Trends and Insight in association withSynapse Virtual Production

What I Got Wrong about 2023

London, UK
Leaders from across advertising speak to LBB’s Alex Reeves about the parts of 2023 that were unexpected, underestimated and unpredictable
Hindsight is, as they say, 20/20 and there are plenty of things that caught us by surprise this year! As much as the industry likes to make predictions, events in the market, in culture, in technology can still emerge from leftfield, and even those trends or events we can predict can evolve in surprising ways. From the trivial to the earth-shattering, here’s how 2023 surprised many leaders in our industry.

Marie Stafford
Global director at Wunderman Thompson Intelligence

Community should have been a hallmark of 2023. In the first post-pandemic year, we all knew enough about isolation to value togetherness. We worked so hard to build digital connections - surely we would delight in being together again?

Instead, public behaviour has taken an unruly turn. I failed to foresee any of the following on the 2023 bingo card: fist fights at the Barbie movie; audience members drowning out the actors with a drunken singalong to ‘I Will Always Love You’ at ‘The Bodyguard’ musical; and someone flinging their loved one’s ashes at Pink during a gig. According to global VML data, 80% of our panel say that “people aren’t kind to one another like they used to be.” How did we get here?

For our upcoming Future 100 2024 trend report, we interviewed experts in group behaviour who say that it’s partly a sign of social and political frustrations spilling over. But also, perhaps because of the times we are in, we can’t just expect social bonds to just flourish and instead, we need to actively nurture them.

That’s why in 2024, I think there’s a major opportunity for brands to actively foster connection and nurture togetherness. At a time when loneliness and mental health issues are at “epidemic” levels around the world, creating spaces and opportunities that nudge people into finding their way back to each other can only be a good thing.

Susan Corbo and Becky Armentrout 
Group creative directors at
VMLY&R New York

The highs, lows, and sideways moments that happen in a year can be staggering. 2023 certainly brought them. Here are some things that took us by surprise. 
Much unlike our nightmares told us, the robots did not take over. Well, at least not yet. 
But AI was in full force. While people were flooding our feeds with gen AI medieval portraits of themselves, Nike used AI to create a tennis match between Serena Williams and a younger version of herself. Nutella created 7 million unique labels and sold EVERY SINGLE JAR. And Coke co-created the first ever drink with AI. A big hit with the robot community. 
2023 also brought some pop culture moments we didn’t see coming. Travis Kelce’s biggest moment was not in fact his Super Bowl win, but his romance with Taylor Swift. Who knew Chiefs ticket sales would skyrocket so Swifties could get a peek at Tay? 
No one predicted that a plastic doll made in 1959 would become the hottest movie of 2023. But let’s be honest. We all knew he was “just Ken”. 
We didn’t know that men think about the Roman empire multiple times a day and that we’d get 85% of our news from TikTok. That Britney would tell us everything, Twitter would turn into X, and all those skinny jeans we stocked up on would be legit dead.
Actually, if we’d had a little more foresight, we would have had ChatGPT write this for us. But there’s always next year. 

Marla Kaplowitz
President and chief executive officer at
The 4A’s

As I reflect back on 2023, it’s disappointing that we have not made as much progress as anticipated with diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging efforts. Many companies within the industry continue to narrowly define DEIB as a talent initiative addressing representation. I believed that 2023 would be the year where organisations embraced DEIB as a business imperative that needed to permeate throughout the entire company – from the top down – and across all aspects of the business to drive real systemic change. While representation is essential to reflect society and drive that change, we need champions of change and bold leaders to invest – both time and financial resources – to affect the desired shifts and transformation required. 

Our industry thrives on what’s next and leans into exciting innovations and technology. We know that a more diverse, equitable and inclusive company creates a more connected and enduring culture that delivers better work, greater talent opportunities and stronger business results. The 4A’s will continue to highlight the impressive work of several agencies that are making an impact and share best practices for others to learn, grow and evolve in 2024 and beyond to influence and create a more equitable and inclusive future. Let’s hope that as we look back a year from now, we don’t end the year with the same level of regret and disappointment at the lack of systemic and lasting change.

Tom Wenborn
Chief creative tinker at Thinkerbell South

I have the misfortune of having written an article in late 2022 about the hot industry trends for 2023, which I can now look back on and see just how poorly I can predict the future.

While I wasn’t too far off on a couple of themes, I certainly didn’t anticipate the speed at which things can move, or shit can hit fans.

