There’s been a lot of chat lately about the future of copywriting.
Is it a dying craft?
Are writers replaceable?
Can AI do it better?
But I’m not one bit worried. Sure, machines can churn out content like it’s no one’s business (ironic, eh?). They’re fast, like a snazzy sports car. But how many people do you see driving their kids to soccer practice, or popping to the shops, in a Glickenhaus 003S? Chances are, not too many. Because speed does not always make something better, or even fit for purpose.
New technology will undoubtedly shape the future of many roles, copywriting included. But as you’re about to see from these copywriting examples, being human is key to creating great, relatable work.
Here are 16 examples of the best ad copywriting that you can look to for inspiration, and to help craft your own superb copy.
We’ll break this down into two parts:
- Best copywriting print ads
- Best copywriting video ads
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Best copywriting print ads
1. Volkswagen – Think Small (1959)
Let’s start off with these iconic ads for the Volkswagen Beetle. Asked to sell the small, slow, and slightly awkward German car, the creatives at DDB also had to try and convince people that slick and speedy were overrated. And they did just that, by going in an entirely different direction to the typical 1950’s car ad. They cut through the noise with bold, brutally honest copy.
The real, charmingly self-deprecating tone was unlike anything that had been done before. And people bought it. Literally. Volkswagen made the case for thinking small and choosing small. It also happened to make one of the most memorable marketing campaigns of all time.
One car ad not enough? Check out our look at the best car ads of all time.
2. Avis – We Try Harder (1962)
From cars to car rentals. Another classic copy-based campaign that flipped the brand’s perceived weaknesses on its head is this one from Avis. These witty ‘We Try Harder’ ads were an instant success, making the audience laugh, and making Avis profitable for the first time in over a decade.
The wonderfully human tagline ran for around 50 years, until Avis was no longer the second choice. It rolled out a whole fleet of sub slogans like “When you’re only No. 2”, “Avis can’t afford not to be nice”, “Avis can’t afford to make you wait”, and “Avis can’t afford dirty ashtrays”. They were fresh and entertaining. But most of all, they were trustworthy. One of the main things people look for when a brand is asking them for their business. This is one of the first pieces I was shown in ad school. Hopefully you can see why it was so successful.
3. De Beers – A Diamond is Forever (1947)
I’m sure you’ve seen the infamous engagement posts on social media. Not-so-candid shots of loved-up couples, flaunting a glitzy new piece of finger-wear. But when did diamonds become the go-to choice for soon-to-be-newlyweds?
In 1947, to be exact. That’s when De Beers jewelry company launched their new tagline and accompanying campaign called ‘A Diamond is Forever’.
The campaign was born out of a need to convince more middle-class people to buy diamond engagement rings at a time when money was tight. The line is regarded as one of the most successful pieces of copy. Ever. Why? Because it spoke both to people’s financial concerns and their desire for love and commitment. It has since shaped the world’s perceptions of diamonds as a symbol of everlasting love, commitment, and romance. Show me a Facebook ad that can do that!
A tagline as timeless as the product it sells.
4. KFC – FCK (2018)
Anyone remember KFC’s f*ck up back in 2018? This one-off poster came as a result of the company’s supply shortage in the UK, which resulted in it running out of chicken. Chaos ensued online when hangry customers took to social media to complain about the lack of finger lickin’ goodness. KFC needed to set things straight. Fast.
So, in a bid to use some fun and humor to diffuse the tension and win back their clientele, KFC printed a full-page ad with the simple headline “FCK” and an honest explanation of what was going down. Another great example of how a good copywriter can take a problem and turn it into an opportunity for great work. Winner winner chicken dinner!
5. Oatly (2019)
People have figured out how to milk just about anything these days. Peas. Beans. Coconuts. Cashews. The list goes on. This has resulted in an oversaturated plant-based milk market. Something which Oatly knew all too well for almost 20 years. Until its rebrand in 2019, that is.
