Three wildly successful marketing campaigns from the recent past that we can still learn from today

Here are three iconic marketing campaigns from the past and the lessons that can be taken away from them.

1. Absolute Vodka: The Absolut Bottle Print Campaign 1986 – 2011

The Absolut Vodka bottle has no distinct shape, but they have made their bottle the most recognisable bottle in the world. Absolute became an iconic bottle when it piqued the interest of Andy Warhol who created Absolute’s famous print campaign in 1986. Thenceforth, the brand collaborated with various artists who depicted Absolut bottles ‘in the wild’ in unique and creative ways. The campaign was so successful they ran it for 25 years, making it the longest uninterrupted ad campaign ever, with over 1,500 separate ads. Here are some examples:

When the campaign started, they had just 2.5% of the vodka market. When it ended in the late 2000s, Absolut were importing 4.5 million cases per year, representing half of all the imported vodka in the US. They are now the #1 Premium Vodka in the world and #1 Vodka in Global Travel Retail. Along with the hugely successful adverts this is also in part due to a series of creative and artistic promotional campaigns they have ran throughout the years to capture the world’s attention.

In 2014 they launched Absolut Nights, which create unforgettable brand experiences, dedicated to inspiring consumers to push nightlife conventions beyond their limits. Initially they were hosted by Absolut in New York, Sao Paolo, Berlin and Johannesburg, infusing nightlife with unprecedented creativity, thanks to one-of-a-kind artistic collaborations, often coinciding with new product launches.

Since 2009 they have collaborated with artists all over the world to create Absolut Art Bars, pop-up art bars that allow up-and-coming artists to immerse themselves in a project and develop a complete concept from furniture to music, serving Absolut Cocktails.

In 2017 they launched limited edition LGBTQ-themed Absolut bottles, marking the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in in England and Wales, featuring the rainbow flag depicted in brush strokes, accompanied by a statement on ‘taking pride in diversity’.

The Lesson

It doesn’t matter how boring your product looks, it doesn’t mean you can’t tell a story in an interesting way. Absolut made 1,500 ads from one single bottle. Strive to differentiate the presentation of your product in a variety of ways. Enhance the value of your company through innovative collaborations and by creating unforgettable brand experiences


2. Pot Noodle ‘You can make it’ Campaign from 2015 by Lucky Generals and Unilever

Whenever I’m asked what my favourite advert is, this one always comes to mind.

The issue:

Pot Noodle’s association 1990’s ‘slacker’ culture had always made it the choice of the lazy and indolent, but the 16-24 year olds of today no longer identified with that lifestyle, and instead felt more driven and determined to succeed. People still valued the speed and convenience of Pot Noodle, but not because they were lazy, but because they were busy, and less time cooking meant more time winning. The advert successfully flips Pot Noodle’s benefit on its head and humorously positioned it as the choice of go-getters.

The full 60 second version of the ad first aired during The X Factor on 11th September 2015, and they tied in paid support on Twitter to further amplify the story. The hashtag generated 29 million impressions, 92% of which were among 16-24-year-olds. Pot Noodle trended on Twitter, as major youth influencers like Perez Hilton threw their weight behind the brand’s inspiring message. Brand tracking measures all jumped and consideration shifted by double digits. This created a surge in sales as new people flocked to the brand. In total, 364,000 extra homes bought Pot Noodle versus the previous year, and yearly sales exceeded £100m for the first time. Tracking data showed perceptions changed dramatically, attributes like ‘is for go-getters’ / ‘is a brand for people like me’ showed significant increases and ultimately they regained lost market share.

They used a number of strategies to keep the momentum going and further reactions:

A week later the following Saturday, the young star of the Ad Michael Moran went to Greenwich to reprise his role as the “ring boy” in real life at the Anthony Joshua vs Cornish Commonwealth fight in front of 20,000 fans and assembled press.

The tagline was the basis for their TV, digital advertising, and sales promotions and was quite literally used to help a number of young people ‘make it’.

