What Top Marketing Campaigns of 2023 Can Teach Us… And What They Can’t

the best marketing campaigns in 2023

It’s impossible to ignore the dazzling spectacle that some of this year’s marketing campaigns have become. Barbie, not content to reign merely in toy aisles, absolutely dominated share of voice on social this summer due to the silver screen debut. 

Then there’s Ryan Reynolds, whose ventures like Mint Mobile have skyrocketed, owing in part to a scrappy, yet ingenious marketing playbook that only he could pull off.

Across LinkedIn feeds and X (formerly Twitter) timelines, these are the campaigns stealing the limelight and, inevitably, sparking a question in every marketer’s mind: “Why can’t we do that?”

But as magnetic as these success stories are, they can also distort reality. These aren’t merely digital campaigns; they’re well-orchestrated performances leveraging unique elements of fame, iconic status, and resources that most businesses simply don’t have. It’s akin to aspiring singers thinking they’ll shoot to superstardom just by appearing on a talent show—a fairytale far removed from the grinding reality that most of us face in the realm of marketing.

Yes, there are things to learn from these outstanding campaigns. But it’s crucial to also hold a mirror to our aspirations and capabilities, understanding why most of us can’t simply “steal” from Barbie’s playbook or expect Ryan Reynolds-level media coverage.

The Allure of Exceptional Marketing Campaigns

The Barbie movie’s marketing campaign was strategic and polished, a well-oiled machine that went far beyond plastic dolls, dream houses, and convertible cars—all wrapped in a coat of bright pink, of course. It integrated digital strategies, influencer partnerships, and interactive elements that collectively raised the bar for what a marketing campaign could achieve.

But remember, this is Barbie we’re talking about—an icon with decades of cultural significance. She had millions of eyes on her long before her Hollywood debut, a factor not to be underestimated.

A similar thing can be said for Ryan Reynolds. It seems whenever he touches a product, it turns to gold. His stake in Mint Mobile and his “scrappy” marketing tactics have been a subject of awe and study. Who else could garner thousands of retweets for a simple selfie, all while providing a massive sales boost to his brand?

Not many. 

And that’s the point here. A non-celebrity snapping a selfie won’t shake up a newsfeed or translate into skyrocketing sales. Ryan Reynolds can turn the mundane into the magical because, frankly, he’s Ryan Reynolds.

No-Ad Champions—Companies Winning Without Traditional Advertising

Stories circulate about brands making it big without spending a dime on traditional advertising, fueling the myth that all you need is a good product and a stroke of luck. But let’s break down that illusion. What these companies have smartly invested in are earned media, content creation, and strategic partnerships. While they may have skipped the ad spend, they didn’t skimp on the marketing budget—a key distinction lost in the narrative.

The mystique around these marketing champions is compelling and, to be honest, seductive. They tap into the universal desire to believe that success is attainable without a Hollywood budget or an A-list celebrity at the helm. 

But it’s essential to understand what these campaigns had going for them that most businesses don’t—a head start that can’t be bought or easily replicated.

Missing Elements in the Success Story—What You Don’t See Behind the Glamour

“Success leaves clues,” motivational speakers often declare, urging us to model those who have achieved what we desire. But when it comes to marketing campaigns like Barbie’s and Mint’s, the clues can be misleading.

It’s not that these brands don’t offer valuable lessons; they do. It’s that they also possess attributes so unique—Barbie’s iconic status, Ryan Reynolds’ fame—that they might as well be one-of-a-kind fingerprints. As much as we might wish to, these are elements we can’t photocopy for our own brands. They are the invisible tailwinds that most businesses don’t have, but which contribute significantly to these campaigns soaring to stratospheric heights.

Digital technologies and social media platforms are often pitched as leveled playing fields where small brands can go toe-to-toe with the giants. Yet, ask any CMO, and they’ll tell you a different story—one fraught with budget constraints, relentless demands for quantifiable ROI, and the perpetual balancing act between long-term brand building and short-term results. 

In essence, CMOs are like magicians asked to pull rabbits out of increasingly empty hats, all because *gestures broadly* the internet.

The Irony of Marketing’s Catch-22

If you find it ironic that the very elements that could skyrocket a campaign are often the hardest to defend in boardrooms, you’re not alone. There’s a Catch-22 in play here. Building brand fame or virality requires a significant upfront investment, both in terms of time and money. Yet, these are precisely the elements that can be the hardest to quantify and, therefore, the most vulnerable when budgets are being slashed.

What You Can Actually Learn From These Campaigns

While you may not have the iconic status of Barbie or the celebrity allure of Ryan Reynolds, you do have other tools at your disposal. From earned media to content creation and from B2B SEO to strategic partnerships, a diversified marketing strategy could be your ticket to a meaningful brand presence. It might not be a Hollywood blockbuster, but it’s a start.

Fame and Iconic Status Aren’t Overnight Achievements

The road to becoming an iconic brand or a household name is a marathon, not a sprint. No shortcuts here—just ask any brand that’s been around for decades or any celebrity who spent years in obscurity. 

While your company may not have the same start-line advantages, there’s value in the long game. Strategic planning, consistent branding, and an ongoing dialogue with your customer base can convert into something akin to ‘fame’ in your respective field over time. 

Relevance Over Hype

In a world intoxicated by virality, it’s easy to confuse hype for real connection. Sure, a viral moment might offer a quick high of brand awareness, but it’s not a sustainable strategy. 

What businesses should aim for instead is enduring relevance—solving a problem, meeting a need, or enhancing lives in a way that forms an authentic, lasting connection with consumers. Sometimes, what’s not making the news is making a quiet but significant impact in the lives of customers—and that’s B2B marketing gold you can take to the bank.

Let Barbie and Ryan Reynolds serve as inspirations, not templates. Their unique paths may provide a moment of aspiration, but your route to success will likely look quite different—and that’s not just okay, it’s perfect, because it’s authentically yours.


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