Estimated reading time: 18 minutes
Advertising is an integral part of building a brand. It helps get the word out about who you are, and the repetition will engrain your brand into the customers’ minds. With creative advertising ideas, you can quickly establish what sets you apart from the rest.
Let’s think about one of the most successful ad campaigns ever: “got milk?”
Celebrities sported creamy mustaches, shared a short anecdote and posed in striking settings to encourage the consumption of milk. As an ever-evolving series, consumers were hooked, wondering who’d be featured next. In just one year, milk sales in California rose 7%. These ads became a cultural phenomenon. They even got their own book.
The “got milk?” campaign proved that with creativity and strategy, you can advertise even the simplest, most ordinary product and make a great impact. Sure, word of mouth is great, but a clever campaign is often the quickest and most effective way of buttering up your customers.
Advertising designs appear across mediums so we’ve split our inspirational advertising ideas and examples into three main categories for the purpose of this article: print, digital and on the go. Advertising is an investment, so make it worth it!
Print advertising ideas
Print ads sound old school but they remain incredibly powerful. In an increasingly digital age, it’s no news that many of us crave “real world” experiences, like choosing to read a book instead of a Kindle. Print ads take many forms, they appear in magazines, brochures, newspapers, postcards and if they’re exciting enough, end up framed on someone’s wall. Check out the advertising ideas below for some inspiration!
The Barilla print ad provides a great example of how beautiful imagery can make a two-dimensional ad feel three-dimensional. The strategically placed pasta comes to life, creating a unique visual experience for the reader. In this holiday ad, an everyday food suddenly feels surprisingly festive.
Ad imagery doesn’t necessarily have to be beautiful, but it does have to be compelling or charismatic. You might not call a chewed up pen lid an oil painting (or at least in the traditional sense) but it’s an interesting concept to look at and it’s clever: see if you can make that link in your campaigns.
Don’t be put off by the flat nature of print ads—especially if they’re lying in a coffee table magazine. A double spread is more expensive than a single sheet, as is the first or last spread inside the publication.
The back page of the magazine is top tier in price range, which is why you’ll often see a mainstream retail clothing brand lining the back of an indie magazine like i-D. It builds reputation by being featured in a magazine like this; consumers make a connection between your brand and the magazine brand they buy into.
Plus, this genre of advertising is super creative. Check out this Adidas ad making a wry game of centrefolds. It sparks conversation, it’s memorable and it draws attention to the physicality and strength of the human body. It’s on brand and it’s slick. Be aware, if you’re planning on trying something similar, that you lose a section of your image in the centrefold, according to the thickness of the magazine you’re featuring in—this, of course, is something an experienced designer could help you with.
To bring depth to a one-page space, a trompe l’oeil effect is a wise option, as seen in the above ad for The Heart Diet. In this curious visual setup, it is hard to predict what the reader will notice first (the clock, the place setting or the caption)—but that’s why it works.
Brochure advertisements are an artform, truly. It’s a hard balance between dimensions, informational content and creating something visually appealing and contemporary-feeling. A brochure provides multiple sides to work with, as well as the opportunity to fold and unfold the item. It’s tangible, fairly cheap to produce in mass—but its temperance means it’s harder to stop a brochure from ending up in the bin.
They’ve long held connotations with busy designs and an overload of information, salesy content. This is no longer the case. Like any digital design or print magazine, contemporary brochures are slick advertising opportunities that consumers can take home.
Showing just how stylistic brochures can be, the Vertex climbing brochure succeeds at speaking to its target audience by creating a feeling of movement, flow and activity. Even down to its square shape, it’s bold and visually striking design invites potential customers to flick through and find out more about the brand.
Digital advertising ideas
Digital ads can come in many forms, including static banner ads, animations and social media ads. Find out what channels or platforms work best for your audience and dive in. In a digital space, it’s also important to think about how rapidly the viewer will be scrolling. You want to give them something that’s not just appealing, but engaging enough that they’ll click on your ad and leave their current space.
Whichever channel you are targeting, keep your audience’s preferences in mind. Casper’s social media ads do a stellar job of adding elements of fun to a product that is, well, downright snoozy. The charming dogs catch the user’s attention right away. After all, aren’t pet pictures the reason we’re all scrolling social media anyways?
When it comes to TikTok, the most innovative ads are those which simultaneously advertise a product while challenging the user to generate their own content. Kung Fu Tea nailed it with their boba challenge ad, which dared users to close their eyes and get their straws into their cups. It went viral, resulting in over 5 million followers for the brand. With TikTok, users are generally young people in the 24 and under age bracket. They’ll most likely respond to fun, lighthearted messaging and engage with your brand.
One bonus: they’ll accept pretty much any dare.
