Top Eight Inspirational Ad Campaigns


As a marketing communications professional, my first exposure to the world of advertising, public relations and social media was actually through a Nike campaign some 20 years ago. This particular campaign inspired me, pushed me to be better and forced me, even at a young age, to keep going even in the face of failure. Maybe it’s also partially responsible for my brand loyalty to Nike all these years.

Years later, the message behind this campaign continues to inspire me and it’s a message that I reach for when times are tough, when I get low and there doesn’t seem to be a way out. It inspires me so much that I even analyzed it in an academic paper.  As a professional storyteller for clients in film, food and tourism, helping them translate their stories for an array of mediums (whether it’s in PR, social media or a blog/print piece); I’ve always felt that a narrative doesn’t have to be long in order to be inspirational. Ad campaigns can go beyond selling something to actually make you feel something and messages also doesn’t have to come from a book, a film or a TV series in order be real, raw and realistic.

Without further ado, I’m going to share some of the most inspirational ad campaigns that have pushed me to be better and continue to fight through adversity and move forward in the face of failure.

1.Nike-“Failure” (1997)

Though far from the first Michael Jordan led Nike campaign I’d seen growing up, it was definitely the first of many Nike campaigns that struck a chord with me. As he’s walking into the Chicago Bulls locker room, one of the greatest basketball players of all time ruminates on all the times he’d messed up, missed a shot or the games he’s lost-and how it forces him to continue to push himself to be better. If there was one message that I continue to carry with me from this campaign, is that failure isn’t the end and that you can-and should-use it to as motivation to learn from your mistakes and move forward. Still a campaign I return 20-some odd years later whenever things are tough and I need inspiration.

2. Nike-“Maybe It’s My Fault” (2008)

Another Michael Jordan campaign that forces you to stand up and pay attention; this was the campaign formed the basis of the academic paper I mentioned earlier. With Michael providing the voiceover, the ad cycles through several significant locations and areas from his life, from his old gym and the locker room at UNC, to the trophies and accolades in the Chicago Bulls locker room. In the voiceover, the man himself talks about how peoples’ misconceptions about his career and his skill set allowed them to make excuses for themselves. At the end of the ad, he forces them to stand up and listen and to stop using him as an excuse for why they can’t play the game of basketball. The message here is simple: just because he was able to do what he was able to do doesn’t mean you can’t do the same. Stop putting him up on a pedestal that you can never reach and start working hard to get to where you want to go.

3. Converse-“Love Letter to Basketball” (2007)

Less of a campaign and more of a personal reflection that inspired a campaign for Converse, this was the video I remember showing a co-worker (herself a basketball player who had to stop playing due to chronic injuries) 7 years ago; which reduced her into a flood of tears. Written by the amazingly talented Dwyane Wade (one of the best currently active players in the NBA today) while he was still endorsed by Converse, it’s an inspirational piece about the struggles any athlete faces in the sport they love. When you struggle with something you love, it can be disheartening, it can beat you down, wear you out and cause you to want to give up. It’s a powerful letter filled with hope that things can get better if you persevere in what you love and don’t allow the cycle of negativity to suck you under.

4. Nike-“Together” (2014)

Are you perhaps sensing a theme in the types of campaigns I find inspirational? Even as a non-Cleveland Cavaliers fan and a casual fan of LeBron James, this campaign continues to cause me to choke up every time I see it. Why? It’s like the tagline says “This time it’s bigger than basketball,” and it was. This campaign was rallying battle cry for the city of Cleveland and it showed. This shared community, this shared love for sport brought out the loyalty, the love and the best out of the citizens of Cleveland. Say what you want about LeBron’s career, his attitude regarding some aspects of celebrity and the controversial move he made to leave Cleveland in the first place, but the man is a leader-and one who is great at rallying people around him.  And the payoff of this? Cleveland won their first-ever NBA championship two seasons later. I’d say the tears LeBron shed were well warranted.

