A blast from the past: the most successful marketing campaigns of all time
Updated: Aug 8
It is the 1900s. Eduard and Andre Michelin run a tire factory in Clermont-Ferrand, France. Business is slow, unsurprisingly, as roughly 2200 cars are travelling the roads of the country. The brothers are barely making ends meet, possibly strolling across the Seine River, perhaps sharing a croissant, trying to figure out how to sell more tires. Admittedly, they needed a genius marketing trick to sell more tires. And voila! The Michelin Guide was born - and with it, perhaps the most extraordinary marketing campaign of all times.
So, what was it about this ingenious guide that catapulted the - struggling - business to success? The Michelin Guide was a 400-page guidebook which offered not only auto maintenance tips but also travels advice, hotels, and tourist attractions. It was the primitive Google Maps of its time, making people feel safer and more confident travelling in their cars. More travelling, more mileage, more tire damage, and yes - the need for new tires eventually. And where did the adventurous drivers turn to when they needed new tires? Michelin, of course!
The Michelin Guide was such a hit that it boosted business for restaurants, hotels, and auto maintenance garages listed in it. The brothers were so confident in the future of the automobile industry that they even circulated 35,000 copies of the guide for free. And soon enough, they started publishing guides for other European countries. And as the guides became a success, their business soared.
There is a lesson to be learned here: with successful advertising and smart marketing, you can sell almost anything to almost anyone. But the brothers' example is not the only one in the history of marketing. Several other campaigns have managed to skyrocket sales and turn potential losses into staggering revenues.
Are you ready for a quick blast from the past? Let’s begin the countdown with the nine most successful ads of all time.
NUMBER #1: NIKE “JUST DO IT”
Back in the 1980s, sports shoes were hardly the stuff of fashion legend. They were just a product of necessity, worn only for exercise and not much to look at. Even Nike shoes, once a standard-issue item, weren't all that jazz.
But then came the game-changer: "JUST DO IT." With this simple yet brilliant logo, Nike transformed from a boring necessity to a cultural icon. Sales skyrocketed from $800,000 in 1988 to over $2 billion in 1998. And even today, three decades later, "JUST DO IT" remains one of the most recognizable slogans in the world.
So, if you're ever feeling uninspired about marketing something as "boring" as shoes, just remember: even Nike started out as a necessity. With a little creativity and a lot of "JUST DO IT" attitude, you can turn any product into a fashion statement.
NUMBER #2: COTTONELLE
Ah, toilet paper. It's one of those things that we don't give much thought to until we run out of it. And when we're standing in that endless aisle of options, we usually just grab the cheapest one without much brand loyalty. But Cottonelle? Oh, they decided to shake things up a bit.
They threw out the notion that toilet paper was a boring necessity and instead leaned into their adorable campaign featuring two foolproof cuteness factors: puppies and toddlers. Their commercials showed these lovable creatures getting into mischief with the toilet paper, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. Suddenly, toilet paper became anything but trivial, and marketers were probably having a blast creating a brilliant marketing campaign for - well, toilet paper.
Now, the next time you're in the toilet paper aisle, ask yourself: which one will make you smile? The one with the cute pups, of course.
NUMBER #3: DOVE
Soap is pretty straightforward, right? You use it to stay clean, especially when it's hotter than a jalapeno outside. With so many deodorants and soaps on the market, it's easy just to grab whatever's cheapest and call it a day.
But then there's DOVE. Their Real Beauty Campaign is a perfect example of marketing done right in a cut-throat competitive industry. Instead of just competing with other soap brands, DOVE chose to empower women with their products. Instead of showcasing its products' advantages and highlighting the reasons to use them, DOVE went the other way. The genius marketers sent the message that every woman is beautiful, no matter her age, ethnicity, weight, or body type.
By celebrating and empowering women, DOVE became an industry leader and left other "boring" soap brands in the dust. So, the next time you're feeling bewildered about how to properly market your client, just remember that there's always a way to stand out and empower your audience.
NUMBER #4: BURGER KING
Burger King's "Why Eat with a Clown When You Can Dine with a King?" campaign was a stroke of genius. The playful yet bold tagline immediately set Burger King apart from its primary competitor, McDonald's. The fast-food giant used the image of a creepy clown to represent its brand, while Burger King went in a completely different direction. By positioning itself as royalty, Burger King created a sense of superiority and exclusivity that appealed to customers' desires for something different and unique.
The campaign's success was further propelled by its clever marketing tactics, such as using social media influencers to spread the word and releasing quirky videos that captured the essence of the campaign's message. In the end, Burger King managed to effectively differentiate itself from its competition and attract a loyal following, proving that sometimes it pays off to dine with a king instead of choosing subpar alternatives.
NUMBER #5: ABSOLUT VODKA
Absolut vodka is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable and successful brands in the world. Despite having an ambiguous shape, Absolut made its bottle the most recognizable bottle in the world. Its iconic advertising campaign, which featured print ads showing bottles "in the wild," was so successful that it didn't stop running for an incredible 25 years. That's right, 25 years of uninterrupted advertising, with over 1,500 separate ads.
Absolut's success story is not just limited to the advertising campaign. The brand managed to grow from having a measly 2.5% of the vodka market to importing 4.5 million cases per year in the late 2000s, which represented half of all imported vodka in the United States. That's a remarkable achievement for a brand that was relatively unknown at the time of the campaign's launch.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Absolut's advertising campaign is that it has remained relevant for decades. The campaign's longevity is proof of its success, and it's a testament to the timeless appeal of the brand's message. Even though the ads featured the same bottle design, Absolut managed to keep things fresh by featuring different backdrops and themes.
