When you think of marketing campaigns, usually the first thing that springs to mind is the cost, and then what kind of exposure your business will get out of it. But it doesn’t have to be this way – there’s an opportunity to have a bit of fun with it, and often lightening up a little can yield great results.
Traditional methods such as taking out an advertisement in your local classifieds, or firing up an account on Google AdWords to bring in some search traffic, have been talked to death in terms of effectiveness. What isn’t spoken about so much are the fun campaigns – ones that incorporate a little silliness in order to generate those big results.
There’s a clever advertisement doing the rounds on American television right now, for a car rental business, that embraces this principle. It’s just a clip of a businessman walking towards a car park with Patrick Stewart (commonly known for his roles as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek and Professor X in X-Men) doing the voice-over.
Patrick’s throaty baritone sounds off about this man being a “business pro’”who can get “ROI from SEO by COB” and then continues to rattle off acronyms that show off how awesome this man is at making decisions and eventually linking him to renting a car. If you’ve been reading Nett for a while, you’ll know that he was saying the business professional can get return on investment from search engine optimisation by close-of-business.
While a national television purchase is a little out of the realm of most small business owners, it shows that you can tick all the boxes in your marketing campaign and not just be a somber advertisement for your services stuffed into a mailbox – virtual or otherwise.
Franziska Iseli-Hall, founder of marketing firm Basic Bananas, deliberately tries to incorporate a little silliness into her campaigns. Given the name of the firm, she has tried to play on the banana theme as much as possible, going so far as to buy a couple of banana suits that look like they should belong at a tropical-themed fancy dress party.
“We’ve got a couple of banana suits here in the office, and we also travel a lot – we just spent six weeks overseas doing the Trans-Siberian railroad,” she says. “We took the suits with us and we would take pictures in front of a glacier, or on the Great Wall of China.”
Unfortunately, Mother Nature decided to rain on the banana parade on top of the Great Wall, so the pictures from that one didn’t turn out very good. Despite this, Franziska posted them up on the company’s Facebook wall and included them with the Basic Bananas newsletter, and it was really engaging for customers.
“We run workshops here on a weekly basis and often say whoever puts on the suit can get a free copy of our book,” adds Franziska. “They’ll usually take a photo of themselves and post it on their Facebook wall, which is good branding for us.”
The great thing about it for Basic Bananas is that people they are networking with are posting the pictures to their own Facebook wall, as opposed to just on the company’s page, so it goes out to networks they wouldn’t normally be exposed to.
That isn’t the only way Franziska has tried to be creative with her marketing. Her company had a book they were launching, and were trying to come up with ways to promote it. She also wanted to give the proceeds of the launch to charity. She found out that there was a national whale conservation day right around the book launch, so Franziska called up the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and enquired about sponsoring a whale.
“I called them up and asked if we could adopt a whale and she told us no, we can’t, as it’s only for local councils,” she recalls. “Then I basically explained that we have a really big business community behind us, and we could raise a lot of awareness.”
Franziska’s persistence paid off, as the lady from IFAW relented and Basic Bananas became the first business that was allowed to adopt a whale.
“The campaign was fun because we also used social media for people to help us find the whale a name,” she adds. “Because IFAW told us we had to give the whale a name, so people suggested options, and then at the book launch we had people who were there vote for their favourite.”
It all turned out to be a huge hit for Basic Bananas, as the whale sponsorship was covered in the local paper, as well as on several radio stations, and the company’s social media channels were a hive of activity.
That’s not to say that life-sized banana suits and whale sponsorship are going to be for everyone. But you can apply the principles on a smaller scale. Even something as simple as having a little mascot, or a squish toy branded with the company logo, and then taking a snap of it when you are overseas at a famous landmark, can build some awareness for free, even if it’s a little bit silly.
Ingrid Cliff founded Heart Harmony, a copywriting business in Brisbane, and was looking for a creative way of marketing her company when she took her kids to see a local Christmas lights display down the road.
“I was watching the kids when we were looking at the Christmas lights, and there was this sense of magic and wonder,” she says. “I looked at all the people, and watched all the traffic, and thought there is a hell of a lot of people here – what can I do around that?”
