Social Throwback 2023: Why CGI was the most disruptive trend of the year

From AJIO unveiling its new collection to Amul reimagining its mascot to Baskin Robbins revamping its logo, CGI-led ads remain a defining trend of 2023. Delve into how CGI witnessed an exponential growth as experts tell us how it has been in terms of ROI and dos and don’ts to remember as brands unleash its full potential.

Harshal Thakur
New Update

Computer Generated Imagery or CGI has been an indispensable part of movies and television. The last two decades have also seen it being used extensively in popular media. Whilst the discussion on the use of CGI in films continues to polarize people, its effectiveness in drawing audiences to the theaters cannot be overstated.

The year 2023 has witnessed CGI taking over the world of advertising. What began as playful digital out-of-home (DOOH) experiments conducted by brands such as Nike evolved into a worldwide phenomenon of creativity and imagination. After international brands like Jacquemus and Maybelline stepped forward and displayed the power of CGI, the trend of using CGI with real-life scenarios spread like fire. Global as well Indian brands showcased their willingness by trying to leverage this new creative avenue. 

For a trend so recent, CGI was incorporated by an unprecedented number of brands into their campaigns. In a mere span of a year, CGI advertising has become a significant part of the industry. 

To dissect this exponential growth in CGI ads and what the future holds for this trend, we spoke to Vincent Kola, Creative Head-Video, SoCheers; Manan Malik, Director - Strategy and Growth, Social Panga; Aleesha Desai, Deputy General Manager (Marketing), Baskin Robbins India; Kunal Luhar, Co-Founder and Chief Business Officer, 5W1H; Nidhi Rastogi, Marketing Director, UNIQLO India; Archana Anand, CBO, ZEE5 Global; and the brand AJIO.  

Becoming the defining trend of 2023

“CGI has emerged as the latest disruptive trend in 2023,” says Archana Anand, CBO, ZEE5 Global. 

ZEE5 recently used CGI to visually depict a branded auto rickshaw landing in the heart of Times Square. Sharing the intent behind the campaign, Anand adds, “We wanted to create a visual representation of us taking our iconic Indian content to the heartland of the US to engage the Desi diaspora audience, using an iconically Indian image to strike a chord with our audiences.”

Similarly, UNIQLO India used the iconic location of Marine Drive as backdrop in its CGI campaign. Speaking on the same Nidhi Rastogi says, "We created this CGI against the iconic backdrop of the Marine Drive, where a ship with cargo containers showcased our iconic products, and delivered the message that UNIQLO has finally arrived in Mumbai." She adds, "By using CGI we wanted to strengthen our commitment to changing how people experience the brand as well as set trends on how brands can connect with customers."

The swift adoption of CGI and mixed reality ads by brands has been a remarkable feature of 2023. Kunal Luhar of 5W1H attributes this rapid increase in CGI ads to advancements in technology, the need for innovative and engaging content in the digital age, and the pandemic-induced limitations on traditional shoots. He spoke about how the increase in CGI advertisements reflects the industry’s shift towards more innovative, versatile and safe ways of producing content. 

Consumers today are far more evolved and aware. This fact, coupled with the increased clutter in media and shortened attention spans of customers, is what has led to a rise in demand for more engaging and captivating content from brands, believes Aleesha Desai of Baskin Robbins India. 

CGI-led ads often feature surreal imagery incorporated into day-to-day events that bring out a grandiose and fantastical effect. From L’Oreal Paris’ lipstick reveal to Barbie’s takeover at Burj Khalifa, these campaigns are quick to grab eyeballs and start conversations.  

“The adoption of CGI has allowed brands to create visually stunning imagery that is larger than life, which otherwise traditional methods often struggle to achieve. Multiple factors contributed to the increase in popularity of CGI, the foremost one being cost-effectiveness. It allows brands to create elaborate visual imagery without the challenges of logistics and high expenses that come with live shoots. The flexibility of customization, limitless potential for creativity and its adaptability in different formats are a couple of other reasons why CGI became buzzworthy,” a spokesperson from AJIO tells Social Samosa.  

As to why CGI videos work, Vincent Kola of SoCheers asserts that it ultimately boils down to evoking the ‘awe-effect’. He describes these mixed-reality videos as essentially larger-than-life-sized products. 

“These mixed reality videos pop up in users’ feed and showcase an unimaginable, larger-than-life scene that looks completely real. This awe-effect is what draws eyeballs. This, coupled with the scalability and engagement of such campaigns, is what led to a CGI race of sorts,” says Kola. 

Experts attribute the reason behind CGI’s growth to its cost-effectiveness and ability to grab attention. 

Deciphering ROI

While the engagement in CGI-led campaigns has been substantial, deciphering the return on investment of such campaigns has been a complex task for brands. As the brands use several mediums and multi-faceted marketing endeavors to run their campaigns, it becomes difficult to distinguish whether an increase in revenue is due to the CGI campaign(s) or some other factor. 

CGI is known for turning heads and generating curiosity, but is that enough for brands? 

Well-made CGI campaigns often show higher engagement rates than their traditional counterparts, which seems to have wooed the brandverse. Kunal Luhar explains, “In terms of engagement, CGI campaigns often show higher interaction rates as they offer visually striking and innovative content that stands out in the crowded digital space.”

