The Top 10 Best Marketing Campaigns of All Time

The key to creating and publishing a successful marketing campaign is to think of something that becomes embedded in the viewer’s mind, something that’s enjoyable, informative, and relevant to their interests.

There’s a fine line between coming up with something that’s catchy and something that’s annoying after all, and falling on the wrong side of that divide will most sometimes result in failure for your brand. That’s not what we want to see in marketing so here’s a takeaway for marketers; Be as original as possible and find the greatest common denominator amongst your potential audience, whether that be their sense of humor, nostalgia, or something else.

In this article, we’ll cover 10 successful marketing campaigns that highlight the perfect balance of creativity, ingenuity, and outside-the-box thinking, ads that are or will be memorable to their audiences decades later.

Any company of any size can achieve this standard given the right campaign strategy and tactics and remember that even corporate giants can sometimes not succeed. Let’s start with a major brand, and see how McDonald’s made it work for them.

The Top 10 Most Successful Marketing Campaigns

1) McDonald’s

This entry represents McDonald’s consistent advertising success over the years it’s operated, especially in the digital sphere.

In 2016 for example the company launched a Facebook live event where it streamed burgers, which were painted on a canvas in honor of ‘National Hamburger Day,’ reaching 884,300 people in 40 minutes and recording 43,200 engagements.

‘The Starving Artist’ campaign was a reference to Bob Ross’ legendary ‘The Joy of Painting’. The Australian branch of the company launched an augmented reality gimmick called ‘Track My Macca’s’ which allowed consumers to track where the food they were eating originated from and traveled, from farm to table.

When it comes to McDonald’s, there are too many original stories to count. Other examples abound ranging from Super Bowl ads that tug on the heartstrings to allowing McDonald’s customers to ask questions directly to the company’s management in real-time.

What unites all of these various content concepts is an overarching strategy that reinforces several key messages; That Mcdonald’s is fun, tasty, family-friendly, and a pervasive aspect of contemporary American culture. This is a powerful marketing campaign that has consistent messaging with varied delivery, the hallmark of good corporate advertising.

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2) Irn Bru

This brand name may not be familiar to international audiences but if you’re reading this in the  UK and specifically in Scotland you’ll be well aware of this soft drink and its effective marketing campaigns.

Often described as Scotland’s ‘other national drink’, Irn Bru is as well known for its humorous, high-impact advertisements as much as for its unique taste, which has well and truly cemented the company’s profile onto the national cultural landscape.

Such is the popularity of these iconic marketing campaigns, that British newspapers, magazines, etc, regularly cover them in detail and even release listicles about the most popular or memorable ones.

Take note, this means Irn Bru gets free ad coverage from external publications just because its own marketing campaigns are so effective, to the extent that it’ll even court controversy just to drum up more media attention. Imagine most brands running with adverts including moped riding grandmothers stealing cans of Irn Bru, transexual mothers shaving in their family’s bathroom, or billboards that play on Scottish pronunciation of words to make the reader swear in their head; the list goes on.

No matter the controversy, Irn Bru stands to cement and enhance its brand image, which really highlights the remarkable power of humor in running a successful marketing campaign.

3) Dove

Dove has run its successful marketing campaigns by promoting femininity and beauty beyond the classically accepted norm, creating a brand image that’s highly inclusive and wholesome. While this is seen as a broadly ethical position, as it should be, it’s also a clever marketing strategy that has significantly widened Dove’s consumer base to almost all female demographic groups.

Over the years, the company has launched a number of different ad campaigns that retain this core messaging, often utilizing different visuals or highlighting minority groups in the process.

Dove marketing campaigns like ‘Choose Beautiful’ and ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ have been described as ‘aiming to influence women to give themselves the validation one looks for everywhere else.’ Another campaign the skincare company ran was to ask small groups of girls about what beauty meant to them, to emphasize the brand’s wholesome, accepting market position.

What’s notable is that throughout its campaigns, Dove barely ever mentions its individual products and instead focuses on the macro perception of the company.