A year later, Ingrid hit the aisles of Kmart and scrounged around at local garage sales for cheap Christmas lights. With a little help from the kids, she put up a massive lights display and it became a hit, with hoardes of people coming by to take a look.
“It was amazing the amount of people from the local community that it drew to come and have a chat,” she recalls. “In those conversations about; ‘how long did it take you to do the lights?’ came the; ‘so what does your business do?’ which was a lovely way to strike up a conversation.
All up, Ingrid says the lights cost her far less than a Yellow Pages advertisement, with additional expenses being branded lollies that she bought to hand out.
“The thing that actually worked the best was a $30 bubble machine from Dick Smith,” she says. “We learnt how to make a really good bubble mix, and we stuck the machine over our lovely big letter box which is branded with our company logo.
“At night time the bubbles seem to stay longer before popping, and they look a little bit like snow, so they were a huge hit with kids,” adds Ingrid.
“Parents would get out of their cars and ask us about the bubble recipe,” she continues. “We would hand them the recipe, which was branded, and then again they would ask what the business does. We told them this is not the time to chat about it, but you should check out our website. That year we got over 1,000 new sign-ups to the website just from putting a $30 bubble machine out front.”
Brad Green is the founder of Lark Media, and he was running a discount coupon business called Voucher Mail – Lark sold it off in May this year to a competitor. He tells the story of a mechanic, who was using the coupon publication as a way of drumming up some business.
“He had, in the wording of his voucher, ‘$99 for a whole service including free top-up of all fluids,” Green says. “People then conveniently assumed that fluids included petrol and showed up demanding fuel.”
Green explains that the mechanic handled the situation really well – he was polite and didn’t lose any customers over it, but it serves as a reminder to think through your campaign.
“An online campaign we did for a fashion retailer was worse,” he says. “ They were giving away a $25 voucher for anyone that signs up for their newsletter. Often when you get
those sort of deals, it’s $25 free when you spend $75, or something like that.
“This was an unconditional offer, and the owner of the website knew that. She had calculated that her customer acquisition cost was usually $30.”
Once the general public found out about it, the site crashed from all of the additional traffic, and it was offline most of the campaign.
“There were things on the site that were less than $25 so they could get them for free,” he recalls. “She knew that and didn’t mind because she was factoring in the cost of getting that customer. But the site did not remember if someone had already used the coupon code, so people could game the system and use it more than once.”
Alli Price was a little more specific in the wording of her campaign to promote her business Motivating Mum, which provides mentorship for mums in business. She wanted to throw as many mothers as possible out of planes.
“Basically I was driving around one day in the car, in between a school and shopping run, and I was getting a bit bored of the same thing day in and day out,” Alli remembers. “I thought I needed to mix things up a bit, and I’ve jumped out of a plane before, so I thought I would go do that again.
“Ten minutes after that I managed to get to the point where I’m like, you know what, I’m going to get a whole bunch of mums to jump out of a plane and I’m going to get it sponsored and approach a charity,” she adds.
The process was made easier because Alli is an extensive networker with 2,800 likes on Facebook, and 3,400 followers on Twitter, as well as a database she has built up of mums in business. After approaching another mum that runs a local charity, Alli reached out to a number of large companies that she thought would be interested in sponsorship, but she didn’t receive a single bit.
“What I ended up doing is sending an email out to all my mums in my database, and a Facebook call out, and said I’m going to do a blind sponsorship bid, here’s my proposal, everyone send in a bid and I’ll take the top four.”
Alli figured that raising a little bit of money was better than nothing to help get a big synchronised skydive across the country going. The small businesses that sponsored it got branding on Alli’s website, along with Facebook and Twitter shout-outs, mentions in the newsletter and signage at the events.
“At the moment we are still waiting for the registration details to come through before doing a proper shout-out, as so far we have just posted it on Facebook but we’ve already got 40 mums signed up to jump.”
The common theme in all of these stories is having a bit of fun and trying to set up a situation where all involved get something out of it. Whether that’s a humorous photo in a banana suit or the adrenaline rush of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane – there’s something for potential customers to do that’s interesting. On the business side of things, the silliness makes perfect sense because it puts a positive image of your brand out there, which builds awareness, and gives people something to talk about and recommend to their friends and family.