platform that continues to dominate, grow and make ‘the algorithm’ a household term. At least from the outside, it seems TikTok has been going from strength to strength, finding new audiences and bringing existing users together like never before. 

This year has been TikTok’s graduation year. No longer the unsecure, bleeding edge worry that media agencies hold at arm’s length, the platform has been inducted into the Social Hall of Fame, now sitting alongside the founding fathers.

And I, for one, would say it is about time. More than any new emerging platform in recent memory (sorry Vine, you were ahead of your time), TikTok has been a breath of well needed fresh air. Just when things were starting to get a bit samey, along came a different idea with a new audience hungry to make their mark and set themselves apart from the ‘boomers’ of before.

This renewed energy continues today and continues to push the platforms around them to new exciting heights – healthy competition is good… no, vital for growth. Amazon, watch your back.

But if this was the year that TikTok stepped up into the big (legitimate) leagues, then it was also the year that Twitter stepped down, or rather, was pushed.

In what we can all assume started as a joke, Elon ‘rocket man’ Musk told the world that he wanted to buy the platform and ‘turn things around’. A few months later, after calling his bluff and forcing his hand, the B’jillionaire had his very own Social platform, and he wasted no time in reshaping, reforming, and destroying its legacy.

And so here we are, a little over a year later and we see Twitter relegated to the C-tier of Social, media agencies distancing themselves from the controversy and brands abandoning their sturdy positions.

For most, this would be an inflection point for a brand, a moment to pause, reflect and ask ‘did we do the right thing?’ – but no, sadly we see the platform double down on its position and take up legal arms.

For someone that has worked in Social his entire career, who sat there when Twitter launched wondering if a character count would ever catch on, I’m sad to see it seemingly end this way – I hope I’m wrong.

 

Jake Thompson, Associate Creator Director, SocialChain

*

The scene has been set for next year to be one of the most politically charged on record as we head into the election cycles of two deeply divided nations. By this point, we know the drill. Division will be rife, constructed even.

It will feel as though every day, there’s yet another reason to turn away from your neighbour. Layer two conflicts rooted in hardline principles on top of this, and it’s all too easy to feel resigned to this seemingly inevitable sensation of estrangement that will cling to us like a headache you can’t shift.

So what can we, as creators, do about it? Not much, in all honesty. We can’t change politics. We can’t end conflicts. But we do have some power. We have power over what we create, and in turn, what we get others to create too. 

What we collectively contribute to the world, what we’re fighting tooth and nail to get others to consume. It’s crucial, then, that as we head into the next year we take heed of the divisive climate we’re inheriting and remind ourselves of the virtue of social media as a creative platform: it's a portal into the daily lives of everyone, everywhere.

And so, my creative resolution for 2024? To empower myself and my team to use our combined creativity in a way that promotes empathy and delivers a positive message of unity in some small (or large) way. One meme at a time.

 

Jose M. Sanchez, Head of Creative at Tactical

*

2023 will be remembered as the year of unexpected collaborations. Major brands formed some unlikely partnerships as a means of engaging new audiences and exciting consumers with campaigns ‘outside the box’.

One interesting collab that stood out is Heinz and Absolute, who teamed up on a new range of pasta sauces. Combining the iconic Heinz ketchup with Absolut vodka, the collaboration not only satisfied consumers' sense of novelty but also offered them a unique and collectible item. The campaign seamlessly blended the aesthetics of both brands, highlighting their shared values of quality and innovation.

Another notable collab this year was BMW’s immersive campaign with the virtual influencer Lil Miquela. It’s a great example of how brands are tapping into cultural moments and creating narratives that resonate deeply with their audience.

It’s impossible to talk about 2023 without mentioning Barbie. The success of the movie engaged brands and generated an impressive 165+ collaborations everywhere from Xbox, with its Barbie themed console, to Barbie fashion lines in famous retailers. No one could have avoided Barbie-mania, it truly felt like the whole world turned pink in July.

Collaborative branding is not just a gimmick though, for brands with the right strategy, it can be a strategic move for both partners. We expect to see more interesting brand partnerships in 2024 and beyond, as brands seek fresh ways of attracting new consumers and generating a buzz around their products or services.

 

Fleur Cuyalaa, Associate Creative Director at FutureBrand

*

The ‘hottest’ topic of the year has inevitably been AI-generated art. Despite the fact that AI has been around for a few years, 2023 saw the advent of accessible forms of AI that sparked debates about how its potential could affect the creative industries.

Whilst discourse around the technology remains polarising, one thing that we could all agree on is that AI is here to stay, and at FutureBrand we’re moving towards integrating the tool into our creative processes. 

Looking across the industry, from product to service innovation; we can see a steady and growing interest in personalisation and interactive design. Brands have the power to reflect societal change and the opportunity to be the drivers of more authentic and bespoke consumer experiences, generating a diverse community by celebrating the uniqueness of individuals. 

We’re witnessing a desire to re-centre and refocus on local versus global, individuality versus uniformity. From DNA-based services that offer personalised products or experiences that fit one's needs – for example, skincare tailored to levels of hormones, or nutritional apps that make recommendations based on blood analysis – to brands where collaboration with the consumer becomes an integral part of the experience, such as beverages that are customisable with added vitamins, flavours or supplements.

