Marketing Briefing: Let’s end the year with a recap of the big marketing trends of 2023

This Marketing Briefing covers the latest in marketing for Digiday+ members and is distributed over email every Tuesday at 10 a.m. ET. More from the series →

Much like 2022, 2023 hasn’t been the easiest of years for marketers as they continue to navigate an uncertain economy, inflation, privacy and platform shifts and AI, among other trends. As we wrap up the year, we wanted to look back on the marketing developments that dominated 2023. (Our next Marketing Briefing – out Jan. 2 – will dig into the burgeoning market forces for 2024.) 

Generative AI

Earlier this month, ChatGPT turned a year old. In that time, adoption and use of AI within marketing seems to have moved at an incredible pace (so much so Digiday rolled out an AI Briefing) with major brands like Coca-Cola making waves as an early adopter. It’d be difficult to talk about trends over this last year without talking about the impact of generative AI. 

“In 2023, we saw the marketing landscape transformed by generative AI, offering unprecedented personalization and creative potential,” said Jessica Berger, svp of innovation at Publicis Media in an email. “We saw brands use AI to design personalized shoes, curate and generate music playlists – and even an ad campaign with AI-generated graphics and slogans that dynamically adapted to real-time audience reactions, showcasing a new level of engagement.”

Berger added that the emergence of AI influencers – remember Meta’s AI efforts with celebs like Kendall Jenner and Mr. Beast creating personas? – has made clear a potential “new frontier in AI marketing: AI-driven persona.” 

At the same time, AI hasn’t been without its issues particularly when it comes to ethics, transparency and more. That will continue to be a hot topic next year as generative AI use continues to grow in marketing. 

X (formerly Twitter) drama and social experimentation

Advertisers have continued to leave X throughout 2023. The strained relationship between advertisers and the platform has been well-documented throughout the year. If you ask media buyers about the platform this year, you often heard that it was never a must-have but a nice to have, especially during live events like the Super Bowl, the Oscars and various sporting events. But hen you’re then cursing advertisers, as owner Elon Musk did earlier this month, it’s hard to imagine they’ll come roaring back to spend on a platform that wasn’t a necessity. That’s unlikely to change in 2024 as marketers and agency execs expect the demise of X will only continue. 

All that being said, the drama with X has led advertisers to be more open to experimenting with more up-and-coming platforms, according to Liz Cole, chief social officer at VMLY&R. “There is an appetite and a willingness to launch on new social platforms like we haven’t seen in a number of years,” Cole said. “There’s a lot of debate and deliberation going on about whether Threads is the Twitter replacement? Is it going to be this platform or that one? Does this platform have critical mass?” 

Cole continued: “But I think the interesting thing about it is that brands are poised to try new things, try platforms that don’t necessarily have an established way of being for brands or even monetization yet, which is kind of exciting. It kind of reminds me of the earlier days of social where we hadn’t yet been best practiced into oblivion and we’re still a little bit of a spirit of experimentation.” 

Barbie and brand IP

Warner Brothers’ and Mattel’s success with Barbie can’t be ignored when looking back at the year as many marketers have surely asked their agency partners, “Where’s our Barbie moment?” We’ll dig into this trend more in an upcoming wrap-up piece for the year, but suffice it to say Barbie’s use of partnerships had many in the industry talking this year. Of course, it wasn’t just Barbie. 

In 2023 “brand IP is interesting in that it went beyond the usual movie promotions,” noted Paul Prato, executive creative director at PPK, in an email. “Yes Barbie was everywhere with multiple brands. But this was the year of surprising brand hookups. Snoop and Solo Stove. Liquid Death and SJC Drums. Taylor and Travis. 2024 will pick up where 2023 left off and be more about which brands get together to surprise everyone that they’re dating so to speak.” 

Retail media center stage 

The ascent of retail media in recent years has been swift. As retailers like Walmart and Target have matured their capabilities, others have just started to launch with Deloitte Digital tracking roughly 45 retail media networks in the US and approximately 80 globally with the expectation that there’s more on the way. Marketers are taking notice and moving dollars – though not all. 

