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BOOM! Disruptive Marketing Techniques and Why They Work.

Posted by on May 19, 2011 in BLOG | 4 Comments

Thecommich has been doing a lot of research on disruptive marketing recently, and is very excited by what she’s found. For companies with controversial products (think tobacco, alcohol, anything to do with sex), or brands that have been around so long people have almost stopped seeing them, the power of the unexpected can’t be over-emphasized.

Consider a tobacco company called Legal Cigarettes (um…wow), which launched amid the tumult of New York City’s decision to ban smoking in all indoor public spaces. Veteran PR spinners Vorticom were tapped to do their marketing campaign – and to their credit, they took the challenge head on. First, they employed super attractive (dare I say “smoking?”) “leaners” to stand outside popular restaurants, nursing Legal cigs and freely giving them out to anyone who wanted to bum a smoke. Then they turned the issue on it’s head with a “Smoking is Legal” campaign, reminding everyone that the hot button baddie of the day was actually sanctioned to be sold by the government (and mind you, a huge income earner for the American economy).   Not only did they have a Smoking is Legal party the week before the smoking ban was put in place, they actually created a website called The Right To Smoke Coalition, effectively tying their product to a cause – albeit one that only a minority of people supported.   Did Vorticom’s campaign create more smokers? No, and that wasn’t the point. The objective was media impressions, and boy did they knock that out of the park. 60 Minutes, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times and a slew of other publications talked about the issue. Was there controversy? Hell yes. But also a 100% increase in sales and a small but vocal minority brought together by a small but vocal brand.

The lesson: as Britney and Lindsay know, “bad” news is still news. You can hate a product or love it, but every company has the right to promote and sell their product to people who want to buy it.

What about a brand that’s so ubiquitous you’re hard pressed to find ways to make it seem new? In 2009, Burger King launched it’s Facebook Whopper Sacrifice campaign, in which you could qualify to win a free Whopper if you de-friended 10 friends from your Facebook profile. What a great excuse for dropping the people you only said yes to because they were friends of your girlfriend (or dropping your parents on the pretext of a newfound capitalistic bent). To rub it in, your new un-friends got an announcement saying they had been traded in for a Whopper. Over 80,000 people removed 250,000 friends in less than a week, and more would have met the same fate if Facebook hadn’t put the kibbosh on the whole thing (you didn’t expect the control freaks at FB to let people be incented to de-friend non friends, would you?)

The lesson: add a little fun to the mix. The BK people were smart enough to understand that Facebook isn’t a wonderland of camaraderie, and that real friends wouldn’t be offended (really) by someone giving them up for a burger.  And even getting shut down by Facebook was a great way to get BK back on the blogosphere (see “The Lesson” above).

Can disruptive marketing work for your personal or business life? Sally Hogshead seems to think so. The professional marketer and speaker gave a great talk at TED Atlanta  on the rules for fascination.  Sally contends that the average person’s attention span has dropped from 30 minutes back in pre-Industrial days to a mere 9 seconds today – roughly the same span as a gold fish!

So how does one tap into a fishy attention span and  reach the human underneath?  A “disruptive” way of presenting yourself is the most likely one to work. In the video – which I highly recommend you watch – Sally uses her online dating experience as an example. Taking from real samples of daters who had wanted to meet her, Sally went from “Hi” to “Hey Sexy” and various other lame versions of the same, til she came to this one:

“I have a tan, all my teeth and can easily see my belly button…I’m looking for a girl who appreciates the finer things in life but is willing to settle for me.”

Then she goes on to say that after talking to this particular man they started dating and they were engaged to be married. BOOM goes the dynamite!

The lesson: To market yourself to humans, be human. Nobody wants a walking corporate brochure as a friend. Also – in a marketplace filled with identical competitors, the best thing to do is say what you want in the flashiest way possible. Goldfish like shiny things. Give them something to nibble on.

Are there any disruptive campaigns you’ve heard about and want to share? Comment below! Send us a link! To my Filipino and foreign subscribers, I’d love to know if there are any campaigns in your country we can all take a look at.


  1. Bing
    May 19, 2011

    This is very interesting! I like it. Talk about working with what you have! I like this….

  2. Michelle Valeriano
    May 19, 2011

    Bing- "Working with what you have" says it beautifully.

  3. vickykarin
    October 21, 2011

    Super interesting info. I'm new to the whole online marketing world and I've noticed that there are so many different ways of marketing yourself online. Aside from the absolutely true human approach, you can put blogs on your website, comment on other blogs, use ppc agencies and Organic SEO Services etc etc. It's all about finding the way that works best for you I guess.

  4. Dorie Linus
    October 31, 2011

    I never really thought of it that way but this kind of marketing is so smart! I mean search engine optimization works its magic too, but nothing really creates so much buzz as controversial marketing!


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