Trends and Insight in association withSynapse Virtual Production

Get Your Rizz On: Culture Moments That Mattered in 2023

London, UK
From Bad Bunny to Barbie, Rick Rubin to the Prime Effect… and some obscure artists called, err, Taylor Swift (?), Laura Swinton asks the ad industry about the moments from pop culture pumped up 2023
2023 was the year of the rabbit and, culturally, it was popping off and hopping all over the place. Barbenheimer was the meme that turned into a box office behemoth that got within touching distance of $2 billion. Taylor Swift’s seismic Seattle show caused a 2.3 magnitude quake. Mario and The Last Of Us buried the myth that you can’t adapt video games. Generative AI got its paws all over us, while Rick Rubin urged us to take a moment to explore a somewhat more spiritual side of creativity.

We caught up with creatives and strategists around the world to find out what resonated with them in 2023.

The Creative Act

Susan Credle, global CCO, FCB
My business partner, Tyler Turnbull, sent me a copy of The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin published this year. It is now dog-eared and underlined. Weathered from traveling with me, being reread, thumbed through, quoted. As I will do here. “Deepening our connection to nature will serve our spirit, and what serves our spirit invariably serves our artistic output.”

So I took a walk. On a country road. Passed a dairy farm. While talking on the phone. My stressful voice interrupting the bucolic setting. And then nature went to work. From the top of a hill, I saw at least 40 cows running toward me. Not a stampede. More like a curious romp. Then they stopped and stared. For a long time. Long enough for me to stop and stare back. Long enough for me to take in the immense beauty in front of me. Long enough for me to believe in something bigger than myself. I felt an incredible sense of wonder. Along with peace. This emotional moment was not contrived. Not art directed. Not Midjourney-ed. “You might imagine that the outside world is a conveyor belt with a stream of small packages on it, always going by. The first step is to notice the conveyor belt is there. And then any time you want, you can pick up one of those packages, unwrap it, and see what’s inside.”

On October 15, 2023, Cow 1052 was the package I unwrapped and saw universal compassion inside.

The Prime Effect

Geoff Edwards, ECD, GALE

The Prime effect (Taken from Deion Sanders nickname ‘Prime Time’) was one of the greatest cultural phenomena of the year! What he did in just a few months impacted sports, culture, and the economy.
It started with a simple theme: WE COMING!
NFL Hall of Famer, Deion Sanders was hired to coach the worst team in College Football, the Colorado Buffaloes. Sounds like a storyline worthy of a film by Silvester Stallone doesn’t it? There he created the most unconventional team ever assembled. The team was comprised of his two sons Shedeur at Quarterback and Shilo at Safety and nine players that followed him from Jackson State University an HBCU he previously coached. 
Deions next theme: DO YOU BELIEVE?
This was Deion’s mantra to his team, the staff, and the non-believers. The test of this came on the first game of the season against TCU (Texas Christian University) the team that just played for a National Championship. Fans everywhere watched out of curiosity. One of the best teams in the county vs the worst team in the country with a new coach that actually believed he could win—and he did! This Incomprehensible win became a winning streak and the Sports and Entertainment community was there for it. 
The Prime effect also Impacted the economy of Colorado. The local economy received a $17MM impact from the Colorado game against Nebraska alone. Drove $7.2M in enrollment revenue for Colorado University in 2023. Even social media saw an 843% Increase in followers!
Oh and like most superheroes, Dieon has his own theme music!

Back to the Future

Wayne Deakin, global principal creative, Wolff Olins

2023 witnessed a clash of past and present cultures, indeed. From Victoria Beckham's Rolls-Royce moment as we observed Becks on Netflix, to Prince Harry as a Spare, to the return of Samantha Jones, to Barbenheimer - it was somewhat challenging me to discern the specific era we were in this year. Even crochet, reimagined denim, maxi-skirts, along with the resurgence of vivid Cobalt Blue, made a comeback in fashion. 

