Iconic adverts that dared to defy

As members of the general public, we also double as potential customers. Advertisers see us all as their next potential customer and therefore need to communicate with us all the time. A five minute stroll from A to B will see you being called out by voices from billboards, buses and screens, all alluring you with the benefits of a service or a product.


In some cases, advertisements go beyond what you can merely just buy. Advertising extends into the realm of the mental processes. Campaigns can be engineered into capturing your social or political stances.


The edge that is needed by a company or organisation to succeed in a market has resulted in the creation of adverts that are so unique or even so strange that they have become iconic. Companies in the past have latched onto a cultural movement or fashion and engineered it into their advertising campaign, thus reaping not only the success of that particular product, but also the iconic status that has come with it. In the past, adverts have been produced coming from a certain social standpoint, political ethos or even artistic appreciation to connect with the general public. In some cases these have made adverts that have been truly shocking, controversial, hilarious or a plain success- call it a viral technique from yesteryear. Nevertheless, these adverts that dared to defy have become iconic. In this article, we will take a glimpse back to some of the adverts that have shook the boundaries, played on stereotypes and have become iconic for doing so.


J. Howard Miller- “We can do it!”

Politically charged topics have always been a favorite in the advertising industry. Implementing a political standpoint in an advertising campaign can inspire ambition, rouse a public vote and serve as a powerful call-to-action. The iconic “We can do it” American wartime propaganda poster was employed to do just that. The poster was designed to rouse the morale of the factory workers during the war, prompting them to keep pushing on production. An undercurrent of J. Howard Miller’s design, and what it is has become known for today is its promotion of gender equality thus it became a model in the feminist movements later in the century and a symbol for equality and justice.


Shepard Fairey- “Hope”

Along the same vein is Graphic designer and illustrator Shephard Fairey’s creation “Hope”. Like “We can do it” the concept was to rouse a political ethos. The illustrative design is influenced by pop art, screen print and most of all stencil graffiti. All of these mediums speak volumes subconsciously as the younger audience Obama was trying to speak to could relate to the concepts interwoven into the design. The whole of Obama’s campaign was summed up into one single catchphrase, “Hope”; a powerful call-to action that would inspire a generation that had witnessed recent catastrophe in America. “Hope” demonstrated the ethos that Obama’s campaign relished; that was change. The design is un-formalised and modern; defying the standard. The poster speaks in relation to its audience, inspiring them to have hope in the light of change- not to forget the song that went with this poster, “Changes” by Tupac Shakur. Obviously the poster was a successful implementation in Obama’s presidential campaign and inspired a nation to embrace change.


Marlboro- “Gee Dad, You always get the best of everything”

With today’s tight restrictions and political correctness in advertising, designers and organisations need to be very careful as to what they release into the public domain. Nowadays cigarette advertising is a thing of the past, but there was a time when cigarette companies had free reign to advertise how they wished- and the results were often shocking! This Marlboro advert screams taboo. Using a child to advertise a life threatening habit was once an advertising norm. Though these adverts are downright shocking to today’s audience they were also hugely successful and the slogans are still to this day well known for their infamy.


Kenwood Chef

Again, this gob-smacking Kenwood Chef poster is another example of taboo advertising that has gone down in history for its absurd incorrectness. Playing on the aged stereotype of the woman belonging in the kitchen, the Kenwood chef adverts targeted a male audience; advertising a machine that apparently does “everything” in the kitchen but cook- as that is what the wife is for apparently. Again, due to its play on stereotypes and sheer crudeness, the Kenwood chef series has become a memorable piece of advertising- though maybe not for all the right reasons.


Arnold Skolnick- Woodstock

Skolnick’s Woodstock poster has seen many variations and tribute pieces mimicking it. The imagery used in the poster was meant to convey the philanthropy and peaceful ethos behind the Woodstock event. The white dove perched on the guitar symbolised the unity of peace and music at the event. The typographic elements are simple and easy to read and the white text is has a humble feeling to it. Due to this, it connects to the audience it was trying to communicate with, a humble generation of people seeking a new answer, a simple desire of a non-materialistic life with the spirit of music and nature. Interestingly, a colour clash of red and yellow has been employed here. The contrast of red with the yellow allows enough negative space to distinguish the letter form which is the softened with the white. The poster, with its clash of colours yet peaceful imagery embodies the peaceful rebellion of Woodstock.


La Noche America- Film Poster

The advertising poster for the François Truffaut’s 1973 film, La Noche Americana abides by the old credo that sex sells. The steamy composition stapled itself into the minds of many through it’s use of risque imagery in a manner that’s become known as typical of 70’s French cinema. As part of the film’s advertising campaign the steamy content of the poster allured the audience with its enticing and titillating imagery. Interestingly, the image that featured on the posters resembled a very famous couple who were parading their liberated views of sexuality at the same time; none other than Jon Lennon and Yoko Ono. Selling sex is an advertising technique that, though diluted in comparison today, remains as a memorable and successful form of advertising.


Attack of the 50 foot woman

This is a poster that is instantly recognisable  There is a subversion of stereotypes that made this poster and the film itself iconic. The beauteous female is very typically presented in its form and the choice of skimpy clothing, but her size and ferocity make her a figure to be feared. Like the “We can do it” example, this poster represents a liberated female form which defied the social stereotype of the era. Rather than the woman being the obedient housewife, in this case she is presented as a conquering figure of power. The typography is firm; the use of tall red lettering suggests danger while emphasis is placed upon “50ft” to emphasise what makes this woman so dangerous.


Ferrari 250 GTO Campaign

Never has a brand let its imagery do the talking like Ferrari did with their 250 GTO posters. The use of red, being Ferrari’s colour and the mere outline of the car model spoke more than brand name and logo placement- a very bold move. In terms of the actual poster design, it is the perfect example of “less is more”. The simple illustrative depiction of the cars outline leaves an audience wanting to know more about this mysterious car. Everything about the poster is bold and full of attitude. The colours all compliment each other perfectly, and the circle containing the simple 250 GTO effectively draws the eye straight to the point.


Alphonse Mucha- “Job” Rolling Papers Adverts

The end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th saw an interest in Art Nouveau design. Pioneers Charles Renni Mackintosh influenced furniture designs, (such as chairs) but also used his stylistic approach to cross over into paintings. Gustav Klimt was another key player for paintings, however it wasn’t until Alphonse Mucha, who used the same principles as fine art into commercial use. Mucha had used the same elements of line markings, swirls, colours and composition to poster design and adverts. They were beautifully constructed and highly detailed – commercial art was invented. Here the ‘Job’ rolling paper poster portrays very typical Mucha markings, a beautiful woman normally with a side profile, line markings are elegant and soft, the typography often follows the same suit and the colours are very subtle.


These advertisements in one way or another both defined the time that they in circulation and have defined advertisement design today. From the promotion of social equality through to the defining of the less is more trend, all these examples have had an impact on the advertising world that left it changed forever. For these reasons, each of these advertisements has become a part of history. Obviously, there are many more out there; many we couldn’t include here and we would love to hear your examples, so why not leave a comment with the ones we have missed?