100 Years of Ads: Most Groundbreaking

To celebrate the 4A's 100th anniversary, Campaign US compiled the top 10 spots that changed the way brands spoke to consumers.

There are ads that can change the history of a company, and then there are ads that change the history of advertising. This month, Campaign US is teaming up with the 4A's to celebrate the organization's 100th anniversary.

We're counting down the top 100 ads from the past century, including the most groundbreaking spots. They were all iconic in their time, and many are still—a testament to the endurance of truly brilliant marketing.

"Daisy" for Lyndon B. Johnson by Doyle Dane Bernbach

Due to heavy backlash, the Johnson campaign pulled this 1964 spot after its sole airing, but it’s credited with heavily influencing Johnson’s landslide victory over Barry Goldwater. Although negative campaigning has existed since the first presidential election, "Daisy" ushered in a newly vicious era that preys on voters’ deepest fears to win support.

"Dining Room Table" for Ikea by Deutsch

Beginning in 1993, Ikea ran a campaign featuring alternative family structures—single parents, adoptees, empty-nesters. In 1994 they expanded their cast to a very sweet, normal couple who also happened to be gay, making the Swedish company the first brand to put LGBTQ people in an ad. Ikea stores weathered bomb threats and boycotts, but the ads stayed on the air.

"A Diamond Is Forever" for DeBeers by N.W. Ayer

Like most luxury goods, diamonds were all but unsellable during the Great Depression, a slump that lasted well into the early 1940s. DeBeers came onto the scene in the mid-‘30s and used movie stars to promote its sparkling products, but it wasn’t until 1947 that they hit on the slogan that changed the industry: Over just four years, diamonds went from being an option for engagement rings to the option, with over 80 percent of brides receiving a diamond.

"Learning Sign Language" for Wells Fargo by BBDO

Building on IKEA’s pioneering work, Wells Fargo in 2015 became the first bank to feature an LGBT couple in a national ad campaign (and unlike a lot of similar ads, the parents are a real couple). It was a natural fit for the bank, which has offered financial planning services geared toward same-sex couples since 2009.

"1984" for Apple by Chiat/Day

In his 1983 Apple keynote speech announcing the first Macintosh computer, Steve Jobs compared IBM to Big Brother, the oppressive, all-seeing patriarch of George Orwell’s "1984." Apple’s computer, he argued, was the antidote: a small machine that gave consumers back their individuality and control in a growing online world. The ad aired only once nationally, during the 1984 Super Bowl, becoming an instant icon that set Apple on course to be the giant it is today.

"Lemon" for Volkswagen by Doyle Dane Bernbach

DDB’s minimalist, clever 1960 print ad was the perfect solution to the problem of how to sell German cars in a nation with WWII fresh on its mind. Rather than using the clunky jingles and on-the-nose imagery that by the 1950s was at fever pitch, "Lemon" went for something simple, direct, and funny, ushering in an advertising era focused on design and consumer insights—and coining a new word for a bad car.

"Hilltop" for Coca-Cola by McCann Erickson

Still considered the world’s most famous commercial, this 1971 spot started in an Irish airport, where McCann creative director Bill Backer was stranded after a grounded flight. Inspired by the diversity of his fellow frustrated passengers, he began scribbling lyrics on a napkin. A few months later, "I’d Like to Buy The World A Coke" became a radio hit, and the TV version generated tens of thousands of fan letters to the company.

"Stress Test" for Proctor & Gamble by Wieden + Kennedy

Lucy’s stressful 2016 conversation with her boss was the first in a campaign for Secret to guide the brand away from its long-running, not-at-all-feminist slogan of "Strong enough for a man, but made for a woman." This spot followed an ongoing national conversation about the wage gap and was the first to address the issue.

"Rufen" for Boots Pharmaceuticals

The U.S. is one of only two countries in the world that allows pharmaceutical companies to market directly to consumers, and it’s because of this ad from a British company for a pill that no one remembers. It aired only once—May 19, 1983—before Boots had to pull it after an FDA takedown order. But it planted the idea of TV advertising in the minds of every pharma exec, and the industry spent the next fifteen years making sure broadcast regulations would always favor them.

"Dispense With A Horse" by Winton

Transportation has always been a hallmark of futurism, and no more so than with the four wheels that changed how America travels. Although Winton was not the first automobile company, it was the first to take out an ad to sell its product, highlighting the high speeds of its carriages—up to 20mph!—and their ease of operation.

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