Want To Make Your Brand Shout Out From The Crowd?

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I jumped into my car, reached for my seatbelt and looked up at the campervan parked in front of me. The message on the back appeared to be hand-written, like someone had just dipped their finger in a can of paint. It read: I love every body. Yours is next. Taken with their humour, I scanned the remaining area for more information about who this person was. The print scrawled across the back window read:
www.wickedcampers.com. Sometime later I spotted another wicked looking camper. Instantly recognising their trademark style, and eager for more wicked wit, I searched for the slogan and wasn’t disappointed: The liver is evil. It must be punished.

Targeting those on a backpacker’s budget, the Wicked Campers image is reminiscent of the old VW Combi Vans. Each one is themed to give the van its own personality complete with a name derived from the hand-painted, colourful, quirky images adorning the vehicle. The wicked finishing touch: an original, irreverent and witty hand-written “message” on each van. This company has very cleverly tapped into the backpacker culture, and in doing so has skillfully created their own.

By opting for outrageous antics Wicked Campers have built their marketing into their brand identity. This is a great illustration that marketing is no longer what you do to a brand after it’s built. To get mind space in today’s noisy marketplace, brands need to build marketing into their brand.

Out of curiosity, I’ve since asked a number of people if they’ve seen the vans. Almost everyone I asked could recall having seen one. Now imagine if I had asked if they’d ever seen a (insert boring name of el cheapo rent-a-car company). Do you think they’d remember? Would you?

Here’s a few samples from customers featured in their “Wicked Stories” collection:

Would you like wicked stories like that about your product? Or put another way…

Want to Create a Sensation with Your Brand?

I do. Which is one of the reasons I named my game, The Meet Market (TM). Another reason I gave my game such a controversial name is because it’s integral to an important part of my mission – turning negatives into positives in a fun way. But I’m also acutely aware that using a play on words of a derogatory term to create a culture that’s the exact opposite is tricky.

But let’s face it, Outrageous Idea = Risky = Scary. And all this adds up to freaking out the status quo who will try to convince you that you’ve lost your marbles. It’s fair to say that I struck a teeny bit of opposition to the name of my choice (read: big understatement). The conversation usually went something like this:

“You’re not going to call it that are you?”
“Ah…yep.”
(insert groan and/or facial contortion) “Oh no. Oh dear. Oh gosh. Oh-me-oh-my.”

While most people are just trying to look out for you, be careful who you listen to because the status quo may not be your customers (at least not initially). A few of the people who objected to the name were marketing professionals and advisors of various descriptions. But in the end I followed my gut. As I suspected would happen *customers love it*. They love that it’s cheeky and funny. Recently a 53-year-old customer told me that when she came across my website and saw the name of the game she said to herself: That’s fantastic, I’ve just got to be a part of that.

Having a name that conjures up a rather unsavoury image, and wanting to create a totally opposite culture with my product and service, my presentation is critical. My image must convey “class” and “quality”, as well as playfulness and fun. Because of this, a lot of time and thought went into designing the look. It’s important that when people read the name they also see a playful, fun and ‘innocent’ image to counter the preconceived ‘unsavoury’ image. This approach is working because people get the joke instantly, and I get to witness this first-hand at the weekend markets. Most people break into a smile and feel compelled to say the name out loud. (A bit like the kids calling out “WICKED!”). They do this even mores so with the Frequent Flirter (TM) merchandise – few can pass my stall without pointing, laughing and saying the catchy phrase (another play on words) out loud. It’s a stack of fun for me watching the various different reactions; their facial expressions never cease to entertain me. Often it’s a look of disbelief accompanied by hand-over-mouth and inevitable giggle. Very often it stops them in their tracks.

However, a misguided “stunt” can stop them in their tracks for all the wrong reasons. Being cheeky, daring, politically incorrect, or over-the-top can bring you recognition and renown – and throngs of adoring customers. But an outrageous idea, especially when it’s done to your product rather than being a part of your product can also bring you undone.

Cheeky, Irreverent and Fun vs Offensive

The lingerie brand Loveable got a taste of this recently when their new advertising campaign backfired. Former Miss Universe Jennifer Hawkins, Loveable’s new ambassador, was featured in bra and panties at a New Zealand airport. Nothing too outrageous – until you get to the caption: Feeling horny? No prizes for guessing what happened next. Yep, down she came!

