5 Campaigns that Paved the Way

5 Campaigns that Paved the Way


We can all think of the most creative ads we’ve ever seen, the most successful, or even the funniest ones, but after reading James Twitchell’s, 20 Ads that Shook the World, I now know the most impactful ads ever created. These campaigns paved the way for current art, copy, and research directors. They paved the way, in a sense that their contribution to the ad changed the way people view advertising and products in general.


In his book, Twitchell highlights various campaigns, some of which have were short lived but, their sincere application of insight into the human condition made them especially noteworthy. I started reading this book for a school assignment but quickly become engrossed in it for personal interest. Here’s my 5 cents about the ads that shook the world:

  1. P.T Barnum (as in Barnum & Bailey’s Circus act!)

Come on, everyone loves a circus! As the father of event advertising, P.T Barnum tapped into the human psyche through effective copy, creative presentation, and media placement. By using phrases like “ONCE IN A LIFETIME,” “NOT TO BE MISSED,” OR “GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH,” P.T. Barnum lured hundreds of people to his shows. This feat made him the original “hype” advertiser.

"Greatest Show on Earth"

2. Pepsodent Toothpaste

Okay, so no one really cares about the history of toothpaste but it is interesting that this simple campaign made Pepsodent the top selling toothpaste from the 1920’s to the 1950’s! That’s 30 years of effective strategic and creative insight! The company simply applied the notion that what the public didn’t know didn’t hurt them. Not lying, but simply withholding the truth that every other competitor is exactly the same is how they succeeded.

Check out this vintage commercial from the campaigns heyday!


3. Listerine

Invent a problem, and then provide the cure. This is the “BIG IDEA” that Listerine used to launch this monumental campaign. Listerine hooked young Americans into oral freshness during matrimonial era of the 1920’s; by convincing them that they would not get married if they didn’t cure their “bad breath.” In 7 years the company’s earnings rose from $115,000 to more than $8 million.

"Bad Breath Ruins Romance"

4. Advocacy Advertising

Remember this graphic image?

"This is Your Brain on Drugs"

We all do. This ad isn’t actually selling anything, it’s doing the opposite. These kinds of campaigns are generally meant to “advert” your attention away from a current social issue rather than “advert” a product towards you. By associating a product with a cause such as teen drug use, forest fires, or war campaigns, the Ad Council has used this strategy to initiate impactful social awareness.

5. Nike meets Michaels Jordan

This particular phenomenon of celebrity endorsement was unlike any other. The “hero as product” strategy intertwined Nike’s shoe with Michael Jordan’s success and personality. The two sky-rocketed. People paid hundreds of dollars for shoes that only cost a few to make, spent hours in line waiting, and some even injured people’s lives to own a pair. The shoes value became linked with Michael’s infamy and it turned into gold.

"Jordan can Fly"

Ideas by: James Twitchell

Summarized by: Sarah Glose (sarah.glose@temple.edu)

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