5.Smarties-“Duets” (2008)

An interesting campaign that doesn’t show its hand on what product they’re promoting until the very end, this older Smarties campaign features several Canadian singers in a duet with one another in several different locations from a church and skate park to a city bus. Each pair features a singer with another musician playing an instrument, whether it’s a beatboxer, guitarist or saxophonist. Each one sings a variation of lyrics off of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People”, substituting the colors for occupations before ending with a flourish on the line “I am everyday people.” While this wasn’t a well-known Smarties campaign around the world or even in Canada at the time, there’s something about seeing people from all different cultures and ethnic backgrounds, singing the lyrics of a song that promotes inclusiveness and acceptance of diversity, especially in the face of today’s many issues surrounding racism and prejudice.

6. Chrysler-“Imported From Detroit (Super Bowl 2011)

While not a huge car fan by any means, this campaign during the Super Bowl in 2011 caught my eye because of the underlying implications. At the time, Detroit was still reeling from the 2008 recession, hit incredibly hard economically with houses foreclosing left, right and center and several auto makers had to be bailed out by the US government. Eminem, Detroit’s prodigal son, was also experiencing a major comeback in his career, having released the great album Recovery, a few months previously. What this campaign symbolizes to me is the revitalization of Detroit, the auto industry and indeed, Eminem’s career. It’s that blue-collar work ethic and the refusal to ever give up that really stands out in this campaign. The use of Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself’ was the perfect soundtrack to illustrate what Detroit and what Eminem is made of.

7. Nike-“Fate- Leave Nothing” (2008)

Directed by the legendary David Fincher, this is by far my favorite NFL football campaign. He focuses on the life-long journeys of pro football players, LaDainian Tomlinson of the San Diego Chargers and future Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers as they collide in an NFL season game. In the campaign, you see how both players grew up, got involved with basketball and then football and how they trained for both sports. As the two collide on the field, the message is clear: give it your all, no matter what you choose to do and leave nothing on the table. If you leave it all out there, you’ll have no regrets, no matter what the result of everything you’ve worked towards.

8.Nike-“Let Your Game Speak” (2006)

I thought I’d close off the list with one last Michael Jordan campaign. Unlike the other ad campaigns featured on this list, this one contains no dialogue whatsoever. Instead, this campaign shows several basketball players making slick slam dunks and gorgeous shots on courts all over the world. College kids in tournaments, high school students in the gym, even students halfway across the world in China execute great plays on the basketball court. The ad ends with a basket being sunk due to a great shot from a young Chicago native during the Chi Classic while Michael Jordan stands, proudly watching the next generation-with the words ‘Let Your Game Speak’ going across the screen. Simple, but poignant, it tells you that sometimes, words are necessary to have make an impact. Sometimes, all you need is to let your skills speak for themselves.

That’s my list of ad campaigns that inspire me and push me to do better, move forward and continue fighting. Know any more that I should watch? Let me know!

In the meantime, here’s my list of go-to songs, books & movies that help me beat writer’s block.

Selling Health: Advertising Drugs as the Solution

Within the last ten to twelve years, I’ve noticed an influx of commercials advertising different drugs, everything from erectile dysfunction to depression. Recently, I discovered that this practice is illegal in Canada, and yet we’re able to see such commercials because we have many American channels on satellite or digital cable. At first I found these commercials to be humorous but also pointless as the laundry list of side effects would be enough to convince me not to take the drug. However, recently I’ve also come to understand how marketing comes into play with such medication, because the underlying perception in our society is still that prescription drugs are somehow are effective than those we can simply purchase on our own in the drugstore.

With that being said, there are also other techniques used by such companies that convince people to talk to their doctors about medication such as Celebrex or Viagra. They use images of healthy, happy people who have become that way because the drugs have cured their depression or their allergies. Every day conditions such as allergies and the common cold have been re-branded into being sold as diseases and as such the underlying message is that medication must be purchased in order to heal people from such afflictions.

Moreover, I personally admit that companies such as Pfizer have ingenious marketing departments. Pfizer’s recent campaign featuring the ‘What Can We Do’ and “Graffiti’ commercials focuses on the human element to better health, becoming more brave, loving your families and enjoying the little things in life. Pfizer is bold enough to proclaim that sometimes ‘it takes more than medication’ in an attempt to market themselves as believing in alternative ways to better health, in spite being one of the two largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. Keep in mind, however, alternative in this sense does not mean alternative medicine. Although society is increasingly accepting of methods such as herbal medicine, acupuncture and naturopathy, these methods are in direct competition with pharmaceutical companies and in traditional mediums, such as television; pharmaceutical companies rule. Western medicine is still trying to convince its audience that the answers to their problems are found at the bottom of a pill bottle.