4) The California Milk Processor Board 

Got milk? That’s probably one of the most famous two-word phrases in the marketing industry and it’s all thanks to a highly innovative campaign by the California Milk Processor Board designed to get more people to drink milk.

A marketing campaign that involved famous supermodels might sound like an odd subject for a milk brand, but the board wanted to address falling levels of milk consumption in the United States in the 1990s. Concerns about cholesterol had caused many Americans to move away from this classic dairy product and the board knew it had to act to address the problem.

The result was one of the most successful marketing campaigns in history and even today in 2023 the phrase ‘got milk’ remains tangible in the public conscience, with animated TV shows like Rick and Morty referencing it. Not only were models like Kate Moss featured in the campaign with ‘milk mustaches’ across their top lips, guaranteeing massive attention in the press, but ads featuring the ‘got milk’ slogan were also pervasive across all forms of television at the time as well as in magazines, newspapers, and billboards.

The campaign was so successful that the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans were updated with an increased daily intake of dairy recommended for adults in the U.S.

5) Carlsberg

‘Carlsberg doesn’t do X but if it did, it would probably be the best in the world…’ That was the tagline that spurred one of the most successful marketing campaigns for beer in the 2000s and propelled Danish beer giant Carlsberg into the British market.

The scenarios for this premise ranged from an airline company that would tilt the plane just right so that customers wouldn’t have to reach for their beer, to an apartment that included a live-in chef, a woman who preferred football over romantic comedies, and it just happened to be built into a giant stadium. 

Emblematic of the ‘lad culture’ of the time, the campaign worked ferociously well. In fact, it worked so well that years after this particular ad campaign was concluded, Carlsberg decided to resurrect it with new scenarios, some of which were less laddish and more attuned to modern sensibilities.

The campaign returned because the catchphrase was still popular and memorable amongst the general public, meaning Carlsberg didn’t have to spend any more money on what was already in effect. Surely one of the most impactful marketing campaigns of all time.

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6) Old Spice

“Hello, ladies, look at your man, now back to me, now back at your man, now back to me. Sadly, he isn’t me, but if he stopped using ladies’ scented body wash and switched to Old Spice, he could smell like he’s me. Look down, back up, where are you? You’re on a boat with the man your man could smell like.”

“What’s in your hand, back at me. I have it, it’s an oyster with two tickets to that thing you love. Look again, the tickets are now diamonds. Anything is possible when your man smells like Old Spice and not a lady. I’m on a horse.”

You’ll probably remember when this ad came out and Old Spice’s marketing campaign was a classic example of leaning into brand perception and making the most of it. Their products were seen as too traditional, something your dad might wear, and were shunned by younger males. Instead of trying to persuade younger consumers that it was different, Old Spice leaned in and emphasized that tradition and masculinity could be young and hip, hence the quirky dialogue.

This became one of the most successful campaign marketing examples you will find and the company continues to use this manly yet whimsical and humorous take on its products in its adverts. Sales of the company’s goods soared by over 107% following the release of the campaign and it’s now one of the major players in the American male skincare industry.

7) LinkedIn

LinkedIn is most associated with business and professional sobriety, so it might have seemed surprising that the social media giant would tug on the heartstrings of a nation during one of its most successful marketing campaigns. LinkedIn was one of the major sponsors for the 2022 Women’s Football World Cup and it launched a campaign based on the importance of role models, both on the football pitch and in other scenarios like the home, the office and others. 

The ‘Follow In Her Footsteps’ brand campaign platform followed Carol Thomas BEN, the first captain to lead England to a Women’s Euro back in 1984. She embarked on a 30-mile walk on July 4 and 5 from Crewe’s Mornflake Stadium (where the first Women’s Euro game took place) to Old Trafford, where the tournament was scheduled to start.

The campaign proved popular, especially with younger viewers who were less likely to have known about LinkedIn, thus creating potential new consumers. What was particularly fortuitous for the social media company was that England, the host of the tournament and of course the country of its campaign figurehead, went on to become champions.

