Economic and geopolitical uncertainty have tightened budgets perhaps more than ever, meaning 2023 was a year of short-term project briefs rather than the long-term brand-building briefs that PR agencies love.
Understandably, decision-makers are more hesitant in a fast and ever-changing market, which naturally means it takes to get things over the line. This indecision could be borne out of too many decision makers, and ideas getting lost in drawn-out team discussions . It’s more important than ever for ideas to be presented enthusiastically, debated honestly and bought decisively – ideally by a single decision maker.
Of course, this provides a brilliant opportunity for any braver marketers prepared to forge forward and put their heads above the parapet. Luckily, and thanks to the team at GOLD79’s hard work, we’ve achieved a couple of superb new wins as 2023 draws to a close. We’re hopeful that 2024 will be a time of more optimism so we can all get back to doing more innovative and impactful campaigns.
2. Public shaming
Cancel culture has still been very much in play in 2023, with many big brands coming under fire. While it will never disappear completely, this year seems to be have been particularly full of toxic shaming. It seems now there are more labels and buzzwords than ever, and it can be easy for brands, businesses and people to make a faux pas as they navigate a new trend or movement under the glare of the public eye.
Certainly, there are some critics and keyboard warriors who are simply there to provoke and endlessly tirade about subjects for their own personal moment in the limelight. However, many sensitive subjects – such as climate change, immigration, and trans rights, are incredibly complex – the second anyone says something that isn’t completely “on message”, the public are baying for blood.
Marks and Spencer is a recent example of a brand not fully appreciating the concerns of its audience or the wider global picture. Its Christmas commercial received a frosty reception from social media users and critics alike, who criticised the destructive imagery in the advert, including the burning of decorations that shared the colours of the Palestinian flag.
The ad’s message – “Love Thismas not Thatmas” – seemed selfish and irreverent in the face of a cost of living crisis and a volatile political climate. To give M&S credit where its due, they pulled the ad on the day of release and soon responded with an edited version, where they removed (most) of the destructive imagery, instead rounding off with the safer tagline: “Love Christmas.”
You may also remember the controversy surrounding beer brand Bud Light earlier this year. In an effort to appeal to a younger audience, Bud Light briefly partnered with Dylan Mulvaney, an American trans activist with over 10m TikTok followers. The partnership came up against a huge backlash from American right and anti-trans groups, and triggered a boycott which resulted in a 30% drop in US sales.
Whilst it’s a positive thing that brands are held to account by the public, if brands always play it safe, it can put a stop to serious debate, and means that people in the public eye will be too afraid to stand for anything – which makes our lives as PRs very hard indeed.
3. Bad briefs
A good brief should be clear, timely and agreed upon upfront. A good brief empowers a marketing team – the strategists and creatives – to fully use their skillset to produce quality work. With this in mind, it can be frustrating to receive a ‘bad’ brief.
The PR and comms industry would benefit from well-thought through, detailed briefs with a realistic timeline. Decent lead-in times gives opportunities for checking in with the brand team, and everyone is more able to collaborate to achieve one clear goal.
Perhaps the solution to bad briefs is setting clear objectives in the first place. According to a report by the Institute for Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), “78% of marketers believe their briefs provide clear strategic direction; only 5% of agencies agree.”
While there is still a long way to go before all brands and agencies are aligned on this, by working together on the objectives and the strategy, there is hope for the industry.
4. Using AI indiscriminately
While there is no doubt that AI visuals have captured the imaginations of the PR and comms industry, there seems to be a sharp divide on whether AI language and generative models are a useful tool, a hindrance, or just a plain nuisance. Concerns range from generative AI content tools making us lazy and killing our creativity, to creating issues around plagiarism and the perpetuating of harmful stereotypes.
Coca-Cola has jumped on the generative AI bandwagon by appointing a global head of generative AI, Pratik Thakar – one of the first multinational brands to do so. Through its Create Real Magic campaign, they have invited creatives to use its digital platform to create images using Coke’s platform and assets, with the winning images going on display on billboards in New York and London. The brand is actively acknowledging the importance of merging generative AI with human talent and imagination – something that other brands will surely do more of in 2024.
Beauty brand Maybelline caught our attention this summer with an AI PR stunt featuring a London bus and tube carriage having their eyelashes coated with a Maybelline Sky High mascara wand. As The Drum puts it, “New CGI techniques mean advertisers can fake jaw-dropping experiential scenes for social media kudos.” With over 342.9k TikTok views and counting, the brand’s earned media interest soared and it has sparked much debate within the industry about whether “fake” adverts leave consumers feeling cheated, or whether their novelty value is worth more than “realness.”
While AI models should be used with caution – especially in advertising visuals and messages – AI used wisely could make time for creatives to be more creative, as Gold79’s Senior SEO Exec Matthew Kozma, explains: “human-level AI performance doesn’t necessarily mean humans are no longer needed in the world of work. Instead, it means that we can hopefully get menial, boring and repetitive tasks performed to a human standard (or higher) without having to do them ourselves. That means more time to think big and get creative with our roles.”
5. Talking a lot, but saying little
In advertising and PR, sometimes less is more. Many brands are communicating very often, but saying very little. The idea that brands constantly need to be in the news can end up diluting their messaging, so the “less is more” approach could make messages more meaningful and memorable.
Global Scandi brands such as Lego and IKEA have achieved exceptional success with the minimalist approach. For Lego, it’s all about positioning itself as a premium brand, reflecting the craftsmanship and heritage of its famous building bricks. With Lego being synonymous with imagination, its advertising is bold and colourful, letting its products do the talking.
IKEA is another Scandi super brand harnessing the power of keeping it simple. One of its recent print campaigns features a single IKEA product with the caption: “Inflation made [product name] even more affordable.” By connecting with the cost of living crisis, the brand is sending the message to its customers that it can be relied upon to face their challenges head on. Its recent MTV Cribs-inspired commercial for its “Show Off Your Savvy” message; proving that you don’t need to have the biggest house with the most expensive furniture to be happy. In the word of IKEA: “the real kudos comes from thinking outside the box, overcoming a problem with smarts, not money or just working with what you’ve got.”
As we reach the end of 2023 and step into a new year, let’s take a leaf from IKEA’s book and keep things simple with bold decisions, better briefs and AI technology blended with human talent.