This shift towards prioritising the individual means that we are starting to see some more boldness in branding design, with unexpected typographic choices, and characterful illustration usage that indicates brands starting to be more expressive, dialling up their personality. 2023 was a groundbreaking year for design, and it is only a step forward in carving out our relationship and collaboration with AI and more experimental forms of branding.

 

James Ramsden, Executive Creative Director at Coley Porter Bell

*

Simplicity has continued to be at the forefront of many rebrands we’ve seen this year. What could be simpler than an X? In 2023 we saw the famous bird logo dropped, HBO Max transitioned to Max, Nationwide modernised and Johnson&Johnson’s iconic cursive logotype evolve into a cleaner, sans-serif based design.

Brand expression, and in particular symbols, have continued to be about shedding the unnecessary. And my, has it caused some conversation! There have been some passionate and at times, negative reactions.

We know a blend of heritage and distinctive assets can be a powerful, emotional connection with customers, but the pursuit for brand owners and designers is still simple. In an increasingly complex world, that’s only going to become more layered and integrated, we need simple, iconic symbols and icons to help us navigate to and through the brands we choose in our lives.

But of course, if all brands take a simplified approach they risk losing what sets them apart. And interestingly, there is an undercurrent of brands (in particular FMCG brands) that are choosing to take a different approach. They are electing for unusual combinations and juxtapositions of design to express their identity; anything they can do to be disruptive and ‘anti-category’. It’s a breath of fresh air. 

 

Marylou Thistleton-Smith, CEO of The Voiceover Gallery

*

In the dynamic landscape of advertising, 2023 witnessed transformative trends that reshaped consumer engagement. Conversational advertising, fueled by AI-driven chatbots and virtual assistants, took centre stage, providing instant, personalised interactions that elevated customer satisfaction and bolstered conversion rates.

Meanwhile, the integration of VR and AR became increasingly prevalent, offering immersive brand experiences, such as virtual showroom tours and AR applications, as accessible hardware opened new possibilities.

Sustainability and ethical marketing also emerged as pivotal themes, reflecting a shift in consumer values. Brands, like those featured in my selection for the top 10 ads of the year, actively promoted their environmental and social responsibility values. This resonated with consumers who increasingly prioritise businesses committed to sustainability.

Hyper-personalisation, powered by big data and analytics, allowed brands to craft tailor-made experiences. From customised content to personalised recommendations, especially on streaming platforms, this trend leveraged data insights to deliver targeted advertisements that resonated with individual consumers.

This as well as short-form video platforms like TikTok and YouTube Shorts continuing to dominate the social landscape, proving ideal for advertising, storytelling, product launches, and testimonials. My selections for the top ads of the year showcase industry's innovative responses to changing consumer preferences and utilising evolving technology to their advantage.

 

Katie Potochney, Executive Creative Director at Intuit Mailchimp

*

2023 has been a challenging year. But in times of uncertainty, the most important things are clarity and consistency—and nurturing talent. That’s why for me, looking ahead to 2024, creatives would be well advised to invest in their brand and create longstanding efficiencies so that their team can be nimble and ready to act quickly.

AI will have a key role to play, helping to drive enhanced digital performance and customer experience—all collectively led by first-party data and personalization. From our recent Holiday Report, we know that 73% of customers feel more valued when they receive personalized emails, and 87% are more likely to engage with tailored content.

Similarly, creative leaders should invest in their teams. Organizations are only as good as the talent they possess, so it’s critical to prioritize their needs and find new ways to keep them motivated to drive business results. One key aspect of this is ensuring they have the tools needed to be successful.

I foresee in-housing becoming even more commonplace, which will help to boost creative efficiencies while bringing more creatives to the decision-making table. This is how we operate at Mailchimp with our in-house agency, Wink, who drive our creative campaigns and activations all the way from briefing to conception to execution.

It would be understandable for creative leads to deviate from set strategies in times of turbulence. Instead, I advocate for brands remaining consistent with clear priorities and focus areas to help drive growth and outperform the market.

But being customer-obsessed is still essential. Keeping creatives close to the customer to deepen their empathy will be key to ensuring brands stay nimble to meet customers where they are, in any state of the economy.

 

Matt Charlton, CEO, Brothers & Sisters

*

I think it will be remembered as the beginning of a transition back to embracing our true populist roots. Our most noble cause is to entertain the people, not ourselves. We can’t be outliers pretending we’re making art. Social algorithms literally have one agenda, to understand what you like and serve you more.

We don’t have to be as literal as this but we do need to remember power comes from simplicity and immediate relevance now. Think of Volvo Trucks’ Van Damme Epic Splits simplicity. McDonalds Eyebrows, my own We Buy Any Car: they are so simple and relevant and deeply populist. Kevin the Carrot is loved by Aldi.

We have to play our creative ideas in this space to remain relevant. Otherwise the clock is TikToking against us.

Header image by Charles De Meyer

Comments

More Features

*

Features

Rainbow Washed: Why Pride Should Last all Year #PrideMonth

Pride Month is a concept with its heart in the right place but there has been a spate of rainbow washing in recent years. Companies that have no right aligning themselves with the LGBTQ+ community have been falling over themselves annually for a...

Posted by: Benjamin Hiorns
*

Features

Why experiential marketing walks all over product marketing #MoneyMonth

According to Ofcom, we check our phones on average every 12-minutes and are bombarded daily with between 4,000 and 10,000 messages. Separate research shows we tap our phones 2,617 times and scroll through 362 feet of content a day. In many cases, we...

Posted by: Collider