Top Stories
Top Stories
CNBC Titans

Top Ad Campaigns of the 20th Century

Top Ad Campaigns of the 20th Century

As the old adage goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. Nothing could be truer when it comes to advertising. Great ads can yield dramatic results, but if the product quality isn't there, well, that horse won't be pulling out the platinum card anytime soon. Still, great ad campaigns can be revolutionary. They can change the way people live their daily lives — for better or for worse. By its own admission, AdAge refers to its selection of the top advertising campaigns o
Image: Jeffrey Coolidge | Iconica | Getty Images

As the old adage goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. Nothing could be truer when it comes to advertising. Great ads can yield dramatic results, but if the product quality isn't there, well, that horse won't be pulling out the platinum card anytime soon.

Still, great ad campaigns can be revolutionary. They can change the way people live their daily lives—for better or for worse. By its own admission, AdAge refers to its selection of the top advertising campaigns of the 20th century as including: "two air polluters, nutritionless sugar water, one reviled carcinogen, two companies infamous for the use of virtual slave labor, one purveyor of savory cardiovascular time bombs, two booze peddlers and one cosmetic product preying on the vanity of women."

For better or for worse, here we celebrate the Top 10 advertising campaigns of the 20th century and, of course, the products that went along with them.

Posted July 7, 2011
By Constance Parten

CNBC Titans: Procter & Gamble premieres Thursday, July 7 at 9p | 10p | 12a | 1a ET.

12. Apple Computer's "1984"

Year: 1984 Agency: Chiat/Day "This commercial, designed by the advertising agency Chiat/Day to introduce Apple's Macintosh computer and directed by Ridley Scott fresh off his science fiction classic Blade Runner, has never run again [on television] since that Super Bowl spot. But few commercials have ever been more influential. Advertising Age named it the 1980s' Commercial of the Decade. You can still see its echoes today in futuristic ads for technology and telecommunications multinationals su

Year: 1984

Agency: Chiat/Day

"This commercial, designed by the advertising agency Chiat/Day to introduce Apple's Macintosh computer and directed by Ridley Scott—fresh off his science fiction classic Blade Runner—has never run again [on TV] since that Super Bowl spot. But few commercials have ever been more influential. Advertising Age named it the 1980s' Commercial of the Decade. You can still see its echoes today in futuristic ads for technology and telecommunications multinationals such as AT&T, MCI, and Intel. " — Apple's 1984: The Introduction of the Macintosh in the Cultural History of Personal Computers, a paper presented at the Society for the History of Technology Convention, Pasadena, California, October 1997

Video: Watch the 1984 Ad
Source: AdAge.com

11. Federal Express' "Fast talker"

Year: 1982Agency: Ally & GarganoThirty years after making a name for himself as the fast talker in Fed/Ex's legendary ad campaign, John Moschitta unleashed his manic mouth on the world once more with a .

Year: 1982
Agency: Ally & Gargano

Thirty years after making a name for himself as the fast talker in FedEx's legendary ad campaign, John Moschitta unleashed his manic mouth on the world once more with a series of ads for JetBlue.

Video: Watch the original FedEx fast talker ad

Source: AdAge.com, AdRants.com

10. Avis' "We try harder"

Year: 1963 Agency: Doyle Dane Bernbach As Avis says on its Website, "The phrase has gone down in advertising history as one of the longest-lasting and respected taglines. The origination of the slogan was not to create a cute, gimmick, but instead it was — and is — a business philosophy that every Avis employee holds true. 'We Try Harder' has helped Avis earn a reputation as one of the most admired businesses in the world." Source: AdAge.com, Avis.com

Year: 1963
Agency: Doyle Dane Bernbach

As Avis says on its website, "The phrase 'We Try Harder' has gone down in advertising history as one of the longest-lasting and respected taglines. The origination of the slogan was not to create a cute gimmick, but instead it was—and is—a business philosophy that every Avis employee holds true. 'We Try Harder' has helped Avis earn a reputation as one of the most admired businesses in the world. "

Source: AdAge.com, Avis.com

9. Clairol's "Does she ... or doesn't she?"

Year: 1957 Agency: Foote, Cone & Belding How successful was this campaign? Well, Time Magazine "The question, as every reader of advertisements knows, refers to artificial hair color—and the odds on an affirmative answer have dropped from 15 to 1 to 2 to 1 since Miss Clairol first asked it eleven years ago. Sales of tints, rinses and dyes have risen from $25 million to $186 mil lion a year. So popular is their use that some states no longer require women to list their hair color on their driver

Year: 1957
Agency: Foote, Cone & Belding

How successful was this campaign? Well, Time magazine wrote in a 1967 article, "The question, as every reader of advertisements knows, refers to artificial hair color—and the odds on an affirmative answer have dropped from 15 to 1 to 2 to 1 since Miss Clairol first asked it 11 years ago. Sales of tints, rinses and dyes have risen from $25 million to $186 million a year. So popular is their use that some states no longer require women to list their hair color on their driver's licenses."

