In the United States, successful ad campaigns become an almost holy part of national culture. The “I <3 NY” logo, far from being the work of an impassioned artist, was actually designed by the Wells Rich Greene ad agency in 1977 to attract tourists to the then-dilapidated state. But the logo’s omnipresence, from tee-shirts to mugs to TV shows to Madonna songs, makes it seem hip and counterculture rather than mass-produced on Madison Avenue.
Most of the time, advertisements reveal all their secrets to onlookers. When artists put a Beats Pill by Dre in their music video, no one thinks that the set designer just really happened to like the way it looked – or at least not enough to demand that it linger in the shot for fifteen seconds. Ads are successful for being blatant and do not usually trade in subtlety.
Occasionally, ads will have secrets of their own. Be it covertly conflicting messages, freakish marketing ploys, or just little white lies to appease potential consumers, advertisements are not always as flashy as they appear above Times Square. Below are ten examples of shocking facts unknown about successful ad campaigns.
10. iPod’s Silhouette Commercials Were Originally A Bust
The original advertisement for iPod, aired in 2001, shows a guy sitting at his laptop listening to music. He updates his iPod then puts in his earphones, presses play, and dances his way out of the room to “Take California” by the Propellerheads.
The guys at Apple thought the ad was a good idea, but it didn’t much resonate with consumers. In fact, some people online started to refer to it as the “iClod commercial” because the dancer was such a regulation doofus. It hurt the product’s branding.
The famous silhouette ads, which aired for years after the iPod hit the market, were a retooled version of the ad mentioned above. Ken Segall, the creative director of Apple’s ad agency, said that the problem was the use of a “real person,” insofar as it was hard to find someone who appealed to everyone. The silhouettes format retained a sexy uncertainty about the dancer’s identity and were a smash with consumers: the ‘‘Silhouette’’ campaign helped Apple reach an incredible $1.2 billion in net sales during the first quarter of 2005 alone.
9. Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ Has Macabre Origins
You might say “Just do it!” when you’re climbing that last hill on your run, when you’re oscillating between going to the gym or going home after a long day at the office, or when you’re totally exhausted, but you want to challenge yourself to swim just those few more laps in the pool.
The first person to say it was actually talking to a firing squad for the murder of two men in Utah, in 1976.
Granted, he didn’t say the words exactly as Nike has branded them. His quote was: “Let’s do it.” But Nike’s famous slogan, which Campaign Magazine has called “arguably the best tagline of the 20th century,” was definitely lifted from the last words of a cold-blooded murderer.
Although the sentiment of “killing the competition” is prevalent in athletics, when Nike says “just do it,” they probably don’t mean it quite that literally. But, hey, you never know…
8. The Army Strong Campaign Sponsored a High School Prom
In 2011, the Army Strong campaign, based on associating the American army with macho strength, capitalized on teenage petulance and physical resilience, enviable qualities in a soldier, by advertising in an Indiana high school.
The Army tried to get seniors to sign the “Army Strong Anti-Drug and Alcohol Pledge” by promising two lucky signatories a ride to prom in an H3. The promise of a fulfilling, vice-free life was probably much less tempting than a ride in a sick humvee.
Although this seems like a “good” thing for the army to do, steering the nation’s youths away from harmful substances, it was also a display of military machismo (the limo driver was a soldier) that could make joining the army tempting to impressionable boys and girls.
By reinterpreting “Army Strong,” which generally conjures images of reinforced metal and the muscles of a thousand push ups, to mean “strong enough to resist temptation,” the Army introduced “Army strength” into everyday teenage life and attempted to get graduating seniors to consider joining up.
7. Redbull Got Sued Over Its Famous Claim to Flight
No one actually thinks that Redbull gives you wings. Nor does it actually give you wings, or else there would a hell of a commotion in bars whenever bachelor parties ordered rounds of Jägerbombs.
There has never been any science proving that Redbull was a source of energy superior to a cup of regular coffee. However, the drink was persistently marketed as such and was therefore priced “accordingly.”
In 2013, Redbull drinker Benjamin Careathers sued the company for false advertising, claiming that it had misrepresented the product’s ability to boost performance and reaction speed. The suit argued that given the lack of evidence, the claims that Redbull makes in its ads, subsumed under that one famous tagline, are not just “puffery,” but are actually deceptive, fraudulent, and actionable.
The company agreed to settle by paying consumers over $13 million: anyone who purchased a Redbull product roughly between 2002 and 2014 was eligible for either $10 cash or $15 in Redbull products from the company, no proof of purchase required.
Redbull might give you wings, and for a while it also gave you a fun cash prize for its deceitful ways.
6. The Geico Cavemen Had Their Own Show
Of Geico’s four spokespeople – count ‘em: the lizard, the stack of money, the rhetorical questions guy, and the Neanderthals – the Cavemen were arguably the most successful. How can someone make that claim? Well, by pointing to the fact that, briefly, they had their own TV show.
