Marketing & Advertising

10 Outstanding Marketing Campaigns from 2023

Reviewing successful digital marketing campaigns can generate ideas and strategies for your own brand.

Here is a list of outstanding marketing campaigns from established companies in 2023. The campaigns feature generative AI, celebrity spots, unusual partnerships, retrospectives, looks to the future, new audiences, mission-led content, physical pop-ups, and user-generated content.

McDonald’s: Grimace’s Birthday

Screenshot of video for Grimace's birthday

McDonald’s: Grimace’s Birthday

In the summer, McDonald’s ran a campaign to celebrate Grimace’s birthday. Customers could order a Grimace Birthday Meal featuring a limited-edition purple shake. McDonald’s also launched an exclusive video game and Grimace-inspired merch, and fans could visit McDonald’s Instagram story and share a picture of their favorite birthday memory via the “add yours” sticker. For every photo shared, McDonald’s donated $5 (up to $200,000) to Ronald McDonald House Charities.

In response, campaign follower Austin Frazier created a simple 10-second video on TikTok of him trying the shake, then a cut to him lying on the ground with the purple shake all around his mouth. Then Gen-Z took over, posting a viral assortment of Grimace shake horror scenes. According to Guillaume Huin, McDonald’s head of social media marketing, the campaign and resulting user-generated content created billions in reach, millions in engagements and mentions, a top trend for at least eight days on X, and the top three hashtags on TikTok. To answer all the questions from campaign followers, Huin posted an insider’s view from the social media team of what happened.

Dunkin’ with Ben Affleck

Throughout 2023, Dunkin’ created a series of comedy spots with Ben Affleck and his production company, Artists Equity. In the spots, Affleck celebrates the Massachusetts-based brand and his connection with the area. The spots are a reminder of the power of the simple, funny video on social media with young audiences.

The campaign also highlights Dunkin’s ability to capitalize on an opportunity, as the origin for the series likely stemmed from a Saturday Night Live parody of a Dunkin’ commercial starring Casey Affleck as an actual Boston customer.

Heineken’s ‘Not All Nights Out are Out’

Heineken launched this year the “Not All Nights Out are Out” marketing campaign, its first targeted at the gaming culture. Celebrating online entertainment and gaming socialization, its main video spot, “Just Another Night Out,” tells the story of four individuals navigating end-of-day obstacles to a fun social night of multi-player gaming and their shared digital space.

In another installment, Heineken unveiled “TH3 G4M1NG FR1DG3,” a custom-made PC designed to cool both the hardware and bottles of Heineken inside so gamers can enjoy a cold beer while keeping the PC performance high. While it isn’t actually for sale, the fridge-PC hybrid highlights Heineken’s perspective on the importance of socialization within the gamer culture, connecting gamers with the brand.

Coca-Cola’s ‘Create Real Magic’

This year, Coca-Cola joined the generative AI discussion when it invited digital creative pros to generate original artwork with iconic assets from the Coca‑Cola archives. Built exclusively for Coca‑Cola by OpenAI and Bain & Company, Create Real Magic leverages GPT-4, which produces human-like text from search engine queries, and DALL-E, which produces images based on text.

Four AI artists kickstarted the crowdsourcing campaign by creating custom art using the platform and Coca‑Cola assets. Artists could submit their work to be featured on Coke’s digital billboards in New York’s Time Square and London’s Piccadilly Circus. A group of 30 creators were selected to travel to the company’s global headquarters in Atlanta for the “Real Magic Creative Academy,” a three-day workshop curated by Coke’s Global Design and Creative teams in partnership with OpenAI.

Pepsi: 125 Years

On August 28, Pepsi kicked off 125 days of promotions leading into New Year’s Eve to celebrate the 125 years of the brand’s founding. Fans received free Pepsi products for texting “PEPSI125.” The campaign includes nostalgic marketing spots from the past, such as the Pepsi Challenge, and a look to the future with the unveiling of its new logo.

Pepsi deployed traditional spots, social media content, SMS promotions, and an experiential component. In October, the brand opened The Pepsi 125 Diner in New York City, which served a hybrid Pepsi-milk beverage called Pilk and a soda-infused condiment called Colachup.

Patagonia’s ‘What’s Next?’

For its 50th anniversary, Patagonia ran the “What’s Next?” campaign, using the occasion to look forward to life on Earth and prioritize purpose over profit to protect the planet’s ecosystem. The campaign also featured a montage of moments from the brand’s mission-led history.

Heinz + Absolut: Tomato Vodka Pasta

Photo of pasta in front of a Heinz catchup bottle

Heinz + Absolut

In one of the most unexpected partnerships of 2023, Heinz and Absolut Vodka launched a limited-release Heinz + Absolut Tomato Vodka Pasta sauce. The campaign celebrated the two iconic brands combining to create a much-loved pasta sauce.

The campaign is an example of how brands can join a social media discussion. The recent attention on pasta and vodka began in 2020 when influencer Gigi Hadid shared her recipe for the sauce, which went viral. The reaction created an organic opportunity for the Heinz-Absolut collaboration.

Barbie’s Selfie Generator

Screenshot of the web page

Ahead of the release of the Barbie movie, Warner Bros. partnered with PhotoRoom, an AI photo-editing app, to create the official filter that allowed fans to turn themselves into Barbie characters.

According to PhotoRoom, the interactive tool, used over 13 million times, took less than an hour to implement and provided fans with an instant, sharable Barbie-aesthetic image. Fans, influencers, and celebrities such as Rihanna and Pedro Pascal participated in the event.

Dove: #FreeThePits

Screenshots of smartphone images of three females' arm pits

Dove: #FreeThePits

In 2004, Dove established the Self Esteem Project to ensure the next generation grows up with a positive relationship with their appearance. The company also created the Dove Real Beauty Pledge, vowing to portray women honestly and respectfully as they are in real life.

This year, Dove continued its mission to build a positive body image by launching a #FreeThePits campaign, a series of initiatives encouraging women to reject underarm stereotypes and embrace their pits in all forms. Dove ran ads on New York City’s subway lines and then ran a Dove “Pit Stop” pop-up shop during fashion week to celebrate underarms and give away Pit Kits containing Dove deodorant, free MetroCards, and other items to help women feel confident.

Apple’s ‘Shot on iPhone’

Apple’s “Shot on iPhone” campaign began in 2015 to highlight the upgraded 8-megapixel camera on the iPhone 6. Photos from 77 users across 25 countries and 73 cities highlighted the camera’s capabilities and users’ diverse experiences with the iPhone.

In 2023, to showcase the capabilities of the new iPhone 15 Pro, the Apple release event was shot on that iPhone and edited with a Mac. This behind-the-scenes video shows the director, colorist, and editor sharing their production experiences with the iPhone. More importantly, it inspires users to produce their own videos and share their vision.

Sig Ueland
Sig Ueland
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