Marking the millennium with a century's worth of work

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In the consumer world, the marketing landscape of the past century is littered with great campaigns, such as Coca-Cola's "The pause that refreshes" and McDonald's "You deserve a break today," and advertising icons, such as the Marlboro Man and Ronald McDonald. Likewise, the players are imprinted on any advertising/marketing student's brain, people such as William Bernbach, Leo Burnett, David Ogilvy, just to scratch the surface.

But picking the top business-to-business campaigns and players over the past 100 years is no easy task. Until very recently, b-to-b work has gone largely unnoticed except by the relatively few targeted to see it.

Yet that doesn't mean it doesn't deserve to be noticed. Business Marketing's Marty Musker, who now might just be the country's leading expert on b-to-b advertising efforts, spent months rounding up nominations and ideas of what to include in judging the best b-to-b campaigns of the 20th century. Under Marty's direction, our staff talked to key industry players about ads they recalled, dug through numerous advertising awards books and researched more than eight decades of Business Marketing, particularly Copy Chasers.

In the end, we chose the 50 best ad campaigns of the century.

As you browse through these ads in our millennium special report, you'll recognize some of the recent work for IBM and Intel, for example, and our No. 1 winner, McGraw-Hill, has reprised its classic b-to-b ad for the 1990s. Other ads in the Top 50 will probably catch your eye, as well, but there will be many that you'll probably ignore.

Don't. The older, less colorful ads on our list probably furthered b-to-b advertising more than most modern, attention-grabbing efforts ever could. Take our No. 3 advertiser, B.F. Goodrich. While this ad may seem fairly standard today, this campaign that started in 1934 ran for more than 25 years and included 600-some ads. The headlines were clever, the copy straightforward and the results clear: The preference for B.F. Goodrich was 36% higher among people who regularly saw the campaign.

Another ad -- one of my favorites -- is No. 10, for Rome Wire Co., with the headline "Out on the copper highways." This ad is fairly plain by today's standards, but, in 1926, it was one of the very few four-color ads running. It was also one of the first b-to-b branding efforts. And the copy was a lot more dramatic than most b-to-b writing of that era.

Throughout our 50, you'll find similar examples of breakthrough work. Some ran against the backdrop of the Great Depression in the 1930s, while others were wartime efforts. The earliest ad on our list is from 1914 and helped the American Association of Walnut Manufacturers boost the use of walnut among furniture manufacturers. In contrast, the recent work shows b-to-b moving far from the early copper highways to the electronic superhighway.

Throughout the century, you can also see another migration, from a heavily industrial orientation to more high-tech and service-oriented by the time you reach the 1990s.

If you look at the ads from a chronological viewpoint, these b-to-b works depict the 100-year history of our nation. They sell goods, but they also tell the story of where Americans have worked, the huge social issues they've faced and the factors that have most shaped their economic welfare.

These past 100 years have seen many changes, and business-to-business marketers have tracked every one, first in print and later through television as well. Indeed, their companies have been shaping the country and its economy as they've moved and progressed and built and invented -- and destroyed. These best of the century's b-to-b efforts tell that story.

As we move forward, b-to-b marketers will continue to mark the progress of a nation through their advertising efforts. When we asked seven leading b-to-b executives from across the country where they see their world headed, they all pointed to the Internet.

Increasingly, marketers will be using the Web to fine-tune their work, to drill down ever closer to their customers, to create the relationships that will further their efforts over the next century. Their advertising campaigns, naturally, will reflect that, as new electronic methods of marketing evolve.

In 2099, future b-to-b marketers may once again be looking back over the past 100 years to see a century that started with the electronic superhighway. They'll be weighing the advertising and the advances we can't even see from here.

For now, it's enough to consider the b-to-b work that marks the distance we've come from the copper highways that ushered in this century.

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