Q: What are some of the most successful commercials of all time? In terms of staying power/longevity, earworm creation of jingles, but most important, effectiveness in selling the product? I've also been told that there is an awards ceremony for commercials. Is that true?
M.F., of Glen Carbon
A: If you’re looking for the 20th century’s biggest influence on advertising, you’re going to have to think small.
In ranking the 100 most influential ads of the last 100 years, Ad Age and many other experts chose Volkswagen’s “Think Small” campaign as the gold standard in winning friends and influencing skeptics.
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“In the beginning, there was Volkswagen,” advertising executive Jerry Della Femina, author of “From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor,” once wrote. “That was the day when the new advertising agency was really born.”
It was ingenious in its simplicity. Created in 1960 by the legendary ad agency Doyle Dane & Bernbach, it didn’t beat potential customers over the head with sexy models, squealing tires and other flash and sizzle. Instead, you’d see, for example, an unadorned Beetle taking up a surprisingly small part of a full-page ad. The rest was gray except for a bit of droll, self-deprecating copy at the bottom. Indeed, who of a certain age can forget the “Lemon” ad, which told of how assembly-line worker Kurt Kroner rejected a VW for delivery because it had a blemish on the glove compartment’s chrome strip?
At a time when American behemoths were the norm and some were still not comfortable buying a German car after World War II, the campaign firmly planted the idea that big was not necessarily better in the American mind and that German engineering might be the way to go.
“‘Think small’ was thinking quite big, actually,” Bob Garfield wrote in his 1999 Ad Age article. “The rounded fenders were, in effect, the biggest tail fins of all, for what Volkswagen sold with its seductive, disarming candor was nothing more lofty than conspicuously inconspicuous consumption. Beetle ownership allowed you to show off that you didn’t need to show off.”
Another game-changer was Nike, whose “Just Do It” campaign did wonders for the company’s bottom line. When the campaign began in 1988, Nike sales totaled $800 million, and the company was still chasing after Reebok. Just 10 years later, cash registers were cha-chinging to the tune of more than $9.2 billion in Nike sales, leaving competitors in the dust.
Like the VW ads, the Nike campaign, which was picked number 4 by Ad Age, kept it simple with its short-and-sweet message. Don’t feel like running a 10K or climbing the stairs at the Empire State Building? No problem — but at least get off your duff and do something, preferably with a swoosh or two on your exercise gear.
Number 7 on the Ad Age list was one you probably didn’t even consider — Absolut Vodka. In more than 1,500 ads over 25 years, the company arguably made its bottle the most recognizable decanter in the world during what is believed to be the longest, uninterrupted ad campaign in history.
The results are worth toasting. When it began, Absolut had a meager 2.5 percent share of the vodka market. By the time they put a cork in it, Absolut represented half of all vodka imported into the United States — about 4.5 million cases annually. (Chekov probably stashed a bottle or two on the Enterprise himself.)
Does she or doesn’t she? In 1957, she didn’t. Only 1 in 15 women used artificial hair color, according to Time magazine. But just a decade later, Clairol’s memorable ad campaign — number 9 on the Ad Age list — had 50 percent of women grabbing the company’s dyes off store shelves.
If you think about it, the ad works counter to how you usually want a sales pitch to work. Instead of having women brag to their friends about how great their product is, Clairol instead introduced an air of mystery, saying it’s so good others will think it’s their natural shade, so why tell? It was, indeed, so good that some states reportedly stopped requiring women to include their hair color on driver’s licenses.
If a diamond is now a girl’s best friend, then De Beers’ “A diamond is forever” campaign was a true gem. Not only was it number 6 on the Ad Age list, the magazine also called it the most memorable slogan of the 20th century. According to the New York Times, the goal was to “create a situation where almost every person pledging marriage feels compelled to acquire a diamond engagement ring,” something that wasn’t true before the campaign began in 1948. I’d say it worked pretty well, wouldn’t you?
Rounding out the Ad Age top 10 were five other classics: Coca-Cola’s “The Pause That Refreshes” (1929), the Marlboro Man (sans oxygen tank, 1955), McDonald’s “You Deserve a Break Today” (1973), Avis’ “We Try Harder” (1963) and the Miller Lite “Tastes-Great-Less-Filling” debate that started in 1974.
Speaking of arguments, we shouldn’t forget the great Apple “Get a Mac” campaign, which boosted Apple’s market share by 42 percent in its first year. If you’re looking for something more recent (and more high-tech), Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” has more than 51 million views online since being launched in 2010. Others you might remember fondly or otherwise: 11. The Federal Express fast talker; 13. Any Alka-Seltzer ad (from Plop-Plop-Fizz-Fizz to I Can’t Believe I Ate the Whole Thing); 18. the U.S. Army “Be All You Can Be”; 23. the rhyming Burma Shave road signs; 27. This Bud’s for You; 32. The Disadvantages of the Benson & Hedges 100s; 34. The Energizer Bunny; and, of course, 28. “I Dreamed I Went Shopping in My Maidenform Bra.”
For the entire list, go to http://adage.com/article/special-report-the-advertising-century/ad-age-advertising-century-top-100-advertising-campaigns/140150. And, finally, yes, there are awards for the best advertising. They’re called the Clios, founded in 1959 by New York advertising exec Wallace Ross and named for Clio, the Greek goddess of history, great deeds and accomplishments.
Who sponsored what is thought to be the first TV commercial? What year? Come, come, the clock is ticking
Answer to Friday’s trivia: In 1742, a few male Scottish skaters got together to form The Skating Club of Edinburgh, the world’s first figure-skating club. To join, applicants reportedly had to skate complete circles on one foot in a figure-eight pattern and then jump over one hat, two hats, and three hats with skates on. Women were allowed to join in 1865. (Doing actual figures disappeared from international skating events after 1990.)