The best marketing doesn't look like marketing
A few marketing stories and what we can learn from them
In 1986, Tony Scott’s movie Top Gun came to cinemas, starring a young man named Tom Cruise. The immediate aftermath of the movie was that the US Armed Forces were overwhelmed with young people wanting to sign up for service, so much so that the US Navy opened recruitment desks outside cinema halls.
In early 2019, a member of the Game of Thrones cast left a cup of Starbucks coffee in a scene. Avid watchers picked up on it and it became a hot topic of discussion across the world, giving Starbucks an estimated $2.3 billion in free advertising.
In 2020, the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit became a hit, driving a surge in sales of chess sets. eBay registered a 215% increase in sales of sets and accessories. Chess.com added about 1 million members every month since March 2020, and about 2.8 million just in November 2020.
None of these were planned, remember. All of these were secondary effects that no one could have anticipated.
Have things like these been done deliberately? You bet. Except you and I wouldn’t notice. We would just be influenced, and we would move on, without knowing that we have been influenced.
As I wrote at the time of the GoT episode, the best marketing doesn’t look like marketing.
There is a lot to learn from these stories.
The first is how to respond: Like the Navy opened up recruitment stations, like Starbucks engaged with the moment on social media.
The second is how to open yourself to such an opportunity in the first place. Simple: By being ubiquitous. If you are giving yourself every opportunity to be recognised, you might just be.
What does this translate to for a brand?
One, be prolific, in that you create enough amounts of good to great content so as to be discoverable from different touch-points.
Two, be ready, in that you are nimble and have enough slack to be able to respond and amplify smartly something that does happen.
Will this take talent that understands internet pop-culture? Yes. Will this mean investing in long-term, intelligent content creation for different channels? Yes. Will this take leadership buy-in to keep doing things a bit off-beat, perhaps even edgy? Yes.
But again, you only need to be successful once. It will pay for all of the above, and more.
When Apple design supremo Jony Ive was due to leave the company, their PR machine started working on managing it years in advance. 4 years before it happened, in fact. In a dramatic move that surprised many even then, the usually secretive company gave unprecedented access to Ive and team for chosen press, resulting in, among others, a deep profile of Ive in the New Yorker.
In the story and in several others, Apple slowly started introducing several members of his team to the world, chief among them Evans Hankey, vice president of Industrial Design, and Alan Dye, vice president of Human Interface Design.
In subsequent years, more stories appeared, positioning these leaders as part of Apple’s new young design trust. And when Ive finally did leave in 2019, no one was surprised at the people who took over. Apple had already conditioned both the world and the company to these new faces. The transition was butter-smooth.
Genius? Yes. But also good PR and marketing, with that one other important ingredient: Time.
They had an agenda, and they spent years making sure they got the message through.
So what should brands do?
The first thing is to have a point of view, actually have something to say, something to stand for, a story to tell. If a brand has a bland message, nothing will work.
Once that is established and clear, all brands have to do is be prolific, be alert and ready to respond, and keep doing this for a long time.
Do all this, and you might just give your brand the chance to have its moment.