Persuasive ads are successful ads. In this article we will take a look at three persuasive ads in detail. Why do they work? What can we learn from them?

It is important to understand that we can apply what we learn from one medium to the next. Our audio ad attempts, for instance, stand to benefit from great copy we may see on TV ads.

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This post has been updated in August 2021.

Apple (1984)

One of the most persuasive ads in contemporary history is the Apple 1984 ad. There is much to learn from it.

The Ad

The ad is set in a dystopia. People march in unison. They sit to listen to a presentation on a large screen.

A woman runs towards the screen with a sledgehammer. She is dressed in bright colors (red shorts, white t-shirt). She is pursued by riot police as she races towards the large screen where an Orwellian-style dictator is speaking.

The woman keeps run and throws the sledgehammer towards the screen, destroying it.

The screen shows a message, read out by a voice over: “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.”

The Apple logo appears. The commercial ends.

The History Behind It

The ad was created by a team which included Ridley Scott as director, Steve Hayden as copywriter, Brent Thomas as art director and Lee Clow as creative director. It aired in the Super Bowl in 1984.


The intent of the ad may perhaps be best explained by Steve Jobs himself. Introducing the ad in the 1983 Apple Keynote Address, he explained:

“It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers initially welcoming IBM with open arms now fear an IBM dominated and controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?”

This Apple commercial exemplifies a key characteristic of persuasive ads, namely a full story. Such storytelling must be complete with a narrative, certainly, but also with a premise, a theme.

what makes an ad a persuasive ads?

Premise is Key

The great dramatist Lajos Egri explains: “Everything has a purpose, or premise. Every second of our life has its own premise, whether or not we are conscious of it at the time. That premise may be as simple as breathing or as complex as a vital emotional decision, but it is always there.”

What he means is that human action is motivated by an underlying conviction and thus good drama must also have this key component. He continues to write: “Every good play must have a well-formulated premise. There may be more than one way to phrase the premise, but, however it is phrased, the thought must be the same.”

In the case of the Apple ad, the premise is very clear. It could be articulated as something like: ‘Conformity leads to tyranny’. Perhaps we could articulate it more precisely as ‘Conformity in technology leads to tyranny whilst creativity in technology leads to freedom’. The inevitable corollary to this is that ‘IBM leads to tyranny whilst Apple leads to freedom’.

Juxtaposing tyranny and freedom is an effective and powerful premise. It helps explain the ad’s great success. In creating persuasive ads it is important to focus on the writing. No dramatic writing is complete without a hard-hitting premise, like the 1984 Apple ad shows. This is true in advertising and in audio ads as well.

Budweiser Whassup Commercial (1999)

An unforgettable commercial, the Budweiser Whassup Ad is one of advertising’s most persuasive ads.

The Ad

This ad is quite simple. It features a group of friends talking on the phone. They throw around the catchphrase casually, asking about each other and what they are doing.

It is, however, an ad that one must watch to understand. In a way, it is a simple idea, rendered with great creativity.

The History Behind It

This ad first aired during ESPN’s Monday Night Football on December 20, 1999. Interestingly, it was based on a short film which made the rounds in the film festival circuit, before being turned into an ad.

It won several prizes, including the Cannes Grand Prix and the Grand Clio. In 2006, it was finally included in the Clio Hall of Fame. It has been extensively parodied in popular culture. August Busch IV, CEO of Anheuser-Busch (producers of Budweiser) states: “In our lifetimes, we’ll never see so much value created from a single idea.”


The Whassup ad deserves a special place amongst persuasive ads. It exemplifies the need for great copy and particularly for words/slogans that may become memes in themselves. Let us try to explore this further.

Good copy sticks in an audience’s mind. Eventually, such copy may acquire such an effect on the culture that it could rightfully be called a ‘meme’. Vinny Warren, who found the original short film while working at DDB tries to make sense of the ad’s success:

“The other thing that struck me about the phrase was that it is physically pleasing to shout the phrase Whasssssuuuuuup!!! It was cathartic to say it. A little bit of nervous energy leaves your body when you shout it. Much like when you say Borat’s ‘Niiiiice!’ catchphrase. Both are exclamatory and require energy to say. You have to commit.”

