The Best Print Ads of All Time



Read Time

12 min


21 July, 2020

A lot of people today believe that print ads are a thing of the past, with the recent rise in social media, a lot of companies have taken to the web for their campaigns. But in an often oversaturated digital market is that really the best solution for a successful campaign?

There is no argument that social media has become a huge part of our lives today, with the average person spending two hours and twenty-four minutes per day scrolling through social media.

However that doesn’t mean print ads don’t matter! They are a huge part of the average person’s life, it’s all around us whether it is driving in our car, walking to the shop or even in our own homes.

It also has a lot of benefits that you don’t get with social media too. You can…

  • Control the exposure to your ad, by directly targeting who, how and when people see you ads! Targeting the right demographic is key to a great ad!
  • Stimulates more human senses rather than just sight. Print stimulates touch, sight and even smell.
  • Make your audience engage for much longer with your ad, as on social media, you can easily swipe past.

At Canny we truly understand the value of print advertising in terms of getting your brand in front of your target audience. Take our client Health Matters for example. We worked with them to create an eye catching, vibrant billboard design that made people stop, whilst still communicating the key brand messages.

In this blog post I have gathered a collection of some of the greatest print ads of all time.

Here we go…

white IKEA leaflet
Designed by Akestam Holst


Thinking a little different here with their print ad is Ikea.

A print ad that not only sells baby cribs, but also doubles up as a pregnancy test for potential mothers to be, is certainly a head turner in the ad world!

On the face of it Ikea are trying to sell a crib with 50% off – an ad seen a million and one times before. These ads are normally very generic. A large picture of an item, title and a new slashed price, which looks to be the case here. However this ad is certainly very far from ordinary and is in fact genius!

The ad has been developed alongside Mercene Labs where women have to pee on the bottom of this print ad and If pregnant, their urine will cause the advert to change. Revealing not only if the person is pregnant, but also a new discounted family price for the crib.

By creating an advert that has doubled up as a pregnancy test, Ikea have cleverly forced their target audience to directly interact with their ad in an extremely clever way. Sparking people’s curiosity to do the test and see what lies hidden beneath. Even though this is a print ad it cleverly doubles up as a social media campaign too, as shocked shoppers take to social media to share what they have just seen – boosting publicity for the brand!

KFC bucket
Branding by Mother London


I’m sure everyone can remember where they were the moment they heard that KFC had indeed ran out of chicken! From a business point of view a chicken restaurant with no chicken, is a PR nightmare!

However this very simple print ad was set to rectify that. Using honesty and humour to communicate with its customers and fans, gave KFC the opportunity to come out on top with no long lasting brand damage. Turning an extreme negative into a positive.

The ad itself doesn’t consist of much, but by having an empty bucket of chicken alongside the simple rearrangement of the brand lettering, KFC have managed to create a very clear and sincere ad – delivering an extremely witty and funny apology. Which won back its loyal customers and did wonders for the brand image, as it showed that’s KFC as a company can hold their hands up when they are wrong, but also that they have a sense of humour.

This straight forward and honest approach to your brand communication or ads, can be an extremely powerful marketing tool when used correctly. If you combine this direct form of communication with humour you are on to a real winner!

jar of marmite
Branding by Oliver

Marmite, Love It Or Hate It?

One of the age old questions, love it or hate it?

Marmites dividing the nation campaign is one of the all time greats, they recognised the fact that lots of people don’t like their product. For most brands this is something that you really don’t want, however marmite looked at this from a different angle and actually ran with this as their USP.

With this ad Marmite’s design team firmly had its finger on the pulse of the UK political climate, as I’m sure we can all still remember Brexit! The campaign was launched in 2019 around the peak of the debate on whether Britain was going to leave the European Union.

Marmite decided to centre its new campaign around a phrase we all became very familiar with… hard Brexit, soft Brexit or No Brexit. Cleverly adapting this to hard breakfast, soft breakfast or no breakfast in company with its ‘Dividing the nation’ tagline.

By using current social or political situations within your advertisements, you make your brand current and relatable to people and increase your chances of causing a social media stir, as people share around your ad.

This ad from Marmite really shows the power that a well thought out yet simple print ad can have on public, with many people quick to jump on board, have their say and voice their opinions.

But for me the jury is still out on marmite!

mcdonalds billboard
Designed by Leo Burnett


McDonalds is one of the biggest companies on the planet, there aren’t many towns or cities without one. A brand that has become so instantly recognisable that it now doesn’t even need its company name on its adverts.

There are not many brands that could create such an effective ad campaign, using so little design elements. Advertisements like this however come along rarely, but for both businesses and designers alike its the ultimate brand goal to become so recognisable and iconic that you no longer need to display or even mention the name of your company.

With this Mc Donald’s ad it has taken this concept one step further by removing both the McDonald’s name and the product itself – delivering an advert using solely stack ingredients in Helvetica font. This shows that Mcdonald’s puts its emphasis on quality ingredients and that’s what makes up their iconic menus. By having an ad that’s so simplistic it tells the customer that they should have confidence in McDonalds to deliver great food.

