Digging Yourself Out of Obscurity

The worst part of a business, after the initial excitement wears off, is the beginning. No one knows you. There’s no money coming in. The competition are giants, and you’re a roach that needs to avoid getting crushed.

What can you really do to stand a chance?

It’s not enough to have a good product: every company does.
It’s not enough to be cheaper: that’s a short race to insolvency.
It’s not enough to advertise: anyone can outspend you.

You, my friend, can get creative. Creativity (i.e. marketing) is the best way to reach a large pool of potential customers, gain significant traction in the early stages of your company, while curating its perception as a desired entity to engage with. And it’s hard to do. Nevertheless, companies have done it in the past, and we can learn from their examples to replicate a similar outcome.

Let’s look at some of the most groundbreaking instances of clever marketing and guerilla tactics which small brands used to their advantage, and how you can leverage it to yours:

1. Bandwagon Effect

When Red Bull was entering the market, new energy drink brands faced a 90% failure rate. It made sense: why would anyone venture out and try a new drink when they already have their favorites readily available anywhere they go?

The team at Red Bull had to think of something. Over a few months, they decided to strategically place empty Red Bull cans in public trash cans and night clubs all across the city of London.

This created an illusion of popularity and leveraged the mere exposure effect — hoping more eyes on the cans led to more sales.

It worked! Sales skyrocketed, and Red Bull became London’s go-to choice for energy drinks. Empty Red Bulls scattered across London created the perception that everyone was having it. And it’s only human nature to jump on that bandwagon.

Takeaway: 92% of consumers are more likely to trust non-paid recommendations over any other type of advertising. Finding a way to communicate that many people are using your product/service (without needing to advertise or making it seem fake/forced) is difficult to do, but is wonderful to witness.

2. Event-jacking

Trolls and pranks are often frowned upon. But, when done in taste, it can work wonders – especially when the perpetrator is an underdog who is punching up to an established player.

This is exactly what happened with WePay, a payment processor who decided to play on PayPal’s policies on freezing accounts, something their customers harbored resentment toward.

With the Paypal developer conference coming up, they decided to hijack the event and make a splash. In front of San Francisco’s Moscone Center, the team at WePay dropped off a 600 pound block of ice with frozen money and a message to PayPal customers and developers: “PayPal Freezes Your Accounts”. The block of ice also featured the URL to a landing page where anyone could sign up for a WePay account.

It worked! They saw a 300% increase in weekly traffic, along with a 225% boost in sign ups and put them on the map as a serious payment solution alternative.

Takeaway: Event-jacking is a great opportunity to reach your competitors’ audience who are congregated in a particular location. It works because they are a highly-relevant user base who are already familiar with (and enthusiastic about) a product or service you offer.

3. Brand Association

Eighteen months before coming into the scene, Tommy Hilfiger was a freelance designer with no formal training and a handful of clients.

With the persuasion of art director George Lois, they placed an ad on a billboard in Times Square, which associated him with the great designers of the day.

The ad went as follows:

The 4 Great American Designers For Men Are:
R _ _ _ _ L _ _ _ _ _
P _ _ _ _ E _ _ _ _
C _ _ _ _ _ K _ _ _ _
T _ _ _ _ H _ _ _ _ _ _ _

With the address to the Tommy Hilfiger store located in small print underneath.

Placing his name amongst well-known ones made him seem like someone important, whose designs are just as valuable and comparative as the rest. The other designer names were Ralph Lauren, Perry Ellis and Calvin Klein.

It worked! While there are no numbers to officially report, Hilfiger has said that if he hadn’t done this kind of campaign, they would not be where they are today.

Takeaway: Associating your brand with an established one is a way to piggyback off the equity they have built over the years. It goes without saying that your content should be of similar quality or status for this to work as expected – all that remains is narrowing down the method of executing such a strategy in your specific industry for your particular audience.

4. Dream Jobs

SpaSeekers was a spa reservation service who was looking to make a name for themselves, especially around the summertime when demand for spas was at its peak.

With the help of a local digital agency, they posted a job ad for an official “hot tub tester” – getting paid to do nothing but soak in a hot tub – the dream summer job. No resume was necessary, and applications were only accepted via social media.

It worked! Over 3,800 people applied for the job, while getting picked up in national media and generating 700,000+ impressions, not to mention being promoted to the top of search engine results and being recognized as a major player in the market as a result.

Takeaway: The working class is a major sector of the general population, which makes anything career-related instantly relevant to a wide audience. Creating an opportunity in your specific industry in the form of a job is largely probable to execute, and can be relatively affordable to do since factors such as salary and duration are negotiable in the aftermath.

5. Holiday-jacking

Sometimes, all it takes to stand out is a well-timed delivery. That was the case with Ricky, an adult toy shop who decided to surprise everyone in a competitive market.

With the Easter holidays coming up, Ricky decided to leverage the occasion and place their toys inside chocolate eggs, presenting them as ideal surprise gifts for any adult.

It worked! The brand received international media coverage and generated thousands of online visitors, to the point where they completely sold out of the product and had to keep customers on a waiting list for the next batch. It was a sweet holiday for everyone involved.

Takeaway: Holidays are a wonderful opportunity to present yourself to the world. Using the occasion for context, there are unlimited ways to get your name out there and gain widespread recognition. Considering how many holidays there are, along with the fictional ones, there is no limit to what can be achieved.

Final Thought

Yes, there are many other examples out there of brands doing clever and creative things to generate press, but there are very few that work for brands that have zero market share. These are but a few that should work for most business models, but our greatest inhibitor is our own imagination.