Title graphic of the top 5 successful marketing campaigns of all time.

The Five Most Successful Marketing Campaigns Ever

With countless advertising campaigns created over the decades, narrowing it down to the five most successful marketing campaigns is quite a challenge. First, there’s defining what “successful” means. Certainly for each marketing campaign there will be different indicators of success. Some universal measurements we used in compiling this list included: creativity, memorability, cultural impact and increase in revenue or brand authority. Even when using these seemingly objective measurements, any list of the most successful advertising campaigns will be subjective in nature. With that said, here’s our list of the most successful marketing campaigns ever.

De Beers A Diamond is Forever branding.
See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

De Beers – A Diamond is Forever

Anyone over the age of 5 knows that when a man proposes to a woman, he offers her a diamond ring as a symbol of his love, because a diamond is forever. Believe it or not, this was not always the case.

In 1948, De Beers’ sales of diamond rings were plummeting in the wake of the Great Depression. They were searching for an advertising campaign that would motivate men to buy diamond rings. In creating the “A Diamond is Forever” campaign, De Beers not only boosted their diamond sales, but they also literally created the concept of an engagement ring, which is still popular today and shows no signs of slowing down.[1]

Prior to this advertising campaign (De Beers continues to use the slogan to this day, and it is considered one of the most powerful advertising slogans of all time), buying an engagement ring was not a prerequisite to a proposal. By 1951, eight out of 10 brides in the U.S. had a diamond engagement ring,[2] and today, women write songs about “putting a ring on it.”

What marketers can learn: Just because a need for your products or services doesn’t currently exist, it does not mean that you can’t create a new need with your marketing.

California Milk Processor Board – Got Milk?

One of the most memorable ad campaigns in recent history, the “Got Milk” campaign helped increase sales of cow milk in California by 7 percent in just one year and became culturally relevant throughout the nation.[3]

Got Milk advertisement.
Source: pixagraphic – got milk? (https://www.flickr.com/photos/pixagraphic/6647908081)

The first “Got Milk” advertisement was a commercial in 1993. It featured a historian receiving a call to answer a radio station’s trivia question to win $10,000. The question was “Who shot Alexander Hamilton in that famous duel?” The commercial shows that the historian’s home is a museum dedicated to that duel, filled with artifacts related to the event. However, when he tries to correctly answer the question, his mouth is filled with a peanut butter after eating a sandwich, and since he has no milk, he cannot clear his mouth to answer the question correctly and win the $10,000. When the DJ hangs up on him, the ad’s narrator asks, “Got Milk?”[4]

The campaign moved into print advertisements alongside celebrity the “milk mustache” campaign and has included superstars like Beyonce, Brittney Spears, Rihanna and many others. Though the campaign was discontinued in 2014, the phrase lives on in countless social media parodies.

What marketers can learn: You don’t need a complex slogan or message to achieve results. Sometimes a simple message that resonates is best.

Marlboro cigarettes branding.
See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Marlboro Cigarettes – The Marlboro Man

Beginning with ads as early as 1955, the Marlboro Man quickly became a cultural icon more so than a cigarette brand spokesman. He became an enduring symbol of American masculinity around the world. Prior to the campaign, filtered cigarettes were seen as something only for women. When Marlboros were first introduced, the brand went by the slogan, “Mild as May,” and were marketed to women.

They created the Marlboro Man to show that “real men” smoked Marlboro cigarettes. He was a free roaming cowboy who didn’t have a care in the world. It was the lifestyle that men at the time wanted, which resulted in skyrocketing sales. By 1972, Marlboro was the world’s highest selling tobacco brand and the Marlboro Man was known worldwide.[5]

Even as consumers learned more about the dangers of cigarettes and tobacco ads were banned in 1971, the power of the Marlboro Man endured in print.

What marketers can learn: People associate certain lifestyles and characteristics with brands. Using clever marketing, you can create and manipulate what customers associate with your brand.

Nike "Just Do It" advertisement.
Source: Hector Alejandro – Yesterday You Said Tomorrow (https://www.flickr.com/photos/hectoralejandro/6757924587)

Nike – Just Do It

It would be hard to tell today by the way Nike dominates the athletic apparel industry, but at one point in time Nike’s products were almost exclusively catered to marathon runners, and Reebok was actually selling more sneakers than the retail giant.[6] Looking to move past Reebok into the top spot, Nike created the “Just Do It” campaign in the late 80s to capitalize on a growing national fitness movement at the time and inspire everyday people to push themselves beyond their limits.

The campaign, backed by superstar athletes like Michael Jordan, was a resounding success and has become one of the most recognizable advertising slogans in the world. It was created to embody what people feel when they exercise. Don’t feel like working out? Just do it. Don’t want to run an extra mile today? Just do it. To show its impact, just consider that in 1988, Nike’s sales were at $800 million. By 1998, they had surpassed $9.2 billion.[7] 

What marketers can learn: You should always be thinking about what problems your product can solve. When you can consistently convey that through your marketing, it’s bound to be successful.

Volkswagen Beetle – Think Small

Ranked as one of the best print advertisements of all time and one of the most successful before the popularity of television exploded, this ad campaign successfully changed Americans’ perceptions about cars. Before this campaign, not only were Americans into buying big, powerful cars as status symbols, but they were also not quick to by German-made vehicles.

Volkswagen Beetle advertisement.
Source: Robert Couse-Baker – think small (https://www.flickr.com/photos/ 29233640@N07/25960682572)

In 1959, Volkswagen turned the car market upside down with its “Think Small” campaign. It was built around the shape and size of the Beetle, which was much different from other cars being manufactured at the time. Rather than placing the vehicle front and center in the ad, it was filled mostly with white space, and the car was placed off center and made very small, which was a clever way to emphasize the car’s simplicity and minimalist design.

The campaign was successful in piquing the interest of the American public. Once they were interested, they were then sold on the benefits of the car. It’s considered a highly successful ad because of how it changed people’s perceptions about the Beetle and about buying German-made cars.

What marketers can learn: You can use marketing to change deeply entrenched perceptions about your products or services.

If you’re looking for your next successful marketing campaign, Mary Pomerantz Advertising is ready to help you. No matter what type of product or service you’re promoting, there are clever, humorous and effective ways to reach your target market and inspire them to take action. Coming up with successful campaigns requires a combination of market research, ingenuity, creativity and the ability to think outside of the box. The professionals at Mary Pomerantz Advertising have the right combination of skills and experience to help you achieve your marketing goals. We invite you to become our latest success story by contacting us at 732-214-9600.