The following article was originally written in October 2012 and was updated in January 2020 to reflect more current anniversary advertising initiatives.

Leading brands are devoting an increasing amount of time and ad space to celebratory and commemorative anniversary messages. But what is the value of this type of communication, and what does it achieve?

At History Factory, we always keep an eye on what brands are doing to share a major milestone so we can recommend relevant and compelling content that will support their efforts. Brands can be built, strengthened and supported in many different ways. Sometimes it makes sense to integrate an anniversary message into a broader advertising strategy.

We routinely see four types of anniversary-themed advertisements, each with unique strategic value.

1. The anniversary “seal”

Pictured: this is History Factory's logo to commemorate it's 40th anniversary.
Many organizations default to creating an “anniversarized” version of their logo during a milestone year. It’s not a bad idea as part of a larger milestone marketing strategy, but an anniversary seal alone won’t have a lot of impact. Ads that simply include an anniversary seal are saying, in essence, “Buy this because we’re 100 years old.” They don’t say why that matters. It’s important to remember that the age of your company alone does not give you credibility. Without authentic messaging supporting this type of advertising, it’s just a logo for logo’s sake.

2. The celebratory message

This is a celebratory advertisement from Oreo celebrating it's 100th company anniversary.

The success of this approach depends on how it’s executed. Oreo exemplified how to bring a celebratory tone to an anniversary and make it meaningful. Most companies can’t get away with a simple, “Hoorah! We’re 100!” message, but Oreo is a brand built on fun and is perfect for this type of messaging. With a playful, engaging website and a witty ad campaign, Oreo has achieved what it might have struggled to accomplish any other day—get suckers like me to run to CVS and impulsively indulge in an entire sleeve of the cream-filled cookies—by using anniversary messaging consistent with its brand and voice.

3. The timeline of major milestones

Organizations have a tendency to use timelines as storytelling devices during milestone celebrations. We craft a lot of timelines at History Factory. When they’re well executed, they can be as compelling as they are informative.

Here’s an example: In 2019, Citi celebrated its centennial in the Canadian market. The financial institution released a video timeline that covered key points in its 100-year history, including brief explanations of why the events were important, with visual support for each point. The video concluded with Citi’s current employment footprint and CSR stats, and stated that the company continues to support growth in the Canadian market.

Citi framed the timeline to reinforce its business standing today by showing the total impact of its 100 years of existence. It wasn’t a laundry list of milestones; each was specifically chosen to make a point. Using history in this way is a powerful way to authenticate current messaging—in this case, it’s about stability, growth and investment in Canada.

4. Brand Storytelling

This is a photograph of a full-page spread magazine ad from Tesco celebrating it's 100th anniversary.

The holy grail of anniversary advertising is using substantive, relevant brand storytelling to reach audiences. Stories from your organization’s history create a genuine connection with audiences and help strengthen the brand’s reputation. Many ads use humor, wit, guilt or simply an informational tone to try to connect with an audience. Brand storytelling uses authenticity, substance and, in some cases, nostalgia. This approach can apply to commemorating an anniversary milestone or serve as a content strategy in itself. The result is that the audience gets to know the brand on a deeper level—something that studies show is increasingly important to consumers.

A good example of this approach comes from Tesco, which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary as a leading UK grocer. Part of the campaign included a two-page print ad that conveyed both a heritage message and a price message to directly target price-led competitors Aldi and Lidl.

Tesco competitor Sainsbury’s used its 150th anniversary TV ad to not only remind customers of its heritage but also reinforce its CSR efforts over the years. In Sainsbury’s case, it’s a clear message that the retailer is part of the fabric of UK society, through thick and thin, and it’s always looking to give back.
Another example of brand storytelling during an anniversary is an unusual one: leveraging the anniversary of one brand to promote another. Amazon used the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album as the vehicle for a an integrated multimedia campaign to launch Amazon Music HD.

For more ideas about how to mark your corporate anniversary, check out our comprehensive Guide to Celebrating Your Company Anniversary.

4 Principles for Effective Advertising During a Company Anniversary

To sum up, our four principles for effective anniversary advertising are:

  1. Create an anniversary logo and make sure it’s rooted in something authentic.
  2. Take a celebratory tone, but only if it’s on brand.
  3. Curate timelines to prove a point, not just list accomplishments.
  4. Use storytelling to connect with consumers on a deeper level.

Be True to Your Brand

Regardless of how a brand approaches its advertising, the messaging must be true to the brand. Anniversary advertising can do this by embracing authenticity to resonate with audiences and advance key strategic messages in a creative way.

For more ideas about how to get the most value out of your corporate anniversary, check out our comprehensive Guide to Celebrating Your Company Anniversary.

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