The Most Influential TV Advertising Campaigns

TV advertising is the most influential marketing platform available to businesses. From a business aspect, it’s the best profit generator available to advertisers, with every £1 million spent on TV delivering £4.5 million in sales.

This may be because of its social influence; TV advertising has the capacity to inform, educate and entertain, communicating brand messages with unrivalled emotional depth and engagement. Indeed, according to a survey conducted by Deloitte, 57% of British adults polled regard TV as the most influential medium, ahead of online and press. 

However, occasionally a TV advertising campaign will emerge that is so effective, so powerful, that it has the capacity to completely transform markets and entire cultures. Guerillascope has been busy hunting down these commercials for your viewing pleasure.

DeBeers – ‘A Diamond Is Forever’

Regarded as one of the most influential TV advertising campaigns of the 20th century, DeBeers – a juggernaut within the diamond trade – achieved the holy grail of TV advertising with its famous creatives; it transformed the values of Western culture.

DeBeers’ first printed ad from 1948 established the diamond as a symbol of marital commitment, adopting an angle that pinned the mineral’s status as the toughest substance known to man with images of eternity – a beguiling emblem of permanence that was expertly associated with the concept of love. In 1993 the brand took this message to the next level with a sleek black-and-white TV advertisement that seduced a new generation.

These days, an engagement ring that is not encrusted with diamond would likely attract scornful looks from your significant other. This was not always the case; diamonds were seldom regarded as a representation of ever-lasting commitment up until the 20th century, but with one powerful slogan, DeBeers changed western perceptions of romance forever. The brand succeeded in making its product the symbol of an ideal deeply rooted in the human condition – rendering it as one of the most influential TV advertisers of all time.

Volkswagen – Think Small

In one burst of acceleration, Volkswagen not only tore pre-existing attitudes towards advertising to shreds, it established one of Germany’s foremost car manufacturers as a market leader in the USA during a period bubbling with post-war animosity toward Eastern Europe.

The ‘Think Small’ TV advertising campaign of 1959 is widely lauded for introducing wit and irony as an effective form of communication in marketing. It certainly proved successful in convincing American consumers to desert the huge automobiles of the day and switch allegiance to the Beetle – a model previously viewed as ugly and uninspiring.

The beauty of Volkswagen’s ‘Think Small’ TV campaign lies in its self-mocking, humorous approach to promoting the product. Devoid of achingly cool drivers and odes to perfection, Volkswagen instead acknowledged its reputation as a distinctly unfashionable brand. As a result, it endeared itself to millions, consequently establishing the Beetle as the new must-have product in a captivated nation.

Coca Cola – ‘Christmas Caravan’

These days, annual landmarks such as Christmas, Easter and Valentines Day are just as recognisable for the brands that ‘take over’ the event as the event itself. Seasonality is now a central aspect of the TV advertising market, with businesses planning campaign activity months in advance to maximise sales during a period of direct relevance to their product and image.

Before Coca Cola began releasing printed advertisements in the 1920s depicting a roly-poly Santa Claus enjoying a bottle, this seasonality did not exist. Coca Cola literally invented the Western image of Santa and his red & white – Coca Cola’s brand colours – costume, emphasising the impact of its marketing.

Yet it was in 1995 when the brand really captured the imaginations of millions across the world. The ‘Christmas Caravan’ TV campaign changed the face of TV advertising from thereon in, turning seasonal holidays into microcosms of intense competition and ambition. Now, the Christmas holiday would not feel right without the likes of John Lewis unveiling multi-million pound campaigns that draw a tear – but it was Coca Cola that led the way. For millions across the world, the festive season is now defined by Christmas trees, fairy lights, mistletoe, and the Coca Cola trucks.

Nike – ‘Hang Time’

The coming together of Nike and Michael Jordan signalled a new phenomenon in TV advertising – the celebrity endorsement. In 1984, fresh from his show-stopping performances at the LA Olympics, which culminated in a Gold medal for the US basketball team, Nike moved quickly to enlist Jordan as brand ambassador, creating a new sub-brand sneaker range called ‘Air Jordan’ in the process.

It was in 1988, however, when the celebrity endorsement changed the face of TV advertising. ‘Hang Time’ saw Jordan’s iconic status and the emerging hip hop scene unite to create a campaign that presented the product in a fresh, ultra-modern way that appealed to a new generation, using Jordan’s fame to add authenticity and status to the brand.

‘If they’re good enough for the world’s greatest sportsman, they were good enough for me’, was the effect achieved by Nike’s TV advertising campaign. It provided the blueprint for a new era of celebrity marketing – one that shows no signs of abating as brands across the world attach their products to global figures of considerable influence. In the age of celebrity culture, this approach has revolutionised the effectiveness of TV advertising.

Cadbury – 'Gorilla'

Launched in 2007, Cadbury’s ‘Gorilla’ TV advertising campaign became a trailblazer in how viral marketing can enhance or even transform a brand’s image. Developed as an ‘entertainment piece’ rather than a traditional product promotion, the company sought to drive engagement online through word of mouth activity. Though not the first brand to attempt such a tactic, it was one of the first to make such a success out of it.

By focusing on entertaining television viewers instead of pushing a product, Cadbury generated over 500,000 YouTube in the first week alone, with additional word of mouth activity sweeping across social media platforms and online forums. It spawned numerous spoofs and parodies – including those from other brands – whilst the soundtrack, Phil Collins’ ‘In The Air Tonight’, reentered the UK charts despite no physical re-release.

Public perception of the Cadbury’s brand improved exponentially following the TV advertising campaign, providing other businesses with a formula for how an engaging TV ad can provide a halo effect – generating additional interactivity on other marketing platforms.