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March 24, 2017 | Rachel Vaughn

5 Times Classic Ads Got Buyer Personas Exactly Right

In the endless, heaving, cacophonous desert rave of on-and-offline marketing, you’re going to find stuff you like and (more often) stuff you don’t. Not all ads are geared toward every buyer persona, so naturally, not all advertising is going to appeal to you. You may greet the majority of these marketing attempts with a variety of responses, ranging from annoyance to vague indifference. 

(Want to learn more about Buyer Personas? Try our Buyer Persona Master Class.)

Once in a great while, however, one ad will ignite a fire deep in your soul, urging you to destroy your television, phone, and laptop, change your name to something with umlauts, and start over as a mysterious shepherd in a provincial town full of secrets. 

A man holds a black sheep over his shoulders in front of a thatch-roofed cottage.
SËCRËTS.

Possibly (almost definitely) all of them sheep-related.

But if you are constrained by family, a job, or lack of appropriate shepherding suspenders to remain in the modern world, take heart. While there are tons of ads out there veering horribly off-target, the internet’s memory is long and YouTube is a near-endless resource for classic ads that have hit the mark on their buyer personas. We've included 5 of them below.

🕊 Dove Real Beauty

Launched in 2004 by parent company, Unilever, this series of uplifting ads centered on celebrating #RealBeauty and confidence at all ages, sizes, and backgrounds. This highly effective campaign aimed to change conversations about how women perceive themselves.

Using the idea of soft, smooth, youthful-looking skin as a common thread in their customers’ personal narratives, Dove made their selection of moisturizing and cleansing products all the more compelling for many consumers.

Naked flattery can be a risky approach to advertising, especially in a market already saturated with smarmy appeals to our most superficial and narcissistic impulses. But Dove’s campaign managed to ring with simplicity and sincerity (however capitalistic) at a time when people were demanding more varied, more realistic depictions of women in ads and media.

🍏 Apple iPod

An iconic and often parodied modern classic, these ads from the early 2000s used the sharp contrast of darkened human silhouettes—dancing, jumping, skipping, and in general having as great a time as paid actors can have on a commercial shoot—against the well-known stark white of the Apple earphones.

The ads were at the time both edgy and fun, which reflected perfectly the buzz around the first generations of the iPod. Viewers could project themselves onto the relatively featureless dancers, imagining their own lives as a series of cool and spontaneous rockouts. This bit of brilliance meant that in addition to reaching their ideal buyer persona, they were able to expand that group to include everyone watching.

Anyone who could picture themselves bopping along to disco remixes of Michael Bublé holiday standards in the privacy of their home or the near-privacy of an ATM vestibule while strangers try desperately to avoid eye contact was a potential iPod owner.

📞 AT&T

Their well-known “Reach Out and Touch Someone” ads from the 1980s emphasized human connection – with friends, family, and long-lost loves – to universalize the need for telecom services. AT&T's marketing served to bring warmth and familiarity to their brand, one that dominated the industry at the time.

It’s a tried and true advertising strategy that many big brands have used (and still use) to soften their corporate edges. Humanizing what often appears to consumers as a cold and impersonal business can inspire greater trust. Increased trust means better conversions and sales, along with more engagement from customers. 

🦄 Old Spice

Old Spice’s “Smell Like a Man, Man” television campaign debuted in 2010 with the arch of an eyebrow and a well-placed towel, swaggering almost instantly into pop cultural and advertising relevance.

These series of commercials featuring Isaiah Mustafa (referred to affectionately by most as The Old Spice Guy)—and later, human exclamation mark, Terry Crews—used costume changes, props, and ludicrous claims about the product’s effectiveness to hilarious and memorable effect.

The move helped to modernize perception of the Old Spice brand, which in the past had mostly been considered the buyer persona territory of leathery sea captains and recently single middle-aged men looking to “get back into the game.” What game? Uno? Monopoly? THE HUNGER GAMES?! Nobody knows. But the ads’ self-aware sense of humor made their products appealing to a younger audience fed on internet memes and more open to an updated, irreverent take on their hygiene products.

🚬 Truth

The tobacco industry has long held sway over the lives, health, and wallets of millions of Americans. Thanks to concerted efforts by anti-smoking groups, healthcare providers, and government mandates, more people understand the grave risks associated with smoking.

To highlight the ongoing dangers of using tobacco products, thetruth.com launched a series of commercials to bring awareness through unexpected public spectacle. These ads often featured the use of flash mobs, interaction with bystanders, and street performance to deliver an earnest message that caught on quickly with viewers. 

🚚 FedEx

Over time, privatized shipping services have arisen and expanded to compete with government-run postal services. In many cases, particularly as shopping and commerce have further globalized, these shipping companies have had to find ways to appeal to their buyer personas by making themselves appear as indispensible as the USPS.

FedEx’s memorable slogan, “when it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight,” evokes the same sense of assurance and reliability that we have (or had) for our postal service, but on a global scale. We’ve come to trust that, apart from the odd hurricane or prolonged blizzard, FedEx will get our packages to their destinations safely, quickly, and efficiently.

Of course, there will always brands that have proven themselves regardless of what direction their branding has gone in. These are companies with products you like, trust, and will continue to use even if some of their past or current marketing campaigns don’t seem quite targeted to your demographic.

Bag of Intense Pickle Doritos
Case in point: not the most appealing flavor they've ever released, but we’d definitely still try it because Doritos is a brand we know and (more or less) trust.

Shirt covered in images of pickles.

Obviously this chip flavor’s ideal consumer is a rare, discerning shopper with a more worldly and sophisticated palate, and deeper fixation on pickles, than we have.

Drawing of Nicolas Cage as a pickle-Picolas Cage.Never mind, we are exactly this buyer persona. It’s like looking into a mirror and catching a glimpse into our own naked souls. We are Doritos Intense Pickle and we are infinite.

Advertising trends are always changing and as the industry has moved further into digital territory, the need to understand and market to your target audience is more important than ever. Your customer base won’t respond to your efforts if they feel like you aren’t creating content to reach them. Worse, they won't even remember that you tried.

Marketing to your ideal buyer personas starts with writing them up. Lucky for you, we can help. Download our free guide today. 

Crafting Effective Buyer Personas-Click Here to Download

Rachel Vaughn

Rachel Vaughn

As a content marketer for VIEO Design, Rachel Vaughn brings serious research chops and boatloads of personality to everything she writes for VIEO and our clients. In particular, she spends her time writing blog posts, website pages, workflow emails, and other marketing materials designed to engage readers and help them connect with VIEO and our clients.

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