27 August, 2007

Bear Attacks Are Good for Business!

Not a year goes by that I don’t read about several shark attacks; bear attacks; or someone being killed by the exotic snake, spider or tiger they kept in their apartment. In the past week I’ve read three articles on crocodiles, one about an idiot who decided to wrestle a wild alligator, two about bear attacks, one about a rabid beaver attack and one about an alligator eating a shark (there was a special that day).

These animals have some serious advertising clout. Unfortunately, their message of, “Stay out of our clubhouse,” keeps getting lost on both seasoned thrill seekers and amateur morons. But what these animals have done is create an incredible buzz campaign. People don’t want to just watch or learn about these animals. They feel compelled to get closer, to touch them, to feed them, to offer their limbs as tasty snacks to ever-so-friendly WILD ANIMALS!

Nevertheless, their “advertising” has gotten these animals a lot of attention. How do you duplicate that for your product?

1. Create a product people are interested in (or you can make people interested in) when they encounter it—so much they’ll want to share this product or experience with others. “I nearly ceased to exist thanks to Nature’s Perfect Killing Machine. Want to go see it?”
2. Spend time. Build the hype. These animals have been doing it for centuries. You probably don’t have that kind of time, but you will need to spend some time and really dedicate yourself to that buzz.
3. It can’t be available everywhere. Not everyone can walk out their front door and see a Grizzly or Great White. That’s why people plan trips to zoos and aquariums. The zoo or aquarium presents something people can’t see every day. The same can be said for Disney World or Medieval Times. I mean whatever happened to street corner jousting? As far as products go, when my uncle was in the Navy, he was told to stay away from Ouzu, a Greek liqueur. What do you think was the first thing he did when he got to Greece?
4. The buzz has to pay off. You hype something up to be amazing, but if it turns out to be less interesting than watching carpeting glue set, your buzz may backfire. If it pays off, the buzz just continues to build. But you hype a movie for months and it turns out to be a horribly shot film with no plot, that ends in a dark shack with no clue to the actual ending, and people will be pissed off and tell their friends it was a waste of money. The buzz dies.
5. There has to be some sort of supply. When people can’t get something, they want it even more. X-Boxes, Playstations, Talking Elmos, Cabbage Patch Kids. But you can only hold people’s attention for so long. If the product appears too difficult to reach, eventually people lose interest. The pony you’ve wanted since were 3, Guns n’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy album that has been coming “next year” since 1999, or the fabled flying car. At this point, just give me a jet pack.
6. Finally, update the campaign. Keep it going. Keep your product growing.

An incredible example of this type of advertising is from Red Bull Energy Drink. Before Red Bull, “energy drinks” were sodas. Now there’s an entire market dedicated to these products. And although Red Bull’s advertising seems strange, it’s very sophisticated. There are the quirky Red Bull cartoons featuring the tagline, “It gives you wings.” They have massive branded “fringe” events like Flugtag and The Streets of San Francisco. They have “energy teams” who buzz anything from gas stations to huge events giving away Red Bull to tired attendants. A friend comes up to you and says, “Where did you get that?” You reply, “The Red Bull guy drove up in some crazy truck and just gave it to me because I looked tired.” Your friend says, “What’s it do?” You say, “It gives me wings.” Now your friend wants one. The buzz is there. Oh, and it helps that it works.

Throughout all of their advertisements, though, Red Bull rarely notes the features or benefits of their products, or they at least keep those benefits vague enough to pique people’s curiosity. Yet Red Bull is the number one selling energy drink in the world, dwarfing competition from larger companies like Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Anheiser Busch. One should also note, it did take more than a decade for that buzz to really build. At first Red Bull was only available in Europe, and the spread throughout the U.S. was gradual over the past 10 years.
Creating buzz isn’t easy. It takes a vision, a plan and dedication. Our animal friends got people’s attention, but their message was lost. Despite all of the advertising that said, “Don’t poke that rattlesnake with a stick,” there are still plenty of people who see a rattlesnake and immediately go looking for that stick

But the business landscape is filled with companies who created the buzz and got the messaging right—Red Bull, Nike and Macintosh, just to name a few (tell me you didn’t ask a friend to see that first generation ipod or iphone). When done right, a good buzz campaign is more effective than the most expensive super bowl commercial you could buy, because real people, with real social contact do the marketing for you.

Wait a minute. Red “Bull.” Dangerous animal + brilliantly marketed product. This just might be the smartest advertising on the planet.

--Captain Awesome, Project Specialist

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