This article has been contributed by Lucy Bell Bird.
Allow us to start with a disclaimer: it was 100% Mad Men that led us here.
We’re ashamed to admit it because there were certainly very few role models on that show. Pete was smug and awful; Don missed the mark as a husband and father more times than we can count but, boy, he was captivating; and Peggy, well, we liked Peggy but as far as uphill battles go, hers was certainly steep.
But behind all the smoking and drinking and misogyny was the absolutely captivating story of the creatives that sold the image of the 1950s. They sold sentiment as well as they sold themselves. How many of us still get goosebumps when we hear Don Draper pitch the Kodak Carousel?
…“In Greek, ‘nostalgia’ literally means ‘the pain from an old wound’…This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again…. It lets us travel the way a child travels: around and around and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.”
Chills! A little-known fact, the scene from the season one finale led to AMC launching a Carousel app in response to the episode.
I think many of us were drawn to the idea of creating such emotional moments in a snapshot and finding a way to sell sentiment.
Outside the fictional world of Mad Men, there have been advertisements in the real world that have absolutely captured our hearts and minds and have made us want to be a part of that creative process.
Here are the 9 best marketing campaigns that captivated audiences around the globe and inspired me to pursue a career in marketing.
1. De Beers: A Diamond Is Forever (1947 -)
One of the most iconic taglines in the history of marketing is ‘Diamonds Are Forever’. The line was coined in 1947 by copywriter Mary Frances Gerety. Gerety was essentially a real-life Peggy Olson. Already a badass for being a woman working in a male dominated industry in the ‘40s, Gerety was assigned the task of coming up with a snappy slogan for De Beers.
The legend is that she forgot all about the task and the night before she was due to present, scribbled ‘A Diamond is Forever’ on a scrap of paper. A true Mad Men moment.
Nobody at the pitch presentation thought it was particularly impressive but they decided to take a chance. Within a year it became De Beers’ official slogan and Gerety was hired to write all the company’s ads for the next 25 years.
The slogan was almost single handedly responsible for reviving the diamond industry, changing the tact of the conversation and now, 80% of proposals involve a diamond ring.
2. Volkswagen: Think Small (1959)
Trying to sell a small German car to Americans at a time when Americans were into big, patriotic, Detroit-built vehicles, was always going to be an uphill battle.
But the crew at Doyle Dane Bernbach weren’t going to shy from the challenge. The two men who stepped up to the plate were art director, Helmut Krone, and copywriter, Julian Koenig. It was Koenig’s idea to be radically honest in his copy that was ultimately responsible for making the ad so iconic.
It leaned into what made it so different. The popular cars were big and American but they were encouraging their consumers to ‘Think Small.’ Using a photograph of the car instead of the traditional illustration, and leaving it black and white surrounded by blank space made the ad feel just different enough to be cool.
It created a watercooler moment; kids hung the ad on their walls like a poster. Simply iconic. It changed the game.
3. Coca Cola: Buy the World A Coke (1971)
Generally considered the world’s most popular commercial, the iconic clip experienced a resurgence after it was aired as part of the Mad Men series finale. Although the show implies that the fictional Don came up with the ad himself that credit must be attributed to Bill Backer.
Backer was the creative director for the Coca-Cola account and while he was on his way to a meeting in London, a thick fog forced them to land in Shannon, Ireland. After spending the night in Ireland, passengers from all over the world were notably happier and as he watched them share Cokes at the airport cafeteria, he began to imagine a new direction for the campaign.
Saying in an interview, “[I] began to see the familiar words, ‘Let’s have a Coke,’ as more than an invitation to pause for refreshment. They were actually a subtle way of saying, ‘Let’s keep each other company for a little while.’”
4. Absolut Vodka: The Bottle (1979 -)
In 1979 when the popular Swedish brand, Absolut, was attempting to break into the competitive U.S. market, the question of how to make a vodka brand stand out from the crowd was stumping marketing executives.
Michael Roux was charged with the task. An art aficionado, Roux, consulted his friend Andy Warhol and then commissioned him to do a painting of the bottle. That painting helped Absolut jump from relative obscurity to become the leading imported vodka brand in the U.S. in just 5 years.
Since 1979, over 350 artists have been commissioned to create artworks that depict the bottle in unique ways and settings. This campaign represents the marvelous marriage between art and advertising.
5. Dove: Real Beauty (2013)
An example of a great viral marketing campaign, the 2013 Dove “Real Beauty” campaign took the world by storm without showing a single branded Dove product.
In the online campaign, an FBI-trained sketch artist drew two portraits of the same women, one, in which they described themselves and another in which they were described by a stranger. When placed side by side, the portraits based on the strangers’ descriptions depicted comparatively more confident, happier and attractive women.
The copy reads “You are more beautiful than you think.” Hugely successful, the video was viewed more than 114 million times in the first month alone and was reuploaded in 25 languages to 33 Dove channels, reaching consumers in over 110 countries.
