A Look Back at 10 Ideas That Changed the Marketing World

From the Absolut Bottle to the Nike Swoosh, the Inspiring Stories Behind Some of the Industry's Greatest Innovations

By Published on .

Looking back at some of the greatest innovations in marketing and advertising over the past 100 years, the creative brilliance of these ideas is obvious. Yet the stories behind these examples involve bold thinking, the passion to champion new ideas and a high dose of risk. Our industry's visionaries often countered research results, drove themselves beyond the great idea and defied bosses and boards to push through their plans.

Let these stories inspire today's marketers, who have so many new tools at their disposal, to set aside conventional thinking and become the marketing innovators of the next 100 years.

L'EGGS' PACKAGING HATCHES A NEW LOOK
In 1969, designer Roger Ferriter of Herb Lubalin Associates wouldn't settle. Feeling the work wasn't creative enough, the morning he was presenting new marketing and packaging ideas to Hanes for a low-cost pantyhose launch, he sought to showcase the product in a new way. While squeezing the pantyhose in his fist to see how compact they could be, it struck him that the package could be an egg. Immediately, he also realized that egg rhymes with leg. Adding a French flair, he named the product L'eggs, prepared sketches for that afternoon, and hatched one of the most successful product launches in history.

ABSOLUT VODKA'S BOTTLE SPEAKS FOR THE BRAND
Lars Lindmark, CEO of Sweden's Wines and Spirits, teamed with Gunnar Broman, a Stockholm ad man, to create a liquor-export product. Bowman borrowed the name Absolut Pure Vodka from an inexpensive Swedish vodka and took inspiration from 19th century apothecary bottles for the unusual package. Ignoring opposition from art directors, liquor executives and focus groups, Lindmark began shipping. When he coupled the bottle design with the Absolut (something) campaign from TBWA, the bottle itself became its own marketing engine. Launched in 1979, Absolut became the No. 1-selling imported vodka by 1985.

WOODBURY SOAP DARES TO USE SEX APPEAL
In 1911, the ad industry was dominated by males, and the advertising they produced was predominantly product-centric. It took a woman, Helen Lansdowne, who headed the newly formed women's editorial department of J. Walter Thompson, to challenge the norms of the day. She refocused Woodbury's advertising on product users with ads that featured elegant young ladies enjoying the attention of dashing young gentlemen. The campaign she directed, "Skin You Love to Touch," is considered by several advertising historians to be the first modern ad campaign to use sex appeal.

APPLE COMPUTER: ONE MENTION, ONE AIRING
The "1984" commercial introduced the Macintosh PC to the world for the first time. Airing nationally just once, during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII in 1984, the Ridley Scott-directed spot by Chiat Day represented the Macintosh as a means of saving humanity from "conformity." It mentioned Apple Computer only once. The board of directors hated the spot after viewing it for the first time when Steve Jobs and John Sculley asked for permission to run it. Steve Wozniak volunteered to personally fund half the cost of airing the ad, but luckily there was no need for that, as the board gave in and approved it.

AVIS TRIES HONESTY
The "We're No. 2. We Try Harder" campaign broke all of the rules. It admitted Avis was losing money, was short of customers and was second to Hertz. Test results from agency Doyle Dane Bernbach were so poor, no one today would allow it to run. But Bob Townsend of Avis believed in the tagline and knew it expressed Avis's management desires to be different, effective and outstanding. Almost 40 years later it is more than a catchy slogan -- it has become the essence of Avis.

BURMA-SHAVE LINES THE HIGHWAYS
In the early years of the automobile, Clinton Odell developed a brushless shaving cream. It was a great product with no marketing plan until his son, Allan, pitched him an idea in 1925: consecutive signs with simple verses, posted at the edge of highways. Clinton, not crazy about the idea, gave Allan $200 for a trial near Minneapolis. The signs delighted motorists, sales soared, and the iconic campaign eventually spawned 600 verses on 7,000 signs, many submitted by the public through an annual contest. Within a decade, Burma-Shave became the second-most-popular shaving cream in America.

BENETTON BRINGS PEOPLE TOGETHER
In 1965, four brothers in Treviso, Italy, started the now well-known international fashion empire Benetton. In 1984, advertising only in Italy and France, they hit upon an idea. Focusing on the global appeal for racial harmony and peace, Benetton launched its "All the Colors of the World" campaign. In 1989, an intense collaboration between Luciano Benetton and photographer Oliviero Toscani produced a bold and startlingly different campaign. Removing the merchandise from its ads, "The United Colors of Benetton" featured symbolic multicultural photographs. Benetton's commitment to ethnic diversity remains the staple of its advertising today.

VOLKSWAGEN TELLS IT LIKE IT IS
What do you do if you are Doyle Dane Bernbach and the small, ugly, foreign car you are promoting is competing with over-the-top, macho, American superhero cars? You advocate the negative truths about your car: It isn't big, beautiful or fast. Then sneak in the positives: It doesn't eat gas, oil or tires and doesn't require a big parking spot or high insurance premiums. By turning negatives into witty positives, DDB created an influential ad campaign that made the VW Beetle the best-selling imported car in America and proved that it pays to "Think Small!"

BURGER KING'S 'SUBSERVIENT CHICKEN' DOMINATES
The brand promise, "Have it your way," took on a whole new meaning in 2004 with the "Subservient Chicken" campaign. Launching a new TenderCrisp Chicken Sandwich for the company and targeting young adults, VP-Marketing Impact Brian Gies wanted to launch in an unconventional way. Crispin Porter & Bogusky's solution was to launch an interactive website featuring a chicken that could do seemingly any command visitors typed in. The results? A million hits in a day, 20 million the first week, 396 million the first year, an average of a remarkable six to seven minutes spent on the site and a sales increase of 9% per week.

NIKE TAKES A $35 LOGO THE DISTANCE
One of the world's most-recognizable logos was derived from truly humble beginnings. In 1971, Carolyn Davidson, a graphic-design student at Portland State University, met University of Oregon track runner and accounting teacher Phil Knight. Phil and his coach, Bill Bowerman, needed a logo for a line of athletic footwear for their new company. They named their product Nike, after the Greek goddess of victory. For $2 an hour, they hired Carolyn as their designer, and, inspired by the wing in the famous statue of Nike, she created the swoosh. Total invoice: $35.

In this article:
Most Popular