Now that we have waved goodbye to 2023, we figured it was time we unpick our learnings from the brand activations that impressed us the most last year. Without getting too soppy before we’ve even begun to sing these brands’ praises, last year was challenging for a whole host of reasons and these brands stood out for their creativity and wow-factor despite all. We believe there’s a lot to be learnt from their brand activations and we wanted to shout them out for being the true trend-setters they are.
New Year, New Marketing Efforts.
Get out your resolutions and your favourite Sharpie, it’s time to take some notes…
Trending Popular Culture Is Your Best Friend: Airbnb’s Cinematic Brand Homes.
Here at We Are Collider, we’ve learnt a lot from two brand activations from Airbnb for their pop-culture wizardry that made our best of 2023 list. The first, Ken’s takeover of Barbie’s Malibu DreamHouse.
In a fabulously camp collaboration between Airbnb and the BARBIE franchise, Ken opened his doors to the public, offering a chance for them to inhabit his newly revamped Malibu DreamHouse. This iconic retreat, rooted in Kendom, not only celebrated the film’s release but allowed lucky guests to immerse themselves in Ken’s world, complete with roller skating, line dancing on the outdoor disco floor, and even let them take home their own set of yellow-and-pink Impala skates and surfboards. If that sort of freebie floats your boat.
And it’s not solely the guests, nor ‘Just Ken’ who benefited from this palace of pink, Airbnb worked their magic alongside Save the Children by donating a portion of the proceeds from the listing directly to the charity to support their programs and initiatives.
But Airbnb didn’t just stop there…If you’d ever wanted to spend a night within a massive turnip and live like an ogre for an evening (we hope you know where this is going) then you’d not have to look any further than the Ardverikie Estate in the Scottish Highlands. With their second stellar brand activation, Airbnb celebrated the beloved Shrek and his iconographic dwelling via their immersive experience housed in his swamp. Inviting fans of the loveable green character to indulge in a fairytale experience, this immersive incarnation of Shrek’s swamp promised a retreat backdropped by “earwax candlelight,” and Donkey’s waffle’s—a true homage to the ogre’s trademark lifestyle.
Airbnb’s two-night stay for up to three guests sets the tone for 2024 being a year of captivating fans by offering up experiences that tap into popular culture and diverge from the norm.
We predict that brands will learn from the success of these fairytale turnips and mastering of pinkness in its purest form, by injecting pop-culture’s influence into the very core of their campaigns design. Keeping up with trends in an in-your-face-way appears to be the go to. And we’re all on board.
Give Back in 2024, Sometimes You’ve Got To Think Small: Disney + and Uber Eats Ant Man’s Tiny Tasting Menu.
Disney +’s collaboration with Uber Eats for the release of Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania in May really shone as one of the best activations of the 2023, due to its caritative aspect which brands can learn from and take into the new year. What it lacked in size, it made up for in impact.
To mark the film’s hitting of cinemas, Disney + teamed up with Uber Eats to craft a remarkable tiny tasting menu. Uber Eats-ers across London, Bristol, and Manchester, had the opportunity to savour this extraordinary mini menu from the comfort of their homes, ranging from chow mein and pizza to classic fish and chips all the size of a thimble.
Ten lucky orderers received a film poster signed by the iconic Michael Douglas and actress Evangeline Lilly. What we love so much about this collaboration is that UberEats generously donated all the proceeds from this limited edition menu to the Make-A-Wish Foundation UK, diminishing any post-takeout guilt we’ve all experienced. A mini burger in hand, a full heart in soul.
We expect a lot of brands will identify the feel-goodness of this campaign and follow suit. Giving back, thinking small and placing an emphasis on wholesomeness over brashness, is a trend to look out for in the coming year. Job well done Disney X UberEats.
Gamify The IRL & Think Outside The Box: Super Mario’s Pop Up Experience in Paris.
As far as ‘Pop-Up’s’ go, in our mind’s the Super Mario Bros movie campaign stands out as one of our favourite brand activations of 2023 due to its creative simplicity and the gamification of the IRL.