As I mentioned previously, the companies often do not create new medication for new diseases, rather they re-brand old diseases with new names and everyday conditions into diseases that previously thought of as being normal, such as acid reflux, which is now called gastro-esophageal reflux disease, which sounds much more serious and in much more need of medication to deal with it. I’ve recently learned that this is called the commodification of health and the medicalization of the human experience.

With this so called new influx of drugs and diseases, so brings in more fear in society about our health. The relationship with our doctors simply becomes a delivery system for these drugs, which doctors are pressured into pushing because of free incentives they receive from pharmaceutical companies. It is a world where increasingly, we cannot trust the information internet websites on the most effective medication, nor what we hear on the news.

In essence, all we are able to do as patients and consumers is tread carefully into the world of medication and learn as much as we can from patient advocacy groups and literature written by proven medical scientists and professionals. Without this knowledge, we are doing nothing but walking into a field of land mines.

Marketing Disillusions: The Purpose of a Higher Education

As I approach the end of my post secondary career, at least for all intents and purpose thus far; I find myself increasing disillusioned with the purpose of my degree.

Many people I have spoken to have said that the light is at the end of the tunnel and that for better or for worse, I will have completed my higher education with more knowledge than I entered in with. But for what purpose? Increasingly, I have found myself thinking that the purpose of a degree is to convince potential employers (and clients, in my case) that I have the qualifications to successfully compete for and do the job that I set out to do. However, is experience not just as vital if not more so than qualifications?

I suppose the question is how one defines the term ‘qualifications’. In my all-too-brief stints in the working world, which increasingly informs my experience in marketing and advertising, I believe that it is the tasks I complete that give me the qualifications; not my education. Why do I say this, you may ask? As I attend a traditional university, much if not all of what we are taught is theoretical. We are not given opportunities to apply such so-called knowledge outside of the confines of projects contained within the lecture hall. This is an enormous difference from that of more applied post secondary institutions, of which the one I worked at the latter half of last year fits into.

In my institution, nearly any and all applied experience we must go out and seek ourselves, much of it through our co-operative education program, of which I am a huge supporter of and participant in myself. In the applied institutions, however, your practical experience is integrated into the very fabric of your education.

For example, at the institution where I was a staff member for all too brief of a time, their MBA students were given projects, not from the professor or instructor, but from actual businesses looking for help at no cost. This help is in the form of business or marketing plans as well as other projects. These students also have the option of creating their own plans for their own start-up businesses. Throughout the process, the students’ plans are judged by three different independent panels of potential investors; therefore giving them the opportunity to see whether or not their businesses will succeed. This is an element that I find myself wishing frequently was available in more traditional educational institutions. As one struggling with a part-time freelance writing business in the marketing and advertising field myself, I believe there would have been many pointers and opportunities for advice that I could have received.

It is not as though I rely strictly on school to assist me with my business or searches for work experience however. I have attended networking events and have a student membership in the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) in an attempt to grow my network, obtain advice and gain work. But, it would have assisted me greatly had I had such applied opportunities integrated into my degree.

There are those who will disagree with me on the purpose of a degree. But the fact remains that my education will not teach me how to craft a brochure for a graphic designer, or a website for a photographer. Each client’s needs are distinct and separate from another, as are their target audiences. These are skills learned through trial and error, to which I have no teacher other than my own two hands and communication with my client. In my institution, my writing abilities extend strictly to academic forms of writing, which assist me little in my business or work experience as I do not intend to move to higher forms of post secondary education.

There is a debate then, between the importance of theoretical and practical knowledge. As I have said before, I find myself increasingly disillusioned as much of the courses I am forced to endure to complete my degree have little or nothing to do with my career path. Those that I do take an interest in, I somehow think that the option is still available to me to obtain books, articles and alike on such subject matter without having to pay tuition in order to gain such knowledge. The argument of course, can be made that the chances of my being willing to go out and search for such material is slim to none; nevertheless the opportunity is available to me.

