The most iconic and memorable marketing campaigns in history

The creativity behind marketing campaigns seems limitless. Since advertising brands became commonplace, we’ve seen some hilarious, innovative, engaging, and thought-provoking campaigns that have stuck in our minds for years. So, how do you go about replicating these successes in your own marketing campaigns?

If you’re searching for an idea to boost your brand and profit margins, check out these iconic and creative marketing campaigns and see how these techniques can benefit your company.

Absolut’s bottle marketing campaign

How can a simple shape be such a massive success? Decades ago, vodka brand, Absolut, launched a marketing campaign based solely on the outline of its bottle. This strategy consisted of banners, billboards and ads portraying showing an Absolut bottle frame in various real images. This included a Christmas advert depicting a woman carrying stacks of gifts in a bottle formation (tagline: ‘Absolut 24th’) and 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’).

Surely something so simple couldn’t cause such a surge in demand? Looking at the stats, it seems that it can. Absolut had less than 3% of the vodka market in the US. By the end, it was the brand-of-choice for half of all the country’s imported vodka. Amazingly, Absolut used this simple idea — shuffling around mundane objects and scenes to create a vague bottle outline — for more than 25 years.

How to replicate

From concept to execution, the Absolut bottle campaign is flawlessly simple, which makes it such a great one to take inspiration from. Study your products and see how you can incorporate the feel, look and shape of them into your campaign. Large outdoor banners and billboards offer the opportunity to capitalise on colours, textures and silhouettes, which makes turning something basic into something intriguing.

Nike’s famous tagline

Matching the slogan with the brand is a popular party game that’s much harder than it seems once you start playing. However, one of the taglines that everyone seems to get is Nike’s ‘Just Do It’.

Let’s head back in time to before the slogan was dreamt up. During the late 1980s, Nike was on the hunt for an attention-grabbing marketing idea that could transform the brand’s profits — which were lagging far behind Reebok in shoe sales at the time. Soon, the famous ‘Just Do It’ slogan was 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. Within ten years of its launch, the campaign had boosted Nike sales from $800 million to $9.2 billion.

How to replicate

Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ campaign shows how three simple words can completely turn around the luck of a company. ‘Just Do It’ was seen on various banners depicting a range of sports people performing multiple exercises, but this isn’t what we remember. It’s the tagline, not the video or image, that was the secret to this campaign’s success. 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.

Dove’s confidence-boosting methods

Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaign is a prime example of how a brand can not only boost its profits, but also boost its credibility at the same time. If you don’t recall the ad strategy, it consisted of a series of outdoor banners and ads that were designed around a social experiment, where an FBI-trained sketch artist was asked to draw two images of a woman — the first as she described herself and the second as a stranger described her. The outcome was that these images looked completely different, and Dove combined this result 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.

However, it’s what Dove did with this research that is the secret to the magic. The brand chose to release a series of outdoor banners and billboards portraying regular women next to two checkboxes: one complimenting the woman and the other detailing a disparaging remark (e.g. ‘fat’ and ‘fit’ or ‘wrinkled’ and ‘wonderful’), the brand incited a debate about female beauty standards that went viral across digital media. 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.

How to replicate

To achieve Dove’s success in your own marketing strategies, you must know your customers and what matters to them. Study your target audience and find out what worries or pleases them, then, build an idea around that. Dove focused on an issue concerning its key demographic and turned it into something positive, which not only helped women feel better about themselves, but also reflected positively on the brand.

California Milk Processor Board’s moustache strategy

The US-based ‘Got Milk?’ campaign has endeared itself to millions of Americans for decades. Got Milk? consists of celebrity photos displaying milk moustaches next to the tagline ‘Got Milk?’. The campaign boosted milk sales in California by 7% within its first year, and due to its success in the Golden State, the strategy started breaking borders. Soon, Got Milk? posters and banners were spotted in stores and on highways across the country before moving to television and the internet.

How to replicate

The main aspect of this campaign to take away is that you don’t have to constantly strive to win new audiences. Interestingly, the Got Milk? strategy wasn’t aimed at advertising milk to new customers — it targeted people who were already drinking it. If one of your products is dropping in sales, or a service you offer isn’t performing as well as before, your marketing strategy could be aimed at reconnecting with customers. The Got Milk? strategy is just one example of how even everyday items can be injected with humour (i.e. the milk moustache) and glamour (i.e. use of celebrities).

Volkswagen: thinking small

Last on our list is Volkswagen’s ‘Think Small’ campaign. This quirky and brutally-honest campaign launched during the 1960s when the US population only wanted big cars and sales of small motors from German manufacturers were low. So, how could Volkswagen’s compact vehicles compete? By using marketing to play right into the audience’s hands.

Instead of trying to cover up the feature that many people blamed for its poor sales, Volkswagen embraced it proudly by creating banners and newspaper ads with lots of white space to highlight the compactness 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 — its cars were small, and that’s what it told you.

How to replicate

No matter what, your audience must believe what you say. If they don’t, they won’t buy. Marketing is believed by most of us to put an unrealistic spin on reality to sell its customer a dream, so have fun with any perceived flaws and you’ll win kudos. Remember, any brand that focuses on truth is sure to achieve credibility — resulting in a successful marketing campaign.

There are countless marketing campaigns out there that have been lucrative for their brands. If you want to come up with something big to boost your profits, let them inspire your next campaign.



Colin Shaw
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Written by Colin Shaw

Colin has been in the finance market for over 20 years and specialises in best business practice to make an organisation profitable. The only man for the job when it comes to numbers and accounts with a keen talent for simplifying finance for the wider market.