If you’re going to go looking for marketing jobs, it’s safe to say you’ll have to have some pretty big cojones. To succeed in marketing you need to have original ideas, a great understanding of your target market and a good grasp on what makes your product saleable, but more than that, it helps to be absolutely fearless.
Here are a few historic advertising campaigns that showed some serious moxie.
BMW Wins the Game
Audi and BMW are longstanding rivals. Both are German car manufacturers who’ve made their way through two world wars to sell cars to Americans. They is not much love between these companies. I’m not saying that when executives from both brands meet they have to engage in a West Side Story style dance off, but I’m totally saying that.
In 2006 Audi went on the offensive, putting up a billboard in California. This billboard simply showed an image of Audi’s A4 on a white background, with “Your move, BMW” written across it.
Now, as every rap battler and competitive street dancer knows, if you get called out, you have to respond or people won’t have no respect for you. So a local BMW dealership, Santa Monica BMW, responded with one of the most legendary marketing zingers in history.
They bought a billboard next to Audi’s attack ad. It was an all-black billboard, with an image of the BMW M3 Coupe and one word written underneath it. That word was “Checkmate”.
God Is My Viral Marketing Campaign
You may remember a few years ago there was a big furore in the US over the display of a large stone Ten Commandments monument in an Alabama courthouse. It was alternately a battle to defend the separation of church and state, or another step in the on-going persecution of Christians by militant secularism, depending on your point of view.
Of course, both sides would look really stupid if this argument was over the equivalent of a courthouse displaying a McDonalds Happy Meal Disney toy, or a life-size Nicholas Cage cardboard cut-out to promote the National Treasure.
Yeah, they’re both about to look pretty stupid.
Back in 1955 a judge in Minnesota was working with a Christian group to send framed copies of the Ten Commandments to schools and public buildings for display, because he felt people needed more Christian values in their lives and the beatitudes sounded kind of communist.
Meanwhile, a man called Cecil B. DeMille was making a film. It was a biblical epic starring Charlton Heston that you might have heard of called “The Ten Commandments”. Hearing about this Minnesota judge Cecil decided it could be a neat way to drum up publicity for his film, so got in touch with him offering to replace the framed, paper copies of the commandments with bronze tablets.
The judge, being something of a Bible fanboy, said no way, because the original tablets had been granite. So it was that Cecil ended up providing funding for 150 granite tablets to be carved and sent around the country. To make them extra holy, Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner turned up to dedicate some of them in person.
Incidentally, The Ten Commandments went on to gross $80 million.
Lucky Strikes Tells You to Go Green
In the annals of advertising history, tobacco will go down as the maverick, not give a damn badass of marketing history. There are two reasons for this. One is that they have historically put a tonne of money into selling things that have been scientifically proven to give you cancer. The other is that over the years various governments have put regulation after regulation in place restricting the ways that you can advertise tobacco, because of how it gives you cancer.
You remember that scene in Mad Men where, frustrated that they weren’t allowed to make health claims for cigarettes anymore, Don Draper came up with the idea of tell people Lucky Strikes were “toasted”? That actually was their slogan. Although in reality they’d been using it since 1917.
However, to see some real Machiavellian genius at work, you have to jump forward to the 1930s. The first thing they did was forget all that rubbish about trying to tell people about your product or persuade them your brand was better than anyone else’s brand. That kind of stuff was for amateurs!
Instead, Bernays, they’re advertisers, got in touch with fashion designers, interior designers and women of society, and in all their conversations they didn’t talk about Lucky Strikes at all. They didn’t even mention cigarettes. They just suggested that maybe, perhaps, forest green was going to be the “in” colour of 1934.
Coincidentally, forest green was the colour of Lucky Strikes packets back then.
Before long, without being prompted, women realised that there was a brand of cigarettes that went with just about everything…
J.J Abrams Doesn’t Need To Tell You About His Film
There’s an old South Park episode where Cartman (the fat one) inherits a load of money and uses to buy an amusement park, just for himself. He refuses to let anyone else in, it’s all his. He even goes so far as to put out TV advertisements, telling people they weren’t allowed in his amusement park. As a result, everybody wanted to go to it.
It’s possible director and producer J.J. Abrams saw that episode, because it bore a striking resemblance to his campaign for Cloverfield in 2008.
Now most people, when advertising a movie will do several things. They’ll tell you what the film’s about, hoping that the concept will intrigue you enough to make you want to see it. They’ll tell you what actors are in it, so that if there’s anyone you like you’ll turn up to see them. They’ll show you loads of trailers and photos from filming to give you an idea of what you might expect.
Most people are amateurs. J.J. Abrams, who once kept a TV show at the top of the ratings by making people wonder what was in a hole in the ground, told us the release date of his next film, and that was it. He didn’t even give us a title, because, why bother?
You see, what Abrams understood, and learned more about while he was making Lost, was Nerds. You give them a mysterious and enigmatic message and immediately they’ll rush back to the Internet and start comparing theories. We’re talking about a group of people who saw trees shaking in the background in Lost, and came up with a theory that they had epilepsy. No, really.
The buzz was everywhere, but obviously Abrams wasn’t going to try and sell a film with just a release date. He also put up some websites that had… nothing to do with the film. There were some websites about a Japanese soft drink. Some stuff about drilling procedures. That was it. On its opened weekend Cloverfield (as it eventually turned out to be called) was grossed $40 million, and went on to take in over $170 million at the box office.