brilliant advertising campaign

It’s no secret that an advertising campaign can either propel anyone’s business or name to the stratosphere or make it extinct quicker than the nature did with dinosaurs.

Of course I rather write about some of the most successful and memorable campaigns in the modern history, the ones that either made some companies rule the world practically overnight or established them as THE company to hold in high regard and even imitate. These are the campaigns who took advertising in print and TV to the whole new level, with their printed ads looking more like a work of art and commercials that people don’t mind watching more than once. The campaigns whose slogans became as popular as the company’s name, if not more.

Fortunately there are many such advertising masterpieces, but I’ll limit them to 8 Bits of what in my opinion are the most brilliant campaigns in advertising history (featured in chronological order) and invite you to share who you think deserves to be on this list.

1. De Beers – “A diamond is forever”

a diamond is forever
Diamonds are not the rarest of gemstones, but the 1938 meeting between the son of De Beers founder, Harry Oppenheimer, and the president of N.W. Ayer & Son (the first advertising agency in the United States), Gerold M. Lauck will create that illusion and forever link diamonds with romance.

For quite some time the agency had tried to come up with a slogan for a new De Beers advertising campaign, but it would be Frances Gerety, the agency’s copywriter, who will make the history by scribbling down “a diamond is forever” after praying for “some divine assistance” before leaving the office.

To this day “A Diamond is Forever” is the official slogan of De Beers, even after the most recent changes in branding where De Beers decided to use a new name – “Diamond Trading Co.” (DTC) for its marketing purposes and use “De Beers” name to represent trendy stores that sell diamonds.

“By the end of the 1950s, N.W. Ayer was pleased to announce to De Beers that its twenty-year marketing campaign had successfully influenced the American public to consider a diamond engagement ring a necessity to the engagement ritual.”

You can learn more about the fascinating history of DeBeers at Check out some of the humorous De Beers ads and one of their most recent commercials.

2. Marlboro Man

Marlboro Man
Did you know that Marlboro was named after a street in London Marlborough, and originally was marketed as a women’s cigarette with the slogan: “Mild as May” until mid 1950s? It all changed when the new Marlboro campaign, created by Leo Burnett Worldwide transformed the cigarette’s image into a strictly masculine in only a few months. It is one of the most recognized brand images in the world – the ultimate American cowboy, trademark of masculinity, smoking Marlboro.

If interested, you can follow the Marlboro timeline, just keep in mind that smoking is bad for your health.


guinness beer
Guiness’ enormous success can be attributed not just to the lip-smacking beer that’s “Good For You”, but to one of the most impressive advertising campaigns. The first series of adverts were created by John Gilroy, who designed striking posters featuring animals like lion, kangaroo and most notably a toucan, that included such famous phrases like “It’s a Lovely Day for a Guinness”, “Guinness for Strength” and “Guinness is Good For You”.

In the 1950s Guinness has quickly recognized the power of the new medium called TV, and launched their first TV commercials where “the flying toucan poster took off too, stealing glasses of GUINNESS® beer from the RAF mess hall”. The new generation of Guinness TV ads are nothing short of masterpieces, that mesmerize the audience.

If you haven’t seen it yet (oh, I wish they were showing more Guinness commercials in Canada), you simply must check out one of their recent campaigns, with the slogan “Good things come to those who wait”. There are actually several ads under that slogan, but the one called “noitulovE” (Evolution) is the best! This short film (with some breathtaking computer generated special effects) “tells the story of mankind’s 3 billion year wait for the perfect pint.”

4. Volkswagen Beetle – Think Small

Volkswagen Beetle - Think Small
Back in 1960s when everyone was making big long cars, Volkswagen hired the Doyle Dane Bernbach ad agency to create a campaign to promote their new tiny ugly bug Beetle in United States. Beetle’s new ads were filled with humour and connected with consumers on a personal level. Two simple words were used that shook the automobile market: Think Small.

Thanks to a VW Beetle aficionado on YouTube with the nickname beetlejuice150 , you can watch many of the early VW Beetle TV commercials, including the famous Think Small ad, the floating brand new Beetle that you could buy for $1999 in 1972 (gosh, I wasn’t even born then), and a very humorous “Funeral” commercial that’s a pure genius at work.

