Most Contagious Report

12 December 2023

(Some of) The Most Contagious Campaigns of 2023 

We’ve made a list, and it’s got nothing to do with being naughty or nice. Check out a few of the most innovative and effective campaigns of the year, according to the Contagious team.

Every year we make our editors, analysts and strategists come up with a list of the Most Contagious campaigns of the year for our (really quite good) Most Contagious Report.

They don’t especially like doing it. The Contagious team looks at thousands of campaigns from around the world each year, and writes about hundreds of them. Whittling all those contenders down to 15 of the best is arduous and divisive work.

But into each life some rain must fall, and their loss is your gain. So here are four of the campaigns that the Contagious team has selected as being among the year’s most innovative and creative. If you want to read more, scroll to the bottom of the article to download the full Most Contagious Report.

M&M’s / Spokescandies on Pause 

By BBDO, New York

When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. And when life gives you right-wing outrage, you milk it for all the publicity that it’s worth. In 2022 the then Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson took up a crusade against M&Ms after the candy brand redesigned its spokescandies to be more inclusive, decrying the change as evidence of woke hegemony. Seemingly capitulating to the media storm, M&Ms announced in January that it was putting its spokescandies ‘on pause’ and replacing them with comedian Maya Rudolph. The spokescandies had existed for 70 years and the brand’s statement became a big news item — even the BBC covered it. But it was all a feint. The spokescandies returned (along with Rudolph) in the brand’s Super Bowl ad just weeks later. It wasn’t exactly innovative, but it was brilliantly opportunistic and brilliantly effective.

Heinz / Ketchup Fraud 

By Rethink, Toronto

Rethink’s Ketchup Fraud campaign for Heinz was both unorthodox and textbook. It was unorthodox because the posters of restaurateurs sneakily filling Heinz ketchup containers with cheaper alternatives showed the brand’s product looking kind of sad and grubby, and being misused rather than enjoyed. But it was textbook because it grabbed people’s attention and told a vivid story about the desirability of the brand in an instant. And even though the images were staged, the campaign was true to life — not long before it came out, a photo had circulated on social media of a Nando’s worker apparently putting an off-brand sauce in a Heinz bottle. The idea was strategic, to boot, aligning with Heinz’s long-term goal to reinforce its product’s iconic status in culture. There’s no question, Ketchup Fraud was the real deal.

Fiat / Operation No Grey 

By Leo Burnett, Turin

You’ve seen one car ad, you’ve seen them all. At least, that’s what we were starting to think until Fiat dunked its CEO into a giant vat of orange paint. The epic stunt was shot for real at a suitably vibrant Italian piazza and symbolised the manufacturer’s promise to live up to its dolce vita values by no longer selling its cars in grey — despite it being the most popular colour in many markets. Rather than compete on the fine margins of specs, Fiat is splurging out on a distinctive point of view and backing it up with action. As Leo Burnett Italy’s ECD, Francesco Martini, told us, it’s vital to ‘remind everybody why you are there, the meaning of your brand, the values of your brand, and why you are important for people’.

Orange / Bleues’ Highlights 

By Marcel, Paris

Brands must tread a line finer than frog fur if they want to successfully pull off any sort of prank or act of deception. Strike the wrong tone or fail to deliver a satisfying payoff and people will turn on you faster than you can tweet ‘unfortunately we missed the mark on this occasion’. Advertising just doesn’t carry enough social utility to get away with wasting people’s time or gratuitously toying with their emotions. All of which made Orange’s Bleues’ Highlights campaign so impressive. Not only was the ruse of digitally overlaying male football players bodies onto highlights from the women’s game skillfully done, it delivered a point about people’s prejudices that was worth making.

Find out which other campaigns were the Most Contagious of the year... 

...by downloading The Most Contagious Report 2023, below, to get more campaign insights, strategy interviews, trends and analysis.

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