I suppose the second debate would be on the definition of qualifications. All the jobs in my field, communications, that I have discovered, all explicitly state experience as their first preference, with the degree as a secondary point.  One could then venture a guess that experience is the most important qualification when seeking employment. The degree then, is simply there to convince the individuals/company that you are marketing your skills to, that you have the training to excel at the position in question. Again, as I have said before, however, my theoretical knowledge obtained in completing my degree has done little or nothing to assist me in creating a solid, attractive and creative advertising piece for a client.

So is there anything that remains to be done in this circumstance? The fact of the matter remains that I will not get farther in my career path without my degree, whatever the true reasons for having one. And thus, with a year and half to go, I suppose my only recourse is to continually seek employment and freelance opportunities and to bite the bullet and complete the last of my academic experience.

Selling Your Most Important Asset: Yourself

After a two month hiatus in which I pondered what to write about, either for general interest or in relation to advertising, I realized I’d forgotten a vital subject.

When talking about marketing a product, brand or concept, I believe that the most important product or concept you have to market is yourself.

If you’re reading this, right about now I’m sure you’re wondering what I mean when I say you can market yourself as a product or a concept.

Marketing yourself as a product, I’d say most commonly occurs when we’re looking for a job. In this scenario, you’re hopefully dressed sharp, with a well presented resume that lays your experience and credentials black and white, trying to convince Mr. Manager So-And-So why you’d be an asset to their company.

How are you supposed to convince Mr. Manager? Not just by answering questions, oh no. That’s not enough in today’s day and age. It’s in the way you answer the questions, not to mention how you incorporate your experience and skills into the company’s mission as well as the job description.

But even that’s the tip of the iceberg. Sometimes, it’s a casual quip about the way you’re dressed that earns you a laugh, or striking up a conversation about the Canucks when you notice the flag on the manager’s desk.  Any little thing to make you memorable and imprint you in Mr. Manager’s mind, even if it’s a hand-crafted card thanking them for their time.

As for marketing yourself as a concept, it’s more so like marketing yourself as an example in a scenario while brainstorming ideas at a board meeting, let’s say.

You place yourself inside the concept as a consumer, as a producer of a product or service, or the actual idea. Talk about innovative. Refer to yourself as the idea to create a new service for helping families turn home movies into DVDs for example. By placing yourself in the scenario, not only are you letting the talking heads in charge that you’re serious about the idea, but you’re also forcing yourself to think on your toes.

Imagine trying to market yourself in your social life. Isn’t that how we all try and expand our social circles? The two best examples I can think of on this are talking to someone on the bus, and creating an ad on a site like craigslist.

There IS one main difference between the two though, you can only press the ‘delete’ button in one of those scenarios. When you try to market yourself and make an impression in person, your words should be chosen and measured, based on the other person’s facial expression, voice and body language.

When you’re online, you’re free to do what you want.  You can be free with your words and what impression you want them to make and you can also be picky about who you want reading those words, or looking at your picture. Either way, you’re still marketing yourself.

We’re still looking for a connection, albeit a friendship or relationship, and both those instances may be the truest way any of us would ever market ourselves.

Perhaps, learning how to market yourself socially will be the reason for your successful marketing professionally.



Feel Like Running For Office? Break Out the Promotional Publicity

The only way to get noticed in today’s society is to market yourself. Even the act of opening your mouth to introduce yourself, stick out a hand for a handshake or give a business card is an act of marketing. Without marketing, there’s no possibility of being noticed. Whether you are looking for a job or looking for a new friend, how you present yourself to others is key in the amount of, if any, success you will obtain.

Marketing has never been more crucial than in politics. The moment you decide you want to run for office as representative of whatever institution, town, city or country, you better have a budget set aside for promotion. Promotion is not just about sharing your message with your target audience; it is about enticing them, provoking them to believe in you over your opponent for all of the reasons you have listed and more. Without an efficient way to advertise yourself and your message, elections can’t be won.

I have never been a person to pay much attention to politics, in fact, majority of the time, I tend to abhor such related news. Although politics exist in every aspect of the economy, no matter what form of employment you choose to take, I refer specifically here to the politics related to law and government. Until recently, there has never been an electoral race that gripped my attention such as the Democratic race for candidacy between New York senator Hilary Rodham Clinton and Illinois senator Barack Obama. Part of the reason stems from the fact that no matter which candidate wins, they are both breaking racial and gender barriers that have existed in the American political landscape since the founding of the country. Senator Obama represents the first time someone of African descent has run for presidency, not to mention Senator Clinton represents the very first time a woman has run for the highest office in the United States.

