2023 Wrapped: Best Brand Marketing Strategies

by Sara Vicioso, Reilly Phelps, Chris LaRoche, Emily Taylor, Erica Wirth, Morgan Jarvis   |   Jan 02, 2024   |   Clock Icon 13 min read

As we bid farewell to 2023 and welcome in 2024, a few of us at Workshop Digital wanted to reflect on the year in the world of brand marketing. This year brought us a blend of creativity and innovation, with brands stepping up their game to connect with audiences in meaningful and memorable ways. From leveraging sentimentality to embracing social causes, the brand strategies launched in 2023 have not only captivated consumers but have also set new standards for brand marketing.

In this roundup, we wanted to highlight a few standout marketing campaigns that we felt defined 2023. We’ll explore how these brands – Warner Bros, McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Dove, and Patagonia – broke through the noise to deliver messages that resonated with their target audiences. These campaigns didn’t just sell products; they created experiences, evoked emotions, and sparked conversations, proving that a strong marketing campaign is about much more than just advertising.

Now let's get this wrapped on a roll and dive into Workshop Digital's 2023 Wrapped: Best Brand Marketing Strategies.

Warner Bros. – The Barbie Movie

Reilly Phelps, Senior SEO Analyst

The Barbie movie took the world by storm, starting in April of 2022 when producers put out one image of Margot Robbie as Barbie in a pink Corvette. Everyone (including myself) was hooked and ready for more. Leading up to the movie release, Barbie partnered with multiple brands, including Forever 21 and Kendra Scott, but also worked with more unexpected partners, like Burger King and Airbnb. Barbie also took to social media to promote the movie with Barbie's accounts and filters that people could interact with.

Starting the campaign a year before the movie was even released, the buzz around it built up and up, and everyone was quickly talking about it. By providing a hands-on experience for fans, the Barbie marketing team was able to draw attention from multiple audiences, including ones that may not usually match the typical Barbie target audience. As a result, the movie was a huge success and became one of the only female-dominated movies among the top-grossing films of all time.

McDonald's – Grimace

Emily Taylor, SEO Analyst

McDonald’s celebrated Grimace this past June by offering a birthday meal in his honor. I don’t think anybody could have guessed that this purple monster would take over the internet and capture Gen Z’s attention. The birthday meal featured a limited-time purple milkshake. Soon after the campaign launched fans were creating their take on the trend and started posting videos of themselves drinking the milkshake and ending up on the ground in a pool of purple. The trend caught on and quickly became a viral sensation. The Grimace shake was the top trend on Twitter for eight days and it was in the top three hashtags on TikTok.

The campaign was highly successful because McDonald’s fans took it upon themselves to create a hilarious and silly trend. Guillaume Huin, Senior Marketing Director for McDonald’s, even referred to the trend as “peak absurdist Gen Z humor.” McDonald’s revenue in the second quarter totaled $6.5 billion, topping forecasts for $6.3 billion, according to Yahoo Finance. It’s safe to say that having a loyal customer base that gets excited about new products can go a long way.

Dove – #TurnYourBack

Sara Vicioso, Senior Digital Strategy Lead

Dove, known for its commitment to redefining beauty standards, has consistently knocked it out of the park within the beauty industry. Year after year, their campaigns have made significant strides in challenging conventional norms. In 2004, they launched their “Real Beauty” campaign which was launched after extensive market research to challenge the stereotypes of beauty and encourage a more inclusive and diverse representation of women in society. This campaign increased sales for Dove from $2.5 billion to $4 billion in the campaign's first ten years and won them numerous awards. I still remember the “Dove Real Beauty Sketches: You’re more beautiful than you think” video, which quite frankly made me tear up. Marketing is similar to music in its emotional resonance; the ability to evoke genuine feelings is one of the most impactful uses of one’s creativity. And Dove continues to do just that.

