In these days of digital media, it's easy to overlook the art of print ads. But the medium is still as relevant and powerful as ever. While TV spots and social media campaigns also play into how brands promote themselves, print adverts are still a key part of the puzzle. And just because you're working with an age-old medium doesn't mean your design can't create something memorable and full of impact – as these examples prove.
In this article, we've pulled together the most impressive, funny, controversial hard-hitting and downright genius print adverts around. Read on for a masterclass in promoting your brand through print.
Hit the icon in the top right of each advert to see the full-size image.
01. You eat what they eat
The amount of plastic being dumped in the ocean is so far beyond what we can comprehend that it doesn't bear thinking about. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't, as the team at German advertising company Ogilvy highlight with this campaign for Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS), an international non-profit, marine wildlife conservation organisation. The print ad campaign depicts a number of different fish, misshapen by various plastic objects, with the tagline 'You eat what they eat'. The ad goes on to encourage viewers to help clean up our oceans by donating to Sea Shepherd.
02. Open all night
Love or hate the fast food chain, McDonald's knows just how to get a great print ad campaign put together. This most recent offering comes from the team at Leo Burnett, who followed the modern and minimal aesthetics of McDonald's communication with this striking visual. In a clever use of illustration, the iconic 'M' becomes lights in the night, sending viewers the message that no matter what time they want to visit, even in the middle of the night, McDonald's is open for business.
03. Where there is one, there are more
Boeker Public Health is a major pest management and food safety company based in the Middle East. JWT Dubai created these beautiful-but-gross print ads based on the idea that when it comes to pests, if there’s one, there will be more. The agency focused on replicated an authentic Russian Matryoshka doll aesthetic, first painting each design onto a wooden surface, then mapping these designs onto a 3D rendering of a doll. The project picked up multiple awards.
04. Piknic Électronik
This long-running print ad campaign can be found on the streets and subway stations of Montreal, promoting an all-day electronic music festival that is held every Sunday in a park throughout the summer. The adverts feature bright, poppy photography combining fruits with musical equipment; a simple concept that effectively captures the idea of ‘fresh sounds’. Ethos, the studio behind the campaign, created the images by photographing real objects that had been hand-painted in different colours.
05. A Better Job is Waiting
Created by Joe Public United, this print campaign for a job portal aims to motivate people to stop slogging it out in a job they don’t like. Deftly retouched photos show bored workers at their desks, sat still for so long mould has started to grow on their bodies, or spiders have set up their webs on them.
06. Lickin' chicken
If there's one thing we all know about KFC, it's that it's finger-lickin' good, and it's this irrefutable fact that's inspired this series of frankly unsettling print ads. In them, everyday objects suddenly sprout mouths wherever your fingers might touch them, in the hope of licking off a little of the Colonel's chickeny goodness. It's the work of Zane Zhou, along with LamanoStudio in Chile. Thanks for tonight's nightmares, guys.
07. Kiss with Pride
It's been over 50 years since homosexuality was decriminalised in England and Wales, but today it's still illegal in 72 countries around the world – and punishable by death in eight. To highlight this, Absolut, in collaboration with LGBTQ charity Stonewall and BBH London, created this series featuring close-up shots of same-sex kisses, with many of the subjects coming from the countries where these kisses could land them in prison, or worse.
08. Pass the Heinz
If these clever adverts for Heinz look kind of familiar, it's with good reason. They originally featured in an episode of Mad Men where Don Draper tried to pitch a series of ads showing food that goes great with ketchup, but without the ketchup itself visible. Draper argued that people would fill in the gaps for themselves and create a stronger association in their mind, but Heinz wasn't going for it. In real life, however, the company's on board with the idea, with DAVID Miami, rolling out these near-exact reproductions of Draper's pitch.
09. Flame grilled
Burger King prides itself on flame-grilling its burgers rather than frying them, but we all know how fire can misbehave if you don't keep a close eye on it, right? Burger King holds the record for the most restaurants that have burned down since 1954, and that's the brilliant angle seized by DAVID Miami in one of its many innovative campaigns for the company, using genuine photos of blazing BKs to emphasise how it cooks its burgers.
