The Most Successful Advertising Campaigns of the 20th Century

The Most Successful Advertising Campaigns of the 20th Century

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In tandem with our Advertising Diploma we look at the some of the most successful advertising campaigns of the last century and the impact they had.

Over the course of the 20th Century the world changed dramatically. Dictators rose and fell, two world wars were fought, and science and healthcare took massive leaps forward. Socially and politically, the changes were such that how we viewed the world and interacted with each other changed too.

As a result of these changes, how products were advertised changed too. In tandem with our Advertising Diploma we look at the some of the most successful advertising campaigns of the last century and the impact they had.

AVIS – ‘We Try Harder’

This series of adverts turned the world of advertising on its head. Whereas self-aggrandising is key to any advert, in 1962 AVIS took a different approach to projecting their image to consumers. In the sixties AVIS was not considered the best in the rent-a-car market – and the new incoming chief executive suggested that they trade on their underdog image by telling the masses how hard they were trying to improve. By presenting a company that was willing to work for the renter, the campaign became a huge success and gave birth to a slogan that soon became the company’s manifesto and made AVIS the go-to rental stop.

Clairol – ‘Does She… or Doesn’t She?’

In 2015, hair colouring is big business but when this campaign was first introduced in 1957 it helped pluck it from taboo subject to the multi-million pound industry it is today.

Clairol’s ‘Miss Clairol’ dye achieved natural-looking results in just one step, and rather than having to go to the hairdresser women could also use it at home. From the advertiser’s perspective, the key to selling the product came down to reassuring the buyers that the colour from the bottle would be so natural that no one would ever guess they were dyeing it, combatting the social stigmas attached to dyeing at the same time.

Initial criticisms of the campaign was that it was ‘too suggestive’ but in the course of a few years the advertising campaign helped to explode profits for Clairol from $25m to $200m.

Coca Cola – ‘I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke’

The sixties and seventies were a time of social and sexual liberation – taboos were destroyed, racial segregation was combatted, and peace and love were the overriding messages of the time. No advertisement exemplifies these messages more than Coke’s campaign which portrayed a positive message of hope and love, sung by a multicultural collection of teenagers on the top of a hill. As a result, the advert’s song became a big hit on both sides of the Atlantic and to this day remains one of the most recognisable and well-loved adverts of the 20th Century.

Nike – ‘Just Do It’

Arguably one of the greatest advertising slogans ever produced, no discussion on advertising success from the 20th century would be complete without the inclusion of Nike. With the debut of their ‘Just Do It’ campaign in the late 1970s, Nike leaped from being a specialist shoe company for marathon runners to highly stylised sportswear for all types of people no matter their age, gender, or fitness. This led to one of the first instances of sportswear being worn as a fashion statement rather than simply as sportswear. To this day the simple and aspirational slogan remains synonymous with the brand and has helped Nike grow from strength the strength.

Volkswagen – ‘Think Small’

Created by the same advertising company that turned the fortunes of AVIS around, the success of this advertising campaign is now legendary and broke the print advertising mould from infomercial style prints ads to sleek and minimalistic.

Whereas the Volkswagen Beetle was a hit in Europe, America was not an easy market to crack and it took some forward thinking and innovation to bring the Beetle to the forefront of the public’s mind. The ‘Think Small’ ad was enigmatic and sparse in detail, with a small Volkswagen Beetle photographed on its own and nothing else to detract or draw the eye. This brought the manufacturer and model a large amount of attention, and the campaign is routinely voted one of the best of the twentieth century. To this day, VW continue to measure the success of marketing campaigns against this one.

Each of these adverts have a few things in common – they focus on selling their product, of course, but at the same time they show how it can solve issues for the consumer. As well as this, each advert captures the imagination of the consumer and gives a positive spin on their place in the world.

Nick Cooper
Nick is NCC's resident blog author and covers a range of subjects, including teaching and health & social care. NCC is an international learning provider with over 20 years’ experience offering learning solutions. To date, NCC has engaged with over 20,000 employers, and delivered quality training to over half a million learners.
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