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ICONIC AD CAMPAIGNS: A Tribute

February 7, 2010

I love great advertising. I mean I really do. Advertising is the industry where the most creative things happen and naturally is very interesting. There have been so many ground breaking campaigns in the last century of modern advertising through different media. Personally I have greatest admiration for print ads because they convey their message with a single image and therefore have to be more spectacular than other types to create maximum impact. Below are the stories of some of the most iconic ad campaigns (print ads) the world has ever seen.

#1 Volkswagen Beetle : Think small

Year: 1959 to 1976

Ad Agency : Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB)

It’s the tale of an ugly duckling that became an office pin up. Time was when all competitors and established car makers were bragging about the power of their engines (and not to mention posing a beautiful woman next to the car). The problem VW had was that it had to sell a small German car in the US in a market flooded with ultra biggie cars hardly 15 years after World War 2. Out of no where, Volkswagen (in 1959), a brand known neither for its looks nor its technology, came up with a catchy headline and some witty copy that eloquently described attributes of the quirky car and gave a unique personality to a small automobile. Ingenious! Being breathtakingly simple, VW Beetle ads connected with consumers at an emotional level, something that had never happened before. No one looked away from it. It was so different. It had changed the face of advertising. It was illustrated by two famous print ads: one featured a small picture of the car with the headline “Think small” (the text highlighted the advantages of driving the small Beetle versus a big car); the other presented the car with “Lemon” in a bold type (the ad copy explained that the chrome strip on the glove compartment was blemished and had to be replaced. The message was obvious. If it was Volkswagen’s idea of a lemon, the Beetle must be a well-built car). It was the first time the world had seen such clarity and emotion. May be this was the thing that made VW Beetle’s 17 years lasting campaign so radical.

Lesson: Keep it simple and smart!

Good read: VW Beetle Campaign

#2 Avis (Rent a Car) : “We try harder

Year: 1963

Ad Agency: Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB)

It’s a classical case of how a market leader was repositioned by a lethal combination of quality and humbleness. The origination of the slogan was not to create a cute, gimmick, but instead it was and is a business philosophy that every Avis employee held true. In 1962 Hertz was the impregnable chart topper in the rent a car business while Avis a near competitor spent 13 years in the red. In 1962 under a new leadership, overhauled their customer service and upgraded their product. A simple question was asked by DDB (Ad Agency), “Why does anybody ever rent a car from you?” The reply is what made advertising history: “We try harder because we have to.” The attempt was to convince potential customers that Avis tried harder than everybody. The beauty of the campaign was that it was focused on a frank and truthful statement of a business philosophy – something that was first of a kind. The success of the campaign hinged upon making the best of every chance they got. The ad campaign converted Hertz dominance into it biggest disadvantage. Beat that! In just one year, it literally changed the fortunes of the company. Ingenious!

Lesson : The answer lies within

Good read: Avis- we try harder

#3 Nike : “Just Do It”

Year : 1988

Ad Agency: Wieden and Kennedy

To let Nike, it’s ‘swoosh’ and its iconic slogan ‘Just Do It’ pass on without mention seems a crying shame. After stumbling badly against its archrival Reebok in the 1980’s, Nike, powered by a new religion of brand consciousness rose to the pedestal. The origin of this legendary slogan was when the Ad agency guy Dan Wieden spoke admiringly of Nike’s can do attitude saying “You Nike guys, you just do it.” The iconic “swoosh“was designed by Carolyn Davidson, a graphic design student and was sold to Phil Knight for $35! What Nike infused that was hitherto unknown in campaigns was its “Cool Humor”. It introduced the culture of body worship and it became a self-fulfilling image prophecy: if you want to be hip, wear Nike. But why is this campaign legendary? First of all, it made a relatively unknown brand a world wide sensation. Secondly, It made the “Swoosh” a badge that became capable of selling everything from running shoes to golf balls with equal success. But most importantly, Nike has never felt the need to touch the campaign since 30 years of its inception as it became part of culture. This is what you call the Stickiness factor. The longevity is a truly amazing feat that, I feel, very few brands can claim. Every successive generation relates to it at almost a DNA level. Beat that!

Lesson: Look for a little fun that can go a long way

Good read: Nike just do it

#4 DeBeers: “A diamond is forever”

Year: 1948

Ad Agency: N.W. Ayer

This is the story of how four words changed an industry. A campaign that made a diamond practically synonymous with romantic love and commitment. The story goes that copywriter Frances Gerety, who was working against a deadline for the DeBeers campaign cried “Please God, send me a line” then she wrote “A Diamond is Forever.” The Ad agency combined a painting (ideal romantic setting), a poem about love and some practical advise with its legendary slogan to make a compulsively engaging colour print ad – Something exquisite. Its success was that the campaign was able to convey a special momentousness to the engagement diamond purchase which had hitherto only traditional significance. So what makes this campaign great? For starters, DeBeers celebrated the 50th anniversary (in 1997) of the most successful and enduring slogan of the 20th century which was used in 30 languages in an equally appealing way. Secondly, the slogan seemed to impact both our emotional and intellectual core. Interestingly, It inspired a famous book and movie about the fictional spy, James bond. But most importantly, as of today, The diamond still remains a symbol of commitment and everlasting love. Diamonds are forever, it’s the marriage that’s temporary.

