I’ve helped or have been responsible for launching a bunch of products and startups in my career so I think I have earned the right to say I am really good at this stuff.
I wrote a while ago about how I hired people to pretend to be PETA so they could picket/protest our company launch event to get a lot of attention. I love that example because it’s clever and different but what do you do when you are launching something for a more conservative brand. How do you get attention and create excitement when homeless protesters are off the table?
Thanks for asking.
The answer is simple; you smash your competition with a sledgehammer and invite your customers to do the same!
Many years ago when I was launching Zipcar (a car sharing service that allows people to rent cars by the hour with all the gas paid for) in Toronto I needed a stunt to get people to know we had launched, capture some media attention, get our members involved in some way and send a message to the ladies of Toronto that I knew my way around physical destruction cementing my bad boy image.
The solution I came up with was to buy half the parking spots in a street level outdoor parking lot next to the sidewalk (way easier and quicker then street permits) of a highly trafficked business pedestrian area and drop two gas guzzling cars purchased for under $300 from a junk yard (spray painted in company colors) with lots of signage inviting people to “Take a Swing at the High Price of Gas!” and for a small donation (of any amount they wish) they got 2 mins to do whatever they wanted to the gas guzzling cars.
Sounds simple and brilliant.
It was, here’s why:
1- The core message of Zipcar was/is that car sharing is an alternative to car ownership (the costs involved as well as contributing to pollution etc) so by giving people (Customers got invited personally and random people were drawn in from the walking traffic. Nobody was planted) the opportunity to mentally and physically destroy the status quo is a concept people are not going to forget it very soon.
2- This was a photo worthy spectacle that people talked about in person and on Social Media. Many people grabbed photos of themselves hitting the cars or just the demolished vehicles but whatever photo they desired there was lots of branding/messaging on the cars to be shared with the photos and the stories to be told with the photos.
3- People got to vent frustration verbally and physically about a pain point. (the high price of gas) as well as/or live out a fantasy of destroying a car with a sledgehammer.
4- It was safe. No one will be offended by saying Gas is too expensive, no direct competitors were mentioned or even hinted at and no one is going to pass up a chance to do something “criminal” that is in a safe environment and completely allowed.
5- It created a memory and when you are trying to introduce something into a new market or something different that may require a behavior change you need to be memorable and credible…and this was both.
6- It had a small charity component that allowed us to donate some money to a local organization, the very cool people at Rethink Breast Cancer.
All of these things combined resulted in a surge of media, a lot of signups and a conversation starter for us and the people involved. All in all it was a success. I know this because while I forgot all about it (I am a very busy person) I was reminded of this stunt recently by an email from someone who participated and still tells the story of the day and maybe my far too pale legs.
If you get nothing else from this post please remember this: Conservative doesn’t have to be boring. You can stimulate imagination without antagonizing people or making them feel uncomfortable…but uncomfortable is funnier, to me at least.
So what have you done lately that was memorable?