In spring 2018, the unthinkable happened. KFC ran out of chicken. Thanks to problems with a new distributors, the Colonel ended up temporarily closing most of its 900 UK restaurants. KFC handled it like a true pro, putting its hands up and accepting responsibility, and bringing in Mother London to create a print ad apology that instantly went viral. It even picked up a Wood D&AD Pencil in writing for advertising. Check out more companies that have mastered the art of saying sorry (or not) in our roundup of the good, the bad, and the WTF of brand apologies.
11. Pee on this ad
Usually, if someone wants to wee on your advert, it's not a good sign. However, Ikea actively encouraged it in this crib advert, which doubles up as a pregnancy test. If the result was positive, the retailer would offer the mum-to-be a half-price crib, shaving pounds off the several thousand they'll be shelling out for their upcoming bundle of joy. To create this ad, agency Åkestam Holst worked in partnership with material technology company Mercene Labs.
12. Delta Dating Wall
According to Delta, world travellers are more likely to attract right swipes on Tinder, but what if you can't afford to go away to snap that perfect profile pic? That's what Delta – along with Wieden+Kennedy New York and Colossal Media – addresses with the Delta Dating Wall, an epic print advert in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, featuring exotic backdrops that you can stand against for a selfie, instantly making you a lot more windswept and interesting.
13. Random cabbage
Wieden+Kennedy London was tasked with raising the profile of Chambord among a target audience of women aged 24-35. It used the campaign to push back against the pressure on women to conform to certain rules with its 'Because No Reason' tagline that encourages people to do what they like, just because they like it.
14. Ridiculous possibilities
You never know what you'll find when you go shopping in TK Maxx, and the spontaneous, surprising nature of the shopping experience in this designer discount shop is brought to the fore by this campaign emphasising the 'ridiculous possibilities' that lie inside. It's the work of Wieden+Kennedy, with other examples highlighted including smartly dressed women scaling the side of a building on a rope made of silk scarves, and a biker doing ballet.
15. See what you want to see
This print ad campaign was created by Leo Burnett France, and plays on the idea that with Jeep, you can go wherever you like and 'see what you want to see'. Each ad features an image of an animal, which, when turned upside down, turns into another creature from the other side of the world: the giraffe becomes a penguin, the elephant a swan and the doe a sea-lion.
16. Save paper
It's a bold move for a company that has built itself on selling paper books. When Penguin needed to push its audiobook offering, Miami Ad School decided to tackle the eco issues of paper production head-on. The intricate illustration in the bark is a lovely touch.
17. Take a breath
Ogilvy once again proves itself as a print advertisement master, this time in a campaign for allergy medicine. Simple yet effective colours and a smart illustration trick – using the silhouette of common allergens to 'block' the figure's nose – make this an ad that pops from the page.
18. Sticky ad
Ogilvy is known for creating some of the best print advertisements around the world. This is just another example of its brilliant work. Created for Fevikwik Instant Adhesive, it's one of a three-part print advertisement series that uses clever illustration and a monochrome colour scheme to its fullest potential.
19. We are made of rock
Created by DLV BBDO in Milan, Italy, the simple execution of this print advertisement works wonders for music magazine Rolling Stone. A cool image paired with a brilliant tag line ('We are made of rock') capture the brand's attitudes, product and ethos effortlessly. Using a signature-like handwriting font also ties in with the rock star aesthetic.
20. Yoga for your back
Created by Israel-based advertising agency McCann, this print ad for Ashtanga Yoga homes is on the benefits of yoga. In it, the bones of the spine are transformed into a snake; a concept that also deftly captures the idea that yoga will bring you a super-flexible back. The tagline 'Before your back attacks you, Ashtanga Yoga at the Garage fitness club', drives the point home.
Next page: 20 more awesome print ads