The best marketing campaigns of 2023: Part 1

From Barbie to McDonald’s to Heinz, the Marketing Week team reveals the first six campaigns that make up our best of 2023.

McDonald’s – ‘#RaiseYourArches’

Say you’re going for a McDonald’s without saying you’re going for a McDonald’s. In the first ad for the brand to feature none of its food, restaurants, or even its logo, the fast-food chain played on the fact that an invitation to go for a cheeky McDonald’s often needs no more than a subtle, conspiratorial look.

‘Fancy a McDonald’s #RaiseYourArches’ tells the story of a group of office workers who with just the raising of an eyebrow communicate that they are going to McDonald’s for lunch.

While the ad, by Leo Burnett UK, features no overt branding, its clever use of distinctive assets means there is never any doubt in the viewer’s mind what it is for. From the hand-drawn M on a yellow Post-it note to the yellow shirt and red skirt of the woman who opens and closes the ad, and even the raised eyebrows themselves being reminiscent of the brand’s famous Golden Arches, McDonald’s is ever-present throughout the 60-second spot.

So much so, 98% of consumers recognised the ad was for McDonald’s, according to System1. Recognition spiked within the first 10 seconds, as soon as the Post-it note appeared, indicating the ad’s “exceptional” strength in brand recognition. It also achieved a “very strong” score (4.7 stars out of 5.9) for long-term brand-building effectiveness and an “exceptional” spike rating of 1.48 for short-term sales.

So successful was the campaign it has been replicated in more than 35 markets since first launching in the UK.

Its impact has also been praised by McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski, who said: “Even though the campaign never shows our food, never shows our restaurants and never mentions our brand name, it’s nonetheless instantly recognisable as only McDonald’s. Imagine that, a brand is so powerful it requires no introduction.” LT

The best marketing campaigns of 2023: Part 2

BBC – ‘Eurovision 2023’

The UK hasn’t had much to shout about when it comes to Eurovision for nearly three decades now. A litany of dismal entrants saw the UK consigned to the bottom half of the leaderboard seemingly indefinitely. But after Sam Ryder’s surprise second-place finish in 2022 – and after Ukraine had to pull out of hosting duties due to the ongoing war – it was down to the UK to step up and host.

The BBC’s campaign to promote the Song Contest was a testament to everything people love about the event: it was glitzy, colourful and deliciously camp. Finding the balance between being a celebration of Liverpool and promoting solidarity with Ukraine wasn’t going to be easy – but this campaign filled with European touches, Ukrainian phrases and, of course, Scouse drag performer The Vivienne, somehow managed to thread the needle.

It all added up to the most successful Eurovision for the BBC in modern times. A peak audience of 11 million people tuned into the show with an average audience of 9.9 million equating to a 63% audience share. This surpassed the previous record of 9.5 million viewers in 2011 when Conchita Wurst won for Austria. The BBC confirmed it is the most viewers the contest has attracted since records began in 2002.

But while records may have been made throughout the broadcast, it was a more predictable return to form for the UK which finished a lowly 25th out of 26. Some things never change. JS

The best marketing campaigns of 2023: Part 2


2023 was the year everything turned pink. Barbie became one of the most hyped movies of all time, with anticipation building for months ahead of its release in July thanks to what has to be one of the most joined-up and concerted marketing efforts for a film in recent years.

Leaning heavily on its distinctive brand assets – namely the colour pink – the promotion for the movie has been heralded as “marketing genius” by many. So strong is the association that one poster for the movie showed only Barbie’s specific pink hue and the release date – no logo, no product, no actors, no text – and that’s all it needed.

Hundreds of brands got in on the action too, helping to spread Barbie fever further and to new audiences. From Barbie Crocs and Airbnb’s Malibu Dreamhouse to the BBC turning Doctor Who’s Tardis pink and Burger King launching a Barbie burger, everyone seemed to be tickled pink. These tie-ups made huge waves on social, all while keeping the promotional drumbeat for the movie alive and fresh in the months leading up to launch.

And it worked. The movie broke box office records for the highest opening weekend of 2023, estimated to be £293m worldwide. It is also the highest grossing movie of the year (so far), with global sales passing $1.4bn. It’s had a major impact on cinema advertising too. While not exclusively down to Barbie, AA/Warc data suggests cinema advertising is forecast to grow by more than 20% in 2023, far outstripping the pace of growth predicted for any other media channel.

Taking branded content to a whole new level, Mattel, its marketing team and the movie’s director and writer Greta Gerwig have effectively propelled Barbie back into the spotlight – but this time for all the right reasons. Eight years ago the brand admitted it had lost relevance in society and with parents, accused of reinforcing unrealistic ideals and conforming to stereotypes. It set about overhauling its dolls to better represent different races, abilities and body shapes, all with the aim of getting back to its original purpose to “inspire the limitless potential in every girl”, according to Mattel’s global head of Barbie and dolls portfolio, Lisa McKnight. LT

The best marketing campaigns of 2023: Part 2

Fiat – ‘Operation No Grey’

Marketers’ views of what makes a good ad are not always the same as consumers, but with ‘Operation No Grey’ Fiat hit a home run with both.