Source: AdAge.com, Time.com

8. Miller Lite's "Tastes great, less filling"

Year: 1974Agency: McCann-Erickson WorldwideFor years, Miller Lite drinkers, including notables like comic Rodney Dangerfield and football coach John Madden, bickered back and forth. Some said the drink tasted great. Others said it was less filling. The commercials were a big hit for the brewing company, which revived the campaign in 2008, albeit using an arguably better looking cast of characters than in Dangerfield's and Madden's day.Source: AdAge.com, The Associated Press

Year: 1974
Agency: McCann-Erickson Worldwide

For years, Miller Lite drinkers, including notables like comic Rodney Dangerfield and football coach John Madden, bickered back and forth. Some said the drink tasted great. Others said it was less filling.

The commercials were a big hit for the brewing company, which revived the campaign in 2008, albeit using an arguably better looking cast of characters than in Dangerfield's and Madden's day.

Video: The Lite Beer Open ad from 1986
Video: One of the newer campaign ads

Source: AdAge.com, The Associated Press

7. Absolut Vodka's Absolut Bottle

Year: 1981Agency: TBWA The campaign was such a success that Absolut continues to use it today. In fact, according to AbsolutAds.com, "Absolut Vodka's advertising campaign is the world's longest ever uninterrupted one. To date, it comprises 1,450 original ads, with more added each month." Source: AdAge.com, AbsolutAds.com

Year: 1981
Agency: TBWA

The campaign was such a success that Absolut continues to use it today. In fact, according to AbsolutAds.com, "Absolut Vodka's advertising campaign is the world's longest-ever uninterrupted one. To date it comprises 1,450 original ads, with more added each month." Video: Absolut Dissection

Source: AdAge.com, AbsolutAds.com

6. DeBeers' "A diamond is forever"

Year: 1948Agency: N.W. Ayer & SonAn advertising campaign can last forever as well, it seems. Or at least 63 years and going strong. As the De Beers Web site explains, "In 1947 a young copywriter called Frances Gerety, was working with De Beers and was given a brief to compose a line that encompassed and expressed the physical attributes and legends surrounding the diamond. The understanding is that she worked late into the night on the challenging brief and, about to admit defeat, she then scrib

Year: 1948
Agency: N.W. Ayer & Son

An advertising campaign can last forever as well, it seems. Or at least 63 years and going strong.

As the De Beers website explains, "In 1947 a young copywriter called Frances Gerety was working with De Beers and was given a brief to compose a line that encompassed and expressed the physical attributes and legends surrounding the diamond. The understanding is that she worked late into the night on the challenging brief and, about to admit defeat, she then scribbled the sentence which would later be voted as the most iconic advertising slogan of the twentieth century—A Diamond Is Forever. Books and films of cult status have been named after this tagline, and a song featuring the phrase has been recorded numerous times by some of the world’s most popular artists."

Video: A 2001 De Beers ad

Source: AdAge.com, DeBeers.com

5. McDonald's "You Deserve a Break Today"

Year: 1971Agency: Needham, Harper & SteersRonald McDonald, the true icon of the McDonald's brand, hasn't been in every single ad campaign. The fast-food chain turned their attention to busy consumers in this 1971 campaign, focusing on the ease with which a McDonald's meal could be obtained.Source: AdAge.com

Year: 1971
Agency: Needham, Harper & Steers

Ronald McDonald, the true icon of the McDonald's brand, hasn't been in every single ad campaign. The fast-food chain turned its attention to busy consumers in this 1971 campaign, focusing on the ease with which a McDonald's meal could be obtained.