8) Apple

Apple’s ‘The Greatest’ proved to be a particularly controversial marketing campaign but, as we’ve already mentioned, that does not mean that it did not find success; it depends on how you look at it. As part of the company’s drive for greater diversity, Apple launched a campaign that focused entirely on people with different ability levels, including people in wheelchairs, with muscular dystrophy, and a deaf person. So, instead of focusing its ads on the company’s product or brand image only, Apple highlighted how people of different physical abilities could use their products, how they changed their lives, their perceptions of themselves and so on. 

It’s a clever idea as it provides a wholesome element to what is an otherwise very utilitarian approach of basically saying ‘anyone can use our products even if they have severe physical disabilities.’ Some commentators praised this marketing campaign as being inclusive and providing real benefit to the differently abled community, whereas others decried it as an ‘exploitative, box-ticking node to diversity.’ You have to make your own mind up on which description you think is accurate but the point remains; It was a powerful campaign that significantly raised Apple’s brand profile.

9) Smile

This next entry has to get a prize for originality as it transcended the boundaries between digital and ‘real world’ perfectly to generate an incredible amount of buzz in the media, and amongst social media users too. The producers of the film Smile decided to launch a marketing campaign with the usual trailers, billboards, etc, for their movie, but they also went one step further. They paid actors to wear a bright yellow t-shirt emblazoned with ‘SMILE’ and attend public events such as baseball games where they’d be visible to cameras, and then would stand and stare into said cameras for hours displaying the creepiest possible smile they could muster.

The media hubbub this generated was considerable and soon netizens were sharing clips from around the U.S. of young women wearing the SMILE t-shirts smiling as terrifyingly as possible at multiple locations, including sports venues, television recordings, and more. This surely has to be one of the most iconic marketing campaign examples you can think of, thanks to its basic premise, successful deployment, and free publicity generated by social media reaction. In the end, against a total budget of $17 million, Smile grossed $22 million and $37 million in ticket sales at North American and worldwide box offices, respectively.

10) Casillero del Diablo

Advertisers looking to draw on the world of cinema for inspiration don’t have to follow Smile’s example as they can still rely on more traditional methods of harnessing the power of showbiz. Celebrity endorsement is a tried and tested technique in the marketing world and it has become steadily more popular with audiences as opposed to using amateur actors, who are often wooden on camera and thus lack charisma. That’s not usually a problem for professional actors, however, especially when they are one of the leading men in Hollywood with a number of major acting credits to their name.

Pedro Pascal is currently the main act in major TV shows like the Mandalorian and the Last of Us, he’s appeared in Game of Thrones, Wonder Woman 1984, Narcos, and a slew of other major hits, so why would he appear in an advertising campaign for a Chilean wine brand? Well, he is from Chile, but this is still one of the more random campaigns out there and to their credit, Casillero del Diablo has used Pascal’s star power to propel their brand into bigger markets. The adverts showcase the actor playing a devilish character and rely primarily on his charm. They are simple, effective, and highlight how sometimes powerful marketing campaigns can start out on a whimsical, simple idea, and still work.

What Made These Marketing Campaigns Successful?

All of the examples outlined above demonstrated real originality in their marketing campaigns and were able to ensure a position for their brands in the popular cultural zeitgeist, which is no mean feat. This is especially true for those companies that have memorable slogans from decades ago that are still remembered by consumers and it’s this type of longevity you should be aiming for. The other key aspect all of the campaigns had in common was their relative simplicity. Sure, it would be complicated to pull off some of the ads or stunts (like Smile) but the core premise of their content was always simple.

The simplicity that a good marketing campaign requires, means that even the smallest company can come up with an advertising concept that can explode in popularity, now more than ever, thanks to the power of social media. It may seem like a daunting prospect initially to compare one’s team with some of the corporate giants outlined above but it is possible to find a way of creating a marketing campaign that’s unique, memorable, effective, and long-lasting.

Some of the resources that are available to you in the connected television (CTV) industry can help you create ad content that packs a punch and can deliver a knockout blow, so if you’re interested in learning more, get in touch with us. One of our experts will get back to you quickly about how you can transform your marketing campaign idea into something that could have the holding power of a brand like McDonald’s.

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