What it boils down to is that being cheeky or outrageous with your branding and marketing can be a stroke of genius, IF it’s a logical and comfortable fit with your brand, product, service, or identity – AND if it’s not offensive. I’m curious about their reasoning for using that caption, because it seems obvious to me that posing an overtly sexual question is a blatant mis-match with a brand that Hawkins herself describes as “cute, girly and fun”.

Contrast this with an outrageously politically incorrect campaign that is now legendary in Australia – it’s a great example that even a very un-sexy product marketed in the right way can cause a sensation. All it takes is some creativity. While the initial uproar and opposition to this advertisement was intense, so was the support. The campaign, now in its third year, has become so popular that the face of it, former football star “Slamming” Sam Kekovich, along with Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), now “own” the Australia Day slot with their “address to the nation”.

Like many, I was stunned when I first saw this commercial in 2005; I wasn’t even sure what I was watching. The second time I nearly wet myself laughing. Intrigued? Check it out here.

Does it surprise you that taking a tongue-in-cheek swipe at all and sundry including the “soap-avoiding, pot-smoking, hippie vegetarians” in order to “defend” the great Aussie tradition of eating lamb got so much attention? I’ll bet that it doesn’t. The whole country was talking about it! Check out some of the comments on Benjamin Christie’s blog following the 2006 campaign.

Who would have thought that a product as un-sexy as lamb could cause this kind of sensation? And was the proof in the pudding? You betcha. In 2005 lamb serves per week increased by 1.2 million. Given the success of the campaign, they were back at it in 2006 – and even more outrageous. In 2007 Sam takes a good-natured swipe at our American and English friends!

Personally, I’m a fan of the cheeky, the irreverent and the outrageous. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but most people respond well to it – when it’s done well – because it takes us away from the mundane, the same ol’ same ol’. But it can be fine line between cheeky and offensive. The former can bring your brand fame and fortune, while the latter can knock you right on your you-know-what.

Guidelines to Using Sensationalism

If the cheeky route appeals to you, here’s a few points to consider:

  1. Ask yourself what your motive is. What’s your intention? What are you actually trying to say and achieve? What emotion are you trying to elicit from your potential customers? If your intent is one of goodwill AND it’s a logical and comfortable fit with your brand, product or service, chances are it will be a hit. If however there’s a hidden agenda, or the underlying tone of the message comes across as disrespectful (or preachy), it can backfire on you in a big way.
  2. Does your idea really work with your product and brand? (i.e., being cheeky or outrageous can work for a lot of different products and services, but just ensure the method you choose really fits.)
  3. Does it feel right for you? If you’re uncomfortable, it probably won’t work.
  4. Is it merely an attention-getting stunt? One-off stunts can get a lot of attention, but they’re usually very quick to fade. Think long-term.
  5. Think ahead: Weigh up the possible outcomes and long-term effect. What could go wrong, and how might you manage that?

All that being said, I urge you to be edgy. Conformity is boring. Besides, it’s been done to death. Why not take a walk on the wild side and give your audience a little thrill.

Be bold. Be bad. Be wicked even! You know it makes sense.

P.S. Happy (belated) Australia Day to all our Aussie readers!

Comments

  1. Amazing post, Dani. Sensationalism can be dangerous but gee it can pay off… The Meet Market has had me intrigued since Day 1.

    Looking forward to your next post!

  2. Thanks Rob! I’m delighted that you find it intriguing. I’ll have to rope you into playing it one of these days!!

    You’re absolutely right – sensationalism is a bit like playing with fire. But with the market as crowded as it is these days perhaps it’s more dangerous NOT to be outrageous. It’s almost like playing it safe is now a risky thing to do because no-one notices you. Besides, why not have a little fun 🙂

    There’s also varying levels of outrageous. Sometimes just being a bit cheeky is just the right amount for a given product or service.

  3. Great post Danielle – you are getting quite a reputation for the super-big articles like me, love it!

    Yaro

  4. Thanks Yaro! You know, each time I sit down to write a post I think – I’ll just make this a short one. And then before I know it I’ve got War and Peace on my hands!!