@kungfuteaSimpler times. Video by @christianc561 #kungfutea #bubbleatea #boba #bobachallange♬ original sound – Kung Fu Tea
A challenge of digital advertising is to connect with the audience deep enough to make the audience follow CTAs. How you do so depends on your audience and brand.
Animations are a brilliant way to engage audiences. But why not go the extra mile to offer them a touch of escapism too? You could inject a nice blend of humor and surrealism into your ad, like this one for a car hire service. If moving image doesn’t drive you wild, check out the static banner ad below. Inkeeping with the funny, animal theme, our top level designer I am a sinner uses clever contrasts in their design for a more impactful ad.
No matter what you’re advertising, TV commercials enliven a campaign through sound, imagery, motion and excitement. With a great theme or slogan to boost the brand, a commercial offers a key opportunity to utilize repetition in order to make your brand known.
Creative ads don’t need to be flashy in order to be effective, and the “Get a Mac” campaign proved just that. The series of 66 (yes, seriously, 66!) commercials put two comedic actors side by side, embodying the roles of Mac and PC. With a white background, simple costuming and minimal props, the campaign was incredibly refined.
Through humor, they strategically worked in mundane computing topics like security, viruses and rebooting, making them feel surprisingly less boring. And thanks to funny actors and a clever script, consumers kept coming back for more. While the ultimate goal of these ads was to explain why a Mac is the superior computer, the overall tone was lighthearted and good-natured. Often, the Mac told the PC not to be so hard on himself.
In 2002, Verizon made a splash with its humorous “Can you hear me now?” commercials, which were meant to emphasize how Verizon’s reception was better than the rest. Paul Marcarelli would become the face of Verizon for more than a decade. The unexpected twist came in 2016, when Sprint started a series of #TheSwitchIsReal ads where Paul explained why he switched from Verizon to Sprint. The brand ingeniously took a familiar concept and made him their own; it was bold, witty and connected with audiences through sheer audacity. Please note, if you were considering an angle such as this, ensure you’re not infringing on another brand’s copyright.
3D & AR ads
3D and augmented reality (AR) ads scream ‘innovation’ by giving the user an immersive, first-hand experience (be it in person or virtual). Take Pokemon Go!—2016 saw it become one of the biggest AR success stories, attracting millions of consumers who couldn’t get enough of its interactivity and actively participated in the game.
Times Square is an icon for advertising; it’s known globally for its ginormous animated billboards, busy crowds and bright lights. So it makes sense why Coca Cola went all out for their towering ad to feature there and stimulate the senses of every passer byer. Using 3D effects to create rippling textures that appeared to leap out from the screen, this campaign is advertising at its most polished. Whether or not you have the budget for an ad in Times Square, this immersive, creative advertising design represents the future of what we think of as a billboard.
Bus shelters embody another major player in the creative advertising designs sphere and the coffee brand Nespresso made real use of this opportunity with their very literal immersive experience. The clever design embraces the fact that a bus shelter and a Nespresso machine happen to have similar silhouettes; this is emphasized by the bold extension on the top of the roof. What’s more, walking through the shelter enables potential customers to learn about the product. Plus, who doesn’t want reading material while they wait for the bus—especially when it’s caffeinated.
A perk to AR advertising is that it can be both an activity and an advertisement at once. In the IKEA augmented reality app, their furniture is advertised and the user can place it in virtual settings to see how it looks. In their YouTube campaign, IKEA used AR to put families near the furniture, offering a sense of emotional connection. The best part of the whole experience? No assembly required.
The Timberland AR fitting room set the stage for a recent boom in virtual fitting rooms by many major retailers. The strategic placement outside of the store turned this AR display into a true advertising tool, as it attracted mall customers who weren’t necessarily there to shop at Timberland. The whole experience makes shopping feel personalized, helping the customers feel connected with the product before they even get to actually wear it.
On-the-go advertising ideas
Some of the most effective advertising takes place outside of the traditionally print and digital spaces by providing an experience for the consumer while they’re on the go. Think wearable merchandise, billboards, vehicle wraps and immersive installations—all provide some form of firsthand takeaway for the consumer and an opportunity to really let your brand branch out.
Merchandise design ideas
Whether your customer is buying merchandise to support your brand or you’re giving it away as a freebie, merchandise offers a way to boost your brand presence and let customers show their loyalty. Remember: everyone loves swag. Everyone!
With low production costs and appealing longevity, T-shirts allow your consumer to do the advertising for you wherever they go. With bold color and an eye-catching, pizza-shaped graphic, the Levantes Pizza T-shirt supports brand awareness for the small pizza chain. And with a dripping, cheese-inspired font, the ad not only mentions pizza, but also makes you crave it.
