Marketing has taken on many forms throughout its rich history.
From street criers in Ancient Athens to modern-day advertising campaigns, just about every possible method of getting someone to buy something has been tried.
Some have admittedly been more successful than others at captivating the minds of audiences worldwide.
Moreover, among these marketing ventures, there are those that have transcended their original purpose, becoming benchmarks of future success, exemplars of creativity, as well as critical cultural milestones.
By studying them, we can learn much about how marketing works, enabling us to design even more enticing advertising campaigns in the future.
Our small way of contributing towards this goal will be in the form of a list of our top 10 favourite marketing and advertising campaigns of all time.
Since there is a lack of historical data on pre-modern marketing campaigns, we will have to limit our scope to only those within the last two centuries.
So without further ado, here is our list.
1. Woodbury Soap Company: Skin You Love to Touch
An oldie but a goodie, this campaign from 1911 has the distinction of being the first to employ sex for the purpose of advertising.
Woodbury used drawings and photos of nude models in its ads, accompanied by the slogan “Skin You Love to Touch”.
The slogan was created by the J. Walter Thompson Agency, and it became so popular that Woodbury kept using it well into the 1940s.
Woodbury Soap earned a place on our list because it taught us one of the most important lessons in marketing: sex sells.
2. Lucky Strike: Torches of Freedom
This campaign was the brainchild of Edward Bernays, the grandfather of public relations and one of the modern gurus of advertising.
A nephew of Freud, Bernays used psychological insights to create marketing campaigns that were difficult to resist.
His claim to fame in marketing was the Lucky Strike “Torches of Freedom” campaign, whose purpose was to get women to smoke.
It is a testament to the manipulative nature of marketing, and we include it in our list for historical, as well as pedagogic reasons.
3. De Beers: A Diamond is Forever
When you think of marriage, the chances are that an engagement ring is one of the things that comes to your mind.
What many people don't know is that wedding rings were not a part of the ceremony until very recently.
In 1948, the De Beers diamond conglomerate was facing faltering sales due to the effects of the Great Depression.
To increase demand for their products, they came up with advertising campaigns that pushed the idea that engagement is best sealed with a diamond ring.
The rest is history, and “A diamond is Forever” is still the company's official slogan.
4. Marlboro: Marlboro Man
Coming off the heels of another marketing campaign, the ubiquitous “Marlboro Man” is a prime example of modern lifestyle marketing.
Compared to Marlboro's previous, more mild-mannered marketing efforts, the “Marlboro Man” is the quintessential representation of a cowboy.
Rugged, free-spirited, hyper-masculine, the “Marlboro Man” was a means of popularising filtered cigarettes among men.
The campaign works exceptionally well, with Marlboro becoming the world's top-selling brand of cigarettes in 1972.
The “Marlboro Man” was proof that contrary to popular opinion, men are equally susceptible to appearances as women are.
5. Volkswagen: Think Small
Sometimes all it takes for a marketing campaign to be successful is to enact a subtle shift in perception.
Take Volkswagen's “Think Small” advertising campaigns from 1959.
Hailed as one of the most successful print media marketing endeavours, this campaign changed the way in which consumers in the US experienced cars.
While promoting big, gas-guzzling vehicles as status symbols were the norm in the US auto industry, Volkswagen opted to downplay this image and offer something different instead.
By focusing on whitespace in their ads, and putting the sleek, minimally designed car in the background, Volkswagen piqued the interest of consumers without mentioning the price or performance of the vehicle.
6. California Milk Processor Board: Got Milk?
Some marketing campaigns just hit all the right notes, and CMPB's “Got Milk?” drive is one of them.
The original TV advert from 1993 is a lesson in engaging filmmaking.
It starts off with a question to draw the audience in, goes on to expand on the situation, then complicates matters with a conundrum, only to resolve the whole thing with a memorable tag-line.
A 7% increase in milk sold in California, in addition to becoming a cultural phenomenon.
This campaign highlights the importance of narrative in advertising.
7. Nike: Just do it
In 1988, Nike's “Just Do It” advertising campaign took the world by storm.
Coasting on the emerging popularity of the fitness movement in the late 80s, Nike managed to encapsulate the phenomenon in a single, memorable phrase perfectly.
Endorsements from rising sports superstars like Michael Jordan couldn't hurt either.
The secret behind the campaign's success lies in the phrase itself.
It nails the feeling you experience when preparing to do a workout, giving it the broadest possible appeal.
8. Apple: Get a Mac
In the world of marketing, competitors are often presumed to be your mortal enemies.
Apple's “Get a Mac” campaign is an example that this doesn't have to be the case.
The original run of TV ads revolved around a confrontation between PC and Mac users, where the latter were being subtly portrayed as the ones that have the right idea when it comes to choosing a personal computer.
The campaign just wouldn't have worked if Apple didn't have a competitor as big as Microsoft.
What we can learn from this campaign is that competition is vital for creating and marketing products with a strong sense of identity.
9. Dos Equis: Most Interesting Man in the World
One of the more recent entries in our list, the Dos Equis line of beer commercials, featuring actor Jonathan Goldsmith, has become a classic of the internet age.
The campaign was based around the larger-than-life exploits of a worldly-gentleman, a stark contrast to a youth-focused approach of contemporary marketing.
The fantastical narrative of these ads pairs uncannily well with its more grounded narrator, giving off a James Bond-like vibe.
This campaign shows that how you tell your story is as important as what it is about.
10. Old Spice: The Man Your Man Could Smell Like
The final entry in our list requires little introduction.
If you spent any time online in the past few years, you were bound to come across these short, quirky videos, possibly not even realising that what you were watching is advertising material.
Old Spice took the absurdity and irreverence of internet culture and turned it into videos that don't make much sense on the surface but are genuinely entertaining to watch and easy to remember.
Also, in the end, isn't this what all good marketing ultimately boils down to?
Author Bio: Michael Deane is a marketing executive working for Printroom. Being the history buff that he is, he often turns to the most popular advertising campaigns in history to find inspiration for his latest digital efforts.
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