The marketers behind the Super Mario Bros film ingeniously integrated elements from the iconic game franchise into their campaign, by creatively taking over the iconic Colonne Morris in the heart of Paris and having a giant Mario figurine ‘pop-up’ out of it. Why we love this so much is that it makes Paris appear to be the set of the well-loved video game, with the average Parisian expecting to see Mario descend down into the column, and perhaps re-emerge somewhere else in the blink of an eye.
This gamification of the Champs-Élysées, transforms it into a Rainbow Road (if you close your eyes) and the choice of this culturally significant advertising medium, the ‘pillar’ of Parisian marketing since the 1800s, highlights a key understanding of prime real estate in the world of branding.
In essence, this campaign incarnates truly out-of-the-box thinking and pays homage to classic advertising methods in an almost meta sense. The campaign resonates with marketers, and passersby’s alike, and it draws attention to the fact it is marketing, but does so playfully, leveraging the pre-existing traditionally Parisian advertising medium in a genius way.
We predict to see more of this meta-marketing, whether its non-alcoholic beer brands crafting New Years campaigns which draw attention to their lack of budget (we’re talking about you Day) or brand experiences like this one.
Bigger Can Be Better: Incarnating Goliath in 2024.
IKEA bag on Oxford Street
Undoubtedly one of the most outstanding brand activations of 2023, IKEA UK birthed an exceptionally memorable activation on Oxford Street. The world’s largest FRAKTA bag towered 62 feet in height, not only capturing the essence of the beloved IKEA icon but also cleverly concealed the old TopShop HQ’s building renovations before IKEA sets up its base there next Autumn. These bags are such a visually recogniseable token of the brand that it makes sense for them to be having their own moment. We think it’s the best thing to come out of the Swedish design brand since their meatballs… Don’t tell the Vegetarians.
Activating in a big, bold and almost Jack and The Beanstalk-reminiscent way can have a huge impact (without stating the obvious), and we predict this movement won’t lose momentum in 2024. This tactic also plays well to the Labelling lever in our MARVELS Framework. Making good use of a physical, visual heuristic to the brand.
Honourable Mentions – A Venture Into The World Of AI.
Jacquemus’ AI Bag’s Taking Paris’ Virtual Streets by Storm
We’ve got to give a shoutout to Jacquemus for orchestrating one of the most captivating brand experiences of the year. Renowned for his mastery of internet stunts, Jacquemus took it to the next level with an 8-second Instagram clip featuring his iconic Bambino bags cruising the streets of Paris. The ingenious work of 3D artist Ian Padgham, brought this surreal vision to life, and sparked one of the most talked about topics of the year ‘Is this real or is this AI?’ resulting in a viral sensation that blurred the lines between reality and illusion. More on that to come.
Maybelline’s AI Mascara Showstopper
Perhaps one of the best and most trend-setting brand activations of 2023 took shape in Maybelline’s showstopper of a campaign earlier this winter. They blew up on ForYou pages nationwide for a TikTok video that featured a dolled-up tube train adorned with eyelashes and giant mascara wands. You’ve definitely seen the viral video that left us all questioning if we’d taken the wrong tube-line to work that morning, and missed out on all the glam and action. The brilliance lay in the fact that the video was a masterfully crafted illusion all thanks to AI.
What we love about these campaigns is the fact they’re forcing agencies to dial up their creativity and think differently about what can be done with AI to create impactful content in 2024.
We predict this shift in making consumer’s question what they’re seeing will dominate as a trend this year with AI offering marketers a unique opportunity to craft campaigns that haven’t, until now, ever been done before. Maybelline’s strategic play in the realm of virtual brand experiences raises questions about the evolving nature of advertising and the blurred lines between reality and illusion in the digital era and we can’t wait to see more of it.
And there you have it, our learnings and trend predictions from the best brand activations of what turned out to be a crazy year for marketers and consumers alike. We’ve AI to thank for a re-written rulebook when it comes to devising marketing campaigns which trend, shock, excite and inspire and we can’t wait to see what brands have up their sleeves for 2024.
Whether it’s been gamifying the physical realm, utilising the power of BIG as well as the power of small, or just pinking up and swamping down locations across the globe, using pop-culture to your advantage – 2024 is an exciting time to activate.
Bring on the New Year, marketers.