More than the barriers both Democratic candidates are currently breaking, what also draws my attention is the message both of them are promoting to the public. Although they are running for the American presidential election, whoever the successful candidate is will directly affect relations with Canada. Both candidates place the emphasis of their campaigns on change; change from the Bush administration, change from the current real estate recession and change on the subject of climate change and global warming.

The key both candidates have used no shortage of is efficient, sufficient advertising. Public, national debates, rallies that are televised internationally, and tours to the various constituencies all over the country. Any medium available to them, both Senators Clinton and Obama took full advantage of, including but not limited to television, radio, print and touring. Internet blogs have extensively covered the race for the Democratic candidacy even more so than their print counterparts.

Unfortunately, this knowledge to use whatever medium possibly to advertise your message within politics has had difficulty spreading to more local, community levels. This only became more apparent to me as I started my post-secondary education and was subjected to the various ways that potential candidates tried their hands at running for positions in the Student Society.

I believe that I speak for the majority of the student body at my particular educational institution when I say that we are, for the most part, completely indifferent to the candidates and the governing body they run for in elections. The grave mistake made by the governing student society since I’ve been enrolled as a student there; and I believe since the school was founded, was the lack of diversity in their advertising. Wallpapering various poles, bulletins and walls is effective within a smaller community, but not in an institution of 32,000 students and one can only estimate the number of faculty and staff.

Speaking from experience, as a student, and as secretary and unofficial marketing/advertising coordinator for the poetry club on campus; the only thing that is guaranteed to succeed when using this method is the amount of layering all the wallpapered posters will create. Very few posters have the chance to catch the eye of their target audiences, announcing an event or contest, before being wallpapered over. And yet, for reasons unknown, this still is the most popular method of advertising to the public, in this case, those of us who work and obtain our educations at the institution.

Moving back to the subject of the student elections at my school, all of the candidates settled for wallpapering, or at best, standing in the midst of heavy foot traffic between classes to hand out fliers. Having potential candidates plaster every visible surface with their faces and slogans, does nothing to appeal to me as a potential voter. I know nothing about who they are and what they stand for, and more importantly, why they believe that they outshine their competition for each elected position, and what changes they will bring to the student government. During first year classes, all of us must strain to hear professors in lecture halls designed to hold at least 300 students. Even in the last years of a degree, of which I myself am in the midst of, it still means lectures of 50 to 60 students. There is simply no way of remembering every person I have taken classes with over the course of the last three years.

Having your face plastered on the wall that I currently could be leaning against means nothing to me, because I do not know you. There is no connection, there is no attempt to entice or convince me, as a member of the target audience to pay attention to what you as a candidate stand for. Anyone can write words on a flyer and claim to have these abilities or these standpoints, but it takes practical, effective demonstration to sway the majority of the populous to care.

Now, I realize that students running for office have nowhere near the amount of funds allotted to Senators Clinton and Obama for their campaigning; however, there are alternatives that have proven to be more successful, both on a local scale with city politics and other events.

As mentioned earlier, being an executive member of the poetry club, I took it upon myself to do the advertising for the club, and immediately starting thinking of different ways to reach fellow students, more effective than simply taping posters to the wall, or relying on passersby during the once-a-semester set up of Clubs Days.

It struck me rather quickly that very few, if any other clubs took advantage of faculty advisors using their mailing lists to alert the students under that particular faculty. The majority of notices related to events and organizations I’d received from the two faculties I am a part of, were of outside events, or organizations that the alumni were involved in, rather than enrolled students.  I was surprised, and still am now, about how so few of the student body, both those running for elections, and those in clubs, sought the assistance of the faculty advisors when advertising for an event, organization, or themselves during election season.

I decided for the poetry club, that although we would not stop postering nor having a table out during Clubs Days, that utilizing the advisors’ mailing lists would be the best way to reach my fellow students. There obviously is never a guarantee of everyone responding, however, using the e-mail mailing lists gave me the largest possible market segment to advertise to, as every student receives e-mail from his or her respective advisors. In addition, the creation of business cards to hand out during events was implemented, as well as talks to have a table throughout the semester to advertise the club during heavy traffic between classes.

