23 Creative Advertising Ideas That Actually Work
True life: I never had cable TV until 2015. The only time I watched TV shows was on Netflix, Hulu, or basic channels; having cable was a whole new world. When we did get cable, after the installation men explained in detail how to use the remote, I watched commercials for HOURS. Because that’s all that is on cable now, right? Almost all the commercials were funny, inspiring, or advertising a car—those are usually in a class of their own.
Per a 2014 report from SJ Insights, people are exposed to an average of 5,000 advertisements and brands per day. Of that number, only an average of 153 advertisements are noted, and we only engage with about 12 ads. The competition for attention is fierce and to be the best, your ads need to stand out from the crowd to get noticed.
Keeping that in mind during this frantic holiday shopping season, I compiled a list of creative advertising ideas with examples to make your brand stand out!
1. Capitalize on Ego with a Sponsored Quiz
Someone told me once that the trick to getting people to like you is to simply get them to talk about themselves. They’ll walk away from the conversation knowing very little about you, but feeling great about themselves. That’s exactly what sponsored Buzzfeed Quizzes do! Everyone wants to know what type of Skittle or M&M they are, how they’ll die on Game of Thrones, if they’re a host or guest in Westworld.
2. Sponsor City Maps
This advertising idea seems to be most beneficial to tour bus companies and chain Italian restaurants (I have no idea why). While I was backpacking, I relied on these handy freebies that were largely available at train stations or—again, not sure why—Italian restaurants.
I carried these suckers everywhere. The maps are usually marked with the big tourist attractions and business locations. If you got the map from a bus company, all the bus stops would be marked. I inevitably ended up going back to the restaurant or finding my way to a bus stop when I got lost and using it to find my way other places.
3. Create Coupon Books
When I was growing up, we sold cookie dough, girl scout cookies, wrapping paper, and coupon books. Now, you can find coupons everywhere—online promo codes, Groupon, the newspaper, print ads on the subway. But coupon books are still alive and well. They seem to benefit tourists the most, with discounts on museums admissions and popular attractions, but what better way to get new customers than to put coupons in a city discovery guide?
4. Use the Environment to Your Advantage
These creative environmental ads are SO COOL. Not only are they better than boring billboards, they make an ordinary space into something funny or interesting for advertising purposes. I personally feel like these creative ads came straight from the brain of a five-year-old.
5. Don’t Be Afraid of Innuendo
As always, sex sells. It makes people look twice and pounds the image into their brain. Aziz Ansari has a comedy bit that talks about Equinox ads—like the one below—and how they rarely feature people working out or a gym. Instead, Equinox showcases models in exceptionally good shape in compromising positions. What does that have to do with their brand or product? Almost nothing. But I can attest that I will never forget seeing the below ad blown up on the side of a building on 53nd and Madison!
6. Reference Pop-Culture
Of course, an advertisement featuring Kim Kardashian should lead into pop-culture references. Depending on your audience, you could make a sly reference to Marilyn (a la Snickers), a popular movie, or blatantly make fun of a famous star’s dance moves. Ah
7. Be Funny
Good and creative ads have a foundation in common knowledge or shared humor. It’s like creating an inside joke with your prospective customers!
8. Be Pun-ny
Everyone loves a good dad joke, but these puns can be a clever and creative play on words—or use the graphics to tell the joke for you.
9. Show Cute Animals
If sex sells, so do adorable creatures. Just look at Budweiser! I hate the beer and I went on a tour of the brewery just to see the Clydesdales (unfortunately, the puppies weren’t around). The creative advertisement below with the kitten slays.
10. Work Outside the Box
It’s a nice surprise to find billboards that aren’t just a boring rectangle off the highway. Probably the most widely known is from Chik-fil-a, with cows graffitiing “Eat Mor Chikin” on a white billboard. There are plenty of ways to make your ads 3-D like Law & Order did below.
11. Give Away Swag
The Office told me that “Swag” stands for Stuff We All Get (thanks, Michael!), but just because we all get it doesn’t make it any less cool. I’m a huge supporter of giving out free water bottles—saving the planet from plastic with a nice logo, sold—and here at WordStream we also like to hand out bottle openers, pens, t-shirts, cozies, sweatbands.
12. Let Others Advertise for You
This one is easy. In fact, it’s as easy as getting a snapchat filter or printing a giant Instagram frame to allow people to take selfies with your brand. It could be anything that people would want to take a picture of or with, like an art installment.
13. Create an Instagram grid
Instagram grids are all about seeing the bigger picture. Musicians tend to do this with album covers or brands will do it to announce pop-up shops. The trick is to make each individual picture attractive as well as the conglomerate. Reynolds Kitchens does this so well by show individual dishes that make up a giant banquet table!
14. Check out Street Art
This might be my favorite type of creative advertising. Often referred to as “guerrilla advertising”, street art can be anything from stickers to chalk art to graffiti. I like that street art makes you stop in your tracks, and could present another opportunity to have others advertise for you through Instagram!
15. Invest in Creative Business Cards
Though you wouldn’t normally look at business cards as an advertisement for your business, you should! There are tons of creative ideas for business cards depending on what your profession is. I personally like the tiny cheese grater—something useful for picnics and an advertisement!
16. Try a Jingle
As annoying as jingles are when they’re stuck in your head, coming up with a smart, catchy jingle is a great way to get creative with your advertisements.
17. Show Your Artistic Side
There is something awesome about seeing ads that are so creative, you want to take a picture and make it the wallpaper on your phone. This Scrabble ad is just that, while illustrating the weight of “goldfish” vs “shark” in the game.
18. Go Retro
A creative way to reminisce about bad nighttime television: remake a commercial selling your product a la 1999.
19. Inspire through Video
Inspirational commercials are a tried-and-true way to have people engage and share. An easy way to do this is to sponsor a charitable organization or a drive.
20. Try Misdirection
The ad below creativity grabs your attention with a girl in a bikini, but is about illiteracy. Attractive graphics can make any kind of boring brand or topic easy to advertise. Selvera does it well through display ads!
21. Go Live on Facebook (or Periscope)
Facebook Live and Periscope are becoming more popular, probably because the platforms are being aggressive about teaching users how to broadcast live and alerting their connections when someone is live. Larry loves periscope! It’s a great way to show company culture and broadcast events.
22. Create an Instagram Journey
I saw this for the first time from Mercedes and it’s awesome. Someone had to work tirelessly to create this Instagram customization journey, creating all kinds of accounts that are tagged together—lots of manual labor—but the result feels personalized and interactive.
23. Go Big or Go Home
We’ve all seen (or even participated in) a social media challenge, like the Ice Bucket challenge for ALS awareness, the trendy mannequin challenge or running man challenge. Use the power of the internet for good! The number one rule of social media is to engage with your audience, and a creative way to advertise your brand is to get your coworkers together to do a silly challenge.