Haters will say Oatly’s latest advertising approach is distasteful and irritating. But the whopping increase in sales says something very different. Love it or hate it, Oatly’s brash, self-deprecating, and tongue-and-cheek tone of voice has carried it all the way to the top of the alternative-milk market. Whenever I see any of Oatly’s ads, I want to meet the people who wrote the copy, and I want to be their friend.
Here are a couple examples of some of their finest work.
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6. The Economist (1988-)
The Economist has been making its target audience feel smarter for over 170 years. But what lessons can we learn from its advertising copy?
- Say one thing. But say it in as many ways as possible.
- Think of your brand as a person. How would they speak?
- There are lots of different ways to do humor.
- Keep it concise if you can.
It’s not often that snarkiness is tolerated, let alone admired. But The Economist managed to find that sweet spot which it returned to again and again in its advertising.
David Abbott was the mastermind behind the initial idea, which has continued to run since his passing. Here are some of his best ones.
7. Depaul – Street Corners (2015)
One of the things I love most about advertising copy is that it often challenges the notion that advertising needs big budgets to make an impact. Great copywriting can make people stop and think without all the bells and whistles. Like this one from UK youth homeless charity, Depaul.
The messaging utilizes the corner of a wall to make the point that there’s “another side to the story” of homeless people. Clever. Thought-provoking. And not a 3D digital billboard in sight.
8. Patagonia – Buy Less, Demand More (2020)
Patagonia’s reverse ‘Buy Less Demand More’ campaign gets referenced a lot in my corner of adland. But we’re not the only ones who admire both the craft and the overall impact of this copywriting ad campaign.
To start, it forces readers to challenge your perceived lack of control over the gigantic problem that is climate change. When I first read this from the top line to the bottom line, my initial reaction was a disgruntled ‘WTF?”. As it should.
The sheer simplicity also makes the ads stand out in today’s loud commercial spaces. Using words alone to create a sense of tension between two opposing positions in one clean swoop. It raises awareness of a serious issue. But it also gives a sense of hope and encouragement.
Most ads around climate change tend to go for either a doomy or an optimistic tone. But Patagonia did both. And did it very well indeed.
Best copywriting in video ads
1. Burger King – Confusing Times (2021 and 2022)
I’ve always been a lover of Burger King’s advertising. And no better examples to reference than the recent-ish ‘Confusing Times’ and ‘Even More Confusing Times’ ads for their plant-based burgers. The idea is based around the weird-but-common situations people find themselves in. Linking them back to their equally unusual range of meat-free products that taste like meat.
The first campaign for the Impossible Whopper was released smack bang in the middle of COVID, cleverly capturing people’s angst and confusion. Almost anyone who saw this could relate and have a chuckle.
A year later, they launched a sequel for their plant-based chicken burger. And honestly, both were equally brilliant in my opinion. And let’s be real, an idea like this has no limitations in a world that gets more confusing by the minute.
2. Melbourne Metro – Dumb Ways to Die (2012)
This ad from Down Under is another hit. Excuse the pun.
Released by Melbourne Metro, the campaign revolved around a deceitfully cheery music video featuring cute animated creatures who die in a whole range of silly ways. After three minutes of pure cartoon carnage, we get the message that accidental death due to being hit by a train is quite possibly the dumbest way to die of all.
The campaign has been recognised as one of Australia’s best and most effective, reducing train-deaths by a whopping 12% the following year.
But what makes it so great?
It’s the tension. Great creative work needs some degree of tension in order to raise interest. But the jarring combination of cute and playful with dark and deadly here is on another level. An issue like this needed an impactful idea and striking messaging. It needed to make people stop and think. This is how it got people’s attention. That, and the tune is as catchy as hell.
3. Nike – If You Let Me Play (1995)
Nike has been campaigning for women in sport and fitness for a long time. And this early example is truly ace.
Somewhat similar to the Melbourne Metro ad above, this video ad from 1995 is another great example of tension between the idea and the way it’s delivered.
