We asked around the office to find out the team’s winners and losers of 2023 – the brands whose names have been praised on high and dragged through the mud throughout the year.
So here you go – GOLD79’s biggest winners and losers of 2023.
These iconic brands and figures really went for gold this year with their triumphant campaigns and collaborations – they’re the ones to beat in 2024!
It had the budget, the brand name, and an incredible cast and crew. But the success of the Barbie movie’s publicity machine can’t be overlooked – you’d have had to be living on another planet to not feel the Barbie mania that gripped the world for months.
The success of this one lies in the numbers. The film helped to revive Mattel’s sales, with Barbie billings jumping 16% in the July to September period compared with 2022. The movie was even credited with single-handedly boosting the UK economy by £10 million, and creating 700 jobs.
What was once viewed as a retro novelty at best and an outdated toy at worst has now been catapulted back to popularity thanks to the Greta Gerwig treatment.
With smooth execution and complete editorial control, the Beckhams have managed to win over the nation and world with their latest Netflix documentary. The iconic couple originally drew fans from their football and Spice Girls fame respectively, but now have dedicated followers and supporters who care for neither!
The Netflix series portrayed David and Victoria in an overwhelmingly positive light, exploring the ups and downs of their tumultuous careers and personal lives. Even its more self-indulgent moments birthed good-humoured memes, rather than internet backlash – what car did your dad drive when you were growing up?
Overall, through excellent production and seamless personal brand management, Beckham brought these ultra-celebs right into our living rooms, giving us a taste of how the other half live without alienating us normal folk.
Who Gives a Crap
Who Gives a Crap is a sustainable toilet roll brand with a distinctively humorous tone of voice. Never above toilet humour, its 2023 Valentine’s campaign “Flush Your Ex” invited us to do just that. By turning old love letters and memories into recycled loo rolls, the brand gave consumers the chance to cathartically rid themselves of old flames once and for all – down the bog.
Ever committed to their irreverent tone, the brand quipped, “nothing says closure like knowing that someone, somewhere, is putting those sweet nothings exactly where they belong.”
Bravo for stepping into an unconventional space for their brand, and executing it flawlessly – the result was unexpected, timely, and kept the focus on the brand’s sustainability commitment.
Unusual brand collaborations can be hit and miss, but Heinz seems to have the formula perfected. In 2023, it’s partnered with some surprising players to craft some compelling campaigns.
In one partnership with Absolut Vodka, the brand created a sauce for spaghetti a la vodka, a retro dish that had recently experienced a reemergence thanks to attention from viral food creator videos. By seamlessly tapping into the internet trend culture, their limited-edition product gained cut-through by providing a sense of novelty and nostalgia.
Heinz also paired with Pantone to identify the exact shade of its iconic ketchup. This red was then added to the labels of Heinz ketchup sold in Turkey to help customers detect whether the sauce being served at restaurants is the real deal or an off-brand refill. The campaign resulted in a 73% decrease in non-Heinz ketchup refills in street food restaurants.
You don’t have to be a super-obsessed Swiftie to admit that Taylor Swift is a marketing and PR genius. From obscure country singer to pop megastar, everything (and everyone) this icon touches seems to turn to gold.
2023 has been particularly successful for Miss Swift, who now holds billionaire status with $1.1billion earnings. So what’s the secret to her success? Alongside revenues from album sales/streaming, a luxury property portfolio and lucrative endorsement deals, it’s her blockbuster Eras tour that’s the icing on the cake. Her Eras tour has taken her to stadiums across the globe and is set to become the biggest tour of all time.
She’s always been vocal in her appreciation for her loyal fanbase, and her story-like songs cover the ups and downs of life that we can all relate to. With tickets to her concerts like gold-dust, and for some, completely unaffordable, Taylor partnered with AMC Theatres, Vue International and Odean to bring her Eras tour to silver screens across the globe.
