PR campaigns

6 PR campaigns that changed the world

PR has existed for longer than most people realise. As early as the 1920s, PR professionals have been asked to create PR campaigns to challenge and change public perception. Like most industries, PR has been shaped and influenced by world events.

Ivy Lee created the first press release while he was working with the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. Lee issued what is now considered to be the first press release to address an accident, getting ahead of the news in a local paper.

In turn, some PR campaigns have also had a hand in shaping the world. Edward L. Bernays was the man who convinced the world to eat bacon and eggs for breakfast. Below are some other great examples of PR campaigns that have helped shape the world as we know it.

Edward L. Bernays: cigarettes as feminist symbols

Edward L. Bernays is generally considered to be the architect of modern public relations. As the nephew of the great Sigmund Freud, Bernays knew that psychology had a big part to play in public perception. His experiences with war propaganda during WWI led to him creating one of the first PR agencies.

Bernays came to the attention of American Tobacco Company president George W. Hill. Hill wanted to increase sales of cigarettes by encouraging more women to take up the habit. Hill decided that an effective PR campaign would be needed to get more women to smoke in public.

At the time, women perceived smoking in public as impolite. Bernays could see that the target audience at the time was concerned with freedom from the oppressive ideals of the time. He decided to rebrand cigarettes as ‘Torches of Freedom.’ He built a successful PR campaign around the idea that lighting up a cigarette could be liberating.

Bernays paid several women to smoke during the Easter Sunday parade in New York and hired a photographer to take pictures. He then published these pictures in periodicals around the world. The PR campaign was a resounding success. The American Tobacco Company saw cigarette sales among women rise dramatically in just a few years.

Keep America Beautiful: the most famous tear in American history

The pressure to address the issues of our climate and environment has never felt so strong. Yet, as urgent as our problems feel today, campaigns sought to address the issue as far back as the 1970s. One of the most successful pr campaigns was the famous Keep America Beautiful campaign.

The 1971 Keep America Beautiful advert featured a Native American man dressed in traditional indigenous clothing. As he travels down a river in a canoe, he comes across a build-up of litter. He then witnesses a passer-by throwing litter out of a moving car. The man reacts by crying one solitary tear.

This campaign’s success was an early indication of the power of emotion in strategic messaging. However, it may also be one of the first and earliest examples of greenwashing. The PR campaign was largely funded by PepsiCo and Coca Cola, which are now ranked as leading plastic polluters.

The ad is also now considered to be racially problematic. Not only does the campaign feature a racial stereotype, but the Native American was actually played by an Italian American.

The Dove campaign for real beauty: a response to low self-esteem in women

One of the best PR campaign examples that boosted a company’s public image was the campaign for real beauty. A survey by Dove found that only 2% of 3,000 women considered themselves beautiful. In response, they launched their campaign for real beauty.

Dove showcased images of real women on billboard advertisements, instead of professional models. They followed this up with a variety of ads that garnered a positive reputation with their target audience. The PR campaign successfully demonstrated Dove’s company values, increasing the brand’s reputation and boosting its marketing efforts.

Hollywoodland: a public relations campaign that created an iconic landmark

One of the most iconic landmarks in America is the Hollywood sign in L.A. It’s synonymous with the glitz and glamour of the movies, but it was originally constructed for a very different reason.

Created in 1923, the 45-foot tall sign was originally erected by real estate developers. Woodruff and Shoults wanted to build publicity around their luxury housing development in the hills above L.A. They decided to erect the ‘Hollywoodland’ sign, to raise awareness of their development. What was supposed to be temporary, ended up becoming a beloved landmark recognised the world over.

Cecil Rhodes: diamonds are rare and valuable

This historic public relations strategy is one of the most successful to date. For the strategy to work, one man had to convince the world that diamonds were rare and valuable. The campaign was so successful, in fact, that it’s still impacting consumers today.

Cecil Rhodes was an infamous figure who embarked on a career in the diamond business in South Africa. Rhodes decided early on that if he wanted to boost sales, his De Beers diamonds had to be seen as a rarity.

Rhodes created a campaign with one clear objective: to increase the price of diamonds by changing public perception. He did this by buying most of the diamond mines in South Africa and working with distributors to create scarcity.

Rhodes’s efforts are now regarded as one of the best PR campaigns in history. The price of diamonds skyrocketed. During the 1900s, another PR campaign resulted in another worldwide phenomenon: the creation of the diamond engagement ring.

Fearless girl: standing up for girls and women everywhere

In 2017, a statue of a girl was installed in front of the famous Charging Bull statue in New York. The bronze sculpture was created by Kristen Visbal and commissioned by State Street Global Advisors. This PR strategy aimed to raise awareness of the importance of gender diversity in corporate leadership.

The successful campaign received widespread media coverage and ignited meaningful conversations about women in leadership. Unfortunately, media outlets later reported that the Fearless Girl statue was removed following complaints from the creator of the Charging Bull statue.

The legacy of great PR

PR and marketing are seeing massive changes. People are asking more from their favourite brands than ever before, from events to conversations and more. Successful companies are now built on brand values, emotional connections and positive relationships.

These campaigns are a reminder that advertising and PR have the ability to change the world. But the world also has the ability to change advertising, and hopefully for the better.

Do you want maximum results from your next PR and marketing campaign? Contact our award-winning team for an informal chat today [email protected].