What Is the Best Advertising Campaign of All Time?

Orange juice, cigarettes, Mac computers, and more

Graham Roumieu

Kenneth Roman, former chairman and CEO, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide

A hundred years ago, Albert Lasker made orange juice our universal breakfast beverage. Scurvy-conscious gold miners were the main market for California oranges until Lasker branded the fruit “Sunkist,” put simple glass extractors into homes, and directed his agency, Lord & Thomas, to advertise OJ as “healthful.”

Jerry Wind, marketing professor, Wharton School

Apple’s “1984” Super Bowl ad, introducing the Macintosh computer. The 1984 analogy made it culturally resonant, and a sledgehammer-wielding heroine representing a break from IBM’s corporate control appealed to both our rational and emotional sides. The decision to air the one-minute ad nationally only once generated unprecedented media coverage.

Barbara Cave Henricks, president and CEO, Cave Henricks Communications

The “Get a Mac” campaign of 2006 to 2009 brilliantly met the challenge of depicting complex technology in ads. A denim-clad young man (portraying a Mac) and a suited gentleman (a PC) engaged in witty banter on their respective capabilities, clearly differentiating the computers to Luddite and geek alike.

George Lois, art director and designer

In 1985, Tommy Hilfiger became instantly famous with an ad I created that cost less than $160,000. The burning question in town became “Who the hell is T_ _ _ _ H _ _ _ _ _ _ _?!” Not long after the cryptic ad appeared, Calvin Klein approached me in a restaurant, stuck his finger in my face, and blurted, “Do you know it took me 20 years to get where Hilfiger is today?” I politely grabbed his finger and answered, “Schmuck! Why take 20 years when you can do it in 20 days?”

Margaret Johnson, executive creative director and partner, Goodby Silverstein & Partners

Red Bull’s “Stratos” campaign—the Felix Baumgartner space jump—stands alongside Apple’s “Think Different” and Nike’s “Just Do It” in motivating us to be the people we dreamed of being when we were kids. It shattered decades of risk avoidance in the industry. (Now someone get me a three-year lead time, some world-class daredevils, and an extended vacation for the legal department.)

Rance Crain, president, Crain Communications

Morton Salt’s “When It Rains It Pours,” featuring a young girl carrying an umbrella. Too many ads are yanked off the air before they have a chance to register with consumers. Morton’s great slogan, adapted from an old proverb, has been in use for 100 years, and was probably one of the first to include a double meaning: the salt keeps flowing in the worst of weather.

Mark McKinnon, former political adviser for George W. Bush

The best political ad ever made is indisputably LBJ’s “Daisy” ad. But the best overall ad campaign was Reagan’s 1984 effort, commonly referred to as “Morning in America,” which featured one of the all-time-best positive, hope-based ads, “Prouder, Stronger, Better,” as well as one of the all-time-best negative, fear-based ads, “Bear in the Woods.”

Joe Trippi, political-campaign consultant

Two presidential ad campaigns, from political opposites, stand out for the same reason: Ronald Reagan's "Morning in America" (1984) and Barack Obama's "Yes We Can" (2008) produced victories by tapping into the same vein of American optimism.

Martin Lindstrom, author, Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy

In 1987, the night before presenting a $25 million campaign to Nike, the ad executive Dan Wieden needed a theme to tie together some half a dozen seemingly unrelated TV commercials. The last words of Gary Gilmore, a murderer who had just been executed in Utah, came to mind: “Let’s do it.” The next year, Nike launched “Just Do It,” a campaign that is still running and inspiring billions of people.

Jonah Berger, author, Contagious: Why Things Catch On

Nike’s “Just Do It.” Aspirational and empowering, universal and intensely personal, the campaign inspired people to achieve through sport. It positioned Nike as a clever marketing company that just happened to sell shoes.

Scott Bedbury, CEO, Brandstream

I’m conflicted, since I was on the team that created the "Just Do It" campaign, which gave Nike a singular global voice that could transcend athletics. Fifteen years later, with the Dove “Inner Beauty” campaign, Janet Champ at Wieden + Kennedy and a few jocks in Beaverton, Oregon, had the sense to approve advertising that respected women and spoke to them from the heart.

Robert Proctor, history-of-science professor, Stanford University

The most diabolical would have to be Reynolds’s “More Doctors Smoke Camels” ads from the 1940s and ’50s. At least half of all doctors were smoking by 1950, and four out of the seven astronauts training for the first Mercury mission were hooked.

Mark Putnam, media consultant

A truly great ad campaign affects lives long after it’s over. The 1971 “Crying Indian” antipollution campaign, created by the Ad Council and Keep America Beautiful, had a profound influence at the time, and helped spark an ongoing global environmental movement.

Tim Calkins, professor of marketing, Kellogg School of Management

How do you sell a $25,000 watch when people can buy an accurate one for $10? Patek Philippe’s “Generations” ads, featuring fathers and sons and the line “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.” A Patek watch isn’t a device for telling time. It’s an heirloom that transfers values across generations.

Michael Moss, investigative reporter, The New York Times

A fake campaign for broccoli created in 2013 by the agency Victors & Spoils that used tricks from the junk-food trade: hit emotional buttons, pick on a competitor (in this case, kale), and above all, don’t get preachy about health. A major broccoli grower is making plans to use the ads for real.

Jack Trout, market strategist

BMW positioning its cars as “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” The program has run for decades and driven the company into global leadership. Anything that lasts that long has to be good.

Dan Ariely, behavioral economist

Black pearls were considered inferior to the white variety until the 1970s, when Salvador Assael convinced Harry Winston, the legendary jeweler, to display several strands in his Fifth Avenue shop window with an outrageous price tag. Assael also took out a full-page advertisement placing black pearls next to diamonds, rubies, and emeralds. Soon, the pearls no one had wanted became the most coveted, and have remained that way ever since.

Ben Parr, author, Captivology: The Science of Capturing People’s Attention, and partner, DominateFund

In the 1910s, a teenage entrepreneur named Edna Murphy teamed up with the copywriter James Young to promote her new antiperspirant, Odorono. Through some clever campaigns and a controversial ad in Ladies' Home Journal, the duo not only made Odorono a best seller, but helped create the antiperspirant industry, by making it okay for women to use and talk about the product publicly.

Linda Kaplan Thaler, chairman, Publicis Kaplan Thaler

The best campaigns offer more than a rational benefit—they play a meaningful role in our lives. The Army's "Be All You Can Be" inspired young men and women to realize their fullest potential, and that call to action is now part of our cultural lexicon.

Jonathan Goldsmith, actor, “The Most Interesting Man in the World”

I am not always biased, but when I am, I admit it. The Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man” campaign gets my nod, by the metric of the smiles it has prompted—over many years and across demographics—in a world that needs them more than ever.

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