Here, you have the phrase “if you let me play” used in different sentences by young children. But as the video goes on, the strategic messaging grows in seriousness until it becomes almost uncomfortable.
Another great thing about Nike is that a lot of its big work isn’t selling a product. It’s asking for change. A change that will benefit the brand, of course. But it feels less like an ad. Which, ironically, is the sign of a great ad.
Another thing going on here is the way the ad speaks to its audience i.e. parents. Parents who want to protect their daughters and keep them safe and healthy.
Certainly one of the best Nike ads.
4. Apple – Think Different (1997)
One of the best Apple ads of all time, and the beginning of its five-year slogan, “Think Different”.
Paired with the emotive music and black-and-white clips of famous game-changers, the messaging in this ad campaign is inspiring and thought-provoking.
It positioned Apple as the rebellious, free-thinking technology brand. It positioned them as a brand that could help people change the world.
Apple’s stock price tripled within a year of the ad being launched. Even though they had no new products. That’s the power of great advertising, folks.
5. Geico – Unskippable Ad (2015)
YouTube pre-roll ads are hands down one of the most hated forms of advertising out there. Even as an advertising creative, anything that gets in the way of my true crime fix is not going to hold my attention for long. Unless it works extremely hard, that is.
This Unskippable Ad from insurance company, Geico, takes that insight and flips pre-roll online advertising on its head. Within the first few seconds, a voiceover speaks directly to the urge of the user, “You can’t skip this ad, because it’s already over”. This kind of self-awareness is not often seen in advertising. So, it immediately stands out.
What follows is close to a minute of straight-up silliness, making it almost impossible to look away. A successful copywriter should always aim to give the target audience some sort of reward. This could be anything from useful information to that ‘aha!” moment. In this case, the user is rewarded with the best one of all, humor. Geico is known for its great ads, but this is definitely one of its best.
6. Proper Chips – Done Properly (2021)
This trippy video ad for Proper Chips’ lentil chips certainly gave me the munchies. From flying cowboys to chip architects, there’s a lot to take in here. The super-chilled voiceover, along with the dreamy animations creates a feast for the senses as it takes us on the journey of a Proper Chip.
This makes it into the top 16 copywriting ads because of its clever, descriptive language and persuasive storytelling. It’s creative. It’s playful. And most importantly, it makes the product very tempting indeed.
7. Iceland and Greenpeace – Rang-Tan (2018)
British supermarket, Iceland Foods, in collaboration with Greenpeace, ran this campaign against the palm oil industry for Christmas 2018. After its release, the ad was banned and taken off air after an influx of complaints from viewers. But of course, this only further boosted the ad campaign’s traction.
All that aside, the emotional pull of the message and clever styling of the piece makes it deserving of its place on this list.
Starting off like a nursery rhyme, the ad tells the story of a little girl with an Indonesian orangutan (or rang-tan) in her bedroom. The innocent, childlike narration eventually takes a dark turn when the creature reveals why they’re living in the girl’s room. The colorful illustrations switch to black-and-white footage of human destruction of the rang-tan’s forest.
The film got millions and millions of reactions from all over the world. And it was even made into a children’s picture book the following year.
8. Old Spice – The Man Your Man Could Smell Like (2010)
As one of the top selling male hygiene brands, Old Spice has enjoyed the sweet smell of success for decades.
This ad in particular was inspired by the insight that 60% of body wash purchases are made by women. And so, the copy speaks directly to women. Which, in turn, grabs the attention of those eager-to-impress men too. A clever way to get two target audiences in one.
Everything in this ad, from the messaging to the lead character, makes the claim that Old Spice makes men more manly and more attractive. But it’s done in an unusual and unexpected way, doubling sales that year.
A few final words
Hopefully this look at the best copywriting ads has reassured you that human copywriters are not going anywhere. And as long as we continue to strive for work like this, the future of ad copy will be in good hands.