For a year that started with inflation and recession worries and fears that it would impact ad volumes, brand spends on campaigns remained fairly healthy in 2023 — thanks to marquee events like the IPL in the first half of the year, and the cricket World Cup in the latter half, coinciding with the festive season.

According to Magna, ad spend in India grew by 9.6 per cent in the first half of 2023, but accelerated to 13.8 per cent in the second half. While a question mark still remain over the economy, next year events like the national elections will continue to power ad spends is the belief. In terms of where the money went, digital continued its relentless march, closing the gap rapidly with broadcast.

As far as ad content went, a lot of confused messaging and lazy communication happened in 2023 reflecting the chaos and churn that ad agencies are going through — case in point the end of the year Drink It Up campaign by Bisleri starring Deepika Padukone, which sees the star in a silver spangled suit gyrating to a modern take of Jhoom Jhoom Jhoom Baba. The connection with bottled water is not apparent.

But there was also plenty of clutter breaking work. Agencies and brands seemed to have perfected the art of moment marketing rising quickly to occasions like Chandrayaan. The way Ola quickly changed its drop location to the moon was innovative. It was also a year when AI made a powerful entry into the Indian ad world and computer generated imagery (CGI) lifted the Out-of-Home category into a funky space. Here’s a recap of some good work that caught the eye.

The humour route

Humour in advertising is a tough act as there is a thin line between slapstick, crude comedy and genuinely rib-tickling stuff. Several brands managed to put out sophisticated campaigns. Fevicol, which has been associated with quirky thinking, came up with another ace with its witty game of chairs campaign created by Ogilvy India. At a crowded rural sports event, how do you hold on to your chair — Fevicol’s jugaad filled solution to the fight for seats was a fun campaign.

Licious came up with several humorous campaigns including a delightful Pujo special where it played on the inter-community rivalry between ghotis and bangals. Incidentally, a lot of brands, including Coca-Cola, Cadbury, Asian Paints, PhonePe did regional focussed campaigns really well, bringing out cultural nuances deliciously.

Buzzing Billboards

The OOH (out-of-home) category has become exciting with the use of CGI that allows brands to bring larger than life experiences on to billboards, buses et al.

We saw several good campaigns using technology but the one that wowed the most was Taj Mahal tea’s Megh Santoor musical installation in Vijayawada. Inspired by rains, and activated by them, the musical instrument even entered the Guinness Book for being the largest environmentally interactive billboard. The instrument played only when it rains. For a brand that has always been associated with Hindustani Classical music, it was strengthening a known association while displaying sublime creativity. Wah Taj!

Emotional storytelling

There were several great campaigns in this space, especially during the festival period of Diwali. Brands conceived heart tugging stories even as they touched upon socially relevant themes. HP India’s Walk to the Light campaign that depicted the anxieties of an elderly couple running a store and how digital transformation eased their worries was a moving ad.

We also loved McDonald’s continuation of its 2020 Eatqual campaign that had seen the brand adding inclusive features for the physically handicapped. In its 2023 campaign, the brand addressed colour blindness. Brooke Bond Red Label’s brand campaign on World Social Media day titled India’s favourite social network made by Ogilvy also touched a chord. The real social network is bonding over a cup of tea as the emotion packed campaign shows.

Use of AI and technology

The prediction is that we are going to see more and more AI generated ad campaigns going forward. Chinese appliances brand Haier’s AI-created Diwali ad campaign that fused cricket with festivities caught the eye as did MG Motors interesting use of AI for its 100 years celebratory Driving Smiles campaign. It got cutting edge AI technology to come up with a rendition of its founder Cecil Kimber, who comes back to life to deliver a special message to India.

Celebrities in campaigns

For the most part, the use of celebrities in campaigns looked like lazy marketing, with poor fit and not much thought put into using the star well. Instead of leading to quick brand recall, using overexposed celebrities, especially cricketers during the World Cup looked more like a self goal. However there were some exceptions. CRED has managed to break through the clutter consistently and this year too it scored by getting Zeenat Aman to star in its anti-advertising campaign on linking RuPay credit cards with UPI. Witty, elegant and sassy, Zeenat Aman charmed us as she pondered on life’s purpose.

But the best use of celebrity was to our mind, by Subway which used chess champ Viswanathan Anand in a witty campaign. Entering a Subway outlet, Anand is shown sweating as there are too many choices of fillings — his chess brain kicks into action and he is shown rapidly calculating. The condiment checkmate has him bolting for the exit until he is offered the ready-made option. We loved it.