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Marketing Insights for Entrepreneurs

5 Weird, Unusual, and Awkward Marketing Campaigns That Worked

It’s an understatement to say that the competition for your audience’s attention is fierce. Marketers are constantly competing with cat videos and other forces of procrastination for audience eyeballs.

I mean, come on, how can you compete with cute kitty GIFs?

Following the beaten path won’t be enough. To truly succeed in marketing, you need to put your brand out there. And by out there, I really mean out there. Unusual marketing has the potential to be amazing marketing. Yes, we feel uncomfortable, and yes, we may feel stretched outside of our comfort zones. But that’s a good thing.

Unusual Marketing: Why Does it Work?

People see the same old stuff. Day in and day out, they seem similar advertisements, tweets, and articles. They’re so inundated with information that it’s hard to be inspired.

But if you add something unusual into the mix, something surprising and unexpected, you’ll get people’s attention. Don’t second guess yourself or say “that’s way too crazy!”. Some of the best ideas come from a crazy seed that blossoms into a perfectly unusual flower.

Venture where no marketer has gone before. Here are 5 ideas to inspire your own path:

1. The Poo-Pourri Video

Yes, this is a real product. And yes, it’s exactly how it sounds. This product is a blend of essential oils that virtually eliminates bathroom odors. It goes without saying that the product is pretty awkward — how do you market something so vulgar?

You own it. You hire a beautiful and hilarious actress, crack poop jokes, and blast your message on YouTube. You end up with a hilarious viral video that  — yes, may leave people cringing — while taking the world by storm.

Lesson learned: Who cares if your product is mundane, boring, or awkward? Make it funny. Take a hilarious joke, amplify it, and push it over the ledge.

Some audiences will be repulsed, but the ones who love what you do? They’ll be your supporters for life.  Poo-Pourri video is at 20 million shares-strong and has attracted customers who are die-hard fans of the product:

2. Half.com’s Town

In 1999, textbook rental company Half.com convinced the town of Halfway, Oregon to rename its city — to Half.com.

“It’s a great opportunity for both sides,” said Joshua Kopelman, CEO of Half.com in an article for Wired. “We want to boost their tourism (and) we get a level of attention and publicity and recognition as ‘out-of-the-box’ thinkers.”

In exchange for changing its name, the town received a package deal including company stock, Internet access for the town, computers, and a free giveaway at local events.

What did Half.com get?

A literal spot on the map. And months later in 2000, the startup was acquired by eBay for $300 million.

Lesson learned: Partnerships are powerful brand-building tools. Look for allies in unexpected places — cities, radio stations, mom and pop retailers. A co-branded out-of-the-box stunt can make your brand known.

3. Andrew Mason’s Over-the-Top Gift

When you’re welcoming prestigious guests, it’s customary to give them a small gift. Or, you could give them a horse. When New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg visited Groupon’s headquarters in August 2011, he was in for a brilliant surprise: a pony. Yes, you read that right — Andrew Mason bought him a pony.

pony

“I mean, it’s such a heavy thing to gift someone,’” Mason told a reporter. “I thought it would be funny to give it to somebody as busy as the mayor.”

Here’s the problem. Mason didn’t quite realize that the mayor’s daughter had recently been in a riding accident.

Lesson learned: I’d be inclined to give Mason a major high-five for this stunt. It’s hilarious and brought him much-deserved attention. Why not enjoy life and make the most out of our social customs. But here’s the thing — if you’re going to pull a stunt like this, you need to do your background research. As Mason himself put it — “Judgment.”

4. The Diamond Candles Story

Kush co-founder Prerna Gupta makes a powerful observation — the most successful products and services have marketing built into them. It’s no surprise then, that a company like Diamond Candles would take off.

The company sells — well, candles — with a twist. Every product sold comes with a hidden surprise: a ring valued at $10, $100, $1,000 or $5,000 in every order.

The product took off. Diamond Candles scaled its revenue to a million dollar run rate in just 18 months. In 2013, the company was recognized as an Internet E-Retailers 2013 “Hot 100” e-commerce sites alongside Warby Parker, Bonobos and Sneakpeeq.

Lesson learned: At first glance, you wouldn’t pair diamonds and candles together. But it just makes sense, given the understanding that 98% of all home fragrance dollars are spent by females we had found a natural fit. Marketing is your product. Know what your customers love — that will be your company’s unique value proposition and twist. Your marketing ‘stunt’ has potential to be your company’s core business model.

5. The Penny Hoarder’s Offline Promotion

Kyle Taylor of The Penny Hoarder has never worked a job. Instead, this entrepreneur makes a living through odd jobs. His business is primarily online — and Taylor loves writing content. But, after countless hours commenting, tweeting, and looking for backlinks, he was ready to try something new.

In 2011, Taylor was struggling to establish a unique brand in his niche.  Readers thought he was ‘just another personal finance blog,’ but the fact is — he wasn’t. The Penny Hoarder is a blog devoted to weird ways to make money.

So Taylor ventured into a realm that he calls a ‘scary place’ — offline.

Instead of promoting his blog, Taylor picked a popular article on his site titled “I Get Paid to Buy Beer” and bought the domain iGetFreeBeer.com and permanently redirected the domain to the article hosted on his blog.

His advertising tool of choice? Bumper stickers.

Empowered with a juvenile web address, an article that represented his blog well, and free beer, Taylor hoped that his new visitors would start exploring the rest of his blog. He hired college students from Craigslist and Fiverr to put the bumper stickers up around their college campuses, apartments, and hangouts.

His results?

In total, Taylor spent about $120 — $45 for 250 bumper stickers. Five college students were paid $15 each to put up 50 stickers in their towns. The campaign was only in its second week and generated 300 new visitors at $0.40 per visit — much cheaper than an adwords campaign. Taylor was also able to track visitors in Google Analytics since the visitors show up as a “referring site.”

Lesson learned: Creativity doesn’t need to be expensive. Harness the resources around you to bring people to your website in a cost effective way. Remember that offline is a powerful channel, and with some strategic planning — you’ll be able to directly measure your ROI.

Be Weird and Whacky

Marketing is in the eye of the brand and the beholder. Choosing an out-of-the-box approach will be entirely outside of your comfort zone, and that’s a good thing. Use good judgment, and you’ll be fine. The worst that can happen is that your idea will be a total flop. And then you’ll try again.

Your Turn: What unusual marketing ideas have helped build your brand? Share your thoughts in the comments below.