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The Stories Behind 4 Of The Most Iconic Ad Campaigns Of All Time

Every once in a while something so creative and unexplainable emerges that it becomes seared into our culture, and nowhere is that seen more than in the experimentation of advertising. These are the stories behind some of the most recognizable marketing successes of the past century.

1. Apple’s “Too Hot To Refrigerate” Campaign

Apple logo.

In 1997 Apple needed to put a new spin on its computers. They were being beaten out by Microsoft, who ran a successful campaign about how you didn’t need to refrigerate its laptops, implying you needed to with Apple computers. It was a dirty trick, and Apple needed to respond fast. That’s when Steve Jobs came up with the brilliant “Too Hot To Refrigerate” campaign. Sidestepping Apple’s marketing team, Jobs broadcasted a homemade video of himself taking one of the company’s laptops out of his own fridge. The food inside was room temperature and mostly rotten, which Jobs explained was because the laptop heated the refrigerator. People were relieved they didn’t need to preserve their Apple laptops in the fridge, and customers began flocking back to Apple, who today tops Microsoft as the leading competitor.

2. Dove’s “Hotel Is Just Like Jail” Campaign

Dove logo.

Before 2007, everyone was using complimentary soaps from hotels, while Dove bars collected dust on supermarket shelves. The company needed to drive potential customers away from free hotel soap, which is how it introduced the “Hotel Is Just Like Jail” campaign. The 30-second commercial depicted two hotel guests smiling at each other and going to their separate rooms, and when they lock their doors, the sound of a jail cell slamming shut is dubbed over it. The ad ended with a title card that read, “Remind you of anything?” The campaign was followed by two more commercials, one of a bellhop saying “Right this way, sir,” followed by a text reading “What crime did you commit?” and another of a cleaning lady knocking on a door with the text “Do you know your rights?” Virtually no one booked hotels after that, making Dove the first soap company to release a successful fear campaign.

3. Marlboro’s Marlboro Man

Marlboro logo.

In 1955, Marlboro created a character called the Marlboro Man because Marlboro vice president Joseph Cullman was furious that his dying mother had no one to hold and love in her final days. Teaming up with ad agency Leo Burnett Worldwide, The Marlboro Man was conceived as a rugged but gentle man with a strong respect for the previous generation. The now-iconic character gained traction because he was based on two simple ideas: that he’d never leave Cullman’s mother’s bedside while she withered away except to get more cigarettes, and that he would be mopping her brow with a damp cloth on the day she passed. Following the funeral for Mrs. Cullman, Marlboro Man then went on to become one of the most recognizable faces of 20th-century advertising.

4. Febreze’s “It’s Better Air” campaign

Febreeze logo.

Sometimes inspiration comes when you least expect it. That’s true for marketing guru David Brushfeld, who was commissioned to make an ad for Febreze. He was on vacation with his 6-year-old daughter, who kept smelling the ocean air on their balcony and saying, “This is the best air, daddy.” Something went off in Brushfeld’s head, and he then began drafting up images of astronauts, scuba divers, and elderly people on oxygen tanks all using canisters of Febreze, The Better Air. The campaign went public the next month, and although it resulted in 5,000 deaths, it was the most quoted slogan of 1999. Advertising hasn’t been the same since.