Captivating Campaigns Indelibly Imprint American Consumers and Culture
Some of America’s most powerful, pervasive and persistent pop-culture icons began as edgy, risky advertising spots, and many of the best now are as old as the baby-boomers who cherish them.
America’s finest young minds find their vocation in advertising, Joe McGinniss reportedly told an interviewer as his landmark Selling of the President, 1968 hit the top of the best-seller lists in the seventies. He would know: He was the guy who proved that the politician with the best advertising is also the guy who owns the electoral college. McGinniss allegedly went on to define a “fine young mind” as one perfectly attuned to images, icons and ironic-sardonic expressions absolutely guaranteed to enchant and enthrall twenty-something telephiliacs, the best-educated and best-paid Nielsen demographic. New millennium media analysts agree McGinnis, or whoever developed the description, definitely had it dialed. Of course, analysts, critics, pundits and pop-culture pontificators have assembled Top Ten lists of the greatest all-time campaigns, and the ads that make their lists inevitably measure-up against the “fine minds” definition.
Perennial favorites, and a few breakthrough bests
Top Ten lists generally feature the Marlboro Man, Miller Beer’s eternal debate between “tastes great” and “less filling,” and Avis’s brave second-place proclamation, “We try harder.” Clairol also battles for top of the charts with “Does she or doesn’t she?” and Apple’s series of “I’m a Mac, and I’m a PC” commercials consistently lands somewhere among the Top Ten. A select few campaigns stand out even among the best of the best either because they have captivated the popular imagination or because they perfectly have captured the universal American condition.
• California Milk Processors’ “got milk?” (October, 1993) The campaign derives its power from its universal appeal: No one can imagine chocolate chip cookies or cereal without milk, and everyone can identify with the desperation that accompanies running out of milk just after the first bite of a delectable confection. The account executives and designers at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners show their true genius, however, by insisting on ambient audio up until the critical moment when the voice-over talent asks, “got milk?” In print advertising, designers developed a font somehow ideally suited to the message.
• Dove’s “Evolution” campaign,” vital viral controversy (2006) The first and arguably still one of the most powerful spots ever to flourish exclusively on the internet, the sixty-second “Evolution” video transforms an attractive make-up free woman into a masterpiece of the make-up artist’s brushes and the PhotoShopper’s stylus. By popular consensus, the spot shows an ordinary woman transformed to an icon consistent with prevailing American standards of beauty—hence the controversy. Feminists naturally seized on the spot to re-open questions of culturally-determined ideals real women never could meet, and civil rights advocates stressed the spot’s subliminal message that all beautiful women are white. Controversy drove the ad, and the ad drove the controversy—a perfect synergy.
• DeBeers’ “A Diamond is Forever” (1947) DeBeers managed to fool the nation into believing that a long-standing, inviolable, nearly sacred tradition stands behind their equation love-equals-diamond. Although DeBeers has dominated the diamond market since the turn of the twentieth century, the company also has labored mightily to increase consumer demand. For its pre-Christmas campaign in 1947, Frances Gerety, one of those “fine minds,” ay Ayer and Son advertising, coined the slogan, which Advertising Age anointed as “the best advertising slogan of the twentieth century.”
• Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign (1988) Since the early 1980s, Nike has partnered with Wieden+Kennedy to produce some of the most memorable and controversial spots in television history, all of them including or derived from the slogan as simple as the swoosh trademark. Like “got milk?” Nike’s agonizingly simple “Just Do It” has universal appeal; the slogan resonates with everyone who ever has wished for, aspired to, dreamed about, or made a New Year’s resolution about an exercise program. Almost as decorated as the elite athletes who wear swoosh-marked gear, W+K and Nike have collected two “Advertiser of the Year” awards at the Cannes Advertising Festival, and they also have claimed two Emmy Awards.
YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have put Madison Avenue’s tools in the hands of Main Street folks, and some of the most popular viral videos have reached tens of millions of viewers with little more than $100 investment from the makers. “Guerrilla” marketing targeted specifically at upscale twenty-somethings has driven record-setting television ratings and unprecedented fashion sales. One southern California media analysts strongly recommends, “Every entrepreneur in America needs to find one of those ‘fine minds’ and put it to work 24/7.”
Leo Flake writes for several higher ed blogs. To read more about mba degrees click here.