But it’s not just her onstage performances that have been drawing intense media interest and boosting her star power – she is followed and revered everywhere she goes. Having recently struck up a relationship with NFL player Travis Kelce, sales of his Kansas City Chiefs jersey increased by 400% and catapulted him to a fame he could once only dream of.
AI X Buzzfeed
For their take on the Barbie-mania, Buzzfeed published a piece (with disclaimers that it was AI’s take on the challenge) that showed AI-generated images of Barbies of “what Barbie would look like in every country of the world.” With over 194 countries represented, Buzzfeed must have felt they’d hit the jackpot for making Barbie relatable to all.
Unfortunately, it revealed incredible bias, from cultural misappropriation to a blatant disregard for some cultural traditions, and felt the full force of angry X-users. Many, quite rightly, called for a human eye to edit and fact-check before publishing – let this be a lesson to us all.
Furniture at Work
With many people in the midst of their fourth summer working from home since the 2020 pandemic, furniture brand Furniture at Work released a shocking AI visual to grab the headlines. Its purpose? To show the negative physical impact of working from home for prolonged periods without a dedicated workspace, e.g. a proper office chair and desk. The image, created following research by the University of Leeds, depicted “Anna” as a prematurely-aged, red-eyed, claw-handed, miserable hunchback.
Furniture at Work explained: “Anna displays many physical effects because of consistent use of technology, screen exposure and poor posture, as well as highlighting potential mental health issues. To visualise the effects of not having a proper place to work at home, Furniture at Work used scientific research and worked with healthcare experts to reveal what the remote worker of the future could look like.”
The brand was trying to promote their office furniture as essential for better posture through the use of a grotesque image to get us talking about it. Well, they achieved the latter point but in doing so, were soon called out for their sexism. One X post cited: “It took a pandemic to help women earn the right to work from home, but sure, tell them they will be grotesque for doing so. Digital PRs, do better.” This campaign goes to show how important it is for PR and marketing execs to ensure their campaigns are zeitgeist-appropriate.
Emirates on International Women’s Day
When you think of Emirates airline, an image of elegantly-dressed female flight attendants is sure to spring to mind. With women at the forefront of their brand identity, it was no surprise that Emirates wanted to celebrate women on International Women’s Day in 2023. Emirates chose to share in an X post: “We’re celebrating women in entertainment this month, with a wide variety of movies, TV series, and podcasts to pick from on your next flight.”
However, The Gender Pay Gap Bot, created by Francessca Lawson and her business partner Ali Fensome, was quick to retweet, pointing out that within the airline’s pay structure, “women’s median hourly pay is 34.2% lower than men’s. The pay gap is 27.5 percentage points wider than the previous year,” and within minutes, Emirates’ efforts were undermined. Try harder next time, Emirates.
The Ritz Hotel
The Ritz, the famous five-star London hotel, faced backlash this year after Jerelle Jules, a job applicant, was told that his natural hair did not meet the hotel’s employee grooming policy. The hotel’s policy did not allow “unusual hairstyles such as spiky or Afro-style.”
A spokesperson from The Ritz apologised, stating: “The Ritz London does not condone discrimination of any form and we are genuinely committed to fostering an inclusive and non-discriminatory environment for all of our colleagues and guests.” However, the hotel’s response lacked specifics on how the incident happened and what actions they were taking to prevent such incidents in the future.
What can we learn from Jerelle Jules’ experience? “I want to make sure that things like this don’t happen again,” he said. “It’s about inclusivity and black professionalism.” This case underscores the importance of regularly reviewing and updating internal policies to ensure they are inclusive and non-discriminatory. Also, a corporate statement that doesn’t address the problem directly can be seen as hollow and insincere. Businesses should provide their crisis responses not only to express regret for mistakes made, but also to clearly articulate the steps taken to resolve the issue and prevent it from happening again.
So that’s our list of winners and losers all wrapped up! With a whole new year stretching ahead of us, who’ll be the heroes and villains of PR in 2024?