They’ve continued to evolve their campaigns to align with where the market is headed and focused on the platforms that are continuously rising in the market such as TikTok. In March 2023, TikTok launched its “Bold Glamour” filter that leverages advanced artificial intelligence to completely change the way your face is featured, essentially sculpting your face to what society tries to push as the beauty standard. In an article by NPR, it was stated that this feature has been viewed on the platform more than 400 million times since it was released ‘last’ month. Let that sink in… 400 million times in just one month. Dove, in partnership with Ogilvy, noticed this trend and built a campaign that opposes the use of this filter. This led to the inception of the #TurnYourBack campaign. Its message is straightforward, yet extremely powerful: refuse to conform to unrealistic beauty standards by literally turning your back on the ‘Bold Glamour’ filter, embodying the principle that “No filter should tell you how to look”.

Ogilvy reports that this campaign had a 94% positive sentiment rate in key markets, had two famous stars turn their back at the Oscars during pictures (which has a huge audience, might I add), and received over +110 Million views on TikTok alone. With an estimated 49.2% of TikTok users worldwide being women and 52% of women saying toxic beauty advice on social media causes low self-esteem, it’s no wonder why this campaign from Dove took off by challenging the toxicity that Social Media can bring as it pertains to defining beauty. My key takeaway from Dove's initiatives is a message of unity and empowerment: by standing together, we can transform social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram into spaces that celebrate inclusivity and diverse definitions of beauty. (Source)

Patagonia – What’s Next

Morgan Jarvis - Director of Paid Media

“Earth is now our only shareholder.” These were the resounding words of the founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, in his 2022 statement about the company’s decision to donate all of its profits to fight the environmental crisis and defend nature. You heard that right. Each year, the money that Patagonia makes after reinvesting in the business will be distributed as a dividend to help fight the crisis. An unprecedented move that could help set the stage for a more environmentally conscious breed of capitalism.

Since the company's founding, they have been setting the precedent for environmentally conscious brands. From switching from piton to chocks for alpine climbing in 1972 to pledging 1% of sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment starting in 1985. Founding 1% for the planet in 2002, and donating 100% of their Black Friday sales to nonprofits in 2016. There have been many pivotal moments where Patagonia has prioritized the planet over profit.

To celebrate 50 years in business, Patagonia launched a 2023 campaign reflecting on its achievements in sustainability, asking the question, “What’s Next?”.

Patagonia Celebrates 50 Years of Business Unusual

“​​In our next 50 years, Patagonia will relentlessly focus on quality—quality products, quality connections to nature, quality capitalism. We’ll move away from things that hold us back—expect more collaboration instead of competition, especially as we tackle existential crises like climate change.

Together, we’ll answer the hardest questions: Can capitalism evolve? What does quality capitalism look like? How can we better rally our community to address the root causes of the climate and ecological crisis? Who are the unexpected partners that will join along the way?” (Source)

When I first thought about successful and impactful Brand marketing strategies that I've seen this year, Patagonia did not immediately come to mind. That's because this isn't a marketing strategy at all, really. It's the embodiment of the principles that have grounded and guided the brand for 50 years. The intended impact of this “campaign” isn't a fatter bottom line, it's to raise awareness and Inspire action from brands and consumers alike. This isn't a strategy designed to make money, it's a statement from a brand that is determined to do good. As Chouinard puts it “I'm dead serious about saving this planet.”

But how does this stance of the planet over profit impact, err, profit? Well, Patagonia has an estimated value of $3 billion. It sells more than $1 billion in outdoor clothing and gear and brings in $100 million in revenue a year. It would seem that creating quality products and focusing on something bigger than net worth resonates with many on a deep level. They have built a brand that people can be proud to purchase and stand behind. That in itself makes them profitable, thus allowing them to do more even good. As Chouinard puts it “Instead of extracting value from nature and transforming it into wealth for investors, we'll use the wealth Patagonia creates to protect the source of all wealth."

Coca-Cola – Create Real Magic

Erica Wirth, Paid Media Analyst

Coca-Cola, who may be better known for its yearly Santa Clause commercials, decided to switch things up this year in a groundbreaking marketing initiative. In the “Create Real Magic” campaign, the popular soft drink company blurs the lines between reality and artificial intelligence by using AI tools from OpenAI to encourage both artists and consumers to create their own original ads. (Source)

Throughout the campaign, Coca-Cola created a sense of co-creation over the brand’s advertising, combining the idea of company advertising and user-generated content. This effort creates an increased sense of brand loyalty and favorability – who doesn’t like content that they help to produce?

