Best 20th-century ad campaigns created slogans we still remember

I was thinking about changes in the advertising business and decided to look back on the top 100 ad campaigns of the 20th century as chosen by Ad Age magazine.

Their top choice: “Think Small,” Doyle Dane Bernbach’s Volkswagen campaign that began in 1959.

DDB’s Volkswagen ads were still running when I was a kid; I remember them in the pages of Time and Life magazines, and later on TV. Here’s a TV spot from 1964, “Snow Plow,” that Minnesotans can relate to. Others may recall the “Floating VW” spot from a few years later. The TV spots were fun, but I’ve always felt that the spirit of DDB’s Volkswagen ads showed up best in the print pieces.

A striking thing about the Ad Age list is that only two of the top 10 campaigns was from the century’s last 25 years: Wieden & Kennedy’s “Just Do It” for Nike, which began in 1988, and Absolut Vodka, The Absolut Bottle, TBWA, 1981.

Yet despite the fact that many of these ad campaigns took place 30, 40, 50 years ago — some even go back 100 years — their slogans remain a part of our shared language.

• “Good to the last drop” — Maxwell House, 1959

• “Mmm, mmm, good” — Campbell’s Soup, 1930s

• “When it rains, it pours” —  Morton Salt, 1912

• “Melts in your mouth, not in your hands” — M&Ms, 1954

• “Breakfast of champions” — Wheaties, 1930s

• “Always a bridesmaid, but never a bride” – Listerine, 1923

There really was a golden age of advertising. When the ad business was focused on a dozen or so national magazines, three or four national radio networks and, later, three TV networks, these ads had the power to become part of our collective consciousness.

With the fragmentation of mass media and the rise of social media, that power is waning by the month. I wonder whether the latest Twitter or Facebook phenomenon will ever have the reach and staying power of “Ring around the collar” (Wisk, 1968) or “Where’s the beef?” (Wendy’s, 1984).

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Albert Maruggi on 05/17/2010 - 11:30 am.

    John, John, John, you do realize when you write a piece like this you can never eat just one, it’s like a gift that keeps on going, and going, and going, because this piece captures the moments of your life, which is why people love it, Thanks

  2. Submitted by John Reinan on 05/17/2010 - 11:47 am.

    Thanks for caring enough to send the very best, Al. You’re helping me be all that I can be.

  3. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 05/17/2010 - 03:06 pm.

    Thanks for the clever repartee, Albert and John. Just shows that only the most intelligent, witty, knowledgeable people subscribe to MNPost! Well, maybe not (lest I sound like a braggart. After all, I am a subscriber :))

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