Ritson’s top 10 marketing moments of 2023

From Barbie’s brand extension and the Bud Light controversy to Tesla’s price drop and the rise of AI, Marketing Week’s trusted columnist reveals his biggest marketing moments of the year.

It’s been a bit of a year. The headlines were varied and the takes have been hot. To help you make sense of it all, Mark Ritson has reflected on the last 12 months in his own inimitable way. He highlights the biggest, worst and most impactful marketing moments of 2023. So without further ado…

10. Amazon’s Christmas turkey

Ritson took issue with Campaign magazine’s decision to name Amazon’s 2023 Christmas ad as its ‘Turkey of the Week’ when it launched in November.

Campaign found the advert to be “cliché”, however, advertising effectiveness firm System1 named the ad as one of the best of the year. So who was right?

For Ritson, it’s the data-led approach of System1. Its data suggests Amazon is improving its brand building over time and found this ad ranked in the highest percentile for that.

‘Good campaigns wear in’: Why brands that embrace continuity are winning this Christmas

9. Netflix increases prices 

Last year, Pret increased its prices for its subscription scheme and Marketing Week readers voted how it communicated those rises to its customers as their campaign of the year. Marketing’s involvement was clear. But for Netflix’s price rises this year, this wasn’t so obviously the case, suggests Ritson.

“This smells of finance and ops and all those very smart, very square people that don’t understand the customer,” says Ritson.

8. Tesla discounts prices

Tesla never discounts its vehicles. Well, at least the electric car firm didn’t until earlier this year when it reduced prices by between six and 20%. Ritson says this move demonstrates the “stupidity of discounting or lowering prices”.

From negative signalling to user disillusionment – and perhaps most strikingly an evisceration of profit margins – Ritson spells out why discounting needs to be undertaken with care if it is to be successful.

Tesla is about to experience the seven perils of discounting

7. Guinness becomes the UK’s no.1 pint

Guinness became the UK’s most popular pint in 2023. This illustrates a “shit ton of important factors for marketers to consider, says Ritson. He lauds the knowledgeable marketing team at Diageo as “incredibly well-trained, incredibly knowledgeable” and “a rare and beautiful thing”.

But what Guinness proves most foundationally, says Ritson, is that while the P for promotion and the P for price garner the most attention from marketers. It is the P for product that will always be the most important and Guinness, according to Ritson, is a great example of how marketing can showcase that.

How Guinness became Britain’s most popular pint

6. The end of wear-out

Do ads wear-out? Ritson argues we are living through a golden age of advertising effectiveness which is proving the old theory that ads lose their effectiveness over time may not be correct.

Taking great pains to stress that although you, as a marketer, may be sick and tired of a campaign before it has even launched, for the consumer this takes a lot longer to happen. “Old ads that were good are still good and shit ads that were once shit are still shit, says Ritson.

Consumers don’t get tired of ads, only marketers do

5. Barbie’s brand extension

Barbie-mania dominated the summer. As did the slew of brand extensions that came with it. While in the past, brand extensions were seen as a risk that could undermine a brand, Ritson believes Barbie proves they are “relatively safe as long as you jump into a new category such as, in this case, a movie.

“Not only has Barbie enjoyed significant licensing income this year and a big boost in salience – it has revitalised Barbie as a brand.

How Barbie got ‘comfortable being uncomfortable’ to strengthen its brand

4. Unilever revisits purpose

“We’ve lived through this nonsensical, purpose-based era for nearly ten years now,” says Ritson, who deconstructs the point of purpose and explores Unilever’s obsession with it and how it is now changing its mind.

“This idea that brand purpose is going to make you money has been disproved by Unilever themselves who have underperformed all the other major FMCG companies because of their obsession with purpose,” he says.

‘The penny has dropped’: Is purpose having a crisis of confidence?

3. Rebranding Twitter

In July, Twitter became X, and with this rebrand, the business lost billions of dollars in equity, advertisers and its distinctive assets. Ritson stretches beyond X to explain why he thinks rebranding anything is “stupid”.

“The only time you want to rebrand is when you have to for legal reasons, the essential moment, otherwise don’t do it,” he says.

12 reasons why Twitter’s rebrand to X is a mistake

2. Bud Light

Ritson explores the overall cost of Bud Light’s promotion with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney and the difficulty of mass marketing.

“There’s no upside to getting involved in this debate,” says Ritson, cautioning marketers about the dangers of forgetting your existing customer base.

Bud Light’s ad backlash shows the complexity of mass marketing

1. Artificial intelligence 

Ritson is a self-proclaimed tech sceptic. The metaverse’s rise and fall, the money wasted on NFTs, and Ritson’s reaction to both might make marketers think he’d be an AI critic.

But, as he says, “we are obsessed with new things, and always, always distracted – but there’s something different with AI, and I started to change my mind midway through the year.”

He goes on to list the applications where AI can help marketers do their jobs better, particularly in the fields of research and data.

In the video above, Ritson shares his thoughts on and analysis of the first of his top moments of the year, but to view the full video with all 10 head over to the Mini MBA site – buckle up. 

The next Mini MBA in Marketing begins on 9 April 2024, while the next Mini MBA in Brand Management and Mini MBA in Management start on 16 April 2024. Visit the Mini MBA website for more information and to book your place.