Top 10 1990s Ad Campaigns and What You Can Learn From Them
Advertising in the 90s underwent a revolution. Generation X came into the forefront, and the internet grew in popularity. Budgets for 1990s ad campaigns walked a tightrope between TV, radio, and the internet.
Ad agencies needed attention-getting ads to sell products while crunching budgets to put content on all three avenues. This required solid copywriters.
Copywriters are people who know how to persuade people to take action or purchase a product. Copywriting is used in everything, including junk mail, radio advertisement campaigns, TV commercials, and political campaign flyers.
Great ad campaigns are not always the ones you see over and over on TV. Sometimes they only air once with so much impact they become ingrained in minds forever.
This was the case of a 1960's political advertisement for Lyndon B. Johnson. The ad titled "Peace, Little Girl" aired one time.
It never aired again because of controversial content. The impact it made was effective, and Johnson won the vote.
We aren't taking our review back that far.
We are only stepping back to the 1990s to check out ten successful marketing and advertising campaigns from that decade.
1. Calvin Klein
It doesn't matter whether it was jeans, underwear, or obsession perfume, with Calvin Klein sex sold.
The ads reveal skin and sexual tension. Controversial, subliminal messages in advertising sell, and in this case, it was sex.
Everything draws you in. From a photo of Mark Wahlberg wearing some tighty-whities with a grip on his bulging self, Kate Moss in a tank and panties, or the sex appeal of a bared chest and a sexy embrace to sell jeans, the ads sizzle.
For his Obsession ads, Calvin Klein was seeking an alternative to the supermodel. Kate Moss fit the bill. Give thanks to her supermodel, photographer wanna-be boyfriend, Mario Sorrenti.
When Moss brought photos taken by Sorrenti to her audition for the Obsession job, Klein was so enthralled with the chemistry between them that he told the budding photographer he would teach him the ropes.
All Sorrenti needed to do was take his girlfriend to an island, photograph and film her for both TV commercials and print ads.
The two young love birds were sent to an island with a bag of clothes. Klein remained behind, leaving them alone.
Moss didn't even wear makeup in the ads, but Klein's gamble was a success. The pair's obsession with each other flows through in the photos, most in the nude.
Klein put up a huge billboard in Times Square of Kate Moss naked on a couch. The sexual appeal of the photos work and Klein's gamble skyrocketed the careers of both Moss and Sorrenti. It was also a success for Obsession.
In 2016 Raf Simons joined the Klein team and found unused images of Moss in the company archive.
He used them in a campaign for a sister fragrance. The reused images are having the same sex appeal on consumers as the originals.
In 1996 a convenience store clerk abruptly informed Liam Killeen, Vice President of Marketing for Perfetti Van Melle, of her disgust with the Mentos candy commercials.
The Netherlands' candy company hit the states in 1992 with Killeen's ad campaign. The commercials feature the song "Fresh Goes Better" with corny clips of American culture. It is a mix of love/hate attitudes toward the ads.
All have a recurring theme of a young couple who find themselves in a bind and solve it by popping Mentos into their mouth. Throughout the commercial, a jingle plays.
The visuals have a disconnection with human behavior and the translation to English seems inaccurate, resulting in a corny commercial.
Despite the love/hate attitude toward the commercials, their success is undeniable. Van Melle had $10 million in hard candy sales in 1991.
By 1994 sales hit $40 million and reached $120 million by 1996.
Mentos became a leader in the candy industry.
This success is due to incomprehensibly stupid commercials.
This TV commercial features a catchy theme song with children bored with playground games falling in love with Skip-It.
The toy consists of a plastic ring that fits around a child's ankle. The ring is attached to a ball on a length of rope that spins in a 360-degree circle as the child jumps over it.
Commercials airing on children's network stations like the Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon are attributed to the toy's success.
The result is Skip-It becoming one of the most popular toys of the 1990s and making Time Magazine's 100 greatest toys of all time.
This commercial brainstorm is an excellent example of cross-promotion. The ad features Bart Simpson eating a Butterfinger bar instead of his lunch at school.
"Let go of my Butterfinger" became a well-known catchphrase.
The Simpsons were a popular show with adults and kids. The commercial's success led Butterfinger sales to increase to about $123.9 million a year.
In the early 1990s the cross-promotion campaign was a combination of Bart Simpson ads for Butterfinger plus two other Nestle Candys, Raisinets and Baby Ruth, showing Bart Simpson on their wrappers.