In ad land, there was indeed a blend of different eras at play this year - David Abbott-styled, stripped-back copy-led ads proved highly successful for British Airways. A return to beautiful and glorious colour and tone in the art direction for Lacoste, drawing inspiration from a time when people knew how to art direct (at last!). Big chunky type, wild and wonderful graphic language, expressive logos and even Serif’s became more in favour in 2023 with brands. Additionally, futuristic moments of AI, AR, mixed realities and social media grew in strength and use this year, despite naysayers predicting their slowing down. Like Marty McFly in his Delorean, I felt as if 2023 took me on a wild but fantastic ride through time. Agencies, production companies, and brands utilised various flavours and tactics to garner consumer trust and love in the post-COVID world, where attention and trust were more challenging to establish.

Bad Bunny Leads Latin Culture to Global Triumph

Rodri González. ECD, Spain at Momentum Worldwide 

2023 is coming to an end and it's time to wrap it up.

In other words, it’s time to review Spotify´s Wrapped. 

 Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti has secured the title of most streamed album globally, accumulating 4.5 billion plays on the platform.
Make no mistake: Most streamed album globally. Not the most underground. Not the most Spanish speaking. It is the most streamed album in the world. 

It's no secret that there is already a switch taking place in the music industry; where the mainstream has made space for more genres, languages, styles, and performers than ever before. But that switch up also extends to the advertising industry.  

Just check the names of those shaping the ad world out there. Go ahead. Google it. And you´ll find a few Latino and Hispanic CCOs leading agencies and CMOs on the client side.  

Don´t get me wrong. Talent has nothing to do with where anyone is from, and of course there has always been a place for Latinx in the creative industry. It´s just that now there is no label attached to their role. They´re not a “Multicultural Creative,” “Bilingual Content Creator” or “Hispanic Strategist.” Not anymore.  

As of 2023, they are being recognized just for their talent. Creatives. Creators. Strategists. Just like Bad Bunny´s album. Greatest of the year. Period.

Loki's Cosmic Creativity

Nicholas Rotondi, ECD, M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment North America
I don’t typically engage with TV. It’s not that I take issue with it; my sister and I weren’t allowed to watch very much of it growing up - plus we didn’t have cable - so I suppose it just never became a part of my routine. Which is why I was surprised to make it through two whole series (!) in one year: Loki and Warrior.

Wow. The Marvel Machine. How original. But that’s just it! Loki felt like a totally individual piece of creativity, which in my opinion started with its production design (not to mention wonderful performances, direction, etc). In the same way that the John Wick or The Raid movies are what happens when an uber-talented stunt human finds themselves in the director’s chair (the result: unparalleled action choreography, stylization, and camera work), Loki felt like what might happen if a production designer was given creative control of a small slice of a cinematic universe that is being relatively ignored by the commercial powers that be. Kinda like how the Knicks have become good while owner James Dolan has been busy with The Sphere. The physical world of the series felt so unique, consistent, and compelling, and as someone who is a professional within the world of commercially-driven creativity (and as a result, very resistant to it), I couldn’t help but connect with this world on an artistic level, and as a result, an emotional one.

Loki reminded me of a personal axiom I try to always keep in the forefront of my subconscious as a creative professional: that (almost) any brief can be a good brief. A key precursor to artistic achievement is opportunity, whether it is handed to you or you create it for yourself. Loki’s showrunners and production designer Kasra Farahani seized the chance to turn a potentially uninteresting or hazardous brief into something wonderful (while we’re here, shout out to Barbie/Greta / Noah).

Bonus: the Ke Huy Quan-assaince. What a legend! 

If you do not love this man, you’re a problem.

Across the Swiftie-verse

Carren O’Keefe, CCO, Digitas UK

There’s only one cultural moment I have a WhatsApp group named after this year, and that cultural moment’s name is Taylor Swift. 
My highlight isn’t necessarily her earthquake-causing tour, sell-out concert film, or headline making NFL appearances – but the fact that she is a creative narrative in and of herself. 
You can love her or hate her, but you can’t ignore her. Time’s Person of the Year article said it perfectly, this year, “She became the main character of the world.” 
As someone who has been, in her own words, “put up and down the flagpole of public opinion” she took back her power by becoming the writer of her own story, and in return inspired a lot of people to do the same. She creates from the deepest parts of herself to connect with the deepest parts of other people. 
Her narrative isn’t just the songs she writes or the headlines written about her. It’s so much bigger than that. It’s how she treats her tour staff, how she grieves a lost fan, and how she supports other powerful female entertainers when the industry tries to pit them against each other (looking at you, Beyoncé). 

