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It's very rare that an ad campaign truly goes viral. But when it does it becomes part of our language, its slogan is repeated by people way beyond the commercials, and the bounce for the brand can be huge.

To give some inspiration for your next effort, here are a few noteworthy examples from the United States.

And for a different take on this topic, read Econsultancy's other posts on why social video doesn't have to go viral to make an impact, and a run through of the top 20 Super Bowl ads of all time.

The most interesting man in the World

Perhaps the most recent example of a campaign that went on to become a viral sensation is the Dos Equis “most interesting man in the world” campaign, which launched in 2007.

The image of 'The Man' has become an internet meme, used countless times on endless topics. Michael Jordan even asked to have his picture taken with him.

And, according to searches on Google, interest in The Man (blue line) maps exactly to interest in the brand (red line):

More importantly, Dos Equis sales doubled in four years and grew another 15% last year against a category average of 2.7%.

Got milk?

One of the most popular and durable US campaigns has been the “Got milk?” creative which started in 1993 with the California Milk Processor Board and then went national.

The ads initially featured ordinary people needing milk, such as a person who has just eaten a peanut butter sandwich or cookies. 

Later it turned into celebrities with milk moustaches.

The parodies of the campaign have been countless, including “got energy?”, “got booze?” and “got teeth?” And all they did was increase the visibility of the campaign itself. 

The interest in the campaign, as evidenced in searches for “got milk”, has been waning in recent years, but sales in the product continue very strong.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, milk production increased from 157m pounds in 1998 to over 201m pounds in 2013. After a 20 year run, the campaign finally ended in February.

Just Do It

Nike’s “Just do it” slogan signified the moment when the company stopped marketing shoes and began marketing fitness.

More than a campaign, it’s Nike's permanent slogan and in the 10 years after its introduction in 1988 it helped grow Nike’s share of North American sports shoe sales from 18% to 43%.

Nike even got in on the act of spoofing its own ads:

Most spoofs from others, though, aren’t re-printable on Econsultancy. Here’s one that is…

For more inspiration from Nike, check out Econsultancy's blog post looking at 10 of the sports brand's best digital marketing campaigns.

Where’s the beef?

In 1984, Wendy’s launched its “Where’s the beef?” commercial starring 4ft 10in Clara Peller: 

The phrase was so popular that Wendy’s even sold merchandise such as t-shirts, bumper stickers, and frisbees with the phrase (you know your ads are successful when people are paying you for them!).

Wendy’s revenue increased 31%, and the phrase was so well known that presidential candidate Walter Mondale even used it to mock the substance of the proposals of opponent Gary Hart.

When you’re #2, you try harder

In America, being #1 is usually valued. But in 1962, rental car company Avis turned being a perennial runner-up into an asset with it’s “We try harder” slogan.

Sales shot up, Avis went from losses to profits and substantially closed its market-share gap with Hertz.

Does she… Or doesn’t she?

Finally, there’s Clairol’s famous “Does she… or doesn’t she?” campaign. The phrase quickly entered the mainstream after the campaign launched in 1956 and made hair coloring acceptable for women; within a decade the proportion of women dying their hair rose from 7% to almost 50%. 

In conclusion...

There have been many other memorable and effective advertising campaigns over the decades, such as Apple’s “1984” ad, Miller Lite’s “Tastes great, less filling” campaign, and DeBeers’ 1947 “Diamonds are Forever”, which even became the title of a James Bond novel and movie.

But these six are a mad man’s dream – hitting the cultural zeitgeist so squarely that the slogan or tagline goes viral and is amplified many times over, and seeing a huge increase in product sales (and agency revenues) as a result.

Louis Gudema

Published 3 March, 2014 by Louis Gudema

Louis Gudema is the president of revenue + associates and a contributor to Econsultancy. Louis blogs here and can be reached via TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn.

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