Manan Malik of Social Panga shares that for the brands that are easily available or already in consideration, the ROI is good owing to the buzz generated through the CGI campaigns. On the issue of measuring the ROI, he adds that the digital ecosystem proves to be advantageous, explaining, “These days, a user’s engagement is about 3S’s - Save, Share and Search. The digital ecosystem allows advertisers and marketers to measure these and tie them to the short-term spike in sales after the campaign.” 

Sharing a slightly different perspective on brand recall, Vincent Kola of SoCheers says that the market has become cluttered with a large number of brands trying their hands at CGI ads, which leads to low recall. However, he mentions that well-crafted CGI campaigns do stand out, driving engagement and creating a good amount of recall for the particular brand. 

“CGI is a new tool in advertising, and it has been widely used by many brand campaigns, garnering engagement and new audiences. So when we talk about engagement, especially long term,  it’ll mean that brands will have to keep coming up with campaign extensions and newer ideas that break boundaries in this space to sustain this engagement. If not pursued correctly, CGI may fizzle out, leading to decreased engagement rates,” elaborates Kola.  

Earlier this year, Baskin Robbins unveiled its new identity with a CGI campaign that featured the Gateway of India. It was one of the first such campaigns in India and helped build significant buzz around it. Elaborating on the campaign, Desai spoke about how a balance between ROI and brand recall can be achieved. She believes that while sharply focused CGI in a well-told piece of communication can most certainly elevate brand recall and help improve brand engagement, it would be inaccurate to link recall, engagement, or ROI to the usage of CGI alone – adding that CGI is a tool amongst many others that help improve storytelling. 

AI-powered tools to the rescue 

AI-powered tools like MidJourney and Runway ML are coming in increasingly handy in creating CGI-led ads. While the process of creating a CGI ad is a lengthy one, these tools accelerate the process by assisting in individual steps of the creation and, to an extent, skipping one or two entirely. For agencies–especially smaller ones–finding and leveraging suitable AI tools could prove to be extremely beneficial in propelling the creative process. 

“AI-powered tools can significantly streamline the CGI creation process, automating certain aspects and allowing for more rapid development of complex scenes. These tools lower the entry barrier for smaller agencies, making high-quality CGI more accessible and affordable,” Kunal Luhar expounds.

Sharing names of some of the popular tools, Vincent Kola says, “Many other (apart from MidJourney) platforms like Artomatix, Runway ML and Ziva Dynamics use AI to generate textures, enhance images, manage complex lighting, simulate realistic movements etc.” 

While these tools expedite the creative process, 3D modeling for specific products, which is the main aspect of any CGI video, still needs manual building. Furthermore, he elucidates that while these tools make the process easier, they still require a substantial amount of technical expertise which could prove to be difficult for smaller agencies. 

On the flip side, Manan Malik has a slightly different stance on the subject. He mentions that AI-powered CGI tools are not in extensive use among agencies at large, at this juncture. Malik explains that the need is to first develop understanding, infrastructure, resources, and capacities and utilize the VFX/CGI in a way that is accessible to smaller agencies. He adds that AI-powered CGI tools have some limitations and can be used for defined use cases.

What can brands do to stand out?

With so many brands experimenting with CGI-led ads, the digital medium is increasingly getting crowded. To counter this problem and solidify recall, Aleesha Desai advises that brands should not use CGI as a staple and focus on amplifying a unique idea–if the said idea arises. She adds, “CGI can offer a visually appealing and deeper dimension to a campaign but its usage could surpass the message a brand is trying to convey. The focus on stunning visuals at the expense of everything else can weaken the core brand proposition and work counter productively.” 

Manan Malik shares similar advice that brands should not use CGI indiscriminately for every campaign. He says, “Instead of jumping onto the bandwagon and seeing this as a checklist task, brands and marketers should brainstorm unique concepts that will have a longer life, appreciation, and recall.” 

Brands should focus on storytelling and emotional connection and not let CGI dominate the narrative, advises Kunal Luhar. He mentions that the use of CGI should enhance the message and not overshadow it. He cautions brands against unrealistic expectations set by CGI and suggests them to stay updated with the latest CGI trends and technologies.

Wrapping up the conversation, Vincent Kola of SoCheers shares a list of dos and don’t for brands to keep in mind: 


  • Always start by referencing and looking at how various brands have used CGI to create interesting interactions and visual narratives. 

  • Have a visual narrative that not only includes the product's personality or USP (if possible) but also has an organic vibe to it. 

  • A good practice for brand managers would be to do a little research into the tools that creatives use to make CGI videos.

  • Keep it simple. It’s easy to become ambitious with ideas only to lead to roadblocks. Well-executed simple ideas that have a clear narrative will always work better than complex ideas that make execution impossible.


  • Do not force it. A lot of brands have jumped on the CGI bandwagon merely to be present in the trend. 

  • Settling for mediocre execution for a lack of tools or expertise is a big no. 

  • Do not use CGI or mixed reality as a BAU tool. 

All in all, CGI-led ads proved to be a highlight of 2023. From reimagining iconic monuments to incorporating surreal imagery in everyday scenarios, these campaigns drove engagement for brands and fired discussions across social media and A&M realm. Despite the indiscriminate use by some brands leading to cluttering in the digital arena, experts believe that we have a long path to explore vis-a-vis CGI and mixed reality campaigns.   

ai 2023 Brands Campaigns advertisers ROI Engagement Recall Midjourney mixed reality visual narratives CGI videos cluttering