And that’s my favourite part of this immersive, multi-touchpoint story she’s drawn us all into. She’s rewriting the story around greatness. It’s not just about what we do, it’s also about who we are and how we do it. 
We’ll look back on this year as the year that cemented Taylor Swift as one of the most culturally influential people of our time. And it’s always a real highlight to be a witness to history in the making.

Big Spender Girl Summer

Jess Hendrix, Head of retail experience, Razorfish; President/CEO, Saatchi & Saatchi X

A major cultural highlight of 2023 was what I’m calling the “big spender girl summer.” This trend came to life in many ways including spending on the Taylor Swift Eras tour and going all out for the Barbie movie. Both of these spending occasions gave female audiences the opportunity to use their wallets to be seen and heard like never before while celebrating their true selves.  

As a result, in 2024 brands will continue to have a huge opportunity to connect with women on emotional and authentic levels. We may also continue to see consumer behaviour shift toward more experience purchases rather than spending on physical possessions and products. Brands should plan accordingly in both their marketing and advertising approaches heading into the new year. 

More than 90% of women feel advertisers don’t understand their wants and needs. This reflects the importance of truly breaking through with this crucially valuable audience. If 2023 taught brands anything, it’s that women can be deeply loyal customers when they are prioritized, and will prove it with their wallets. The brands that are early movers and recognize this shift is happening could capitalize on the dovetail of this past summer – and earn the reward of having passionate female customers spending on more memorable experiences in 2024.

We Wore It Well

Beth Noonan, director, M&C Saatchi Fabric

To identify the cultural highlights of the year, we need to look no further than our own wardrobes. 2023 was the year that culture transcended our screens and stadiums into how we dressed, as fans pledged their allegiance sartorially to their favourite shows, movies and artists.
The final season of Succession not only created the biggest TV moment of the year, but also the biggest fashion trend of the year, spawning the ‘Quiet Luxury’ and ‘Stealth Wealth’ trends which set TikTok alight. This trend was further compounded by the pop culture moment that unexpectedly took the world by storm, as Gwyneth Paltrow was hailed as the ultimate Stealth Wealth icon for her understated courtroom style.
At the start of the year, cowboys went chic as the ‘Yellowstone effect’ saw fans of the hit TV show going wild for more than just the plotlines and the show capitalised on the hype with a clothing collaboration with denim brand Wrangler.
This year we also experienced a hot (pink) summer, as Barbie became more than just a movie, but an entire lifestyle brand, as an unprecedented marketing and licensing campaign turned the planet pink.  The iconic hue took over more than just our wardrobes as licensing deals with over 100 brands made the movie inescapable.   
Whether it was the country being awash with silver when Beyonce’s Renaissance tour came to town, or boa-clad Harry Styles fans leaving a trail of feathers in their wake, it is clear that this year we didn’t just consume pop culture, we wore it with pride.

Rihanna at the Super Bowl Halftime Show: Announcing a pregnancy or refusing to announce a pregnancy?

Cecily Long, senior director of Cultural Strategy, TRIPTK

February saw Rihanna make an unforgettable pregnancy announcement at the Super Bowl. Having previously turned the event down, she half-explained her reversal by framing it around ‘representation’; comments I’d initially found underwhelming, which now made sense. This wasn’t just about representation of race, or gender - which wouldn’t be new to the show  - but of Black pregnant women specifically.

But unlike her iconic first pregnancy announcement, this announcement…wasn’t an announcement. Her stomach wasn’t adorned or visually highlighted. Her pregnancy was incidental. She was doing the Super Bowl halftime show: also, she was pregnant. Though she must have known it would be the focus, she didn’t confirm it beforehand.

In fact, especially because of the timing of her first son’s birth less than a year previously, it wasn’t instantly clear whether she was pregnant. This could simply be a post-partum body that has changed, as almost all do. (PSA, this would be an entirely normal way for your body to look mere months after giving birth.) Social media teemed with content about people (especially men) awkwardly not naming it in case they were wrong, which if intentional, was a beautiful troll.