Video: A commercial from the 1970s

Source: AdAge.com

4. Nike's "Just Do It"

Year: 1988Agency: Wieden & KennedyIn 2008, Nike celebrated one of the most memorable advertising campaign slogans in history by to air during the Beijing Olympic games.Source: AdAge.com

Year: 1988
Agency: Wieden & Kennedy

In 2008, Nike celebrated one of the most memorable advertising campaign slogans in history by creating new ads to air during the Beijing Olympic games.

Video: A "Just Do It" ad circa 1988

Source: AdAge.com

3. Marlboro's "Marlboro Man"

Year: 1955Agency: Leo Burnett Co.It doesn't get much more iconic than this. As AdAge.com wrote of this legendary ad campaign, "The most powerful — and in some quarters, most hated — brand image of the century, the Marlboro Man stands worldwide as the ultimate American cowboy and masculine trademark, helping establish Marlboro as the best-selling cigarette in the world."Today, even a mention of the Marlboro Man as an effective ad icon brings protests from healthcare workers who see first-hand the

Year: 1955
Agency: Leo Burnett Co.

It doesn't get much more iconic than this. As AdAge.com wrote of this legendary ad campaign, "The most powerful—and in some quarters, most hated—brand image of the century, the Marlboro Man stands worldwide as the ultimate American cowboy and masculine trademark, helping establish Marlboro as the best-selling cigarette in the world.

"Today, even a mention of the Marlboro Man as an effective ad icon brings protests from health-care workers who see firsthand the devastation wrought by decades of cigarette smoking. More than any other issue, the ethics of tobacco advertising—both morally and legally—have divided the advertising industry."

Video: Visit "Marlboro Country"

Source: AdAge.com

2. Coca-Cola's "The pause that refreshes"

Year: 1929Agency: D'Arcy Co. "I've always admired brands that preserve their core campaign for decades," wrote independent ad counsel Chris Macrae in "Coca-Cola provided a stunning example with "Pause that Refreshes" USA 1930s to 1950s ( uplifting a nation at time of depression, championing a product which literally fuelled -emotionally and physically — what was then a developing nation, lobbying the US war office on the extreme fatigue of war and thereby becoming the GI's mascot during World W

Year: 1929
Agency: D'Arcy Co.

"I've always admired brands that preserve their core campaign for decades," wrote independent ad counsel Chris Macrae in an article on AllAboutBranding.com. "Coca-Cola provided a stunning example with 'Pause that Refreshes' (USA 1930s to 1950s) uplifting a nation at time of depression, championing a product which literally fuelled—emotionally and physically—what was then a developing nation, lobbying the US war office on the extreme fatigue of war and thereby becoming the GI's mascot during World War 2 and making Coke available at 5c per bottle wherever GIs went."

Video: A "Refreshing" ad from the 1950s Source: AdAge.com, AllAboutBranding.com

1. Volkswagen's "Think Small" Campaign

Year: 1959Agency: Doyle Dane Bernbach

Year: 1959
Agency: Doyle Dane Bernbach

Kurt Kroner was the man behind the defining example of the greatest advertising campaign of the century, according to AdAge.com.

"He wasn't the copywriter. That was Julian Koenig. Nor was he the art director. That was Helmut Krone. Nor was he elsewhere employed by Doyle Dane Bernbach, the agency that stormed the confining Bastille of advertising orthodoxy to ignite the 'creative revolution.'

"Actually, our hero wasn't in advertising at all. Kurt Kroner was the one, among 3,389 Wolfsburg, Germany, assembly plant workers, to flag a blemished chrome strip on the glove compartment of a 1961 Volkswagen Beetle and reject the vehicle for delivery. Yes, if we are to believe Koenig's copy, Herr Kroner gave us the famously failed and fabulously forlorn 'Lemon.'

"God bless him, because in so doing he also gave advertising permission to surprise, to defy and to engage the consumer without bludgeoning him about the face and body. Kroner offered up a lemon with approximately the same result of Eve offering the apple. Not only did everything change, but suddenly things were a lot more interesting."

Video: A video from the "Think Small" campaign

Source: AdAge.com

CNBC Titans: Procter & Gamble

Only in America could two immigrants — an English candlemaker and an Irish soapmaker — create what would become the most powerful consumer goods company in history. P&G's relentless drive for innovation and improvement led to the creation of some of our most cherished products.

Only in America could two immigrants — an English candlemaker and an Irish soapmaker — create what would become the most powerful consumer goods company in history. P&G's relentless drive for innovation and improvement led to the creation of some of our most cherished products.

  • Visit the Episode Page
  • Video: Preview the Show