The slighted caveman, who first appeared in a Geico commercial saying, “Not. Cool.” to the spokesman who said getting Geico car insurance was so easy “as a caveman could do it,” was immensely popular for a little while. As the commercials multiplied, Hollywood honchos saw the possibility to make more money off of this admittedly genius marketing ploy by turning it into a show. That is how Cavemen came about in 2007.
However, the show was a mega flop, notably getting panned by a review in the New York Times. It played for thirteen episodes before it was cancelled into oblivion, losing half of its pilot ratings by the airing of the sixth episode.
Although sometimes companies want to keep the ingredient to their success secret, other times they want to hide unqualified flops. That might be why Cavemen disappeared without a trace and was seemingly never mentioned again.
5. The Most Recent Budweiser Clydesdale is Canadian
In a recent Superbowl commercial, Budweiser’s “Puppy Love,” the viewers see a farmer’s retriever puppy befriend a neighbor’s Clydesdale horse. Despite sundry obstacles, the animals always reunite.
The equine setting, the owner’s cowboy garb, the adorable Labrador puppy, and the product advertised all communicate classic Americana. “Drinking this beer is Drinking American,” this commercial seems to say. And the message really inspired consumers, because the ad, without counting the viewers who saw it during its original airings, has 60 million views on YouTube.
But there’s one catch in all of this: the horse in the commercial was born and raised in Elora, Ontario. This PSA for syllable-chanting Americana was made possible thanks to the polite and folksy neighbors to the north!
If the acquisition of Budweiser by a Belgian company InBev was insulting to patriotic consumers, it’s hard to imagine that the Canadian secret in this 60-second homage to their identity would not be, as well.
4. Axe is Owned By the Same Company that Owns Dove
Most people are familiar with the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. According to a statement on the Dove website, the campaign is about turning beauty from a source of anxiety into a source of confidence and widening the definition of female beauty.
Through such advertisements as the “You’re more beautiful than you think” sketch, the skincare company successfully broadcasts body-positive messages.
The catch about all of this is that Unilever owns Dove, the very same corporation that owns Axe Body Spray, the company notorious for its terrible representations of women. As per Axe, at best women are scent-obsessed, at worst they’re shallow nymphomaniacs who are only as good as their looks – think circa 2006 Axe ads where legions of foxy babes crowd around one plain-looking guy.
The casual on-looker may think that Dove is altruistically trying to improve national self-esteem, but with the knowledge of Unilever’s other subsidiaries, it starts to look a lot less like female empowerment and a lot more like another nasty way of capitalizing on insecurity.
3. Starbucks Launched Its First Brand Campaign as Recently as 2014
Starbucks is, according to Forbes, the world’s 52nd most valuable brand. This is probably why, up until recently, they never marketed the entire company, choosing instead to market discreet products, for instance its “Refreshment Hour” ad for iced drinks.
But, in 2014, Starbucks decided to launch its very first brand campaign called “Meet Me At Starbucks.” This campaign, rather than focusing on what Starbucks has to offer behind its counter, focuses on Starbucks as a worldwide default meeting place.
The project was huge: it was shot in 59 different stores in 28 countries and used 39 local filmmakers and 10 local photographers, all overseen by one coordinator at the 72andSunny ad agency.
Starbucks refused to say how much it spent on the ad push, but based on the sentimentality of the ad and its universal appeal, it will probably soon recoup any losses it incurred.
2. Listerine Invented Bad Breath
All right, Listerine didn’t technically invent bad breath. “Did you fart or is that just your breath?” is an adage as old and timeless as “I think therefore I am” or “Snitches Get Stitches.” But Listerine definitely fanned the flames of halitosteria.
The Listerine Company, in an early advertisement from 1928, revived the Latin phrase “halitosis,” meaning “unpleasant breath.” The ad stated: “Halitosis makes you unpopular!” This “inexcusable” condition can be instantly remedied with its product.
Although no one likes bad breath, it wasn’t always considered such a horrible faux-pas. Listerine, in an attempt to make money from the insecurities of consumers, harped on the ill-effects of stank-mouth, and especially on what Febreeze has recently termed “nose blindness,” or the inability to smell something offensive because you’re accustomed to it.
It was a mega success, feeding off our fears successfully as it spawned an enduring multi-billion dollar industry of oral freshness.
1. The Engagement Ring Started as an Ad Campaign
Be it the white dresses or the subtle gold bands exchanged during vows, when people think “marriage,” they usually think “longstanding tradition.” But there is a part of this ceremony that has only been added recently.
In 1938, the De Beers diamond company, in association with the N. W. Ayer advertising agency, devised a clever way of driving up sales of its product: convince Americans that diamonds equated love. They started pumping out images that suggested the bigger the ring, the more passionate the love.
In 1947, a young Ayer copywriter came up with the phrase “A Diamond Is Forever” which not only suggested a diamond’s enduring perfection, but also convinced people not to resell them because they never lose their value (unlike cars, which become obsolete.)
Nowadays, the engagement ring is a sacred tradition on par with those we borrow from the Bible, but not so long ago, it was just a cheap copy yelling at men from their morning newspaper.