Brand Adverts That Reinvented The Industry


Seeking inspiration to help market your brand? Look no further. These  adverts changed the world of advertising – and, in some cases, the world itself.  Get inspired, and change yours!

Unforgettable Brand Adverts

1911: Woodbury Facial Soap, A Skin You Love To Touch

For decades, sex was the hinge on which the ad industry turned. But the first to exploit our more carnal desires was Helen Lansdowne Resor, considered by many to be the first female copywriter.

Helen masterminded the wildly popular Woodbury Facial Soap campaign back in the early 20th century. With raunchy – by contemporary standards – imagery and suggestive taglines, the soap managed to worm its way onto many a basin-side. While hemlines may have shortened since 1911, one truth remains: sex sells.

1929: Lucky Strike, To Keep A Slender Figure

Lucky Strike wasn’t the only cigarette company to lie through its commercial teeth, but this ad is probably one of the worst. Aimed specifically at women, the company promised that Lucky Strike would not only satisfy your nicotine cravings but help you achieve a coveted ‘slender figure’. The ad did well, until litigious action from the candy industry forced the cigarette brand to switch strategy.

The rather desperate ploy was a result of the 20s industry boom. With rising competition in an increasingly consumerist American market, companies were forced to adopt increasingly aggressive ad tactics. This was the age of increasing female spending power, too – hence the sudden change of target market.

1956: Clairol, Does she… or doesn’t she?

More lady-aimed work from another famous advertising lady. Shirley Polykoff, a copywriter for Foote, Cone and Belding, was almost single-handedly responsible for the success of hair dye brand Clairol. Under Polykoff’s curation, the company’s sales shot from $25 million to two hundred.

does she or doesnt she


Her 1956 campaign is a seminal lesson in the cultural power of adverts. Before Clairol’s Does she… or doesn’t she? ad, hair dye was a taboo subject among American women. The ad not only marketed an innovative, natural-looking product, but helped to normalise hair colouration.

1974: Smash, The Smash Martians

On to the TV era! Before 1974, the Smash ‘Instant Mash’ brand experienced limited success. This brilliant ad brought overnight success for the label.

The spot featured a family of puppet Martians laughing over the slow mashed potato-making techniques of regular humans. Smash contracted Peter Hawkins, voice of the Dalek, to provide his vocal talents. The ad tapped perfectly into the 70s space age/Doctor Who mania, and was one of the first commercials to spawn an entire merchandise campaign, with four books about the Martian family subsequently released.

The original Martian spot was named the second best ad of all time in a 2000 Sunday Times poll, coming second only to our 1998 entry, the Guinness Surfer.

1985: Levi’s 501, Laundrette

The 80s: an age of sequins, Michael Jackson and tight, blue jeans. Levi’s, despite success earlier in the century, had suffered a decline in sales over the years prior to their 1985 spot. Then Laundrette came along, with its sexy male model star, and the brand reclaimed its place at the top of the heap.

laundry commercial clip

So popular was the ad that sales of the 501 line, as modelled in the commercial, shot up by an unbelievable 800%. The commercial was only taken off air because Levi’s couldn’t produce enough jeans to meet demand. By the time 1987 rolled round, Levi’s sales were twenty times up on three years earlier. We bet sales of boxer shorts did pretty well, too.

1998: Guinness, Surfer

A tour de force of TV craftsmanship, this 1998 ad has been voted ‘best ever’ in numerous industry polls. It won more awards than any other ad in 1999 and spawned a long line of dramatic, beautifully shot beer commercials.

Directed by Jonathan Glazer, the auteur who went on to make Under The Skin, the advert drew inspiration from Walter Crane’s painting, “Neptune’s Horses”. The text over the top references Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’, while the drained cinematography and thumping Leftfield soundtrack made it an art-house advert to inspire hundreds.

1999: Budweiser, Whassup??

Perhaps the original ‘annoying ad’, the 1999 Budweiser Whassup?? series has earned its place in advertising history. In a world which has since borne the onslaught of, Go Compare and Compare The Meerkat, Budweiser has a lot to answer for.

This guest post was authored by Inspiring Interns

 Inspiring Interns is a graduate recruitment agency which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and giving out graduate careers advice. To hire graduates or browse graduate jobs, visit their website.




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