A Year in Review: Marketing Highlights from 2023

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Entering this year, optimism was hard to come by. The echoes of a looming recession, paired with the aftermath of the pandemic, were daunting enough, and a war was on the horizon. That was unthinkable.

As we witness multiple conflicts unfolding, predicting what 2024 will hold becomes an even greater challenge. However, we’re here to discuss what the year looked like for the marketing and advertising fraternity in 2023.
If you notice a substantial amount of content around technology, especially Generative AI, it’s because it had a tremendous impact on marketing, like every other sector.

I’ll delve into a few segments and provide a concise recap of what transpired this year. Additionally, you can scroll through the deck at the end of the article to swiftly scan major events or happenings from the year.

Generative AI and Ethical Concerns

If you’re looking for a soulmate, you need to find yourself someone who talks about you, like Sundar Pitchai talks about AI.

Google executives mentioned ‘AI’ over 143 times in their 2-hour presentation for the Google I/O developer conference. This year, AI went mainstream, and everyone, including their dog, is excited about the prospects of this technology.
There are nearly 100+ Large Language Models (LLMs), with 20 open-source LLMs. Google also announced that by the end of the year, they will launch Gemini, its new LLM, which has been trained on YouTube transcripts.

Gemini will replace PaLM and might compete with GPT 4 directly. But ChatGPT‘s usage seemed to have plateaued after initial hype; the platform has 180M users as of August ’23.

OpenAI launched many new features, including an enterprise version and vision, voice, and image capabilities.
Meta (Llama 2) and Google (PaLM) launched many new AI capabilities across its platform for advertisers. Meta also launched its image generation model that allows people to create stickers. However, the launch was plagued with controversies.

Image generators had their share of challenges with ethical and IP-related concerns raised by artists and regulators. Stability.ai announced that artists will be able to opt out of the next generation of the image generator. Adobe is offering IP indemnification for any legal issues arising from the use of its image generator- Adobe Firefly.

Getty Images partnered with Nvidia to launch its own Generative AI platform that it claims is commercially safe compared to other models. OpenAI announced Copyright Shield which offers built-in copyright safeguards around copyright infringement.

But to say copyright and privacy concerns have not been addressed yet will be an understatement, considering we don’t clearly understand how these systems work.

MarTech Growth and Consolidation

MarTech solutions grew to 11,038 solutions in 2023 — an 11% increase from 9,932 last year. But the usage isn’t great. Gartner’s survey claims that marketers only use 1/3 of their martech stack’s capabilities, which is a disturbing signal.
MarTech has been consolidating with ongoing funding winter, and the consolidation might only accelerate in 2024. The latest casualty was Loom, which was acquired by Atlassian, but it is a reasonably good outcome for the founders irrespective of the dip in valuation.

MarTech vendors are increasingly integrating generative AI into their solutions, including building their own custom LLMs.

Most of what is happening today is AI just being used as a wrapper around existing solutions, but with custom LLMs being built, you’ll see some exciting applications starting next year.

Some of the notable acquisitions this year included HubSpot acquiring Clearbit, Adobe Ventures acquiring Rephrase.ai, and Conductor acquiring Searchmetrics, to name a few.

Programmatic Advertising

The growth in header bidding continued; in October 2023, 3.3% of the one million websites with the highest traffic were using header bidding.

The New York Times has reversed its 2019 decision to end open programmatic advertising on its mobile app. The Times has reintroduced open programmatic, apparently driven by a desire to boost its digital revenue.
The “ad tech” industry as a whole continued to consolidate. Infillion, acquired MediaMath after the latter filed for bankruptcy earlier this year. We’ll only have more acquisitions and consolidation in the year to come.

The adoption of “private marketplaces” (PMPs) continued to grow, and industry experts believe PMP ad spending is expected to grow three times faster than open-market ad spending.

Advertising Effectiveness

You can blame it on a looming recession, funding winter, or even the impact of the pandemic, but we’re still focused on the short term. Marketers continue to invest in performance marketing tactics to deliver short-term sales.
Apple’s sustainability campaign already hinted at it, but expect a surge in advertising centered around sustainability, inclusion, diversity, and equity in the coming year.

Additionally, given the buzz surrounding generative AI, the advertising world is set to delve deeper into AI experimentation. Initiatives like Dentsu’s Artificial Client are merely the tip of the iceberg.

You’ll also see more ad controversies – this year, MakeMyTrip, Starbucks India, and McDonald’s got panned by critiques for their respective ads. More IPOs and acquisitions are also around the corner.

Creator Economy

YouTube now contributes significantly to India’s economy – ₹16,000 crore. India now has 7,000 YouTube channels with over a million subscribers, an increase of 50% year-on-year.

The platform has launched many new capabilities, including music search, dubbing, dream scream, video summaries, and more, to drive the adoption further. In the future, you’ll likely see a rise in creator-led brands, especially from India. Possibly an equivalent of Beast Burger or Prime Hydration.

However, the ethical and moral concerns of governing content remain a concern. SEBI banned a host of YouTube channels this year, and ASCI released a set of guidelines for influencer marketing.
But getting creators to follow these guidelines is going to be harder than most people think.

Google (Don’t be evil)

The antitrust lawsuit against Google claims that the company has harmed the public and excluded competitors by manipulating the market to maintain its dominance in search and advertising.

While Google denies all the charges, enough evidence has emerged already that shows how the platform might have manipulated the market.

From increasing ad prices to striking block deals, most of the advertising industry has been quiet about the issue.
It’s interesting to see that there is little or no coverage of the issue in the media. The advertising industry is mostly quiet about the issue, and I haven’t seen a single marketing guru expressing their concerns around this issue.
Maybe they want their cash register to keep ringing?

In India, Google’s fight with CCI continues to prevail. The regulator had fined Google ₹ 1,337.76 crore for forcing users to use its payments platform.

Google introduced the User Choice Billing (UCB) system that permits users to choose alternative payment methods alongside Google’s for purchasing in-app digital content. However, the platform continues to charge users a “service fee” ranging from 11 percent to 26 percent via its UCB system, which indicates non-compliance with the prior antitrust directive.

Also, Google rolled out Helpful Content Update (HCU) and Spam Update, which significantly impacted publishers. Some are even labeling HCU as the new panda because the update has had a catastrophic impact on many sites.

Twitter and Threads

When asked about Twitter, Elon Musk continues to reply, “Sab changa si.” Yet, despite the chatter, the platform persistently introduces new features, including voice and video calling and a fresh subscription option that, among other benefits, lets users monetize their content.

Twitter’s former head of trust and safety even visited Code Conference to claim the platform had laxed content moderation.

Then just when you felt advertisers would return to Twitter, Elon Musk takes the stage and directs an explicit comment towards Bob Iger, CEO of Disney. People have begun boycotting Disney+ subscriptions following Elon’s comment, but, as with every other controversy, this one, too, is likely to fade away soon.

Threads, on the other hand, made a lot of noise, onboarded 100M users, and then went into deep slumber. Zuckerberg somehow still thinks that the platform could have over a billion users. So let’s wait and see.

Privacy Concerns

And, like all round-ups or year-in-review, we’re only done once we talk about privacy, which is a mythical creature like a unicorn (never to be seen).

But we took some concrete steps in 2023 with the launch of the Digital Personal Data Protection Act (DPDP), which I’ve to read up more about.

Then, state-wide privacy laws are being enacted in the US. We began with California, and now Colorado has implemented its own. The European Union (EU) still holds the first-mover advantage in assembling laws. They have enacted the Artificial Intelligence Act.

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