  • Pot Noodle commissioned the music to the ad from amateur rapper Reece Whyte, the song gained traction and so they teamed up with Unilever Foundry and Big Sync to fund a full version of the track ‘Winner’ and a full music video, which helped Reece and his band get a record deal with Ultra Music in the US.
  • They found entrepreneur engineer on Kickstarter and funded his invention of a time-saving noodle spoon. They then brokered an exclusive deal with youth websites ‘The Poke’ and ‘The Tab’ to report on it and invite people to tweet them with more ideas. They sent the winner, who invented the Kettle Cup, to show her prototype at CES technology trade show in Las Vegas.
  • They also helped students ‘make it’ in their exams, visiting 20 universities and handing out 100,000 samples of Pot Noodle in return for endorsement on social media.

The Lesson

The campaign was brilliantly executed and it teaches us that a fully integrated approach can have massive pay offs. It successfully spanned every channel, from advertising to content and social media to music-streaming services, ensuring that the positive reverberations from the campaign reached far and wide. They took time to understand their target demographic and by changing the perceptions of Pot Noodle overnight, they were able to offer them something they could identify with. So, perhaps the most important lesson to be learnt from this campaign is to truly understand the value of your product, play to your strengths, and don’t try to be something you’re not.


3. Old Spice: The Man Your Man Could Smell Like, 2010

The problem:

Old Spice has been a recognised men’s brand since 1938, and in the early 2000 they started offering body wash for men. By early 2000’s the brand was synonymous with older men, which made it hard for them to reach individuals younger than 50. By 2009 competing brands had got into male body wash causing their sales to further decline. One of their main competitors was Dove Men+Care. In 2010 Unilever announced they would be rolling out a huge campaign to be aired during the Super Bowl. Old Spice needed to respond in order to keep the market share they already had. They decided to create excitement among a younger target demographic, and seek to win the buzz during the Super Bowl and increase their market shares. On top this, the Old Spice planner and account team figured out that women were making the majority of body wash purchases, and many men were just using their wife or girlfriend’s body wash, which wasn’t good for their sales. They had to speak to women without alienating men or long-time Old Spice users, something they had never done.

The ad campaign for Old Spice created by Wieden + Kennedy, launched during the Super Bowl weekend on TV, YouTube and Facebook and became a viral success.

Eric Kallman and Craig Allen were tasked with copywriting and art direction for the campaign. In an interview Allen commented “We only had a few days, so we couldn’t overthink it, which we tend to do in this industry” and they broke the advertising rule of saying what you see. “‘The Man Your Man Can Smell Like’ is such a perfect meta concept apparently aimed at women, but mostly aimed at mocking the conventions of advertising as the way to creating great advertising,” said CP&B CEO Andrew Keller “And that’s pretty awesome, man.”

That YouTube video initially received 10 million views, 10 times more than the number of viewers that watched the Dove commercial, and it now has over 55 million views to this date. The famous face for the campaign, Isaiah Mustafa was a great choice as he was able to connect with a younger audience. By May of 2010 the Old Spice unit sales had increased with 60% and by July of that year the sales had increased more than doubled compared to the previous year. In June 2010, several months later after the initial ad, Old Spice followed up with a second commercial featuring the same actor, Isaiah Mustafa. Mustafa quickly became “Old Spice Guy”, a nickname Wieden + Kennedy capitalised on with an interactive video campaign in which Mustafa responded to fans’ comments on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media websites with short, personalised videos. In two days, they produced 186 comedic, scripted video responses featuring Mustafa responding to fans online. These videos saw almost 11m views and the company gained 53,000 new Twitter followers and 29,000 Facebook fans. This was a breakthrough for them, as they were able to rapidly connect with fans such as Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore in real time.

The Lesson

Firstly, as we can see from this campaign, integrating an analysis of consumer buying habits into your target customer research is absolutely crucial and not to be overlooked. Secondly, using humour and not taking yourself too seriously, if cultivated very carefully, can help instil your brand with a distinct personality in a crowded marketplace. Thirdly, showing yourself to be in touch with your audience is important, and it’s rare that consumers get such close interaction with a brand, as in this case with the personalised videos. Whilst keeping your messaging true to your brand’s voice and image, use what platforms you have available to you to closely communicate with your audience and build more meaningful relationships.

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