It seems as though the campaign has paid off, as Coca-Cola expanded the campaign to now include a spot where users can generate their own holiday cards. You can not only view inspiration from top community creators but there’s also an incentive of the top artwork being shown around the world in physical locations. Access it here and start designing yours!

The “Create Real Magic” campaign has put Coca-Cola on the map for more than just a tasty, bubbly beverage. They have proved themselves as a pioneer in experimenting with AI and embracing digital technologies in the marketing field. This not only captured the attention of the Gen Z audience, but it paid off. There was an overall increase in both sales and brand favorability across all audiences. (Source)

It wouldn’t be surprising if we start seeing other brands tap into the AI experience for their marketing, but don’t forget to thank the imaginative folks at Coca-Cola for their innovation. It doesn’t sound like they are stopping here, either. Global Chief Marketing Officer, Manolo Arroyo said that they are “just scratching the surface of what we believe will help create the industry’s most effective and efficient end-to-end marketing model.” In the meantime, we’ll be busy designing our own holiday cards and enjoying a refreshing bottle of soda. (Source)

Warner Bros. – Barbenheimer

Chris LaRoche - Director, SMB Solutions

Everyone knows Warner Bros. – one of the biggest movie studios in Hollywood with decades of blockbuster hits that have been embedded into the cultural zeitgeist. Through the pandemic, they struggled, with direct-to-streaming releases for movies that would have had theater exclusivity for months, eating into their earnings. But with 2023 marking a ‘return to the theater,’ they needed big wins.

I think it’s still up for debate whether it was intentional, but the marketing around theBarbie and Oppenheimer movies (aka Barbenheimer) took the internet by storm. WB never directly marketed these movies together, but no doubt they stoked the flames as ‘Barbenheimer’ linked these two tonally diametrically opposed movies together, leading to massive media and viral coverage. While not a “traditional” marketing campaign, one can’t ignore the impact of the co-marketing of these films.

The collective Barbenheimer campaign worked because it stood out. Sometimes the best thing you can do as a marketer is to subvert expectations - zig when everyone expects you to zag. Traditional media, mixed with a strong digital presence across social media fuelled a grass-roots viral campaign that was embraced and magnified by fans on both sides. By leaning into Barbenheimer, WB’s marketing teams created a double-feature, must-see event that was picked up by a movie-going population that, for the right excuse, was ready to go back to the theaters – earning the studio over $2.3 billion to date.

And that's a wrap!

As you can see with our journey through the most impactful brand marketing strategies of 2023, it’s clear that this year has been a testament to the power of creative storytelling, and that connecting your brand message directly to your audience is essential to marketing success and standing out in the crowded space. The campaigns from Warner Bros, McDonald’s, Dove, Coca-Cola, and Patagonia didn’t just capture our attention; they stimulated conversations and evoked emotion.

Warner Bros reminded us of the power of being bold and zigging when everyone expects you to zag. McDonald’s brought back Grimace, reinforcing the value of iconic characters in brand recognition. Dove’s #TurnYourBack campaign continued its legacy of challenging societal norms, highlighting the core brand values that continue to resonate with consumers. Coca-Cola’s ‘Create Real Magic’ showed how leveraging user-generated content can be a low-cost way to not only interact with your customers but also build a community and brand backing. Patagonia proved that principles can be profitable, and then they took those profits and put them towards saving the planet. Now they are challenging us all to ask “What’s Next?”

What marketing trends can we expect in 2024?

In a world where consumers are bombarded every day with numerous brands and marketing messages, the brands that stand out are those that stay true to their brand values and speak directly to their target audiences. The bar continues to be raised every year by numerous brands and we’re excited to see what 2024 has in store for us.

