Marketing Beat: The Creative’s Choice: which ads made their mark in 2023 – and why?

The Creative’s Choice: which ads made their mark in 2023 – and why?

So much in marketing and advertising is subjective – how best to use humour, the true power of storytelling, where the line of ‘good taste’ really lies… But the importance of identifying a strong creative is never really in doubt.

Used properly, a truly creative approach – whether using humour, surrealism, surprise, or just a beautifully-crafted piece of film – will capture customers’ attention, affect them emotionally and ultimately make the difference between a campaign’s success or failure.

In this light, the creative power of a piece of advertising cannot be underestimated. It can do more than just highlight a company’s new products or elevate its business – it can be the fundamental difference between what makes or breaks an entire campaign.

This year, Cannes Lions pinpointed humour as one of the most important creative approaches – to the degree that it has introduced a brand new humour category to its 2024 awards ceremony, which will see judges specifically looking for work that uses “wit and satire to provide amusement”.

Despite a number of side-splitters making the headlines this year – such as Edgar Wright’s re-invigoration of McDonald’s TV ads with his ‘Raised Arches’ brand platform – other works have continued to tap into important social themes.

These have largely focused on the difficulties experienced by Brits faced with the rampant cost-of-living increases, but there’s also been plenty of attention focused on the inevitable fallout of the last few years – a nationwide mental health crisis, which was bought to life with a poignant Norwich City spot.

With all that in mind, we asked a number of top creatives from across the sector to share the ads from the last 12 months that made them sit up and take notice…

Fold 7 creative directors, Kier Roe and Dom Moira
“There’s been a load of well-crafted, beautiful ads this year, with Saatchi being slightly less Bacony and more old school banger-y for EE and our own brilliant Audible Breakdown work stopping Dom and I in our tracks.

“But which two ads made waves in the WhatsApps? Not many I’d wager. One that did was Battle of The Baddest. Tyson Fury vs Ngannou wasn’t a fight many people wanted to see, with heavyweight boxers shying away from risky title fights it seemed novelty boxing matches were to be the way forward. Not an easy brief to win fans over, and yet the film by Accenture/Droga used pure entertainment, visual comedy and great performances to do just that.

“Another ad that made an audience impact and we simply couldn’t believe happened was Yorkshire Tea Pack Yer Bags. We love a bit of unexpected mischief and hats off to everyone involved for spotting a solid insight that helped get that cheeky one away. Well done Lucky Generals team and nice work Ninja Tunes on the track.”

Iris global executive creative director, Grant Hunter
“My two choices are polar opposites. The first sells big in an entertaining way with a blockbuster spot – but it was all the social chat that really impressed, while the second has real purpose and demands participation with utility, designed to let real talent shine.

“An in-house Squarespace ad, ‘The Singularity’ broke the internet twice, asking how many Adam Drivers. It sold hard in the biggest spot on the planet. Squarespace resurrected its old line for its 20th anniversary: ‘A website that builds websites’.

“Adam then regurgitated the line to infinity. It was delightful. The levels of design craft across the social channels added depth, the spot felt like an epic blockbuster and the buzz online was insane.

“A totally different-shaped idea on a mission to correct the bias of the internet. UN-backed, Correct the Internet is a tool that helps the world restore order to search so that female athletes get the recognition they deserve.

“The ad was by DDB NZ for Team Heroine and, audacious in its ambition, it’s already corrected numerous inaccuracies. Move over Ronnie, Christine Sinclair is the real GOAT.”

WMH&I creative director, Mark Nichols
“As we increasingly look for joyful surrealism to offer a sense of escape from the absurdity or world events, Squarespace and Adam Driver nail it taking humour and execution of an idea to new heights.

“The seamless link between the Super Bowl ad, behind the scenes film and limited edition web functions left me (and others) wanting more and more Adam Drivers and more and more from Squarespace as they ironically broke the internet with a website ad.

“Launching on the ‘happiest day of the year’ the ‘Last Photo’ campaign took people’s poignant smiles and quickly landed the harrowing truth behind them. Bringing vital mental health awareness and sparking a national conversation around suicide.

“A similar flipping of the face of suicide was used by Norwich City later in the year to similarly powerful and emotive effect.”

Dark Horses chief creative officer, Steve Howell
“For the Women’s World Cup this summer, the online film for Orange’s sponsorship of the French national team was a deviously crafted bait and switch that fooled everyone into admiring the quality of the men’s team only to reveal it was the women’s squad all along.

“Using the men’s game to give credibility to the women’s game is a dangerous tightrope to tread. More often than not, it leaves women’s football in the shadow of the men’s. This creative, Orange ‘La Compil des Bleues’ by Marcel, firmly portrayed the women’s game as the skillful, elite, entertaining sport that it truly is, while managing to simultaneously undermine any prejudices.

“My scriptwriting award of the year (I don’t actually have one, but if I did…) goes to this delightful piece of prose for Make My Money Matter ‘Oblivia Coalmine’ by Lucky Generals. It’s taken a pretty heavy topic and delivered it with a creative irreverence that makes it accessible, fresh and darkly comic.

“Olivia Coleman is superb, as you would expect, with her minutiae eye movement and corner mouth curls that convey more meaning than any words ever could. The set, wardrobe and props are all on point, as well. So for all those award juries next year, you know the drill.”

Hijinks co-founder and CEO, Alicia Iveson
“The Tinder films by US agency Mischief shift perceptions of Tinder as being the more ‘transactional’ dating app to one that could be the start of a brilliant relationship. A great idea combined with creative, clever and humorous writing and excellent production values make this campaign one of our faves.

“Samsung and Wieden and Kennedy also leaned into storytelling to bring us a teen drama centred around their Galaxy Flip Phone. The witty writing, brilliant casting and incredible storytelling aimed at a youth market (but still giving the oldies a pop of nostalgia) proved that long form advertising isn’t dead.”

Krow creative director, Rachael Kendrick
“Forget Ryanair, in 2023 I could not shut up about Quechua’s masterful organic TikTok presence. This video, sitting at 2.9m views at the time of writing, is my favourite example of their bonkers oeuvre. Equal parts chaotic and relatable, this collage of CapCut elements against the kind of mashup soundtrack that circulates freely on the clock app feels like it was cobbled together on a whim at 2am – and that’s why it works. Quechua is a dorky brand, and it has made that dweebiness into a feature, not a bug.

“On the other end of the spectrum is Yorkshire Tea’s Pack yer Bags. Real bravery is committing fully to the bit, and the result is two and a half minutes of pure, memorable fun. If there’s a creative theme in the work that’s stayed with me this year, it’s offbeat authenticity, and here Yorkshire Tea have teased out their place in culture by turning their staid cupboard essential image into an inside joke.

“Speaking of which, I desperately want to know how Lucky Generals sold in that ‘bag in your sock’ line.”