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By Clare Goggin Sivits On June 23, 2022

Ad Nostalgia: Campaigns That We Remember Fondly

Got Milk? print ad features Britney Spears holding a glass of milk as she stands next to a young version of her self in a dance costume.

Creative and inspirational ad campaigns stand the test of time. Whether it’s a catchy tagline, memorable artwork or an inventive angle, the advertising sticks with us and reminds us of a simpler time. For some of us, they’re the reasons we went into marketing, to begin with. In a way, those nostalgic ad campaigns are our origin stories.

Here at High-Proof Creative, we’re no different. We reminisce about these campaigns and even draw inspiration from our favorites. We recognize the genius of the creative process in each of them and in some ways emulate the techniques incorporated into the content or design. We’ve worked those concepts into our own methods in many ways.

We collected a few from our teammates to share with you. Read on for a little spark of genius and a bit of nostalgia.

Got Milk? – Karen Locke, Founder of High-Proof Creative

The Got Milk? ad campaign routinely makes it to the top of ‘best marketing campaign’ lists, so we couldn’t help but add it to our list, but it also hits super close to home for me.

Got Milk? ads inspired my first business before middle school. Early in the campaign, I discovered a ring of children who would swap and make deals online and then mail the ads to one another. The traders who had the most ads also had websites.

I taught myself HTML and built a website using GeoCities and its web ring feature. All of the dancing gif cows and extra details convinced the other kids in the ring that my inventory and “business” could be trusted. Those of us with professional websites could also sell our ads for cold hard cash.

Why was the campaign so popular amongst children that the ads became not only tradeable but profitable? It was the perfect timing for hip celebrities to back the mostly banal beverage we had pushed at us every day.

The NYC Subway Map – Ashley Jhaveri, Creative Producer at High-Proof Creative

The New York City Subway Map features a very user friendly design showing how each line of the subway moves through four of the city's five boroughs, including Manhattan, The Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn.

My favorite nostalgic project is the New York Subway map. To me, design is about problem-solving, and this is one of my favorite examples of that. It presents a unique challenge in that it’s a map for people moving underground, so typical above-ground mapmaking doesn’t necessarily make the most sense.

The story goes that an engineer who actually worked on the subway system doodled the beginnings of the map we know now, which was less literal and more user-friendly (turns out that a literal map is not always the most helpful way to show how places relate to each other).

Massimo Vignelli is my favorite designer, and he actually had the opportunity to create a rendition of the map in the 1970s. One of my favorite aspects of the project is its iterative history. While amazing designers like Vignelli were hired to work on the map, it continues to undergo changes to make it even more user-friendly as the years go on.

Mentos, the Freshmaker – Clare Goggin Sivits, Content Strategist

Ads that tell a story stick with me for better or for worse. The first time I watched a Mentos commercial, I rolled my eyes. It seemed so simplistic and banal – and, in fact, was deemed one of the worst ad campaigns of 1994. But I still remember it.

An actress holds up a package of Mentos as the product and its tagline are shown at the bottom of the page.

Looking back, I appreciate those ads today for their ability to tell a story. They featured the product in a memorable way too. Each new entry delivered a first, second and third act within a 30-second spot. They introduced you to characters who faced challenges and found creative ways to solve them, always inspired by their mints. No one ever speaks a single line of dialogue either.

The spots were all a little aspirational because who doesn’t want to be the clever protagonist who figures out how to get out of a bind. Of course, each one of those characters represented a pretty privileged lifestyle otherwise. They just had to figure out a way around a little inconvenience, like a tight parking spot or a broken shoe.

Admittedly the reception of the campaign was mixed at best. Some people hated these commercials and I counted myself among them – at first. In hindsight, I recognize how these ads managed to strike a chord and evoke an emotional response from the audience. Toss in that simple but catchy tagline (which a lot of people still reference) and a corny song and it’s a recipe for a very memorable ad campaign.

The iPod Silhouettes – Andie Richardson, Graphic Designer

When I thought about nostalgic ad campaigns, the iPod commercials with the different colored backgrounds and silhouettes dancing came to mind. The campaign launched in the early 2000s with the introduction of the iPod. It marked a renaissance for the brand, in fact. When Apple released the iPod and iTunes, it had been experiencing a bit of a downturn in sales. The new products turned that right around.

A silhouette of a woman dances against a green background and holds a white iPod with headphones while the iPod and apple logo are shown in the upper right corner.

The dancing silhouettes quickly permeated the market and helped sell iPods to not only Apple customers but beyond. It definitely worked on me! I remember it feeling totally different from any commercial I’d ever seen before. It took me forever to save up enough babysitting money to buy myself the green one, but I did it, and I used it all the time!

Overall, customers bought 450 million iPods. Sadly Apple discontinued the device earlier this year. But the campaign still resonates with me today. I actually still have it somewhere in a drawer, although I don’t use it. I can’t seem to get rid of it. And the design still looks pretty sleek for being such an old piece of tech!

Clare Goggin Sivits

As a marketer with a strong writing background, Clare Goggin Sivits has worked in the beer, spirits, and wine industries for nearly a decade. She oversaw digital marketing for a small wine startup as well as a craft brewery and distillery with a nationwide footprint. A Florida ex-pat, Clare now lives in Portland, Oregon, and continues to write about craft beverage marketing and the industry as a whole.

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