Warren is quite right. The word ‘Whassup’ is very much like Borat’s ‘Nice’. There is more that can be articulated here though. It is a great example of terrific copy, for sure, but is also an example of a meme.

Meme Theory

Memes are an essential idea and tool worth exploring in advertising. We all know memes, or rather, we think we know. For the most part, we identify memes as the funny little pictures we send each other on Whatsapp. There is a bit more to learn about memes though, and how they may relate to advertising.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines memes as “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture”. Alternatively, it also defines meme as “an amusing or interesting item (such as a captioned picture of video) or genre of items that is spread widely online especially through social media.” Richard Dawkins, who coined the term ‘meme’, explains: “Memes (discrete units of knowledge, gossip, jokes and so on) are to culture what genes are to life. Just as biological evolution is driven by the survival of the fittest genes in the gene pool, cultural evolution may be driven by the most successful memes.”

When we talk about a funny grumpy cat picture and call it a ‘meme’, we are correct. There is, however, more to memes than just that. An advertising copywriter should strive to write copy so memorable, that it reaches the cultural impact of a meme. In a sense, good copy should become a meme, just like Budweiser’s “Whassup” or Borat’s “Nice”. This is a good way to achieve persuasive ads that stick in the imagination of the public.

‘I Want to Buy the World a Coke’ (1971)

Creators of audio ads do well to learn about radio commercial history and jingles. There are also some notable ads in television which are of interest to any creator or copywriter of audio ads.

One such television ad is the Coca Cola ‘I Want to Buy the World a Coke’ commercial. It was a television ad, to be sure, but it was built around an elaborate song. As such, it serves as a powerful example of building an ad around audio.

The Ad

The first version of the ad took place on a hilltop. It featured a group of different nationalities, races, and backgrounds on a hill, holding Coca Cola bottles, singing the song:

“I’d like to buy the world a home
and furnish it with love
grow apple trees and honey bees
and snow white turtle doves
I’d like to each the world to sing
in perfect harmony
I’d like to buy the world a coke
and keep it company
that’s the real thing
I’d like to teach the world to sing
in perfect harmony
I’d like to buy the world a coke
and keep it company
that’s the real thing”

persuasive ads examples for radio ads or audio ads

The History Behind It

The idea was originally conceived by Bill Backer, who was an advertising executive at McCann Erickson. He imagined an ad built around the phrase “I’d like to buy the world a Coke”.

Later, he contacted hit songwriters Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway. The idea was to create a jingle, based on a previous jingle by Cook and Greenaway. It was reworked and performed by the pop group The New Seekers and recorded in London.

The ad, incidentally, was featured in the ending of Mad Men, in an unforgettable scene.


This is one prime sample amongst persuasive ads. It was built around a pre-recorded song and thus is definitely a pioneer of audio ads today, which are built around pop music.

A strong core is essential for a successful ad. In the case of TV commercials such as this one and of radio commercials/audio ads, such strong core may be built around an audio component. Even though audio ads nowadays have moved away from jingles, this Coca Cola ad could very well work even today.

What do we mean, however, when we talk about a ‘core’ to the story or ad? We have talked about the need to have a great premise and to write copy that may even become a meme. The core of persuasive ads, however, needs: (i) characters (ii) the performance of an action.

In the case of this famous Coca Cola ad, the characters are the people coming to the hilltop and the action is the singing of the song. Sometimes an ad will be well served by having a strong core which also includes a particular conflict to be solved. Such conflict is action that is more acute, takes place between the characters and is related to the premise.

Persuasive Ads: The Gist of It

As we have seen, good ad copy needs to be good dramatic writing. Such writing requires a strong premise which is able to shape the story and communicate a concrete idea.

Another thing to remember is that such writing should aspire to be remembered, indeed to become a meme in the best sense of the word.

Finally, persuasive ads often have a strong core. Such inner structure requires the use of characters in a particular time-space situation. Sometimes the need for conflict between them is also a necessity, but we must make such conflict relate to the premise.

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