I loved the refusal to engage, the active withdrawing of the pregnant body from the over-determined public realm. Maybe after all the things the female body has been brought to symbolize - muse, sex symbol, goddess - we were seeing a female body on the public stage that stood for  “None Of Your Business, Actually.”

Milton Correa and Jones Krahl, creative fellows & US co-heads of Creative, Brand & Advertising, Deloitte Digital

As creatives and brand shapers it’s important for us to always have a precise pulse on culture – and 2023 brought a lot of culture-shaping moments. Right from the start, nostalgia was a big player, which seemingly dominated ad themes during the Super Bowl and yielded the resurgence of boy bands as the 90s and early 2000s nostalgia in ads, music and culture surrounded us all.

The end of Succession also left us with the quiet luxury trend as we all yearn for more episodes of the captivating series. While TV continued its reign, cinema may be the comeback player of the year with some of the biggest blockbusters we’ve seen in years, plus how the mainstream branded content revolution was brought to new heights and executed at scale.

Lastly, we can’t run from the obvious recurrent theme: Gen AI. The technology clearly consolidated its presence in the creative process – no longer being a science project or speculative futurism – and is set to both challenge and augment us as creatives moving forward.

Community Collabs

Chelsea Rice, Director of Creative Strategy, Archrival

There were so many cultural moments in 2023 to get excited about — but what I was inspired by was a movement towards grassroots, community-driven culture in the very same year that culture went so pop/mass (e.g. Taylor Swift dominating 2023). Niche brand partnerships, collaborations, and content creation thrived, with brands and creators exploring unique ways to inspire small yet highly engaged communities. One example I love is the Reneé Rapp x Sweetgreen collaboration. Reneé had a viral TikTok last year about her Sweetgreen salad and the brand leveraged her salad obsession to launch a collab, which included an opportunity for her fans to win a chance to meet her.

Another was Ed Sheeran appearing on Wishbone Kitchen’s TikTok (Meredith is a chef with 2 million followers) to promote his new album launch. This is an antithetical approach to a normal album promo strategy — trading a large, late-night show audience for a smaller, but much more engaged community. For brands, the magic sauce is all about tapping into these communities and creating something they’re excited about and will show up for. I think the most interesting marketing initiatives we’ll see in the year ahead will continue to focus less on “mass” reach but rather on quality reach.

Transcending the Office

Steven Denekas, global SVP of creative, Dept

It’s easy to associate culture with events, people, or things. But the reality is that the biggest cultural shifts are abstract and flow as a current through humanity, often something we don’t see on the surface but feel as a community.

An important cultural highlight of 2023 is our devolution from physical spaces, to places that create experiences. We’ve found ourselves free from the confines of the office spaces to now, explorers, who curate a world that inspires our work. Today, individuals not companies define a daily routine, where experiences allow us to find our limits, our comfort zones, and our ability to do our work while building the world that surrounds us.

We have become aware of the spaces or places that bring us energy, ideas, and influence — and what spaces bring us stress and discomfort. While older generations lament about a new generation of creatures who solely seek comfort, the reality is that gone are the good ol' days when ego and influence ruled our world and drove company cultures. We’ve seen generation after generation sacrifice their happiness for the perceived greater good that corporations define, not people. The reality is that a distributed workforce is actually all part of our natural evolution or devolution where culture becomes in tune with themselves first, as individuals, and uses that foundation to progress the world, while companies benefit from a staff bringing global perspectives into our daily lives. Companies that adapt and create spaces for global teams to collaborate will ultimately win in the long run, by being more relevant to culture at large.

What’s beautiful about this evolution is that everything from politics, to design, to creativity, to society has the capacity to be redefined. Measures of success will evolve, and a life well lived will define our legacy, not our wealth. We can only hope as we look forward that this cultural shift will connect our people through a shared love of place, experience, and empathy. Traits that when the majority are collectively aligned will bring order to our chaotic world today, a world obsessed with power and money over progress and unity.

Oh, and the Barbie movie was incredible.

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