During the two-minute ad, the Italian auto maker revealed it would no longer be producing grey cars. With the aid of a very large tin of orange paint, the brand’s suave CEO declared that while grey might be OK for German, Japanese and French car marques, the dull, colourless hue had no place in Italy. “Italy is joy, optimism, love, passion, life. And what has grey got to do with all that? Nothing,” he exclaimed.

The ad, by Leo Burnett Italia, immediately entered into the top 5% of all UK car ads, scoring a “strong” 3.6 star rating, according to data from System1, far higher than the average score of 2.4 stars usually seen in the category.

It also performs well on its potential to drive short-term sales, scoring an “exceptional” 1.34 spike score, higher than the category average of 1.04. It is also the top-scoring 90-second-plus car ad that System1 has ever analysed.

Meanwhile, Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson declared it a “fabulous” ad that showcases five important aspects of brand building. First and foremost differentiation. “Differentiation is not about finding unique aspects of your product or brand. It’s about relative differentiation. About having more of it than your competitors. Saying it more. Saying it louder. Longer. Better. And not saying or doing anything that would contradict it. Fiat achieves this handsomely,” he said. Ritson also believes Fiat achieved a “perfect branding one/two” by disparaging competitor brands in the first 10 seconds before quickly explaining why Fiat is different and therefore better.

It was described by System1’s chief customer officer Jon Evans as “easily the best” ad Fiat has ever created, and has the potential to be even better with shorter edits. LT 

The best marketing campaigns of 2023: Part 2

Heinz – ‘It has to be Heinz’

In June, Kraft Heinz made its biggest media investment to date when it launched its first-ever global brand platform. ‘It has to be Heinz’ unifies the brand under a single global strategy for the first time in history.

The platform, developed in partnership with Wieden+Kennedy, is a humorous look at the lengths people go to to get Heinz products. Kraft Heinz chief growth officer for America, Diane Frost, said at the time the platform is the brand’s “love song” to the fans. It was debuted in the US, UK and Canada followed by 13 other territories over the following six months.

In addition to the TV and social executions, Heinz expanded the platform into OOH and other channels. The brand “painted the town red – literally – in Shanghai” with a Heinz ‘village’, where it recreated some elements of the campaign with Heinz products on Chinese dishes.

In the UK, the brand extended the campaign with a new ad featuring British people abroad, based on Heinz’s consumer insights that found Brits are often caught smuggling Heinz beans through airport security.

Heinz’s initial market results show the platform has increased awareness across “key brand equity drivers” and delivered an uplift in social media awareness across all countries. In the US, the brand reports it is exceeding industry benchmarks for key metrics like sentiment and engagement rate across social media platforms – leading to the campaign receiving over 12 billion impressions.

The campaign was a further example of the brand taking its financial success over the past few years and reinvesting it in marketing and branding. In August, Kraft Heinz CFO Andre Maciel declared the business would continue to invest in marketing, with its Q2 marketing spend increasing 23% year on year. The It has to be Heinz campaign is a brave new flavour for the food and drink brand, and looks set to continue to tell the brand’s story on the global stage. CS

The best marketing campaigns of 2023: Part 2

TSB – ‘The elephant in the room’

This year TSB decided its brand needed a refresh following a multi-year partnership with Friends actor David Schwimmer. To do that, and to realign its marketing strategy around the concept of getting people to talk about money, the bank introduced a literal elephant in the room with its first-ever brand mascot – Tiny the elephant.

TSB CMO Emma Springham told Marketing Week that after the rise in brand awareness from the Schwimmer-led campaign, the brand was looking to tackle “long-held misperceptions of finance”. With the introduction of Tiny, voiced by actor Daisy May Cooper in a campaign created by McCann London and Riff Raff, the bank aimed to bring those misconceptions and other buried questions around finance into the light.

In testing, 74% of respondents said the mascot was ‘likeable’ or ‘really likeable’. In line with some other mascot-led campaigns, the character was designed to stand the test of time and to wear in over a long period of time. Springham elaborated: “We want it to be brave, and we want it to be a bit bolder. We needed something with longevity.”

Research has shown that, done well, there is evidence to suggest mascot characters are more likely to attract new customers, grow market share and even reduce price sensitivity. That is especially true in B2B marketing, where they have been described by LinkedIn B2B Institute’s Peter Weinberg and Jon Lombardo as the most unvalued asset in B2B marketing.

That long-term approach chimes with what TSB’s marketing performance and planning manager Owain Jevons describes as TSB’s “journey” back in April, in which he noted the bank was seeking to “look at the next three years, not just the next one”.

The character was also developed with long-term customer acquisition in mind. Speaking of its in-school programme where the bank brings financial information to young people, highlighting the flexibility of purpose of the mascot, Springham explained: “The character gives us something really playful” to bring into that space. From Tiny acorns… CS

The best marketing campaigns of 2023: Part 2