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Top 5 marketing campaigns in history

Coming up with creative and original marketing ideas is tough — even for experienced marketers. If you want to design a strategy that’s going to get potential customers to take notice of your brand, perhaps you need to look at past successes?

So, what’s made the top five marketing campaigns of all time? From Dove to Nike, we’ve detailed these iconic strategies and how we think they could work for you…

Just do it

Once upon a time, the mighty Nike was floundering behind Reebok in shoe sales — they needed a campaign that was quick-acting and globally appealing. After a brief meeting in 1988, the team at Nike came up with one of the 20th century’s most enduring taglines: Just Do It. This famous slogan was soon seen on banners and billboards everywhere. Why? Because it was clear, concise and emotive. Can’t be bothered to run? Just do it. Don’t think you can handle an hour at the gym? Just do it.

A decade later and Nike was well and truly reaping the rewards of its originality. The campaign had boosted Nike sales from $800 million to $9.2 billion — all due to a tagline thought up in around 20 minutes.

So, how can you do the same? Grab your audience’s attention with a simple, slick and stand-out slogan. Use posters and billboards to show off your slogan — which won’t vanish until it’s taken down unlike video or other types of online advertising. If you want this type of success, perhaps adopt this strategy by concentrating on a solid slogan — that encapsulates your brand and speaks directly to your core audience — and building out from there.

Think Small

There was a lot going on in the Swinging Sixties, but one industry that was enjoying a particular lucrative time was the marketing and advertising sector. However, the same couldn’t be said about German motoring brand, Volkswagen.

The American consumer only wanted big cars, and unfortunately, Volkswagen couldn’t sell many of its iconic compact cars. So, how did the brand overcome this issue? Volkswagen created banners and newspaper ads with lots of white space to highlight the ‘small’ feature of its vehicles. So, when other car brands were packing their ads from border to border with copy, colour and imagery; Volkswagen stood apart from the crowd and was noticed for its ingenuity and honesty — this car was small, and that’s what it told you.

Basically, to emulate the Volkswagen Think Small campaign, you need to promote, not shy away from, what sets your product apart from your competitors. Advertising is believed by many to put an unrealistic spin on reality to sell its customer a dream, so any brand that focuses on honesty is sure to achieve credibility.

Absolut bottle

Simplicity is another lucrative route you can wander down if you want to come up with a knock-out marketing campaign. Take Absolut, for example. Fundamentally, the Absolut strategy consisted of ads depicting an Absolut bottle outline in various real images, such as: an aerial shot of NYC’s Central Park shown with an added section at the top to create a bottle neck and cap shape (tagline: ‘Absolut Manhattan’), and a Christmas advert depicting a woman carrying stacks of gifts in a bottle formation (tagline: ‘Absolut 24th’).

This genius idea proved hugely successful for the vodka brand. Before it, Absolut had less than 3% of the vodka market in the US and by the end, its name was on the label of half of all the country’s imported vodka.

Now, how can you do the same? Basically, look at your products and decide what’s special about them — how do they feel and look? Large outdoor banners and billboards offer the opportunity to capitalise on colours, textures and silhouettes to turn something simple into something intriguing. So, pick your brand apart.

Got Milk?

Even though the US is famous for ploughing untold billions into marketing and advertising, one campaign stands out form the rest: Got Milk? by the California Milk Processor Board. Interestingly, Got Milk? wasn’t created to target new milk drinkers — instead, the campaign focused on speaking to people who already were.

Milk sales in California rose by 7% in the year following the launch of Got Milk?, which suggests that it was a success from the start. After proving a hit in the Golden State, the strategy started breaking borders, and soon Got Milk? posters and banners were spotted in stores and on highways across the country before moving to television and the internet.

When it comes to your campaign, what can you learn from Got Milk? Firstly, humour and celebrities work incredibly well together. As we mentioned, this campaign wasn’t aimed at new customers. So, don’t think every campaign has to attract fresh faces. If your sales have dropped, retarget your key demographic and reconnect.


Dove has been around since the mid-1950s, however, it’s Real Beauty campaign of 2004 brought it fresh attention and acclaim. Real Beauty started as a series of outdoor banners and ads that were designed around a social experiment:

  • A woman describes herself to an FBI-trained sketch artist.
  • A stranger describes the same woman to the FBI-trained sketch artist.
  • The FBI-trained sketch artist draws two images of the described woman, one dictated by her and one as described by the stranger.
  • Both images then shown on completion and found to look completely different.

This campaign was based around the different ways we perceive ourselves and how that can be harmful to our self-esteem. After, Dove combined the result of this experiment with the statistic that a mere 4% of women find themselves attractive to create a hugely successful marketing campaign that truly resonated with its audience.

Outdoor banner printing took on a large role within this campaign, which incited a debate about female beauty standards by portraying regular women next to contradictory checkboxes for the viewer to choose between (e.g. ‘wrinkled or wonderful’ and ‘fat or fit’). Dove’s advertising strategy was insightful, inspiring and sensitive; encouraging women to see themselves in a different light. To date, Dove’s Real Beauty campaign has been seen in around 110 countries.

The question to ask yourself if you feel like emulating the Real Beauty campaign is: what is bothering or affecting my target customer? Dove turned a negative into a positive with Real Beauty, which not only helped women feel better about themselves, but also reflected positively on the brand.

These are just a handful of examples that we believe make excellent marketing strategies. Before you design your next campaign, make sure to research other past successes.







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