Marketing lessons from 4 iconic campaigns and visionaries

To inspire, involve and uplift your audience, take a page from the playbooks of P.T. Barnum, De Beers and Red Bull.


Everyone knows that when you propose you offer a diamond ring, right?

That wasn’t always the case. You can thank (or blame) marketers for that tradition.

If you want to learn from some of the most audacious marketing visionaries and endeavors of all time, here are four classic examples that will spark your creativity:

1. P.T. Barnum: Deliver exceptional, distinctive value.

For those of you who haven’t seen “The Greatest Showman” yet, P.T. Barnum was a poor tailor’s son who realized the value of delighting an audience. When his show was called a fake and a fraud, he replied by saying the crowd’s smiles were real.

Barnum promoted sensational, one-of-a-kind acts. As he says in the movie, “No one ever made a difference by being like everyone else.”

The marketing tactics Barnum used are still prominent today: billboards, draping buildings with huge promotional banners and plastering ads onto public transportation vehicles.

What about the delivery? Copyblogger explains:

Although Barnum used outrageous stunts and hoaxes for promotional purposes, he was insanely focused on delivering exceptional value to his customers. When Barnum pulled one over on you, he told you, and then made sure you left with a smile on your face.

You might not be the next P.T. Barnum, but can you provide true value to your customers? Do you delight your audiences with unexpected, entertaining content, events or experiences? Channel your inner Barnum, and dare to be different.

2. De Beers: Reach a new audience.

Back in 1938, the diamond industry was struggling. Precious gems were viewed as a luxury that only super-wealthy people could afford, so De Beers hired an ad agency to repackage diamonds for the average American. In conjunction with positioning diamonds as part of the “engagement tradition,” the company rolled out the slogan “A Diamond Is Forever” in 1948.

The rest, of course, is history. “A Diamond Is Forever” has been used by the company ever since, and the phrase was named the best slogan of the 20th century by Ad Age.

How can your company learn from De Beers?

  • Don’t be afraid to reposition your brand to reach a new audience. If sales are waning and you’re unable to reach new consumers, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate your target customer. Don’t be afraid to pivot or alter strategies.
  • Appeal to positive emotions. De Beers positioned its diamonds as an expression of enduring love. How can you tie positive emotions to your brand or product?
  • Produce a consistent message. De Beers has used the same slogan for decades, despite updating its marketing and communication efforts. The medium might change, but your core message and mission should steadily shine through.

3. Rosie the Riveter: Empower your followers.

The famous “We Can Do It” poster image was originally part of a work-incentive campaign for Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Co., but it has become synonymous with the World War II-era Rosie the Riveter campaign.

The marketing campaign spread through movies, newspapers, posters, photos and articles, as it reminded and inspired women that they played a crucial role in the war effort. Following the war, the “We Can Do It” poster became a symbol of female empowerment.

As this article explains, “Since then, it has been used by everyone from Clorox to Beyoncé to communicate the idea that women are strong, independent people capable of rolling up their sleeves and getting the job done.”

To learn from this marketing example, take steps to empower and inspire your audience. When appropriate, take a stand and rally around a cause. Use your marketing to encourage and uplift people.

4. Red Bull: Make it an event.

In 2012, Red Bull sponsored Felix Baumgartner’s live space jump. The stunt drew more than 8 million viewers on YouTube, and more than 40 TV networks worldwide carried the live feed. Red Bull also capitalized on social media following the event, soliciting questions via Facebook and Twitter for Baumgartner to answer in a post-jump news conference.

This Red Bull-sponsored event marked a shift in digital culture. Rather than responding to traditional ads, modern consumers want to be part of the story and engage with current events. Also, it helps to create a tantalizing experience that attracts people.

How can you tie this remarkable marketing coup into your strategy?

  • Focus on the experience. Come up with ways for your audience to get involved. You might not be able to orchestrate a 24-mile drop from space, but there are countless ways to provide a fun, engaging experience for potential customers. Think about events your target consumers would enjoy that are a natural fit for your brand, and then use them as vehicles to create meaningful interactions.
  • Offer opportunities for engagement. Don’t make your message all about your brand. Give fans and followers a chance to get involved and ask questions. Ask them for advice and suggestions. Of course, you’ll need content or experiences that are compelling enough to merit interest, so prioritize great storytelling and fun events that will draw engagement.

Don’t be discouraged by these extraordinary examples. Learn from them, and integrate the timeless principles of successful campaigns into your marketing strategy. As Rosie the Riveter might say, “We can do it.”

A version of this post first appeared on Three Girls Media.

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