6. Apple: Shot on iPhone (2015 – )
Apple needs absolutely no introduction, which is why the creativity shown in their major marketing campaign is particularly impressive.
The “Shot on iPhone” campaign was born in 2015 and intended to highlight the phone’s new and improved camera. A worldwide challenge, users were invited to post their own best photos, tag them #ShotoniPhone and from these, 77 users across 25 countries were selected to have their images displayed on over 10,000 billboards across the world.
How successful was the campaign? Well, according to TBWA Media Arts Lab, the campaign was mentioned by 24,000 opinion leaders and created an estimated 6.5 billion media impressions and 95% positive mentions.
7. Hinge: Designed to Be Deleted (2019)
The 2019 campaign from dating app Hinge and creative agency Red Antler absolutely revolutionized the way dating apps marketed themselves.
The tagline was ‘Designed to be deleted.’ Banking on their own obsolescence is a bold move that helped Hinge stand out as the dating app that’s designed for long term success.
Bold campaigns literally featured them setting fire to their own logo, dropping an air-conditioning unit onto it and destroying the fluffy app logo in other creative ways.
When interviewed, chief marketing officer, Nathan Roth, said “We get it. Hinge users want to get off dating apps and into a relationship. Through Hinge’s death, we’re letting singles know that Hinge is dying for them to find love.”
8. Facebook: We’re Never Lost If We Can Find Each Other (2020)
‘Never Lost’ is Facebook and David Droga’s 2020 short film-style advertisement. It captured the essence of a unique moment in time and created a real moment of emotional connection for viewers who are increasingly isolated.
The film clip is set to the heart-wrenchingly relevant poem ‘People’s Faces’ by Kate Tempest. It opens with shots of empty cities, quiet roads, vacant airports and schools, world landmarks devoid of their usual throngs of tourists, parliaments sitting empty – reminding us of the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the poem goes on and we see shots of people’s faces, the mood starts to change. At first they are distraught, on ventilators, crying and alone. We see some people helping each other, hospital workers, sanitation workers, before the mood drastically changes.
As Kate Tempest, who reads her own poem in the film, says “We’re going to buckle underneath the trouble / Like any minute now / The struggle’s going to finish us…’ she takes a pause and then says ‘…and then we smile at all our friends.”
On Facebook Messenger calls, clapping from balconies, giving air-hugs six feet apart, we are inundated with images of people finding joy, solace and comfort in connecting with each other. The film shows us images, almost imperceptibly taken from Facebook’s platforms – Instagram Live clips, viral videos, Facebook posts from doctors begging people to take their safety seriously, photos of engagement rings and new babies being introduced to elderly relatives through the glass of an aged care facility. The voiceover continues “There is so much peace to be people’s faces. I love people’s faces.” Then the tagline appears on the screen ‘We’re never lost if we can find each other.’
In just 90 seconds, the advertisement manages to pull on every single heartstring and capture a unique moment in time. Promoting solidarity and the ability of social media to connect us even when we can’t be physically together.
Not only did the film clip buy Facebook some much needed goodwill after a few years of negative press, but it provided a platform for people to help each other in a time where so many have felt hopeless. The ad was a promotion for Facebook’s Community Help function which acts as a forum for people to offer and ask for help from those in their local area. The function was launched in 2016 to help people in the wake of natural disasters and since has been used in the response to the Australian bushfires and was used again this year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, as friends and neighbors helped each other pick up the pieces of their lives.
9. Apple: Creativity Goes On (2020)
To quote Steve Jobs, “Creativity is just connecting things.” This 90-second film clip is all about the importance of staying creative when times are tough.
The film, set to an instrumental track, features all the ways we’ve been amusing ourselves in isolation and the various ways that creativity has thrived. The video description reads ‘We have always believed deeply in the power of creativity. Now, more than ever, we’re inspired by people in every corner of the world finding new ways to share their creativity, ingenuity, humanity, and hope.’
From placing toys in our windows and painting rainbows, to more technological exploits like virtual dance parties. The ad also emphasizes the ways Apple technology has helped life to go on with kids doing their homeschooling work on iPads, a little boy and his grandfather playing chess over iPads in their respective homes and a myriad of people using their computers to teach everything from kindergarten to yoga and ballet. The message that’s flawlessly communicated is that Apple technology can help people to stay connected and creative during these famously unprecedented times.
So, whether you’ve always been passionate about media, communications and advertising or maybe this list has even inspired you to look into one of the many online marketing courses available, we wonder which advertising campaigns inspired you the most? Let us know!
About the author: Lucy Bell Bird is a Sydney-based writer with a passion for carbs, champagne, and cake of all varieties. Having worked as a writer and content marketer, she is passionate about storytelling, clear communication, and pasta (especially pasta). To see what she’s been up to, head to @lucybellbird.