Aldi, Guinness, Yellow Pages: The nation’s favourite marketing campaigns revealed

From the charming JR Hartley to Cadbury’s iconic gorilla, we look back through five decades of marketing to find consumers’ most loved campaigns.

best marketing campaigns

A boy on a bike. A man looking for a book. A group of surfers. A drumming gorilla. A gin-drinking grandma.

This unlikely group may not look like they have anything in common at first glance, but they are the stars of the UK’s favourite marketing campaigns of the past five decades, according to a new study by Marketing Week.

From Hovis’s ‘The Bike Ride’, by renowned director Sir Ridley Scott, to Aldi’s much-loved ‘Like Brands, Only Cheaper’, we have uncovered the nation’s top campaign for each decade Marketing Week has been published – from the 1970s to the present day – as part of our 40th anniversary celebration.

These are the campaigns that not only excelled when they were first launched, propelling the brands behind them into the spotlight and leading to business growth, they are also the one’s that stole the public’s hearts.

We didn’t want to celebrate just ads and creativity – and we didn’t want to rely on the recency of people’s memories to single out just one execution. Instead, we set out to show which campaigns have been most effective in leaving a mark on consumers over the past five decades.

We partnered with YouGov Omnibus to devise a methodology that would uncover the true greats of each decade Marketing Week has been in existence. We investigated ad recall, brand awareness and consumer preference among a shortlist of campaigns painstakingly put together by our editorial team, taking views from an advisory panel of marketers, industry experts and Marketing Week readers. The chosen campaigns ranged from one-off executions to long-running brand positionings, and from TV spots to outdoor ads, PR stunts and viral videos.

YouGov took our shortlists for each decade and presented them to its consumer panel, asking first which campaigns they remembered, then which brands they associated with them and finally, out of those they recognised, which they believed was the best of the decade overall.

The results are testament to the key ingredients of marketing greatness: the commitment to a strategic goal; the formation of a creative partnership; the recognition of distinctive brand assets; and, last but not least, the ability to provoke a reaction from consumers.

The winners:

1970s: Hovis, ‘The Bike Ride’

Agency: Collett Dickenson Pearce

Sir Ridley Scott directed this now infamous ad, and 45 years later ‘The Bike Ride’ still captures the British public’s imagination, claiming the accolade of best advert from the 1970s, with 28% of the vote. It beats the Smash ‘Martians’ instant mash potato ad (26%) and a Cinzano ad featuring Joan Collins and Leonard Rossiter (12%)

1980s: Yellow Pages, ‘JR Hartley’

Agency: Abbott Mead Vickers

This Yellow Pages ad from 1983 marked a distinct change in direction for the brand, which previously positioned itself as something people turn to in an emergency. The charming JR Hartley’s hunt for an elusive book on fly fishing helped people re-evaluate their relationship with the big yellow book, and the ad still resonates with people today. It is the winning ad of the 1980s by some way with 28% of the vote, followed by the Oxo family (18%) and Levi’s ‘Launderette’ ad (15%).

1990s: Guinness, ‘Surfers’

Agency: Abbott Mead Vickers

Guinness’s ‘Surfer’ was both creatively brilliant and commercially successful. Although not the first ad to launch as part of the brand’s ‘Good things come to those who wait’ campaign, it is certainly the most memorable. It gained 25% of the vote, putting it well ahead of Tango’s ‘You know when you’ve been Tangoed’ (15%) and Wonderbra’s ‘Hello Boys’ (8%) to become the winning ad of the 1990s.

2000s: Cadbury, ‘Gorilla’

Agency: Fallon

Despite not showing any chocolate, this ad featuring a man in a gorilla suit drumming to Phil Collins has become synonymous with Cadbury. With 24% of the vote it is also people’s favourite of the 2000s, just beating’s ‘Compare the Meerkat’ campaign on 23% and Specsavers’ ‘Should have gone to Specsavers’ (17%). Quite an accomplishment given the latter two campaigns are still running today.

2010s: Aldi, ‘Like Brands, Only Cheaper’

Agency: McCann Manchester

Through its marketing, Aldi has made a name for itself in the fiercely competitive grocery sector, as a lighthearted brand that takes pricing seriously. Perhaps the most famous ad in its ‘Like Brands, Only Cheaper’ campaign, features a woman comparing tea prices before declaring she in fact prefers gin. This tongue-in-cheek campaign is the nation’s favourite of the 2010s, with 30% of the vote. It beats Channel 4’s ‘Superhumans’ (14%) and John Lewis’s first emotionally charged Christmas ad from 2011, ‘The Long Wait’ (9%).

What makes a winning ad?

The winners have a number of things in common: they provide yet more evidence of the primacy of TV as the key mass communication medium, for example. But they also show a variety of strategic approaches can all have extraordinary results – whether that be Yellow Pages’ pulling on the heartstrings, Guinness’s search for a “product truth” or Aldi’s keen focus on pricing communicated in a witty and engaging context.

Rather than simply reveal the winners we wanted to explore why these ads have been so successful and what has made them stand the test of time. We have spoken to the people involved – the marketing directors, creative leads and even Sir Ridley Scott – to get behind-the-scenes accounts of what really happened, how concepts were developed and how things might have been different – one of these ads was shelved by the brand, while the subject of another was originally European butterflies.

Look out for our in-depth analysis each day next week.