And yet, these are initiatives seemingly unheard of amongst my fellow students who decide to run for office.  To entice votes, there is nothing wrong with utilizing the mailing lists to organize a speech, or a particular rally. There is also nothing wrong with incorporating the campus radio station into a campaign in order to convince voters. The excuse of becoming cost-effective during the course of campaigning for a political position in the student government is faulty and useless. There are many alternatives that oblivious candidates refuse to entertain, and as such, reach a far lesser number of potential voters than if they had incorporated various techniques into their campaigns.


Bottom line of politics: if you want people to vote, you better advertise. Versatility in your advertising is the key to having your message be heard, and stealing as many votes humanly possible.   

Inspirational Advertising: An Endangered Species?

“I’ve failed over, and over, and over again in my life. And that is why, I succeed.” Perhaps the most important line from a sports commercial in the 90’s, the message behind  Michael Jordan’s Failure Commercial, one of the many he shot as part of his endorsement deal with Nike; is seemingly dead in today’s advertising industry.

Less than twenty years ago, the message in sports was one of inspiration, championed by none other than His Airness. If you failed, climb to your feet and try again to succeed, if you make a mistake, learn from it. Above all, you throw off your critics and continue doing what you love, because you can, and don’t allow anyone to beat you down, not even yourself.  These were just some of the messages behind Michael Jordan’s commercials of the late 80’s to the late 90’s.  The intention was to inspire the audience, in particular young teens that looked up to an athletic legend such as Jordan, to do their best, and to achieve success in anything and everything that they chose to do. It wasn’t about being a showman, or bettering someone else simply for the sake of doing so, it was about pushing yourself to be the best that you could be, and it was an invaluable teacher to a generation of children who are currently or who have found success in their many endeavors.

Now, just over two decades later, such inspiration is gone from today’s advertising media. The messages in today’s advertising is all centered on humor, sex, and most often, image, in relation to how other people view you as a person. For Nike, who expanded their range of sports equipment to include hockey gear, their campaigns with NHL stars prove that inspiration did not even cross their minds. Commercials done by Markus Naslund, Jarome Iginla and their fellow professional hockey players have been centered on humor and their display of skill, from avoiding pucks being shot at a hundred kilometers an hour, to skating after pucks on pavement. There is no message of inspiration for their audiences; instead it is a message of humor, the projection of an incredible and impossible image that comes with being a professional athlete. Although enjoyable, the message to have self-confidence, drive and passion that was present in the earlier commercials of the Nike era was gone.

The lack of inspirational messages extends far beyond merely Nike in sports. Sportsnet, Reebok, and TSN contribute their own set of commercials using notable NHL stars, included among them, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. The messages among these chiefly seem to be the desperation to portray such professional athletes just like everyday citizens, who play pranks, get in trouble, and enjoy doing what they love. Although the underlying intention is to have the public see these hockey players as less like Gods to worship and more like regular people, the inspirational message is still absent. Once again, humor plays a key role in portraying the image of the athlete in question in a positive light. 

Although inspiration is lacking in advertising for sports, there is evidence that it has not completely disappeared. Tim Horton’s Timbits Hockey commercials featuring Sidney Crosby have shown that not all athletes care about money, fame, and the Stanley Cup. It shows that a professional athlete is willing to spend time and energy to mentor the next generation, not to mention the inspiration that arises from realizing Crosby’s humble beginnings.

Inspirational advertising in sports may not be dead just yet, but it is endangered. Too much of the focus is on humor, image and the power of consumption in order to entice consumers. Although the underlying motivation behind advertising has always been to entice consumers to buy, much of the time there still lacks the message to encourage the audience.

Inspiration in our lives comes from many sources, many of them from those who we grew up idolizing, whether they are Michael Jordan or Georgia O’Keeffe. Unfortunately, a medium of which we used to be able to receive inspiration from, in advertising, has changed, and has nearly ceased to broadcast the messages that made a difference to past generations.

“I’ve failed over, and over, and over again in my life. And that is why, I succeed.” Well, Michael, hopefully another twenty years from now, there will be those who will still remember your message.