“Imagine a funeral procession as the voice of the deceased bequeaths his fortune. To each, from his wife and sons to business partners who were wasteful with money, he leaves nothing.
But to the tearful young man in a Volkswagen Beetle at the end of the line, he says: “To my nephew, Harold, who ofttimes said `A penny saved is a penny earned … and it sure pays to own a Volkswagen’ … I leave my entire fortune of a hundred billion dollars.” (via

5. I Want My MTV

I want my MTV
Today it’s hard to believe that at first MTV was struggling to convince cable companies to offer the channel to their subscribers, that music publishers hated the 24-hour rock’n'roll channel, that record companies were dismissing the concept of music videos, until MTV hired George Lois to change everyone’s minds. Lois has updated his own I Want My Maypo slogan and convinced Mick Jagger, Pat Benatar and later other rock superstars to scream “I Want My MTV”, after a voice in the background announced: “If you don’t get MTV where you live, call your cable operator and say…”. In every city thousands were calling their cable operator after seeing the commercial and screamed for their MTV.

“Within months, MTV was in 80% of all household; record companies begged to have their videos on the channel, advertisers looked at MTV as a must-buy for viewers 14 to 28; and every Rock star in the world pleaded with us to mimic Mick Jagger’s plea in our follow-up commercials”, reminiscened George Lois on his website.

You too can go back in time and feel the energy in one of the first MTV commercials.

6. Absolut vodka

absolut vodka
This is one of those cleverly run advertising campaigns that transformed an unknown brand into an Absolut empire. Prior to the start of TBWA’s campaigns in 1980s to promote Absolut, Sweden wasn’t perceived as a vodka-producing country, and the bartenders found the bottle’s shape too awkward to use. Absolut’s advertising campaign by TBWA changed not only all that but also everyone’s perception that vodka is a cheap and tasteless drink. Now there are regular, premium, and superpremium vodkas, along with raspberries, pears, lemon and even mandarin.

TBWA’s long-running advertising campaign has produced 1450 original ads, featuring an Absolut bottle-shaped object, with titles like ABSOLUT Wonderland, Absolut Webby, ABSOLUT Kravitz. Visit a gallery of over 1200 images of Absolut Ads, lovingly collected by Absolut enthusiast.

7. Apple – 1984

apple ad 1984
Who can forget the commercial that aired on January 22, 1984 during the Super Bowl game, that got everyone glued to their seats with the images of countless rows with skinheads in an Orwellian world, spellbound by the Big Brother’s speech on a huge screen, and a running woman in a white shirt with a picture of Apple’s Macintosh who throws a sledgehammer at that screen. Who can forget that message at the end of this commercial, accompanied with the voice, announcing that “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984″, followed by now famous Apple’s logo in colour.

Did you know that Apple paid $800,000 for that 60-second slot? Of course, that was a wise investment, that brought millions in future sales of Macintosh. No expenses were spared when creating the film either: the ad was directed by Ridley Scott (remember the Blade Runner?), shot in London, with the actual British skinheads playing themselves for $125.

Here’s a chance for you to see Apple’s 1984 ad on YouTube.

8. Nike – Just Do It

Nike Just Do It
Who would’ve thought that one of the most acclaimed slogans in advertising history was conceived serendipitously in 1988, when Dan Weiden from an unknown yet ad agency Weiden and Kennedy admiringly commented on Nike’s can-do-attitude: “You Nike guys, you just do it”?

Who could’ve known that one of the most recognized logos in the world – Nike’s swoosh – would cost Nike’s co-founder, Phil Knight, only $35 to be designed in 1971 by Carolyn Davidson, who was studying graphic design at Portland State University.

Having said that, looks like Nike continuous to grow its fame and fortune by getting away with employing cheap labor in Asia.

So, here you go, 8 brilliant advertising campaigns that took eight different companies to stardom, even though some of them, frankly, don’t deserve to be among the stars.

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15 Insightful Bits in response to “8 Bits Of The Most Brilliant Advertising Campaigns”

  1. Hi
    Nice post. If you’re interested in ads I would suggest AdsWatcher – There are also some ads from this post (I think Apple and absolut) in a lot better quality than on youtube

    BTW could anti-spam question accept even “no/yes”? I know it’s asking for true/false but I didn’t read it carefully and now I have to write this comment again.