Absolut's success story serves as a valuable lesson for other brands. No matter how boring your product may seem, you can still tell your story in an interesting and compelling way. Absolut created 1,500 ads for one bottle, proving that a determined and differentiated approach to marketing can pay dividends. So, don't be afraid to take risks and differentiate your product in the same way. After all, as the old saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
NUMBER #6: VOLKSWAGEN
Volkswagen's "Think Small" campaign was a real game-changer. Back in 1960, the advertising geniuses at Doyle Dane & Bernbach (DDB) had one mission: to change people's minds about German cars being too small. And wow, did they nail it!
You see, Americans were all about big cars at the time, but VW knew better than to pretend they were something they weren't. Instead, they leaned into the stereotype and made it their selling point. They even ran ads with slogans like "Ugly is only skin deep" and "It's ugly, but it gets you there"! Talk about owning it!
So, what's the lesson here? Well, it's simple really: always be true to yourself, your brand, and your customers. Honesty and authenticity go a long way in building trust and loyalty. And let's face it; nobody likes a poser. So, take a cue from Volkswagen and embrace your quirks and flaws; they just might be your biggest asset.
NUMBER #7: FILE STORAGE
Ah, file storage - the unsung hero of our digital lives. You may not give it much thought, but it's the reason your precious photos from family vacations and your university thesis are still intact. And let's not forget those all-important work documents that can now be easily organized and shared with ease. But, let's be real, file storage isn't exactly the sexiest topic of conversation.
That is, of course, until Dropbox came along. These guys have taken "boring" to a whole new level, and I mean that in the best way possible. Their email campaigns are so brilliantly witty that they make you want to hug your laptop and shout, "Take my money!"
They manage to take all the technical jargon and turn it into something that even your grandma could understand. And the humour? They're self-aware of their boring nature, but they don't try to be something they're not. They know they're valuable, and they own it.
So, the next time you hear someone say "file storage," don't yawn. Instead, pour yourself a cocktail, and let's chat about Dropbox's marketing genius.
NUMBER 8: KFC
The advertisement above is not simply a random bucket of KFC with the company's initials rearranged. It is also not a typical, unsolicited promotion of fried chicken.
Rather, it serves as an apology and perhaps one of the most innovative ones of all time.
In February 2018, KFC's business in the U.K. experienced a shortage of chicken, a most ironic PR crisis for a poultry company. Such an event calls for a noteworthy response, and KFC did not disappoint. What could have turned out to be seriously horrible publicity - and the theme of many jokes around - the KFC marketers turned the whole situation around, so the joke is on every single KFC competitor.
In collaboration with the creative agency Mother London, KFC published a full-page ad in Metro, the U.K. newspaper. It featured a humorous rendition of the KFC bucket with the letters "FCK" rearranged, conveying the message "FCK, this is embarrassing." Below the image, the company expressed regret for the unacceptable error and added a touch of self-effacing humour, the empty bucket notwithstanding subtly implying that “our chicken is so good, that you will empty your bucket” and lick your fingers while you are at it.
This marketing campaign is genius, and it highlights the importance of a good apology, which can help a business rebound from negative press and even lead to a net-positive outcome for the brand. KFC's ad demonstrates how a message of humility, dignity, humour, and corporate pride can be effectively combined to achieve this end.
NUMBER #9: COCA COLA
The ‘Share a Coke’ campaign was a brilliant marketing tactic by Coca-Cola, turning their ordinary bottles into personalized gifts. It all started in Australia in 2011, with millions of bottles printed with the top 150 popular names. The campaign was a hit, inspiring shared moments of happiness among consumers and making Coca-Cola the talk of the town. Soon, other countries followed suit with their own unique twists, from interactive billboards in Israel to personalized nicknames in China.
But Coca-Cola didn't stop there. They continued to innovate with new variations of the campaign, such as the 'Share a Coke and a Song' in the US, where popular song lyrics were printed on Coke bottles, and the U.K. version, featuring over 75 holiday destinations on the labels. Who knows what they will come up with next?
In a world where personalization is king, Coca-Cola's 'Share a Coke' campaign proved that a small personal touch could make a huge impact. They turned their products into more than just a beverage, but a way to connect with consumers and spread happiness. So, the next time you share a Coke with someone, remember that it's not just a drink. It's a shared moment of joy.
Take away lesson
After reviewing nine of the most successful campaign marketing ads of all time, it's clear that creativity, emotional appeal, and clever messaging are the key ingredients for a successful ad campaign. From Dove’s iconic 'Real beauty' campaign to VW’s empowering 'Think small” slogan, these campaigns have not only sold products but also inspired movements. In the process. More than that, these genius campaigns have also captured our hearts (and seized our wallets).
So next time you're in the boardroom brainstorming your next marketing campaign, remember: if it doesn't make you feel something or make you think twice, it's probably not going to stick. So be bold, be sassy, and don't be afraid to take risks - after all, that's what made these campaigns successful in the first place. Be brave and “Just Do It”.
Or, if you find it hard to do it yourself, just come to us. We are Bold, and we’ve got you covered with our Bold Marketing.
OVER AND OUT.