Ads featuring Bart Simpson ran until 2013. The Butterfinger mascot's career finale that year is an ad with everyone participating in a contest to determine who stole Bart's bar.
5. Fruity Pebbles
In the 1990s Post Foods brought together the Flintstones cartoon characters with an iconic police detective to promote their Fruity Pebbles cereal.
Hanna-Barbera Studios is the artist behind the Flintstones Cocoa Pebbles and Fruity Pebbles TV commercial concept that ran from 1980-1999.
The cereal's popularity is because of being named for a cartoon series. It is the oldest surviving cereal based on a TV show.
The commercials are fun and keep your eyes on the TV.
Ads feature Barney playing Dick Tracey, show Fred and Barney singing Christmas carols while enjoying their cereal, Barney as a Cocoa Warrior, and more.
The advertisement campaigns are entertainment. They engage adults who watched the cartoon as children and also engage a new generation. Fruity Pebbles is still one of America's favorite breakfast cereals.
This memorable game is ideal for kids who dream of becoming doctors. The game tests the hand-eye coordination of each player's fine motor skills.
They must remove the patient's body parts without setting off alarms and lighting up Cavity Sam's nose.
Operation's 1995 ad is a perfect depiction of the game. A man is wheeled into the operating room on a gurney and a bunch of kids performs the operation.
The scene flips back and forth with shots of the board game being played.
Since the game's original debut in 1965, sales are estimated at $40 million throughout the world.
7. Got Milk?
If you ever read a headline that made you stop in your tracks, you encountered something put together by a good copywriter. Headlines are the backbone of every advertisement. They grab your attention and pull you in.
This is what happened with the 1993 promotion of a no-brand product. The Got Milk campaign was a hands-down winner. It began with the California Milk Processor Board needing to turn around the state's declining dairy industry.
The first commercial highlights Aaron Burr being called on to answer a radio spot question for a $10,000 win.
Burr just shoved a bite of peanut butter sandwich in his mouth and when he reaches for a glass of milk to wash it down the glass is empty.
The lack of milk causes his loss of $10,000. The ad ends with white text on a black screen reading "Got Milk?"
The ad campaign grew, using actors, politicians, sports figures, supermodels, and musicians spouting a milk mustache and those now-famous words.
The ad campaign success was quick, and by 1994 California milk sales were up 15 million gallons.
"Got Milk" became a national tagline, driving up dairy sales throughout the country.
The campaign ran for two decades with more than 350 TV and print ads throughout the country. Approximately 80% of Americans encountered the question "Got Milk?" on any given day.
In 1992 Cindy Crawford drew attention in a Super Bowl ad.
When the supermodel climbs out of a red sports car and walks over to a vending machine to purchase a Pepsi, with two boys watching her every move, everyone watches to see what happens.
Crawford cracks open her can, takes a swallow, and one of the boys says "is that a great new Pepsi can or what?"
Pepsi partnered with Crawford to promote their new can design. The goal was a comparison of their new can with the supermodel's sophistication and beauty.
During an era of keeping it real, Sprite successfully launched its "obey your thirst" campaign.
The advertising campaign debunked the popular message of the time that any particular product would make you popular, cool, and attractive.
It encouraged viewers to follow their intuition and taste buds when choosing their soda. The messaging shift worked in their favor and the campaign boosted the brand throughout the mid-1990s.
One of the best moves Sprite made was in being the first major brand to embrace the rap community.
By using artists such as Kurtis Blow, LL Cool J, and Run-DMC to serve as spokesmen, and rappers like Large Professor and Grand Puba, the commercials drew in the crowds, boosting sales.
10. Levi Jeans
Head-to-toe denim ensembles were the rage and girls fell for pretty bad boys like Heath Ledger and Johnny Depp. Levi's released a one-minute ad in 1991 featuring new and upcoming Brad Pitt.
The ad shows Pitt behind dusty jail bars. He is being released with no clothes and is standing there in his underwear and a t-shirt.
Then a beautiful woman drives up in a convertible and tosses him a pair of Levi 501 jeans.
So how is Levi Jeans doing? They make about $5 billion every year.
What We Learned From 1990s Ad Campaigns
Reviewing 1990s Ad Campaigns shows us the need to step outside the box and go for something different. If you think this sounds like a fun, interesting career you’re right!
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