  2. I am one of those nuts that acutally like commercials on TV. Let me refine that statement, I like Good commercials. I want to be entertained while getting information. On the flip side if you fail to enlighten and entertain me I will refuse the product.

    I think another thing you can do with advertising is get a catchy tune or lyrics that helps make the ad go viral and be remembered even after the campaign ends.

    I don’t have a problem with any of your selections. My current favorite commercial on TV is the Cingular Dropped Call with Roger Clemens. I watch and laugh everytime. I even saved it to my faves on Youtube.

  3. That’s a great list. That VW Beetle Funeral TV commercial is so bizarre–but wonderful.
    The Nike Just Do It campaign was very successful–and based on such a simple, short phrase.
    The Apple 1984 Commercial is like the intro scene to a big-budget movie–stunning. Interestingly, I see that this ad has spawned some interesting parodies; I like the Vote Different one best.

    I’m also a huge fan of some of the Levis ad’s. One of my all time favourites is Odyssey with a beautiful soundtrack, Händel’s Sarabande; and Michel Gondry Levi’s Commercial.

    An inspiring list. Thank you!

  4. Vivien

    JackuB, sorry for the deleted comment. I’ve updated my anti-spam plugin and added the yes/no option to it. Let me know please, if you or anyone else experience any problems with the comment form.
    Wow, that is a real gem for ad addicts. Thanks for the link!

    Joey, I too like watching good, clever commercials. I wish more companies realize the full potential and the power of TV ads and use them wisely. I agree, catchy tunes are another very powerful tool in promoting a brand.

    Johno, sorry for ending up in the moderation list, I should try increasing the number of the links be4 being triggered as a spam, and see how it would effect the number of the actual spams.
    Oh, yes, I remember that Apple-like campaign for Hillary, stirring some controversy in States.

    The Levi’s commercials are amazing. Levi’s is another brand that practically represents real high quality jeans. For a long time the following equations were true for me: Levi’s = Jeans and Jeans=Levi’s

  5. I think the viewers of MTV should do a re-hash of #5 and say, “I want my music back on MTV!”

    Advertising campaigns like these are reminders that simple concepts can go on to make millions.

    Vivien, thanks for putting this together. This was a very enjoyable read.

  6. Vivien

    haha @ I want My music back – so true!
    You’re very welcome, Ronlad. I’m glad you find this read enjoyable. I’ve myself read so many fascinating stories while researching all those campaigns.

  7. With this article, you’ve reminded me of the times when I used to work in advertising: De Beers and Absolut were two of the case studies which dominated all training sessions. I have lots of nice memories from those years. I’ve just realized now how much I miss that crazy life.

  8. Vivien

    Simonne, are you suggesting that your blogging life is less crazier than the one in advertising? :-)

  9. Great list of ads. I always loved the way Guiness developed the evolution ads for their chilled range. If only I could have a budget that allowed such a high standard of production *sigh* :-)

  10. Vivien

    Thanks, Darren. Well, if you can find a client who is willing to pay big for a high quality ad, then you can very well realize your dream :-)

  11. * My personal favorite ad of all time is the Apple 1984 one. That was very ballsy of Apple to come out swinging with that.

    * My favorite long, ongoing campaign is the Absolut Vodka one. Those ads are very distinctive and usually fun.

    * The diamond ad campaign has been the most effective by far. It has managed to completely change part of our culture. I dislike it though for two reasons…

    1) There are aspects of the diamond industry that hold grave ethical concerns.

    2) It has altered many women’s expectations of what love is supposed to be. Too much focus is on a tiny little rock instead of great things like loyalty and honesty and other great things that make a relationship great.

  12. Vivien

    Thanks for your feedback, Chris. I can’t argue with you regarding De Beers, I concur on both accounts. The crowd’s fascination with diamonds is scary, and it’s not only women who are spellbound by it, just looks at all that bling some rappers are wearing – a cellphone encrusted with diamonds? Can it get any more ridiculous than that?

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Hi, I'm Vivien. Thanks for visiting my Inspiration Bit. I often find myself scouring the internet looking for either answers to many questions I have or websites that inspire me, sites that I can learn from. On what topics you might ask — any topics that interest me, anything from web design to typography and art, from blogging to entrepreneurship, from programming to open source.
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When I'm not blogging, I design web sites, teach, play with my daughter and try to balance family, work, friends and a somewhat active social life on