April 16, 2024

Enterprise JM

Do the Business

6 campaigns that broke through the creative rut of H1 2023

Ad spending appears to be approaching some kind of normalcy with the digital boom of the pandemic tapering off and other channels reaching maturity. Yet, for brands, the moment in many ways feels as fraught as any period over the past three years, with splashy creative plays a rarity so far in 2023.

A sense of dullness means that a few big swings — in early applications of generative artificial intelligence (AI) or an over-the-top rebrand — felt more impactful over the past six months. But looking ahead to the second half, a posture of prudence is poised to endure as resources remain strapped and concerns over a divisive landscape lead to risk aversion.

Some CMOs are eyeing earned media as a cheaper, more efficient way to stay on the ball with fast-moving cultural discussions. The approach can pay dividends when timed well but also be deflating when a strategy meant to drive chatter fizzles or confuses. The right pick of celebrity ambassadors also continues to resonate with consumers. Look no further than soaring demand for names like Pete Davidson or Martha Stewart, the latter of whom helped animate campaigns from brands as varied as Tito’s, BIC and Oreo in the opening leg of the year.

Leveraging a famous face is a tried-and-true marketing tactic. Risk-taking, on the other hand, seems in short supply. Purposeful messages that once scored easy accolades and promised to make brand marketing a meaningful driver of societal change have become flashpoints for controversy due to the culture wars. Rather than weather the storm, many marketers have pumped the brakes to avoid becoming a political scapegoat in the vein of Bud Light.

Looming in the background, the rise of generative AI is poised to transform marketing, from the fundamentals of search to creative work. The technology has inspired awe and fear, along with some noteworthy advertising.

Marketing Dive here has assembled a list of noteworthy campaigns and branding plays from H1 2023. It is a thinner grouping than usual, reflecting an industry at a point of deep uncertainty, but exemplifies how a few companies are seizing the moment to reinvent themselves and engage beleaguered consumers who are seeking something fresh.

Coca-Cola AI art

Coke invited consumers and artists to use OpenAI’s GPT-4 and DALL-E tools to make original ads as part of “Create Real Magic.”

Courtesy of Coca-Cola


Coke hands consumers the creative keys with generative AI

While other advertisers were earlier to adopt generative AI, Coke stood out as one of the first to make smart, democratic use of the technology through its “Create Real Magic” platform.

In March, the soft drink giant moved quickly to take advantage of an alliance between OpenAI and Bain & Company that tests the waters of AI-driven creativity. Not long after, Coke opened a website where artists could use OpenAI’s GPT-4 and DALL-E tools to make new ads based on a rich library of iconic branded assets, instructions included. Users could submit their work for the chance to be featured on marquee digital out-of-home placements in New York City and London.

Part of Coke’s larger “Real Magic” platform, the campaign also featured an academy program that invited 30 creators to collaborate at the company’s headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, on ideas that could be used in areas like licensed merchandising and digital collectibles. As AI stokes heated debates about potentially stealing work away from flesh-and-blood creatives, Coke kept the focus simple and handed the keys to actual artists and consumers to bring its ideas to life.

“This execution really was a great fit for Coke’s ‘Real Magic’ campaign,” said Kai Tier, vice president and executive creative technology director at agency R/GA, over email. “There’s a quote from Arthur C. Clarke that ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’ — and I think the first time people interact with the latest generative AI technologies, many do have that moment of wondering how what they’re seeing is possible.”

The approach helped position Coke on the leading edge and supported a digital strategy that has grown sales and favor with key groups like Gen Z. Coke recently landed as a top 10 most-valued global brand as tracked by Kantar’s BrandZ rankings, the first time it has stood at the front of the pack in seven years.

Dunkin’s stars align around Ben Affleck

Some standout marketing taps into a concept that is surprising or fresh. Other times, it realizes an idea that feels like a long time coming. Ben Affleck has never been shy about his love of Dunkin’ iced coffee, a habit that has been captured in candid — and occasionally unflattering — paparazzi photos and memes. But it wasn’t until this year’s Super Bowl that the chain made the relationship official through a tongue-in-cheek ad playing up the A-lister’s self-deprecating qualities. The campaign marked the Inspire Brands-owned company’s big game debut.