9 Classic Advertising Icons And What They Can Teach You About Social Media

Updated: February 12, 2021

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Since the early days of marketing, advertising icons have been used to infuse personality into a brand and reinforce positioning similar to the way marketing content is used today. In their ability to endure and engage, there are lessons in these iconic advertising characters that you can use to enhance your content marketing strategy. Take a look at the elements of a few easily recognizable, vintage ad figures and see how you can apply their success to your content: 1. Morton’s Salt Girl – Reflect Value Proposition. 
morton-salt-logo In 1914, with that little girl in the downpour toting a box of salt able to pour freely even in the rain, Morton’s Salt demonstrated their primary value proposition in a glance – salt that runs even under the highest degree of moisture. As you populate your social media presence, find creative ways to answer the age-old customer question: “What’s in it for me?” Craft easily consumable content to highlight creative ways customers use your product/service or conceptualize a social media-specific brand concierge to educate readers on your offer.   04_Smokey_BeMyGuest  2. National Park Service’s Smokey the Bear – Be personable. 
 A half-century ago, The National Forest Service chose the most intimidating forest animal to advocate for forest safety. Smokey was humanized from a scary bear to a sympathetic forest animal endangered by the carelessness of human campers. With a compelling cause, a grandfatherly voice, and reminder that “Only YOU can prevent forest fires,” he transcended his cause to become a national icon. 

Though your goals for social media may not be as lofty or far-reaching, maintaining a memorable brand personality – whether likable like Smokey or detestable like Allstate’s Mayhem Man – keeps your followers engaged and entertained.   3. Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger – Constantly evolve. tonytiger Beating out an elephant, a gnu, and a kangaroo, Tony the Tiger won the spotlight as spokesperson for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes in 1951. Initially introduced in black and white, he evolved into full color, underwent multiple transformations to reflect society’s changing ideas of a strong, healthy physique before his current incantation. He’s been a skateboarder, soccer player, donned a football helmet, gone hip-hop, and even graced GQ to promote himself in conjunction with the Chinese Year of the Tiger calling himself Tiger of the year. 

Each makeover changed him just enough to be noticeable, but still left consumers with the same recognizable Tony the Tiger and the slogan “They’re Grrrreat!” With the availability of social media, you can change your brand’s personality at a moment’s notice, but consistency in branding and messaging is key for maintaining a recognizable and trusted social media presence.   4. Planter’s Mr. Peanut – Show off your personality. 
 mrpeanutThe top hat and monocle Mr. Peanut has been sporting since the 1920s instantly signals highbrow class. The same classy perception Planter’s wants you to equate with their premium nuts. The lesson to modern day social media: avoid clogging your feeds with content that doesn’t support your brand ideals. Yes, a Harlem Shake video might garner a lot of attention, but is it the kind of attention your brand is seeking? Focus on content that elevates the brand and identify the tiebacks to the brand at the outset of a content project.   5. Cracker Jack’s Sailor Jack – Play to your audience. 
sailorjack Cracker Jack used a kid and his dog to introduce the world to their caramel popcorn with a treat made for kids. Using his nephew that died at the age of eight as the basis for Sailor Jack, kids could instantly identify with the youngster and his dog. After a mention in the 1908 song, Take Me Out to the Ballpark, the brand – and Sailor Jack – became a hit with baseball-loving little boys too. 

If you’re targeting a mature audience, reflect their values in your social media postings to reinforce brand relationships. For example, constantly posting about Justin Beiber, though he maybe newsworthy and relevant, to an older audience will lose the mature followers you’re targeting.   Coppertone6. Coppertone Girl – Be conscious. 
 First, long before most brands were thinking of it, Coppertone moved away from the Native American logo for their skin tanning lotion. Instead, they adopted the image of an adorable little girl whose pants were being tugged at by a dog revealing her deep tan lines. Over time, society’s tastes shifted from considering her an adorable little girl to accusations of her being overly sexualized and promoting skin cancer. In response, the brand made changes, like only exposing the top of her back and lightening her tan, to maintain their branding heritage while appeasing the public. Social media gaffes happen every day. As a new medium, marketers are constantly testing out new ideas, new content, and new approaches. And, inevitably, some of them will fail. Build your social strategy to address handling mistakes, issuing apologies, and changing course when a campaign or content track is deemed to be offensive or under-performs.   7. Jolly Green Giant – Be different.greengiant The 1928 response to Minnesota Valley Canning Company’s big smiling green man dressed in leaves was so strong that the company changed its name to Green Giant. His success was no doubt attributable to the ability of his shocking green color and imposing size to grab attention. Social media posts that include an image get more views. Photos and videos garner even more engagement. Color variety enhances recall. As you plan your social media activities, vary posts between all text and media types that are visually interesting to keep your followers following.   quaker8. Quaker Oats’ Larry – Leverage the familiar. In his most recent update since his first appearance in 1877, Larry, the Quaker Oats man, gets a milk ‘stache, but his real function has been to reflect Quaker values of honesty, purity and strength. No actual Quakers were involved in the founding of cereal giant, just business acumen to decide to align with a bastion of integrity. By infusing the brand with a seemingly unrelated social artifact, Quaker Oats instantly established credibility and reaped instant success. Look outside of your industry for news stories and trending topics that may not directly relate to your brand offering but allow you to reflect a value or a unique aspect of the brand by association.   9. RCA’s Nipper – Have a story. nipper-rca-1 Combine a dog and the earliest mass-produced listening device with the words “His master’s voice” and you instantly tell the tale of a sound so crisp and clear that even a dog, known for impeccable hearing, recognizes and reacts to his master’s recorded voice. Building stories around your brand helps readers relate and engage with you. Look to your brand history, causes your brand champions, or your company culture for places to surface and support brand stories in your social media efforts. For example, Hewlett-Packard does a nice job of sprinkling the drive for innovation theme through media by leveraging their founding in a garage back in 1939 while encouraging others to go tinker in their own garages – and with their computers. Pulling together the strategic pieces of social media planning and execution can sap the fun out of social media. Seek out experts to help you figure our your social media personality and how to support it with the right content, at the right time, for the right audience.


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