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Iconic ads: How to craft classic retail advertising

Image: Iconic Ads Banner

Crafting great retail advertising is an art form, and whoever tells you otherwise probably can’t tell a Basquiat from a Monet. 

An iconic ad requires creativity, vision and marketing prowess. It also requires a deep understanding of your target audience. The creative approach used in a pharmaceutical campaign probably won’t resonate with a sneaker audience.

Brands use Relative Insight to learn what messaging will land with a unique audience or demographic. Post campaign, we analyze public response on platforms like YouTube, social media and forums to find out what people are saying. 

Our Process

In this content series, we’ll be analyzing a selection of popular ads from five industries – beauty, tech, food and drink, retail, and miscellaneous – to learn why they’ve stood the test of time. To determine which ads can be rightfully called iconic, we conducted an internal open-ended survey asking respondents to identify their favorite advertising campaigns and why. Responses spanned different industries, countries and campaign mediums. 

Survey responses lead us to analyze retail advertising campaigns from Reebok, Levi’s, Calvin Klein, De Beers and John Lewis. First, we pulled YouTube comments, social media posts and forum conversations discussing each ad. We uploaded the entire data set to Relative Insight and compared comments from individual ads against comments from all other ads combined. 

This method of comparison pinpoints which aspects of each ad viewers liked, helping us discover the secret to great retail advertising.

What Did We Find?

Reebok: ‘Belly’s gonna get ya’


Who knew a giant disembodied stomach chasing a man down the street would do so well with audiences? While as children many viewers admitted to being quite scared (even terrified), they found the commercial funny and hilarious as adults. Stepping outside the box can be polarizing, but Reebok pulled it off. YouTube commenters used words like nostalgia, remember, used to and kid – proving this ad has indeed stood the test of time.

“this is my ultra favourite advert! I remember seeing this as a kid !” – YouTube

Levi’s: ‘Laundrette’


A true classic, Levi’s ‘Laundrette’ relied on a tried and true tactic – a lot of sex appeal. The commercial depicts a man undressing in a public laundromat while other patrons look on. Online response echoed the response from the onlookers. Commenters used words like hot, guy, man and dude to detail what they liked about the campaign. And if you had any doubts about this ad’s inclusion, commenters called the tv spot classic and iconic.

“that is the official definition of hot” – YouTube

Calvin Klein: ‘Nothing gets between me and my Calvins’


This same strategy proved successful for another denim brand in the 1980’s. Calvin Klein launched the ‘Nothing gets between me and my Calvins’ campaign with Brooke Shields. Shields remained fully clothed (in Calvin Klein, of course), but viewers couldn’t help but comment on the model’s beautiful, sexy, tasteful, attractive, gorgeous and chic commercial appearance. 

“I think Calvin Klein chose wisely on who would model his jeans! she is so beautiful and very classy!!” – YouTube

De Beers: ‘Diamonds are forever’


Not only did De Beers create a memorable slogan, but the mining corporation essentially created the modern diamond engagement ring. If that’s not a marketing success, I don’t know what is. Viewers often discussed the ad in reference to family, friends and other relationships. Comments included words like engagement, divorce, wife, boyfriend, honeymoon and marriages. Positioning the brand and product as an essential part of important relationships made the campaign truly iconic. Viewers were also dying to know where they could find the song used in the ad.

“I want this song so bad!!! does anyone know where I can get this exact version?” – YouTube

John Lewis: ‘Give a little love’


The Waitrose & John Lewis Christmas 2020 ad entitled ‘Give a little love’ was successful in tugging on the heartstrings of viewers. Comments included words like feeling, emotional, move, touching and sentimental. This heartwarming strategy worked so well for the brand due to the time of year the ad ran. Viewers also appreciated the different creative approach, which depicted the story through clay animation.

“you guys made me get emotional this morning! thank you for this lovely message.” – YouTube

Check back next week for the fifth part in our iconic adverts series, as we analyze ads from automotive, finance and insurance brands.

Analyze campaign response