I’m now off for a Big Mac…

advertising campaign by stabilo
Designed by Doyle Dane Bernbach


Now everyone at some point or another will have bought Stabilo or at least a highlighter – for me it takes me back to my uni days, working long Red Bull fuelled all-nighters in the library. However for most people a highlighter is a boring, expendable and forgettable product, which we only use for its practical benefits right? However the act of highlighting something can represent something so much more.

With this add DDB Düsseldorf’s have managed to cleverly combine the literal and metaphorical meanings of highlighting something – coupling it to some brilliant historical stories, that are all underpinned with the overarching brand message of highlighting the remarkable! By linking Stabilo’s highlighter to these stories they have managed to develop an emotional response from its customers to a very mundane product. By evoking an emotional response from your audience it makes them more likely to remember and therefore buy your product. It is a very powerful advertising technique that makes people buy one product over another.

Remember in today’s oversaturated market people buy brands, not just products!

Another great advertising tip that has been used by DDB when creating this ad is making it socially relevant and ‘on topic’ (similar to Marmite’s campaign mentioned earlier) by taking a current or relevant social issue like gender equality, and creating a link between that and your brand messaging. This has made the add and therefore the brand appear much more humanised and relevant, while also appearing like a socially conscious company!

vw advertising campaign
Designed by Doyle Dane Bernbach


Who doesn’t love an old Bug?

The old vw advertisements are some of the greatest ads of all time and none more so than the iconic ‘think small’ campaign. It is no understatement to say that this campaign totally changed the face of advertising forever. Before this in the 1950’s car ads were all very generic, full page spreads with beautifully hand drawn cars with perfect American families driving them. This was all about to change.

How did VW compete with the big American car manufactures when the American people were craving big, fast and luxurious cars, and the beetle was slow, ugly and developed under a Nazi regime?

Well the answer was they didn’t compete!

Instead they opted for a radically different approach and challenged the status quo!
Not trying to compete with classic American car manufactures and instead opt to highlight all of the other good but seemingly mundane benefits of not owning a huge muscle car. The designers at DDB did this by literally telling the audience to think small, not only in its copy but also through its use of imagery, by having a tiny picture of a beetle on full page spread.

The ad instantly developed huge publicity and boosted sales of the beetle in America massively into a now iconic car.

wwf advertising campaign
Designed by Doyle Dane Bernbach


WWF is no stranger to brilliant ad campaigns that raise awareness and huge amounts of money for wildlife preservations across the globe. It’s non profit ‘horrifying.more horrifying.’ Campaign is no exception! Again this is a very simple but effective ad, that really manages to deliver a thought provoking message, highlighting current issues regarding endangered animals.

The real issues faced by WWF is how to get people to care about animals from the other side of the world – especially animals which many people may not like. Typically other animal charity ad’s all adopt the same technique of pulling on people’s heart strings by using pictures of cute and sad looking animals to make people feel empathetic.

WWF adopts a radically different approach by using pictures of feared predators to highlight the need to save our ecosystems.

By having two seemingly identical images side by side with the only difference being the absence of the animal, it delivers a very clear message that a world without even the scariest of animals, would be the truly horrifying place. Combining this with small text all in caps really puts the focus of the brand message on the animal in the shot, for example with the shark. Which helps push the ad messaging about exploiting the ecosystem.

coca cola bottle with name clementine on front
Designed by Coca Cola

Share A Coke

Coca Cola has been responsible for some great and beautiful looking campaigns over the years from creating their own songs to huggable vending machines – they have redefined what an ad campaign’s can be.

Often the case with huge brands like Coca Cola or Pepsi it becomes hard to still be innovative with your advertisement and how you portray your brand to your audience.

The ‘Share a Coke’ campaign is an extremely clever marketing ploy that has been used by coca cola that targets individuals rather than the masses. By doing this they have managed to connect on a much more personal level, which forms stronger bonds between the customer and the brand.

The campaign began in Australia in 2011 and gained such great publicity, that other countries around the world decided to adopt it. Putting people’s names on coke bottles, was such a simple idea which had amazing results on sales. The campaign caused a huge stir with everyone trying to hunt down a bottle or can with their name on, quickly taking to social media to share their personalised bottle.

One of the reasons the ad was so successful was the fact that it had a very powerful double meaning call to action, directly telling people to buy and share a coke with friends. Its second call to action was inviting people to share their coke e.g online – giving coca cola a brilliant social media campaign in the process.

The Best Print Ads of All Time

As you can see, print ads don’t just have to be a second thought or a tick the box exercise, instead they can become one of the most powerful marketing tools at your company’s disposal. Regardless of what role you work in, whether you’re a Marketing Manager or start up founder, print ads are certainly not dead!

In a world where people Snapchat, Tweet, and Instagram their day to day lives, an effective print campaign with a strong call to action can also become a social media campaign, as people will want to share their experiences.

Hopefully this blog post has given you plenty of food for thought for your next campaign.

Hey, I'm Will, a Brand Designer here at Canny. I work as part of the design team helping to build amazing brands and websites.

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