10 Most Influential Advertising Campaigns In History

By Alice Chen on June 13 2020 in Economics

Collage of neon lights, street signs and advertisements at Times Square in New York City. Image credit:  Collage of neon lights, street signs and advertisements at Times Square in New York City/Shutterstock.com
Collage of neon lights, street signs and advertisements at Times Square in New York City. Image credit: Collage of neon lights, street signs and advertisements at Times Square in New York City/Shutterstock.com
  • Nike's Just Do It slogan originated in 1987
  • Got Milk? was an American advertising campaign focused on encouraging the consumption of milk
  • Redbull sponsors sporting events all around the world

Marketing is a key part of the toolkit that corporations and other such entities use to boost their brands. Well-crafted campaigns can become instantly memorable while massively boosting brand recognition. Of course, most campaigns are presented and then disappear quietly, but in the upper echelons of quality, there are the advertising runs that will forever stick out in our cultural memory. The various slogans and campaigns in this list are so well known that many readers may be able to identify the companies before they're even named. So, buckle in and enjoy reading about the 10 most influential advertising campaigns in history. 

10. Just Do It

JUST DO IT sign inside Nike shop in Madrid, Spain. Image credit: Gina Stef/Shutterstock.com
JUST DO IT sign inside Nike shop in Madrid, Spain. Image credit: Gina Stef/Shutterstock.com

The "Just Do It" tag, accompanied by Nike's distinctive swoosh checkmark is one that nearly every person can immediately recognize. In just three words it sums up the sports-focused brand as direct, active, and powerful. The slogan first appeared in 1987 alongside Nike's first major television campaign. The impact of the phrase was not at all expected, so it was a surprise when it garnered the phone calls, messages, and positive reception that it did. Nowadays it's a core part of the company's brand. 

9. Got Milk?

Got Milk advertising on a barn in Marathon County, Wisconsin More details "Got Milk" advertising on a barn in Marathon County, Wisconsin. Image credit: Corey Coyle/Wikimedia.org
Got Milk advertising on a barn in Marathon County, Wisconsin More details "Got Milk" advertising on a barn in Marathon County, Wisconsin. Image credit: Corey Coyle/Wikimedia.org

Got Milk? is the next campaign on this list, and it's another massively influential campaign. This American advertising series centered around encouraging people to drink more milk and was created by the agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners for the California Milk Processor Board in 1993. It would later be licensed for use by other milk processors and dairy farmers. The advertisements themselves typically feature people in various circumstances with dry or sticky mouths who need to, naturally, get milk. 

8. Red Bull Gives You Wings

Redbull Cliff Diving 2011, Boston. Image credit: Kunal Mukherjee/Flickr.com
Redbull Cliff Diving 2011, Boston. Image credit: Kunal Mukherjee/Flickr.com

Red Bull Gives You Wings was a campaign that featured a set of cartoons depicting characters drinking the company's brand name drink before growing wings and flying away. This charming set of ads was created with Johannes Kastner along with the insightful direction of art director Horst Sambo. The campaign had a distinctive character and quirkiness that explains its massive popularity, which has spread to the point where it is now run in more than 170 countries worldwide. 

7. Share A Coke

Image credit: Chayut Orapinpatipat/Shutterstock.com
Image credit: Chayut Orapinpatipat/Shutterstock.com

The Share a Coke campaign first launched in Australia in 2011 and was relatively simple in its execution. Basically it involved changing the traditional wrapping around the beverage with one that said "Share a Coke with..." followed by a popular name. It would be so well-received that it would eventually be adopted in other countries around the world with their own unique twists, like interactive billboards in Israel or printed nicknames in China

6. Real Beauty

Dove's campaign for real beauty was a worldwide set of ads, workshops, videos, events, and even published books, all centered around building confidence in women and young children through the celebration of natural appearances and a focus on making women feel comfortable in their own skin. This involved things like billboards showcasing photos of regular women in lieu of professional models, and videos where women were drawn based on the kind descriptions of strangers. 

5. Taste The Rainbow

Taste the Rainbow. Image credit: nathanmac87/Wikimedia.org
Taste the Rainbow. Image credit: nathanmac87/Wikimedia.org

The Taste The Rainbow campaign from Skittles is one of the longest-running campaigns in the history of advertising. The ads themselves center around absurd, almost off-putting situations, where the candy finds itself inserted into unlikely situations like alien abductions or alongside strange characters like a man who looks like a pinata. They work because they sear their strange imagery into the minds of consumers along with the possibility of awakening cravings for candy. 

4. Mac vs PC

The Mac vs PC campaign is yet another universally-known set of ads and was a series of television spots that ran from 2006 to 2009 in countries like the US, Canada, and Japan. It features the Mac, represented by a casually cool man, and a buttoned-up man in a suit symbolizing the PC. They then run down qualities and attributes of Macs and PCs, comparing themselves in a humorous way where the Mac always comes out on top.  

3. A Diamond Is Forever

The iconic De Deers tagline "A Diamond is Forever" was written by copywriter Frances Gerety at the Philadelphia agency NW Ayer in 1947. It came about in a time where the diamond company was looking to boost sales after a slump during the Great Depression. And now even 70+ years later, these four simple words are still well known by millions. Many have even credited this slogan with creating the modern concept of an engagement ring. Potentially partially because of this ad, nowadays diamonds are still the king of jewelry. 

2. Marlboro Man

Marlboro Man billboard. Image credit: Cezary p at pl.wikipedia/Wikimedia.org
Marlboro Man billboard. Image credit: Cezary p at pl.wikipedia/Wikimedia.org

While the smoking habit it promotes is one that is highly unhealthy and directly tied to the deaths of some of its models, no one can deny the indelible impact the Marlboro Man campaign left on the world of advertising. The adverts featured various rugged men smoking cigarettes, typically in picturesque wild terrain. The cowboy theme it ran with proved to be popular, creating a masculine and attractive image tied to the smokes. 

1. I Want You

Uncle Sam, 'I Want You' US Army recruiting poster by James Montgomery Flagg, 1917. Image credit: Everett Historical/Shutterstock.com
Uncle Sam, 'I Want You' US Army recruiting poster by James Montgomery Flagg, 1917. Image credit: Everett Historical/Shutterstock.com

This last campaign isn't a corporate one but is instead a massively popular ad created by the government to persuade people to join the United States Army during World Wars I and II. It features a man with a goatee, bushy eyebrows, and a tall top hat with stars pointing at the reader with a message below saying "I Want You." It's memorable, engaging and while the end result may have been violent, no one can deny its effectiveness.   

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