It’s always fun to wrap up a year with a retrospective on the most interesting brand stories. However, 2023 was not exactly a fun year. With the overwhelming number of gravely serious events unfolding around us, good news has been hard to come by. In our look back on 2023, we won’t avoid some of the important “bad” stories, but we will share some good stories in an attempt to create some balance and remind us that there are still many positive things happening.
So here you have it: the good, the bad, the ambiguous, and stories that are still unfolding.
BEST CUSTOMER CENTRICITY
Hint: it’s about prices. There’s a good story about prices in 2023? That’s right. Leave it to IKEA to reduce prices as they report high earnings. These reductions will be part of an everyday low-price strategy rather than just a promotion. On top of that, they also paid out $54.5 million in bonuses to their employees.
Their growth strategy of opening more stores and pick-up hubs is paying off. Yet, rather than just cashing in, CEO (US) Javier Quiñones states that it is IKEA’s responsibility to ensure their products are accessible, especially in tough times. Many brands talk about being customer-centric, but few are bold enough to walk the walk. IKEA’s move to reduce prices during inflation sets the bar for what it means to be truly customer-centric.
BIGGEST ROLLER COASTER STORY
Adidas wins the biggest highs and lows of the year. Stumbling through a bad breakup with Kanye West, Adidas seems to have been saved by the Samba. The popularity of its retro-style shoes has buoyed the brand from the downfall of Yeezy, with demand for the Samba far outstripping supply. Adidas has started rolling out additional vintage styles, and slowly but surely, the brand is gaining on Nike. Will they be able to keep it up? Smart strategy and a little more favor of the whimsical fashion gods will be required for Adidas to continue its awkward climb in 2024.
COOLEST RISING INDIE BRANDS
Who ever imagined deodorant could be such a hot item? In recent years, “clean” brands such as Native and Hello have been appearing on drug store shelves, while indie brands like Salt & Stone, PĀPR, and Glossier’s refillable deodorant have been selling out online. These brands up the package design game, making it more palatable for consumers to cough up $20 for deodorant. PĀPR’s package is made of a biodegradable paper substrate, while Glossier’s is refillable. Salt & Stone uses a chic, modern design with sophisticated scents to claim a corner of the niche category.
Image Source: PĀPR
Girlfriend Collective is another hot brand story. Several fashion retailers have tried to crack the code of sustainability and ethics at a price point that is accessible. Girlfriend Collective gets a little closer with a complete story of sustainable materials and dyes, an ethical labor force, and circular programs.
WORST DATA PRIVACY STORY
Mozilla’s shocking report on car brands’ data privacy policies revealed that 84% of them share and sell consumer data, and the nature of the data could be deeply personal, including sexual activity and genetic information! In jurisdictions that have data privacy laws, such as Canada, California, and the EU, these laws are being breached by automakers. The story is now on the radar of the US Senate and is pretty much a lesson in “what not to do” when it comes to data privacy.
BEST ACCESSIBILITY STORY
This story is a few years old, but it didn’t get the attention it deserved so we are bringing it back up. Procter & Gamble’s tactile notches on shampoo bottles to help people with visual impairments differentiate between shampoo and conditioner is an example of how small things can make a big impact. Not only have they come up with a cost-effective solution, but P&G also made the decision not to patent the idea in the hopes that other HABA brands will adopt their strategy.
BIGGEST DISAPPEARING ACT
Whatever happened to the metaverse? In 2022 it was all we could talk about. Then along came ChatGPT and Copilot. Generative AI programs were more easily accessible since anyone with an internet connection could easily try them out, while the metaverse requires expensive equipment. It’s a story that is not finished… but for now, it has been eclipsed by advanced AI and what those tools mean for the future of humankind.
COOLEST BRAND ADVOCATE
It’s the kind of thing brands dream about: artist Ekow Nimako creates extraordinary sculptures using only black Lego pieces. In this great video, he even teaches the interviewer about the Lego brand name.
WORST PR GAFF
It’s hard to do a 2023 retrospective without talking about Bud Light. Much has already been said about the brand’s partnership with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney and we won’t rehash that story here. What we will say is that there’s something to learn. In today’s polarized climate, be prepared to face backlash no matter what you stand for. As our Inclusivity in Retail study demonstrates, most people are in support of diversity, equity, and inclusion. So, having a plan for how to deal with loud minority voices is critical for all brands.
SPEAKING OF POLARIZATION – MOST DEBATED BRAND CAMPAIGN
What other city in the world would outlaw advertising if not Paris? The city has strict regulations on ads, including restrictions against logos and brand names. Oatly, the popular oat milk brand, found a clever way around these regulations with graffiti-like slogans that became proper ads when temporary elements, such as a truck or boxes placed next to it, made the message clear.
The online marketing world thought this was genius. Parisians did not. They felt the ads violated the spirit of the law, and that it was more of a stunt than a legitimate campaign directed towards Paris residents – after all, the ads weren’t even in French. Oatly counts the campaign as a success, even noting that being tagged by actual graffiti artists was a part of the experience.
MOST IMPACTFUL RETAIL STORY
37% of the orders at this restaurant are incorrect. By any standard, that is a failure. Except at the Restaurant of Mistaken Orders, customer satisfaction is not derived from accuracy but from community engagement. All servers in the restaurant have dementia. The concept started as a pop-up experience to raise awareness about dementia. Now it’s popular enough that the local government is supporting the initiative. As global populations age, Japan will become a model for how to think about the benefits of integration for all, including in retail experiences.
Image Source: The Government of Japan
LAST BUT NOT LEAST – BIGGEST BRAND BOMB
The X logo transformation is the least troubling part of the Twitter story. Can anything save this once iconic platform from the machinations of an emotionally volatile billionaire who plans to die on Mars? Stay tuned in 2024 – you’ll hear all about it, whether you want to or not!