“We have seen a big shift of endemic partners moving spend from other performance channels or even brand channels to fuel Retail Media Network growth,” said Rob Silver, evp and head of media at Razorfish in an email. “But what has been more difficult to capture has been spend from non-endemic partners.” 

While retail media networks’ first-party data is part of the appeal for advertisers, the deprecation of third-party cookies is still having an impact on “the reporting fidelity of existing partners,” noted Silver. That said, “clean rooms are taking center stage as measurement solutions that will more fully show the value of retail media network environments and data.” 

“As a result, retail media networks are already proving to be a viable channel for performance, and their rich data will provide unique insights and opportunities to connect with consumers across their buying journeys,” said Silver. 

Diversification and streaming

Marketers are continuing to grapple with the changing consumption habits of consumers. Obviously wherever consumers are spending their time, marketers will follow in the hopes of getting their attention. The continued move from linear to streaming as well as changing nature of social platforms has marketers needing to change their strategies and diversify to do just that. 

“2023 was the year that digital video viewership surpassed that of traditional TV,” said Diana Bojaj, chief media officer, Carat U.S., in an email. “The penetration of streaming platforms, combined with the rise of social video, have transformed how we view video, with social video now being a major player in the video stack.” 

Bojaj continued: “Even sports, which still drives the majority of TV viewership, is becoming the fastest growing form of social content. As major tentpoles like the Olympics modernize and expand their content offerings, we expect to see marketers take a much more surround-sound approach to video in 2024.”

3 Questions with Chris Hodge, senior performance marketing manager at UrbanStems, an on-demand flower delivery company 

The company has made a lot of changes, like more curated web pages, expansion of same-day delivery. What do recent changes in your ad strategy look like?

One of the big things and one of the specific reasons we went to Bloomreach [marketing automation company] was the ability to better segment based off of those audience signals. Because flower delivery is a service, we benefit greatly on the paid search side. So, it’s a pretty large part of our overall paid mix. We also run across multiple paid social channels. You’ll find us on Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok, YouTube, Pinterest. Then, outside of that, we have a pretty good, robust CRM system–so, email, SMS. 

What channels have been added or removed?

TikTok is definitely one of the newer ones. You see a lot of businesses struggle to figure out how to appropriately market on [it]. TikTok is definitely one that we’ve put more attention, focus on in the last year, especially as their user base is expanded. We’ve seen more people that match our customers that are spending more time on TikTok. That has continued to rise as they’ve seen their daily active users rise. So, as we’ve seen our customers spend more time there, we’ve invested more time in making sure that we’re connecting with them there as well. 

What’s the TikTok strategy and how does it differ from other short form video strategies?

Content that works on TikTok works on Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts. We’ve seen definitely a consistency there in what users are looking to engage with. We still like to make sure that the content we’re put out still matches what users are looking for there. You’ll see some tweaks depending on what we’re talking about. — Kimeko McCoy

By the numbers

The purpose-driven marketing hype seems to have gone from a fever pitch to a whisper in light of public backlash toward “woke” marketing from major brands like Bud Light, Miller Lite and Adidas. However, consumers don’t want brands to backtrack on their commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion, according to recent research from the ANA’s Alliance for Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing (AIMM) and the Cultural Inclusion Accelerator. Find a breakdown by the numbers below:

  • 76% of consumers that have boycotted a brand would never return to the brand again or will only return once the brand has legitimately changed its position and practices.
  • 63% of consumers believe the term “woke” has been politicized, with only 34% believing the term is important in advocating for social justice issues.
  • Only 23% of consumers would maintain their brand purchases if a brand backtracked on support for a social cause they believed in. — Kimeko McCoy

Quote of the week

“I think that money is harder to come by. The free-flowing financial world within esports is over. And it’s now forcing companies to really look in the mirror and course correct their business — otherwise, they’ll go extinct.”

— Ben Spoont, CEO of the gaming and esports company Misfits, when asked about the current state of marketers’ spending in esports and what it’s been like throughout this past year.

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