Beverage containers offer a portable advertising experience in the form of a to-go tumbler or a ceramic mug, like this one from the Forbes House Museum. Remember that a ceramic option will often be used around the office. By showcasing an image of a Chinese guardian lion, the consumer has a great conversation starter at the water cooler and beyond.
Speaking of portable advertising, the popsocket has made a big move in recent years. By improving phone grip and serving as a makeshift kickstand, the popsocket enhances the phone experience. Though small in size, the surface of a popsocket serves as an effective advertising canvas, especially for a short and simple logo like Hulu. Bonus: it’ll help you up your selfie game without breaking bank on a Ring light.
Ok, so we’ve already mentioned 3D billboards, but what are the benefits of static versions?
So a billboard offers a large canvas to design the perfect, clever advertisement. What you need to consider is that a billboard should be quick to digest. With the exception of a traffic jam, it’ll only be viewed for a short amount of time, so you need to make it punchy, readable and concise.
One great billboard advertising idea is from the fast food chain, Chick-Fil-A. Their cows have become synonymous with three-dimensional billboard advertising, as well as the brand as a whole. An interesting quality of Chick-Fil-A’s billboards is that there is truly no target audience (this is ideal for a billboard, as it’s hard to predict who will be driving by). By providing humor to adults and children alike, their advertising designs transcend generations.
News corporation the BBC offer up another innovative approach to billboards. By strategically placing their billboard on a corner, BBC elevates their message, “see both sides of the story,” to the next level. The unique placement also adds an interactive element, as the viewer will need to walk or drive around a corner in order to gain the full experience. It’s truly special and engaging—exactly how the news should be.
Lastly in this category, let’s turn our attention to this witty advertising idea from Barratta. The italian-themed cuisine brand brought a 3D design to their oversized advertising design idea. It’s heightened realism and in your face attitude means you can practically taste the product.
As it is constantly in motion, a vehicle wrap offers an exciting, dynamic source of advertising. We see vehicle wraps in many settings, such as commercial vehicles, subways, taxis and Zambonis.
Remember that just because a vehicle wrap is huge, it doesn’t have to be overworked. Wraps should be designed with restraint, as some of the most successful approaches are the ones which don’t go over the top. Additionally, make sure that your words are easily legible, as it can be challenging to read from an object in motion.
Take this ad for Spiderman’s PS4 game; it’s the perfect example of making a bold statement while still using restraint within a creative advertising design. With its vivid colors and striking illustration, the ad instantly speaks to you. It doesn’t feature any copy apart from “PS4”, yet viewers still recognize exactly what the product will be. If you were thinking of using this type of approach, make sure that what you’re offering is explicit enough to your target audience so you can be implicit in selling them it.
Or take this next advertising idea for Mars Bar. They show us how to succeed when biting off more than you can chew with this mouth-watering 3D truck. Using its shape to their advantage, they created a candy bar of epic proportions. They’ve nailed the “wow” factor and it’s surely memorable; we just hope you’re armed with snacks if you end up behind them in a traffic jam.
With over 20,000 active food trucks in the United States as of 2020, it’s refreshing to see a truck that thought about its design. The color palette for Markie Mark’s embodies the fun, lighthearted spirit of shaved ice. Remember: your food truck is a moving advertisement. Eye-catching elements like splashes of color will go a long way.
Physical and emotional interaction with a brand helps the consumer gain loyalty and connection. Through immersive installations, the customer can become truly surrounded by the brand as a whole. While we typically think of installations as art exhibits, there are many options for advertisers, most notably through creative pop-up shops which take a 360-degree approach to immersing the consumer in their brand. Remember: consumers respond favorably to the ephemeral and they’ll rush to engage with an immersive ad if it’s only available for a limited time.
As a brand, M&M’s has long been associated with letting its followers vote on new and exciting colors. So when they wanted fans to vote for a new flavor, they took it one step further by opening a limited-time pop-up shop in New York City where fans could explore three potential new flavors and cast their vote. And with the opportunity to physically taste the product while lounging inside a branded jungle gym, they turned an ordinary taste test into a memorable experience.
Artwork can serve both as an immersive experience and as a way to advertise a product. Lego’s “Art of the Brick” installation in London did just that: turning more than one million Lego bricks into over 80 art sculptures, including Michelangelo’s “David” and a variety of superheroes. Think about it: Lego didn’t simply surround the consumer with the product—they showed the consumer examples of the limitless creativity which results from interacting with their product. That’s the ultimate goal of immersive advertising: it inspires.
Make your most creative advertising ideas a reality
Adverts are a strange game. They can be impressive, funny or disasters. Put your audience first, along with your brand identity, and invest in a creative advertising idea that—who knows—could create history!
Author: Aviva M. Cantor