    ‘Learn How to Write Short Posts’ is on my 2007 to-do list…just haven’t got to that one yet 🙂

  5. Hey Dani,

    Great posting. I think that if you can pull off sensationalism then go for it. With there being so many ways to promote your biz probably the first question is “Does this suit my business”… if your brand is not wild and crazy then crazy style advertising may have people scratching their heads and saying “WTH”.

    Cheers Dani!

    Luc

  6. Danielle,

    I loved this entry so much I just included it into my evening entry. I think you’ve got something here and I absolutely agree with what you’ve posted. On my website, I recently changed my slogan to “Giving Business Owners Freedom by Managing the BS, etc.” which I’m sure some people like and some people don’t like. My company name is Business Services, ETC so when shortened it becomes BSETC. As a virtual assistant, I do manage a lot of the ‘dump work’ so to speak – most often the things no one else wants to do – so I enjoy playing on a negative to create a positive.

    I look forward to further posts from you!

    Erin

  7. Hi Dani,

    If people dislike or detest your campaign it can work in your favor i’ve noticed. It almost becomes “Viral” spreading like wildfire… amazing how that works at times.

    If you think your business is boring then you may be in the wrong business… you’ve got to be able to keep that excitment that helps you to press onward but i think this is rare at best.

  8. Cheers Luc, I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    I agree that you need to create an image related to or consistent with what you are trying to sell. And “wild and crazy” may not be appropriate, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be an element of fun or cheekiness.

    If you approach it with an attitude of “this style can’t possibly fit my business” – then you’re right. Coming at it from a defeatist perspective will block your creativity and you’ll never find a way. You’ll be forever doomed to boring-dom (that’s this month’s new word :)). If however you ask, “is there a way that will fit with my business?” you open up the door to creativity. And that’s precisely what the ad agency did for MLA to promote lamb.

    And yes, in some cases you can confuse or startle your audience. That’s the risk that comes with it. But it’s also the X Factor that will get people talking. At this point the audience will likely polarise – some will love you, some will hate you. And apparently that’s a good thing!

    It’s true that this route is only for the brave. But hey, fortune favours the brave 😀

    Dani

  9. Hi Erin,

    Thanks so much! It’s a wonderful feeling when someone connects with what you’re saying.

    I love your new slogan, that’s terrific! You’ve just made me realise that sometimes being cheeky is about laying bare the truth and leveraging on it in an amusing way. Well done and good on you.

    I also love your new idea of “Client Spotlight Friday” on your blog + a dedicated web page featuring all your clients… http://bsetc.ca/blog/?page_id=92
    What a lovely idea.

    Stay on top of all that BS.
    Cheers, Danielle

  10. Hey Luc,

    Yeah, that’s very true. Some people give a lot of air time to the things they don’t like, and it does then spread like wildfire. You just gotta hope that some people in their path actually like your stuff 🙂

    And you’re absolutely right that if you think your business is boring then it’s probably time to jump ship. There’s a difference though between thinking your business is boring and thinking your image (or marketing message) is a little on the dull side.

    Good chat 🙂 …cheers, Dani

  11. Daniele
    I think you like to go to one extreme of marketing. Using unconventional messages or ways to market products is quite risky. If its a hit then its a SMASH HIT!! and if its not then not. However, we have to take risks in business. That’s the way thing works. Really a great article. Wish you best of luck.

  12. Hi Mehdi,

    Thanks very much for your thoughts, and I’m glad you liked the article. Yes, this approach is extreme – there’s nothing middle-of-the-road about marketing and branding by being cheeky or “out there”. In effect it breaks the rules, and I must confess that I do like that 🙂 (I’ve always been just a little bit naughty :D) If done well I actually think it’s clever.

    I like your blog, very constructive. And I enjoyed your series of articles on the Sundarbans in Bangladesh – home of the Royal Bengal Tiger and the largest mangrove forest in the world. What a claim to fame! If they’re looking to increase tourism in the area, maybe they could fire up the imaginations of people around the globe with some cheeky marketing – especially given the Bengal Tigers are maneaters! (As in… “if the mangroves don’t get you, the tigers will” sort of thing). I imagine tourists who are attracted to such regions are a little “extreme” by nature, so why not give them an extreme experience from the get-go!

    Keep on taking risks,
    Cheers/Danielle