I guessed some of the larger, more traditional agencies would struggle with tightening budgets, but the amount of “restructures for future growth” we’ve seen has been pretty tough to watch. Hopefully the restructures won’t just lead to more of the same, and instead create more sustainable creative models.

I definitely waltzed into 2023 thinking we’d flirt a little with AI, maybe slowly get to know one another. Instead it just moved right on in and took the top bunk. I completely underestimated how fast it could evolve and just how many parts of our lives it can impact.

My last bold prediction was that new agency models would begin to pop up to shake up the tried and tested way of solving business problems with creativity. I’m not sure this has really happened yet, certainly not to the degree it needs to. There’s definitely a handful of strong, young independents leading the way, making beautiful work and building great relationships, but none have broken the mould yet… yet.

Camilla Facin
Head of strategic planning at
LOLA MullenLowe

I believe what we got wrong was brand purpose. In 2023 and even earlier. If there were any doubts about it, this year has laid the concept to rest. Much like entering a fast food restaurant with a ravenous appetite, our industry had voraciously consumed purpose until we found ourselves with a hangover. Consumers no longer believe brands, creatives are fatigued by purpose manifestos, and the term has even become taboo in some board meetings. So, did the era of purpose fail?

In my view, the problem lies in selling hollow purpose. Ultra-processed food brands advocating for healthy eating, fast fashion brands with significant labour issues championing women’s empowerment, and lingerie brands known for their iconic skinny models preaching about body positivity – these contradictions are glaringly apparent. We devoured brand purpose like someone mixing fries into a sundae, not caring if it made sense, just to feed a market starving for deeper meaning.

Does this mean that purpose is dead? No, it means that brands should approach it authentically. Reflect on what your brand can genuinely do to enhance consumers' lives—whether it's providing the best little treat of the day, making their homes smell like a hotel room, or simply making them feel good about using your product. It's time to replace talk with action. After all, in a year set to become the warmest in human history, what's needed most is more action.

Neil Champagne
Head of development at Tinygiant 

The idea we have of the future, nurtured by our choice of sci-fi movies or books, isn't as far away as we would have guessed. When it came to 2023, I don't think anyone saw artificial intelligence being the topic of the year. To think, AI (and all of its uses) would have been THE sticking point for our brothers and sisters at WGA and SAG to shut down the 25 billion dollar industry for half of the year. Sure, we've been circling the technology since Cameron coined "Skynet," but I don't think many would have guessed that this would have been the year the technology would ascend from the conceptual to the functional. Whether it be ChatGPT giving you a jump-start on ideas for a treatment or reworking a bid email you've tried to write four times, the tech is slowly finding its way to fold into the everyday, like Google did in ‘98. Midjourney is well on its way to fame with viral videos like Wes Anderson's ‘Star Wars’ mashups or ‘Harry Potter’ Balenciaga. 

While the future can't be predicted (yet), we can be certain this is just the preamble. The future is nigh and isn't the hoverboard we were all promised. Looking to 2024, I hope we can learn from our adjacent industry on defining terms and guardrails for this technology to be a tool and not something that makes us obsolete. I guess on the bright side, we're still waiting for Skynet.

JJ Lask
Partner at PS260

I must be doing something right because I haven’t been wrong about 2023. As I reflect on some kind of proverbial year-end assessment, I can’t help but remember the wise words that rock-n-roll star David Lee Roth once told me, “JJ, nothing ever changes, but boy, things get a whole lot different.”

I embarked on this advertising journey 30 years ago as a runner – on my first day, I was tasked with unpacking the then-revolutionary Avid edit machines out of the boxes. David Lee Roth’s words are truer than ever. 

For over 30 years, I haven’t seen one change – we still make commercials! Yes, things are different. I’ve been through the revolutions of HD, 3D, social media, virals, stock footage libraries, user-generated footage, influencers, covid, and now artificial intelligence. I’ve seen advertising agencies contract, yet the industry has exploded with hundreds of production companies, post companies, and brands with in-house advertising agencies. Yet, we all still make commercials.  

We are in an industry whose paradoxical nature is about progress. My next project is in 8K. SO WHAT? Next year, there will be 10K. So, as we embark on 2024 and beyond, there will be many new advancements that will make our industry contract and expand. With the world becoming more and more visual. I don’t see commercials going anywhere. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Happy new year. 

Mark Singer
US chief marketing officer at Deloitte Digital 

I can easily say AI. But won’t. AI has been around for a while, it just now captured the attention of marketers. I found another more endemic trend that will fundamentally set the tone for our world in 2024 and beyond.