Lesson: Look for slogans that have the potential for longevity.

Good read: A diamond is forever

#5 Rolls-Royce: “At 60 miles an hour…”

Year: 1958

Ad Agency: Ogilvy & Mather

“At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock” A classic from the father of advertising, David Ogilvy himself! David Ogilvy has two great lessons to the advertising world with this iconic campaign: The importance of homework and the virtue of intelligent copy. First, When you need to sell a car you need to boast its technical prowess. Ogilvy thought up this headline after researching everything he could about Rolls-Royce. The story goes that he was getting a bit desperate for a headline when he came across the ‘electric clock’ fact. It shows how important it is to know your product inside out to sell it. Second, It is a well known story that this concept of electric clock sound was first introduced by Pierce-Arrows in 1932. But he didn’t swipe it completely. He used a better set of words like “Loudest noise” which was much more believable. He also went for specifics like “60 mile an hour” which was verifiable so added to the trust factor. Thus he was able to pull off a much more appealing ad compared to its original. He ingeniously implemented the virtue of intelligent copy.

Lesson: Be truthful with your customers and you’ll keep their trust.

# 6 Absolut Vodka

Year: 1980

Ad Agency: TBWA advertising agency

It is the worlds longest ever uninterrupted campaign with about 1500 original ads to its credit. It has been running essentially the same print ad for a remarkable 22 years. As the story goes, a successful businessman at 10 and entrepreneur at 14, Lars Olsson Smith controlled one third of all the vodka in Sweden while he was still learning to shave. But he had to sell the stuff outside his turf. Time was when, Sweden was not recognized as a vodka-producing country and there was a common perception that vodka was a cheap and tasteless drink. Absolut Vodka created a whole type of advertising that stretched the boundaries between advertising and art. The ads are all witty variations on the same simple theme: a picture of the Absolut Vodka bottle with a two to three word caption starting with the word Absolut and often saying something complimentary about the product or its consumer. A flash of recognition comes as you make the unlikely connection. Visit a gallery of over 1200 images of Absolut Ads, lovingly collected by Absolut enthusiasts. Even after two decades, there’s plenty of life left in the campaign.

Lesson: Creativity is that simple surprise and delight of seeing familiar things in a new way.

Good read: Absolut Vodka

# 7 Marlboro: Marlboro Man

Year: 1954 to 1999

Ad Agency: Leo Burnett Worldwide

Who doesn’t know the cowboy on the horse? This is one of the best advertising campaigns that Marlboro has ever created. Most people, even without seeing a brand name, could identify the Marlboro Man when shown a picture, even non-smokers. The image involved a rugged cowboy or cowboys with only a cigarette. There was time when filtered cigarettes were considered feminine. It transformed a feminine campaign, with the slogan “Mild as May”, into one that was masculine, in a matter of months. It is one of the most recognized brand images in the world – the ultimate American cowboy, trademark of masculinity, smoking Marlboro. This led to the “Marlboro Cowboy” and “Marlboro Country” campaigns. The Marlboro man even stared in the movie ‘Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man’.

# 8 Apple Inc: “1984” Super bowl campaign

Year: 1984

Ad Agency: TBWA\Chiat\Day

Steve Jobs never thought within the box. Whether he was in his garage plotting how to take over the world, or doing so from his Cupertino, California-based empire. Apple’s campaigns always had a greater impact beyond corporate America. 3 distinguished campaigns by Apple Inc. include the “1984” Super bowl commercial, the 1990’s “Think Different” campaign and “Ipod People” of 2000. One of Apple’s best campaigns (although not a print ad) was the introduction of the Macintosh Computer as a satire of George Orwell’s 1984. It was only one commercial that aired only one time during the Super Bowl. It put the entire PC world on its heels and got everyone glued to their seats. This is what It had to say “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984″ followed by now famous Apple’s logo in colour. All the publicity and controversy that followed made it a phenomenon. And one might also point to the current campaign for Mac computers (I am a Mac, I am a PC) that has contributed to Apple’s biggest year in its history.

Lesson: A little fun can go a long way
Watch it: Apple 1984

Tailpiece: Hope you enjoyed my compilation of what in my opinion are 8 of the worlds best ad campaigns. The order has no particular significance. Lots of the content has been taken from other sites as what I have to talk about is history and history can’t be changed!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Aishwarya permalink
    February 16, 2010 3:55 pm

    Wow … you have real interest in these.. A future marketer i see … You should have atleast applied to MICA

    • February 16, 2010 7:00 pm

      @Aiswarya: Nice to see u r reading all my posts. I really am interested in ads. But the fact is that i really admire the brain behind ads and the campaign styles. I am yet to explore my talent in this field though.

  2. February 16, 2010 11:47 pm

    Hey, very nice indeed. I would like to add another one, which is my personal favourite.

    Concorde: Arrive before you leave.
    Concorde was the first commercial super sonic jet. It used to travel to and fro London and New York. It traveled faster than earth’s rotation speed! And used to reach at 8 AM at New York even though it left at 9 AM from London. Local time. :D

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