Advertising has gone through a massive and rapid period of change in the 21st century. Following our earlier blog on advertising from 1910 to 2000, we’re exploring how changes in the industry have accelerated over the past two decades.

A century ago, marketing was done through newspaper and magazine adverts and on billboards. It took 100 years of gradual developments in technology to open up the options of radio and television advertising, followed by the internet in the late 20th century.


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Marketing options

But technology has advanced in leaps and bounds since 2000 and modern businesses have an unprecedented choice of media and communications platforms to get their message across. This coincides with the growth in the number of businesses and intense competition on a previously unheard of scale.

The growth of the global economy and e-commerce has given consumers more choices than ever before, so even small companies are selling to an international market. Achieving the optimum marketing campaign has never been more important.

A modern 21st century campaign can access a wide range of media technology, including various graphics platforms, videos and sound. Word of mouth via social media is also a 21st century innovation, thanks to the launch of platforms such as Facebook in 2004 and Twitter in 2006.


Online reviews

Word of mouth has always been an effective way of marketing – but now it’s more than chatting to your family, friends and neighbours about your latest purchase. In the 21st century, word of mouth means sharing your views with a global audience, including leaving online reviews on purpose-built sites.

Businesses are learning to target their ads to the right demographic audience via the relevant social media platform at the right time. This can have a dramatic effect on sales. It’s no longer enough to pop on to social media when you have the time -it’s an absolute must for advertising today.

Clever marketing campaigns increasingly include search engine optimisation, making sure your website ranks high in the Google rankings, thanks to having the best content that will blow the competition away. When an SEO campaign is run properly, it can drive a high quantity and quality of traffic to your website.

Some memorable advertising campaigns have been launched between 2000 and 2019 – some are remembered for their brilliance, but also in some cases they will be recalled for all the wrong reasons.


BMW: The Hire

Vehicle manufacturer BMW took advantage of YouTube to advertise its latest cars with a series of eight short films under the banner The Hire in 2001 and 2002. Actor Clive Owen starred in the films, which were designed to show the cars’ best features.

It was an early example of an internet-only advertising campaign, with the films launched specifically to be released on YouTube. Owen shot to fame playing the title role in the TV series, Chancer, in 1990.

He played a professional driver in The Hire, who carried out high-risk jobs. The advertising campaign won the Grand CLIO Award for TV and Cinema and made a one-off comeback episode in 2016.


Fair and Lovely

One advertising campaign which famously didn’t hit the mark was launched by Hindustan Lever Ltd – the Indian arm of London-based Unilever – in 2001. The adverts promoted the company’s Fair and Lovely brand, a cosmetic skin-lightening cream.

The adverts caused outrage for insinuating that darker-skinned women were less attractive than their fairer-skinned counterparts – and therefore less able to forge a successful career and help support their family!

The advert that tipped critics over the edge featured a father who was struggling financially and lamenting the fact he didn’t have a son, while his dark-skinned daughter looked on helplessly. She then apparently used Fair and Lovely, got a job as a flight attendant and took her dad for a meal at a swanky five-star restaurant.

The ad campaign caused outrage and led to mass protests, as the manufacturer had seriously misjudged its audience and what they expected. The whole TV campaign was cancelled after pressure group The All India Women’s Democratic Association complained to the National Human Rights Commission in New Delhi.

They said the adverts promoted gender discrimination and also discriminated against darker-skinned women by suggesting fair was beautiful. The Indian government’s Ministry of Information and Broadcast agreed that the adverts violated the Cable and Television Networks Act 1995 and told TV stations not to air them. The incident was a marketing disaster.

In September 2003, fast food chain McDonald’s launched its famous “I’m Lovin’ It” campaign, one of the company’s most popular ads of all time. The slogan was McDonald’s first international advertising campaign and was aimed at portraying the restaurants as being warm and inviting, showing realistic characters and a slice of everyday life.


Dove: Evolution of a Model

In 2004, Dove teamed up with Ogilvy and Mather to launch its famous Campaign for Real Beauty, challenging the definitions of female beauty.

Its Evolution of a Model advert started out as a series of photographs, showing how styling, makeup and the Photoshop app transformed a young woman into the glamorous face seen on advertising billboards.

The photo-shoot – which showed how society had unrealistic expectations of beauty – turned into a global ad campaign and then into a complete company rebrand.


Plus size models

Dove was also one of the first companies to use plus-size models as part of the same campaign. It further challenged people’s perception of beauty and showed that consumer items should be for women of all shapes and sizes and not just super-slim models.

Today, plus size models are the norm in adverts for many different brands, a phenomenon which has become known as “the Dove effect”. Other market leaders – such as Boots, Nike, Target, Addition Elle, Swimsuits For All, Pretty Little Thing and many more – regularly use larger and plus size models.

Ironically, the movement that was supposed to lead to inclusion for women of all sizes has created a backlash in recent years. Critics have suggested the trend for plus-size models is leading to people thinking it’s okay to be overweight – even suggesting they are spurring an “obesity epidemic”.

According to a study published in the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, the adverts make it “socially permissible” to be overweight, encouraging people to think there is no need to eat healthily or partake in exercise and other fitness activities.



In recent years, some brands have gone one step further. Instead of using the kind of slender, “perfect” models who were the norm in years gone by, they employ a diverse selection of models. The lingerie brand Curvy Kate launched its advertising campaign The New Sexy in 2015, in response to the Victoria’s Secret ad that defined the “perfect body”.

Curvy Kate’s lingerie models included a disabled woman, another who had alopecia, a transgender woman and a blogger who had overcome an eating disorder. The UK lingerie brand, Neon Moon, launched a similar campaign that featured plus-size women, a model with a shaved head and a transgender woman for its #IAmNeonMoon campaign.

As diversity and inclusion in the workplace and in society as a whole become increasingly important, the advertising industry is reflecting the changes. There are fewer fashion brands who use only the traditional tall and slim models today.

In 2007, the advertising industry in the United States was the subject of one of the most popular TV drama series of all time, Mad Men. Set in the 1960s, it attracted controversy as a result of its portrayal of the industry as being filled with prejudice – in particular sexism. It was an instant hit with the viewing public and had a realistic feel that showed how much the industry had changed in 50 years.


Taste the Rainbow

In 2009, confectionery brand Skittles launched its “Taste the Rainbow” campaign in conjunction with New York ad agency D’Arcy Masius Benton and Bowles.

A quirky and crazy Skittles world was created, including a roof that leaked Skittles and a man who only had to touch something for it to turn into a pile of Skittles. The campaign was a hit with its target audience of young people, but older audiences hated it.

In 2010, men’s toiletry brand Old Spice totally rebranded its range, turning its aftershave into a new and fashionable “must have”, after many years of preaching the same message. The 75-year-old company reinvented itself using social media.


Always: Like a Girl

In 2014, Procter and Gamble – the manufacturer of women’s sanitary product brand Always – launched its groundbreaking “Like a Girl” campaign to combat damaging stereotypes of what was expected of young women.

The campaign was launched in response to an American survey, which revealed more than 50% of girls suffered a drop in confidence when they hit puberty. The campaign turned a phrase that was meant to be an insult into a positive with its series of Like a Girl ads, aimed at 16 to 24-year-olds. They aimed to inspire renewed confidence in young millennials.


Target market

Advertisers must constantly move with the times to keep ahead of the game. Research shows 94% of smartphone users enjoy browsing the internet and 88% look at consumer products, so ad campaigns ideally should work across all platforms.

Whatever tools companies use, the basis of marketing is still about identifying your target market, understanding what your market is looking for and shaping your advertising campaigns accordingly.

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