12 Examples of Excellent Print Advertisements and Why They Work

With more companies focusing on digital marketing, there is plenty of room for an eye-catching print ad with sharp copy and professional graphic design to stand out. Thanks to technology like QR Codes, it’s easier than ever to synchronize digital and print advertising campaigns.

The first step to creating your next great print ad is to get inspired, so we’ve listed 12 of the best print advertisements of all time—plus some ideas on how QR Codes could make them even better.

What is a print advertisement?

Print advertising is printed material that represents a product or service, such as:

  • Magazine ads
  • Direct mail
  • Brochures
  • Billboards
  • Business cards

Today, print ads are particularly effective when paired with digital elements—and you don’t need to have technical skills or hire someone who does to make it work. QR Codes guide your target audience to whatever landing page you want. You can even make a variety of QR Code types with QR Code Generator with just a few clicks.

12 effective and memorable print advertisement examples 

Over 80% of Americans look to print media for at least some information, which means there are still too many opportunities to reach potential customers through print ads for brands to ignore.

If you want your print ad campaign to reach as many people as possible, then you’ll need to pair it with digital marketing that syncs with the tone and message of your print materials.

We created a list of ad campaigns that give you inspiration for your next campaign! Here are 12 examples of stellar print advertisements you probably remember.

A quick note: These examples were found during our online research for this article.

1. Dove: “Real Beauty”

Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign began in 2004 when Dove surveyed 3,000 women from across the world and found that only 2% found themselves beautiful

They then launched a campaign beginning with billboards that showed a picture of a woman and two adjectives to describe her, such as “gray” and “gorgeous” or “wrinkled” and “wonderful.” The billboards prompted people to vote on which one they thought the woman was, which drove people to Dove’s website and gave them important performance data on the billboards. The first billboards established the campaign, but Dove strengthened it further by displaying print ads in major markets with real women to expand the definition of beauty. These ads made it clear that the beauty standards of the time didn’t reflect women’s true beauty.

Dove then built on the success of their print media by having a sketch artist draw women as they described themselves and then had the same artist draw them as they were described by others. 

Modern QR Codes on the billboards and other print media would make it easier to engage with the campaign today. Consumers could simply scan a Static QR Code and have a direct line to all the campaign’s interactive elements via a single landing page. This accessibility makes campaigns more interactive and inclusive while promoting a sense of excitement that makes consumers more likely to engage further with the brand.

2. Apple: “Think Different”

Talking about your product in the same context as Albert Einstein, Amelia Earhart, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is extremely bold. However, Apple elevated its brand to stratospheric heights when they launched the “Think Different” campaign that paired their brand with iconic black-and-white images of legendary historical figures who changed the world by thinking differently. 

They created print ads with eye-catching black-and-white images of brilliant historical figures and an excellent tagline that called people to “think different,” while Apple’s colorful logo perfectly contrasted the image to stand out. 

Today, Apple could easily create a buyer’s journey that starts with a print ad and QR Code, use a catchy call-to-action (CTA) to get potential customers to engage, and then launch the brand’s famous “Think Different” commercial on their mobile devices.

3. Absolut Vodka: “Absolut Perfection” 

Absolut needed to launch its brand on a global scale in 1979 since their vodka was available only in Sweden for decades. They found the perfect chance to introduce their product to the world when Andy Warhol fell in love with their bottle’s shape.

Warhol collaborated with an advertising agency to create a stunning print that showcased what he loved about the bottle. The print ad specifically emphasized the vodka’s purity with bright, high-contrast lighting and a halo above it. The agency added the tagline, “Absolut Perfection,” to announce the brand’s name and reflect just how pure the vodka was.

This ad would be even more effective today paired with a QR Code that linked customers to cocktail recipes, events, and other ways to interact with Absolut Vodka. 

4. Volkswagen: “Think Small”

Sometimes, less is more.

In 1959, most Americans were interested in large cars for their growing families. Volkswagen flipped that idea on its head with striking print ads that showed a miniature VW Beetle surrounded by white negative space that covered nearly the entirety of the print ad.

The ad’s graphic design made it impossible for eyes not to fall on the Beetle immediately, soon followed by the copy underneath describing the benefits of a smaller car.

At the time, the copywriter was limited by only a small amount of space at the bottom of the ad for their text. Today, a QR Code would allow there to be little to no text while still connecting the customer to just as much information about Volkswagen. The QR Code could connect to a full webpage with text to further emphasize the campaign’s message to “think small.”

5. Coca-Cola: “The Pause That Refreshes”

The late 1920s were hectic times for Americans since the roaring twenties were just winding down.

Coca-Cola read the nation’s mood and published magazine ads that illustrated people relaxing by drinking a Coke on their front porch, at the beach, and in other serene settings with the tagline, “The Pause That Refreshes.”

In only a few words, their simple magazine ad summarized what the target market wanted and elevated Coca-Cola’s brand awareness to ultimately separate it from other soft drinks.

Imagine how successful the print adverts could have been if they had technology like QR Codes that connected viewers to events and content that further encouraged them to relax!

6. Nike: “Just Do It”

It’s hard to imagine Nike as an up-and-coming company, but in 1987 they needed a way to launch serious growth while unifying all of their marketing materials.

