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20 of the Best Marketing Campaigns of All Time

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Posted in Paid Advertising, Marketing Strategy, and Digital Advertising. 7 min read

Back in the days of three TV networks, AM radio, and newspapers, advertising was a competitive industry that gave us some of the most entertaining marketing campaigns ever.

In today's data driven world, the medium has changed, but the need to get attention, drive a purchase, and shift people's impression of a brand or company is alive and well.

Creating iconic marketing campaigns today might mean going viral, but the basic elements of good marketing haven't changed as much as you might think.

Here are 20 of the most iconic marketing campaigns of all time:

Nike: Just Do It

 

 

In 1988, Nike sales were $800 million. They introduced their iconic “Just Do It” campaign.

Within a decade, sales topped $2 billion. “Just Do It” is a core message that still works 30 years later.

Apple: Get a Mac

 

 

One of the most iconic brand development marketing campaigns, Apple's Mac vs PC campaign of 66 spots ran from 2006 to 2009.

Simple and powerful, this campaign was entertaining and informative, and it helped build Mac into the brand it is today.

Volkswagen: Think Small

 

 

In 1959, Volkswagen was trying to establish a market in the US. America was in love with big, Detroit iron!

DDB came up with the “Think Small” campaign, which not only made a small, ugly German car as American as apple pie, but it also changed the advertising world forever!

Miss Clairol: Does She or Doesn't She

 

 

In 1957, hair coloring was a taboo subject. The tagline posed the question, “does she or doesn't she?”

When the campaign started, the odds were 15:1 that the answer was “no.” Within 10 years, the odds went to 2:1 and an industry was born.

Absolut Vodka: The Bottle Campaign

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This print campaign began in 1980 and made the Absolut bottle the most recognized bottle in the world. The campaign consisted of 1,500 ads and ran for 25 straight years.

When it began, Absolut had a 2.5% market share. By the time it ended, the company was importing 4.5 million cases a year, which made up half of the vodka market!

Red Bull: Stratos

 

 

The Red Bull Stratos campaign is an example of marketing for the modern age!

Skydiver Felix Baumgartner flew 24 miles to the edge of space over New Mexico and jumped. He free-fell for over six minutes before deploying his parachute and floating back to earth. This publicity stunt was one of the most live streamed events in the history of the Internet.

Marlboro: The Marlboro Man

 

 

The Marlboro man ads started in 1995, and they were one of the most powerful, and hated, marketing campaigns of the 20th century.

The campaign showcased the “can do spirit of the American cowboy" and made Marlboro one of the best selling cigarette brands in the world.

Dos Equis: The Most Interesting Man in the World

 

 

Until this campaign started in 2006, beer advertising was about drinking the right beer to get attractive women to like you. The Most Interesting Man in the World positioned Dos Equis as the beer for the sophisticated drinker.

The ending “I don't always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis” brought the message home.

Progressive Insurance: “Flo”

 

 

The traditional approach to advertising insurance ranged from staid to sappy, that is until 2008. Progressive introduced the world to “Flo.”

After over 100 commercials, she's achieved cult status and changed the way insurance is marketed forever.

California Milk Processor Board: Got Milk?

 

 


Got Milk? is one of the most identified worldwide marketing campaigns EVER. Between 1993 and 1994, consumption increased 7% by 13.5 million gallons.

The first ad appeared in 1993 and was just retired after 25 years.

DeBeers: A Diamond is Forever

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This campaign has been running for over 70 years. Before it, there was no perceived value to diamond rings for weddings and engagements.

This campaign created the idea that a diamond is the quintessential token of love and started an industry!

Dove: Campaign for Real Beauty

 

 

In 2004, Unilever's research found that only 4% of women considered themselves beautiful. After working with Ogilvy and Mather, Unilever launched the Campaign for Real Beauty.

It exploded. 

Talk shows, women's magazines, and TV news began discussing modern female beauty standards. The campaign evolved into a series of viral videos, commercials, and print ads that changed how we all look at beauty.

Chipotle: Back to the Start

 

 

Originally conceived as an introductory video for their loyalty program, the “Back to the Start” campaign made a huge splash!

The reaction was so overwhelming that it became the chain's first national spot. The full 2 minute video ran during the 2012 Grammy Awards and ushered in the “branded-content” era.

Budweiser: Whassup

 

 

Beer brands have been using humor forever. But few have accomplished what Budweiser did with a single word.

Whassup!

The famous campaign ad was first broadcast in 1999. It only ran for 2 short years, but it became the most memed ad of the early 21st century.

American Legacy: Truth

 

 

What the Marlboro Man did for cigarettes back in the 90s, the American Legacy “Truth” campaign is undoing 25 years later. The concept is to push back against the lies of big tobacco, and it's working.

Smoking rates in the US are at the lowest levels in history, thanks in part to this campaign!

Old Spice: The Man Your Man Can Smell Like

 

 

This campaign debuted in 2010, as sales for Old Spice were declining. Old Spice determined the path to growth lay with women.

This simple, funny campaign sold directly to women. It was a success and the star Isaiah Mustafa took it to social media. The company rolled out 186 video responses that gained 11 million views on social media, taking the campaign viral.

Apple: 1984 Super Bowl Ad

 

 

This ad, a groundbreaking introduction to Apple, is their most famous commercial, and it aired just one time, during the 1984 Super Bowl.

It brilliantly introduced the world to Apple Computers.

Avis: We Try Harder

 

 

This campaign rocked the advertising world back in 1963 when it first appeared. Pointing out that they had to try harder because they were number two, Avis wasn't number two for long!

This classic campaign moved from print to TV, radio, and the internet.

BMW: The Hire 

 

 

In 2001 and 2002, BMW created a classic online campaign that leveraged the power of the internet like no brand had before.

BMW films was a form of branded content that consisted of eight short films created by popular filmmakers from around the world and featured actors like Mickey Rourke, Forest Whitaker, Don Cheadle, and Madonna.

Burger King: Subservient Chicken

 

 

Arguably the first marketing campaign to go viral, the subservient chicken campaign was, without a doubt, bizarre, groundbreaking, and ridiculously popular!

It featured a submissive chicken character doing what it was told to do. The TV spot directed viewers to a website where the chicken would respond to whatever the visitor typed, like “do the moonwalk” or “jump rope.” Have it your way, indeed!

These 20 iconic marketing campaigns shaped the way we market today. While the channels may have changed, the fundamental best practices of marketing still apply.

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