As a CMO, nothing is more important than a cohesive and amiable C-suite. One trend I’ve seen – and have been pushing towards myself – is the partnership of the CFO and CMO. We’ve seen for years the importance of marketers talking technology and partnering with the CIO. The CFO partnership is a powerful tandem that combines speed and agility with the business backing needed to push agendas forward.

Collaborating with the CFO, however, fosters trust and business stewardship, ensuring decisions transcend immediate cost-cutting to strategically drive long-term growth. In a landscape prioritising digitalization and elevated customer experiences, a noteworthy shift is unfolding: many CFOs recognize marketing as a growth centre, not a cost centre.

This evolving perspective, stemming from a robust CFO-CMO partnership, underscores the strategic importance of marketing. Beyond collaboration, it forges advocacy, guiding optimal investments during both affluent and lean times. This unexpected trend positions businesses for success in the dynamic dynamics of 2024 and beyond.

Max Lederer
Chief innovation officer at Jung von Matt

What I got wrong about 2023 - the comeback of Google as an AI giant.

In the unfolding tale of 2023, I foresaw Google's decline in the genAI scene, contrasting it with the burgeoning success of OpenAI’s ChatGPT. As their competitor's Bard struggled at 30 million monthly visits against ChatGPT's 1.4 billion, I humorously marvelled at Google's seemingly sluggish pace. I confidently hailed Satya Nadella, Microsoft's CEO, as the AI luminary of the era.

Enter the plot twist: Google's Gemini, a technological marvel that disrupted my narrative. Boasting advanced language generation capabilities and a nuanced understanding of context, Gemini was more than a mere pivot – it was a complete AI symphony.

Lesson learned: never underestimate the tech dynamics of 2023. Satya Nadella's brilliance, momentarily overshadowed by Google's Gemini, exemplified the dynamic AI landscape. Gemini's emergence challenged my assumptions and underscored Google's resilience in the face of industry shifts.

As I reflect on my musings, it's worth noting that this article itself was crafted using ChatGPT, the very AI that defied my expectations in this unfolding story of technological surprises.

Rachel Kennedy
Creative director at Forsman & Bodenfors Singapore

There were plenty of things I got wrong in 2023 – here are a handful of them from advertising to
tech and pop culture.

Firstly, I was wrong about B2B campaigns. They are not corporate or lacklustre at all. This year's Cannes Lions winners had me in awe. EART4 put the climate crisis on the stock exchange. Workday used real rockstars to squash the office term “rockstar”. The work was insightful, brave, and beautifully designed, turning any notion that B2B has to be boring on its head.

Secondly, I was wrong about how willing people are to sell their likeness. 2023 was the year of generative AI, and human faces are the latest commodity. Apparently, people are very willing to turn their faces into robot skin. Kendall Jenner, Tom Brady, and Snoop Dogg all sold their likenesses to Meta as AI assistants. A surprising amount of everyday people are spawning deepfake copies of themselves too. Maybe this is the future of passive income and I’m missing out - but I’m not sure my likeness has a price tag.

Lastly, I completely underestimated the feminist power of today’s popstars. From Britney v Christina, to Mariah v Ariana, female popstars have often torn each other down. Enter Taylor Swift and Beyonce - the power couple we needed in 2023. Not only did they shatter records in the music industry, they shattered the trope of female popstars fighting for the crown. By promoting each other’s music and going to each other’s film premiers, 2023's most powerful sisterhood came from a place I didn’t expect.

Matt Lewis
President UK and Spain at Momentum Worldwide

After the challenging times of the covid pandemic, 2023 was set up to be our first full year of return to “normal”.

However, things felt anything but “normal” as we entered the year.

Return to office was a polarising issue.

ChatGPT had just launched, and AI was driving fear that AI would make creative roles obsolete in the industry.

The battle for talent, and ultimately relevance, promised to persist.

But despite all that, what seems to have happened is the intrinsic value of agencies came back to the forefront.

Brand building, innovative ideas, the importance of data and analytics, and ultimately connecting dots for our clients, remained our core value proposition. Not only creatives, but strategists, producers, technologists, and business leaders naturally embraced AI as a creative buddy, a tool in the toolkit. And getting people together was relatively well adopted when done with clear intention and purpose. Most importantly, talent showed a newfound dedication and commitment.

Looking back, I must say that 2023 was a lot more “normal” than predicted, whatever that means in agency land.
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