16 must-see classic print ads

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Several Newspaper Marketing Associations in UK & Australia not only encourage newspaper advertising but provide case studies and tools for better utilization of the medium for both advertisers & agencies. Wonder if there are similar bodies in India? The Indian Newspaper Society whose site looks so ’80s, publishes a brochure for agencies but nothing more.

Herewith a collection from these sources: several of them can be seen in The Copy Book – How 32 of the World’s Best Advertising Writers Write Their Advertising. I have left out the popular ones like Volkswagen’s Lemon and attempted to share the lesser known ones:

1. Albany Life

Imagine you are married (if you are not, already) and reading the papers. Would you get past this ad without reading it? Unlikely. Awesome headline, riveting copy.

2. Chivas Regal

I am sure this ad inspired many young men & women to get into advertising, specifically copywriting.

3. DDB – recruitment ad

I hadn’t seen this ad before and I was struck by the wonderful perspective of the writer (was it the brief?) to ask himself: I have to work with the Account Man hired through this ad; how can I make both our jobs easier?’

4. Health Education Council

The birth control ad is telegraphic advertising at it’s best. I have heard other copywriters refer to the ‘Flies can’t eat solid food’ headline – sounds even better now.

5. McDonalds – Supersize Me

One may not agree with McDonald’s stand on how it was portrayed in Supersize Me, but makes for great copy.


Classic ‘call for action’ headline, coupled with an arresting visual. Enough said.

7. Pilkington Glass

I remember seeing the classic TV commercial and a print ad whose headline referred to the fact that much of Pilkington’s export to Japan, was sent back promptly (in the form of Japanese tourists, since the glass was used in their cameras!). This ad too, is classic stuff.

Years later, Fallon McElligot created a similar headline for Murray’s restaurant, which went something like: ‘Around the world, every great city has a restaurant like Murrays. In Minneapolis, it is Murrays’.

8. Sainsbury

Will our target audience get it? Why can’t we say it directly? Such questions don’t seem to apply for British advertising.

9. Smoking – If Only

Remember seeing this in The Copy Book – etched in my mind forever.

10. Stella Artois

Imagine expressing the Stella Artois proposition of ‘reassuringly expensive’ in a 4-word headline. Awesome.

11. The Economist

How can this list be complete without an ad from The Economist?

12. The Samaritans

Arresting headline, an immediate clarification, nuggets of information – all nicely weaved into one compelling ad.

13. Volvo

One of the classic Volvo ads – not as copy heavy as the others in this list. But just as effective.

14. Volkswagen Polo

This campaign had a series of classic TV adverts for the theme ‘Surprisingly low prices’. For me, it was also one of the first examples of implementing a campaign idea in a 360-degrees fashion.

Great examples in the craft of copywriting alright. But I think it is facilitated by a whole lot of things: lucid thinking, clear strategy, inspiring briefs, great Art partners and of course, clients who believed in great advertising and had the balls to back it  up.

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  1. Its interesting how many of these are public service announcements, or PR/branding pieces, rather than ads for a specific product.

  2. Thanks for this excellent (and perhaps, timely) post.

    Too many people claiming print is dead these days, when that seems a bit counter-intuitive, especially in the India context. With rising levels of literacy and if-you-pardon-the-jargon, "inclusion", interest in reading should logically be on the upswing.

    You've got the Chivas Father's Day advert, which is classic David Abbott. No headline! 25 paragraphs all beginning with "because"! Who in their right mind would read it, apart from a discerning whisky drinker?

    Have a look at this post via Campaign UK; pretty good argument on thinking about print ads, and the relevance of copy (versus arresting visual) in today's day and age.
    And maybe, more interestingly talks about an appeal to logic and reasoned argument.

  3. Hi, i was wondering what the date is for the nspcc poster as im looking to use it for an essay i have? thanks

    • hi Caroline, I don't have the date of release of the NSPCC poster. Will look it up in the Copy Book – it must be featured there.

  4. For me a very impressive campaign is that of Benson and Hedges: What do men go overboard for? Pure Gold.

  5. John Morell Reply

    50p obviously went a lot further quite literally in the eighties. They were apparently minting the coins a lot larger than I remember.

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