Old Magazine Ads Showcase Today’s Best Practices

For the past few months, I’ve been consolidating “stuff” from two different houses, along with merging “stuff” from my deceased grandmother, mother, and my husband’s parents. As the comedian George Carlin once said, “That the whole meaning of life isn’t it. Trying to find a place for your stuff.”

Yesterday, I stumbled across a booklet from the Magazine Publishers of America (MPA), which showcases “America’s 25 Best Magazine Campaigns.” Published in 1997, I anticipated finding wordy ads that were passé in today’s need for succinct, eye-catching and impactful visuals and messaging. The luxury of sitting down and flipping through a magazine has been replaced by rapid clicking and browsing on the web.

Ironically, many of the ads look no different than today’s best performing websites! I snapped pictures of some of my favorite ones (sorry about the wonky pictures):

Ad for Jeep from 1996

Jeep: Features a large elephant with a sticker on its behind that reads “If you can read this your Jeep is too close.” The pay-off at the bottom says, “If you want to get this close to nature, there’s really only one way to do it. Drive a legendary Jeep 4×4. For more information, call 800-925-JEEP or visit http://www.jeapunpaved.com on the Internet.” The ad ran in 1996 in the National Geographic Magazine and was created by Bozell Worldwide.

Outside of the 800-phone number, and the clarification you need to visit the URL on the Internet, this ad would be highly effective today, presenting the “why” of Jeep, and using provocative imagery to tell a story. Brilliant!

Ad for Dewar's from 1996

Dewar’s: Three words, “Never say never,” an interesting image, and the payoff of a glass of Dewar’s scotch on ice would be just as effective today and it was in 1996 when created by Leo Burnett Company. The image tells the entire story from the hesitant groom (no doubt in need of a scotch) to the exuberant bride.

Johnson Worldwide ad from 1996

Johnson Worldwide: A manufacturer of recreational products, Johnson Worldwide purchased SpiderWire™ products in 1995. SpiderWire fishing line looks and feels like monofilament, but has the performance of braided super line. The ad produced by Carmicheal Lynch, to compete against conventional monofilament, shows a fish made from electronic components. The payoff sentence reads, “With our line, you detect the fish before the fish detects you.” It’s a striking ad, which catches reader’s attention with a unique image that wouldn’t be associated with traditional ads for fishing line.

Lee Jeans ad from 1996

Lee Jeans: In 1916, Peru artist Alberto Vargas came to America and began painting posters for the Ziegfeld Follies. His iconic illustrations of stunning women in provocative clothing and poses made his Vargas Girl pin-ups popular worldwide.

The agency Fallon McElligott paired a classic Vargas Girl in a pair of Lee Jeans, creating an intriguing and effective ad, which could easily be placed on a modern-day landing or home page. The pay-off line at the top of the ad reads, “From across the room, he won’t be able to tell you have a great sense of humor.” The time tagline at the bottom concludes with “The brand that fits.”

Timex ad from 1996

Timex: More than ever, white space is essential for focusing visitors’ attention on key messaging, whether in an email, web page, print or digital ad. Timex took this approach in 1996, placing a utilitarian wristwatch with a leather strap in the center of the page, with a heavy shadow, and the wording, “Not the next big thing.”

They reinforced their brand personality of affordable, durable, and “technology that keeps you ticking.” This no-frills strategy made them the number one selling watch in the world, with 1 billion sold by 2003. The label on the ad (made more realistic with a bit of tape) provides “Style No. 26321,” “Originally offered 1961,” and “Price $23.” Clever!

Taylor Guitar ad from 1996

Taylor Guitar: According to author and marketing guru Simon Sinek, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Taylor Guitar took this approach when they focused more on the experience of playing their newly introduced Baby Tailor, which is 3/4th the size of a regular guitar, and designed for taking on the road.

They show a guitar player sitting on the scaffolding of a large sign. The copy to the right reads, “Some people call it a small-sized version of a Taylor. We think of it as a guitar that refuses to grow up.” Viewers of the ad immediately understand the value of a small guitar, along with the free-spirited brand persona of the company.

Nike ad from 1996

Nike: The agency of Wieden & Kennedy rose to greatness with the ads they produced for Nike and other Pacific Northwest company. In a sense, they changed the industry, by relying on strong visuals and snarky headlines to convey the story and aspirations of their customers.

The copy for this ad reads, “Unfortunately, sweat makes a great adhesive.” The payoff sentence is at the very top, “On running and your favorite cotton t-shirt.” The copy in the box at the bottom provides the context, “Ever had to wrestle off a sweaty cotton t-shirt at the end of a run? We all have. Cotton soaks up sweat. Like a sponge and sticks to your skin. Dri-F.I.T. fabric works differently. It pulls sweat away and lets it evaporate so you stay dry and comfortable. NIKE F.I.T. is a line of apparel using the best athletic fabric there are. Look like it’s time for a new favorite t-shirt.”


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