Portrait of Sara Vicioso

Sara Vicioso

Sara brings over 10 years of experience in the digital marketing space, having spent a large portion of her career focused on Paid Media strategy for her clients. However, paid media wasn't enough. Sara is passionate about audience-first marketing strategies, finding customers where they are regardless of channel (which may be heavily driven by her background in Sociology) which led to the desire to build multichannel marketing strategies for her clients.

She brings a wealth of knowledge in industries such as manufacturing, industrial, SaaS, healthcare, education, e-commerce, & more.

Originally from San Diego, California, Sara found her new home in Austin, Texas, a city that captured her heart with its BBQ scene, country music, paddleboarding scene, and welcoming community. Outside the office, Sara is a DIY enthusiast, a lover of dogs (particularly her shih-tzu, Peanut), and will never turn away from the next travel adventure.

Portrait of Reilly Phelps

Reilly Phelps

Reilly joined Workshop Digital in January 2022 after working in marketing for a few companies, ranging from childcare to recruiting. She graduated from James Madison University in June of 2022 with a degree in Marketing concentrating in Digital Marketing, and a minor in Communication Studies. The various organizations at JMU sparked her love of digital marketing, specifically in the organic field.

From small businesses to international corporations, Reilly has had the opportunity to work with a variety of clients across multiple industries. She enjoys putting together strategies and analyzing performance to find the right steps forward. When she isn't working, you can find her spending time with her corgi Maisie, listening to Taylor Swift, or reading.

Portrait of Chris LaRoche

Chris LaRoche

Chris brings over 12 years of experience in the digital marketing space to Workshop Digital, having spent the majority of his career driving paid marketing strategy for clients across SaaS, healthcare, legal, retail, & more while leading teams of marketing experts.

He prides himself on staying ahead of the curve – testing & adopting new technologies, strategies, and methodologies in order to find the newest and best ways to exceed client expectations, while building strong personal relationships with his counterparts.

A South Jersey native, Chris migrated to the San Diego region of California in 2018. Outside of the office chair, you can find him catching the latest superhero movies, attempting to cook a decent meal, dabbling in some light woodworking, and accompanying his dog – Blitz – to the dog park.

Portrait of Emily Taylor

Emily Taylor

As an SEO Analyst for the SMB Solutions team, Emily helps clients reach their marketing goals utilizing organic SEO practices. She is passionate about connecting small and medium sized businesses with searchers who are looking for quality results to their queries. In her free time, Emily enjoys playing with her two cats Mo and Cranberry, gardening, and cooking.

Portrait of Erica Wirth

Erica Wirth

After graduating from James Madison University in May of 2023 with a B.B.A in Marketing, Erica joined the Paid Media team as an analyst in June of 2023. She was very involved in her studies at JMU, graduated Magna Cum Laude, and was awarded the Mark-It Forward Marketing Scholarship. After working in an in-house marketing role for several years, she is excited to bring her passions of digital marketing and business analytics to a variety of clients.

When she is not working in the Richmond office, you can find Erica either at pickleball courts perfecting the game or learning how to play new songs on her guitar.

Portrait of Morgan Jarvis

Morgan Jarvis

Morgan Jarvis has been making digital marketing strategies come to life at Workshop Digital since 2015. As Director of Paid Media, Morgan guides her team to build long-standing, successful client partnerships by combining a proactive & strategic approach to Paid Digital Marketing with a genuine desire to grow relationships. Above all, Morgan is passionate about finding creative solutions for her team and clients.

Morgan earned her B.B.A in Marketing from James Madison University. It was there that she caught the digital marketing bug while competing and placing as a global winner in the Google Online Marketing Challenge. Over her years in the digital marketing industry, Morgan has successfully built and managed marketing strategies and campaigns across a variety of paid media platforms to support a diverse array of industries and business sizes. She has a track record of creating ROI-positive campaigns for everyone from local businesses sporting budgets of $12K to international brands with budgets exceeding $7M. In her years as a Team Lead, she leveraged this experience to guide her team to exceed their clients' business goals. Now, as the Director of Paid Media, this experience is the foundation on which she has built the division.

In her spare time, you'll find Morgan exploring nature, listening to records, or spending quality time at home with her husband, her two young children, and her husky named Apollo.