Are we overstating the power of marketing, of brands? Not if you believe the late, great Marshall McLuhan, who said that, "Historians and archaeologists will one day discover that the ads of our time are the richest and most faithful daily reflections any society ever made of its whole range of activities." Nor if you've read accounts of citizens in former communist countries cheering the arrival of a McDonald's restaurant or a Coca-Cola delivery truck, brand marks that have become global symbols of freedom and choice (though the French may beg to differ).
For Advertising Age, which has gone to press some 3,500 times in the past 70 years with in-depth coverage of the ad industry, the decision to publish a special issue analyzing the 20th century through the lens of advertising, marketing and media offered us the opportunity of a millennium.
Top 100 lists
We set out to examine all the ways in which advertising has entertained, moved and motivated us over the years. This issue celebrates and ranks the 100 best campaigns of the 20th century. It also celebrates and ranks the 100 most influential people in the businesses we cover.
How did we determine the rankings? The hard way: Beginning in 1998, we dispatched a small army of researchers to build comprehensive lists of great work and careers. Editors and former editors of Ad Age met periodically to argue, discuss and refine the lists. In essence, we were trying to re-create the history of advertising, warts and all.
There are surprises on both lists bound to spark debate, and we welcome that. While few will argue with our choice of the most influential person, some readers will be surprised to learn how high on the list we put controversial Interpublic founder Marion Harper Jr. (He's No. 2, for pioneering the shape of the modern agency business).
No. 1 ad icon: Marlboro Man
Others will be disappointed with our decision to name the Marlboro Man, symbol of a product blamed for the deaths of millions, as the No. 1 ad icon. Tobacco advertising has long bedeviled the industry, but in the final analysis it seemed to us a mistake not to recognize the work for what it was -- an enormously successful brand-builder -- and for what it meant for our times.
Of course, this issue offers much more than rankings. There are essays, stories and memoirs exploring with great insight the twists and turns of the advertising and media industries.