Incredible Marketing Coups

Marketing is big business. Companies assign increasingly large portions of their budgets to advertising efforts, in an attempt to win over consumers. However, the population rapidly becomes indifferent to marketing tactics, forcing executives to constantly devise new and exciting ways of selling their products.

Sometimes, advertising is so powerful, it can completely change public opinion and behaviour. The history of marketing is dotted with landmark campaigns, held up as pinnacles of advertising success.  Here are some of the most influential marketing campaigns of all time.

 A Diamond is Forever

The first recorded diamond engagement ring was given to Mary of Burgundy by the Archduke Maximilian of Austria, in 1477. From that time, diamond rings were occasionally given as a promise of marriage. However, diamonds didn’t become synonymous with engagement until the 1930’s.

After years of investment and acquisition, De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd. came to control 90% of the world’s diamond supply. However, despite this monopoly, there was little demand for diamonds – a significant problem.

Rather than accepting low profits, De Beers enlisted the help of US advertising agency N. W Ayer & Son. In 1947, a young woman working for the company came up with the now-infamous slogan ‘A Diamond is Forever’.

Starting with this line, De Beers ran a series of powerful adverts, designed to create a competitive diamond market. These eventually persuaded a large proportion of the world that diamond rings were the only way to celebrate an engagement – and generated an explosion in sales. The association between the two is so strong that many people assume that the tradition is far older than it actually is.

 Kentucky for Christmas

Less than 1% of the Japanese population is Christian. Nevertheless, Christmas is an increasingly popular holiday in Japan. Thanks to a strong marketing push in the 1970s, an unlikely American company makes huge profits in the country every December.

KFC’s ‘finger-lickin’ good’ chicken first came to Japan in 1970, at the Osaka World Expo. Despite initial teething problems, the Western-style restaurant soon proved popular, with 100 franchises opening across the country by the end of 1973.

Keen to solidify KFC’s popularity in Japan, advertising executives ran a popular campaign in 1974 – “Kentucky for Christmas!” (“Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!”). Playing on the Japanese affinity for Western culture, they persuaded the population that KFC was a hallmark of the American Christmas experience.

Together with an extensive festive menu, the campaign snowballed, and a trip to KFC soon became a Japanese Christmas tradition. This has continued to grow over the years, and Christmas Eve now sees long queues outside every KFC in the country.

 The Blair Witch Project

Thanks to the prevalence of social media, viral marketing campaigns are now ten-a-penny. However, although they may be viewed and appreciated by millions, viral videos are usually recognised as marketing attempts.

This wasn’t always the case. In the early days, people were often completely taken in by these campaigns. One of the first – and most successful – attempts at viral marketing was the build-up to The Blair Witch Project, a 1999 horror film. Thanks to powerful advertising, audiences were left unsure whether the events depicted in the movie were real or not.

The Blair Witch Project tells the story of three college students, who disappear while researching supernatural events in Maryland. The film is supposedly a compilation of footage taken by the students themselves, recovered from cameras found abandoned in the woods.

A full year before the film was released, the producers commissioned a website. It documented a list of ‘evidence’ which suggested that three people (the actors in the film) had been murdered by the Blair Witch. Coupled with a series of rumours drip-fed onto internet forums, a short documentary-style film on the Sci-Fi Channel, and an IMBd post which listed the actors as ‘missing, presumed dead’, the veracity of the footage became a hotly-debated topic.

Although eventually revealed to be a hoax, the film is widely regarded as one of the most successful viral marketing campaigns of all time.

Torches of Freedom

Now known to be packed with dangerous toxins, cigarettes are considered taboo in many countries around the world. Tobacco companies have long been prohibited from advertising their products, and countless successful anti-smoking campaigns have been launched.

However, smoking was once considered to be glamorous and sophisticated. Originally marketed predominantly to men, a 1920’s American campaign turned the cigarette into a symbol of female emancipation.

In the early 20’s, women were prohibited from smoking in many American states. However, public opinion was slowly beginning to change, and women were beginning to defy the ban. The then-president of the American Tobacco Company, George Washington Hill, saw the under-utilised female market as a business opportunity.

A series of psychoanalysts and marketing experts, including Edward Bernays and A.A. Brill, were called in to help develop a campaign. Identifying a correlation between smoking and male dominance, the team began advertising the cigarette as a “torch of freedom” for women.

What followed was a wildly successful PR stunt. Bernays paid a group of women, headed by Bertha Hunt, to smoke cigarettes as they walked in the 1929 New York Easter Parade. This would have perhaps gone unnoticed, had he not employed a series of now-standard PR tactics. Before the event, he sent a press release to a swathe of New York reporters, and also hired his own photographers to capture the event on film.

Thanks in part to Bernays’ tactics, it gradually became acceptable for women to smoke in public.

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