Despite the odds, the ad agency they were working with came up with “Just Do It,” and a legend was born. The short phrase fit perfectly on print ads that showed everyone from professional athletes to everyday runners accomplishing their athletic goals. Ever since, “Just Do It” has inspired people of all backgrounds and abilities to push their limits using Nike gear.

Imagine how successful these print ads could be today paired with QR Codes that direct customers to exclusive discounts for Nike products, or even to a branded landing page with interactive workouts featuring pro athletes!

7. Milk Processor Education Program: “Got Milk?”

Everyone recognizes “Got Milk?” today. However, in the late 1990s, the phrase hadn’t been written, and milk was losing popularity to soft drinks and bottled iced tea.

In response, the “Got Milk?” campaign was launched and filled televisions, magazines, and billboards with celebrities wearing milk mustaches over that classic tagline. When paired with information on the health benefits in text on the ads, it was a real winner.

Today, QR Codes could help the campaign be even more informational and engaging. They could direct consumers to nutritional information about different types of milk, recipes, or interactive quizzes. 

8. Old Spice: “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”

Old Spice had a serious problem. People thought it only had products for men in their 40s to 60s, but they wanted to appeal to younger men in their late teens and 20s as well.

They found their North Star in market research that said women make 60% of body wash purchases. Old Spice then made the  “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign to appeal to them directly and launched it through TV ads and print for maximum reach. 

They fine-tuned their message even further by appealing to young people’s tastes with print ads that showed scenes like a man with soap bubbles covering him in the shape of a beard, ax, and suspenders as if he were a lumberjack thanks to his Old Spice product.

With QR Codes, Old Spice could direct consumers to quizzes for personalized product recommendations (based on preferences for scent, product purpose, medium, and more) or fun contests calling for user-generated content (UGC) submissions that encourage audience participation. 

9. Rolling Stone: “Perception vs. Reality”

Magazine ads are an important part of any marketing campaign, but Rolling Stone was struggling to sell them since potential advertisers didn’t think their readers were likely to buy many products. Rolling Stone launched its “Perception vs. Reality” campaign and changed the perception of its readers in a big way. 

The campaign’s purpose was to challenge marketers’ idea that Rolling Stone’s readers were stuck in the 1960s—both in mindset and lifestyle—thus making the magazine a more attractive target for companies advertising cars, consumer electronics, and credit cards. 

The campaign changed the status quo with strong images on white backgrounds that showed an object that people thought represented a Rolling Stone reader and the object that their readers actually identified with. The ads stood out amongst other print ads thanks to their simple design, and the contrast of the objects cut through the popular perception of their readers with only a few words.

Today, the campaign could use QR Codes to link to rich written content that further establishes the Rolling Stone reader’s identity.

10. De Beers: “A Diamond is Forever”

In 1947, De Beers aimed to link diamonds with love to encourage people to buy them for their partners. It did so by connecting the diamond’s well-known durability to eternal love with the tagline, “A Diamond is Forever,” above a simple image that put diamonds’ natural beauty first. The phrase took off, and in only four words, it became an iconic saying embedded in pop culture. 

It could be an even stronger campaign today if potential customers could scan a QR Code and see a 3D model of the diamond ring they liked on their hand!

11. IKEA: “The Wonderful Everyday”

IKEA’s home products fill consumers’ homes and are present in the background of their everyday lives. However, IKEA didn’t want people to feel like their products were just background players. Enter “The Wonderful Everyday” campaign.

IKEA created digital, video, and print ads that showed their products alongside people performing everyday tasks like waking up, getting dressed, or even just going down the stairs—but elevating these simple actions in a way that seemed extraordinary.

QR Codes in the ads could make it easier for customers to visualize:

  • The furniture in spaces like their own.
  • Other items that could pair well with a specific product.
  • How to assemble the furniture.

12. Heinz: “It Has to Be Heinz”

Many people don’t have tastes for a particular ketchup, which is a problem for Heinz since brand awareness is a key component to building loyalty.

Heinz’s “It Has to Be Heinz” campaign solves that problem by showing the unusual ways people enjoy Heinz ketchup due to their love for it. That may sound like a simple idea, but seeing a print ad that shows something like ketchup on vanilla ice cream creates a memorable sensory experience with an impact.

There are many benefits to using QR Codes for this campaign, like how they can increase engagement for Heinz since they’re easy to place on a label, in-store ad, or digital ad. They could even use QR Codes for recipe ideas!

Create your next effective print advertisement with QR Codes

The evolution of advertising has brought us to an exciting intersection of print and digital—and QR Codes are at the heart of this convergence.

Looking back at the 12 timeless print ad campaigns above, we can see the power of a compelling message paired with innovative graphic design. QR Codes offer a bridge between these two worlds, allowing print ads to seamlessly connect with digital content and engage audiences in original ways.

Excellent copy, graphic design, and concepts can make for impactful print ad campaigns, as exemplified above. With QR Codes, though, those campaigns can reach anyone with a smartphone.

Boost your audience engagement on your next marketing campaign—get started with QR Code Generator PRO today!

Trupti Desai

Trupti Desai is Bitly’s Senior Director of Growth Marketing. She has over 10 years of experience working in B2B and B2C marketing roles spanning the UK and the US. A key part of the marketing strategy at Bitly, Trupti elevates global teams with her expertise and insights and was notably a speaker at the Digital Marketing World Forum. You can connect with Trupti on LinkedIn.

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