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The Marketing Devil is Really in the Details

It’s a fine line between an audacious-yet-successful marketing stunt and a total disaster. So fine that most marketing executives in charge of brands who have anything at all to lose often defer to safer approaches. Recently though a couple of daring and brilliant stunts have caught my attention, deserving a post with some deeper insight.

Much has been written about TriNet’s Yam Trader idea. Gust was among the hundreds of companies that received a yam in the mail (literally), prompting our CEO to stop by and visit their booth at SXSW. I later connected with TriNet’s Director of Marketing Ken Narita, who was wonderfully open to share their experience. As Ken described, the idea came about when they were faced with the reality that it would not be easy to break through the clutter at SXSW. A bold and funny execution would fit well with SXSW, where creativity abounds and formalities are practically non-existent, enabling companies to go a little wild with very limited negative repercussions to their brands. Hundreds of CEOs of target companies were sent yams, along with an offer to bring them to their SXSW booth to redeem their gift certificate. In addition, people were directed to, a campaign micro site that re-directed them to TriNet’s real website. Ken reported that the initiative was very successful, with a conversion rate (herein defined as people who brought their yam to the SXSW company booth) in the double digits. While the definition of conversion here does not equate converting a prospect into a customer, Ken estimates TriNet was able to schedule at least 50 meetings as a result of this stunt, in addition to all the great publicity and increased brand awareness that was generated as a result of this bold direct marketing initiative (isn’t it great when a side effect of a direct marketing effort is brand awareness?). Similarly, Unreal Candy had the Easter Bunny go around SXSW apologizing to people for all the bad candy he’d been giving them all these years (Unreal Candy is the maker of all-natural, unprocessed candy). Albeit practically risk-free, this stunt was remarkably simple and creative, generating huge word-of-mouth activity and positive brand coverage.

These two cases got me thinking about the “must-haves” for a company to successfully create and execute these bold marketing initiatives. Here are a few:

  • Empowered marketing team – the whole point of such strategies is that, by definition, they may not naturally fit with the company’s traditional ethos at first sight. There’s a surprise element that magnifies the potential for word-of-mouth and press coverage. When a company lacks a strong marketing culture, marketing presence and tactics are often determined by the comfort zone of the product/tech teams, or by that of other senior executives. These ideas rarely see the light of day in a consensual, cross-disciplinary decision-making process. It takes an experienced marketing leader to sell these ideas internally and inspire confidence in his/her ability to execute them properly.
  • Ability to stay tasteful – bold does not mean tacky or distasteful. While few people can argue against the concept of healthy candy, it is not that simple to make the case for yams. Nonetheless, differently from some other vegetables, a yam carries no bad connotations whatsoever even in the minds of the most twisted people. If anything, it’s perceived as an incredibly neutral item, which actually contributed to intrigue its recipients even further. It’s too neutral to be clearly a joke, yet playful enough to get a great number of people to investigate it further. Home run.
  • Fit (in some way, shape or form) – a stunt like this may not fit with the company’s traditional ethos, but it must be a fit with the context in which it is presented. Yam Trader was perfect for SXSW, and may have been completely out of place at a serious HR conference where very limited marketing appreciation can be found.
  • Proper ability to manage media relations – good press coverage is a desirable effect of such stunts. However, to ensure coverage is indeed positive, a company needs to have its personnel trained to speak and present their initiatives in the right light. And since there’s a lot of group thinking in the press, having good relationships to trigger the positive chain reaction is crucial.


Finally, if you decide to take the wild route for a creative marketing stunt, make sure you have the goods to back it up. Few things are more detrimental to a brand than empty promotional efforts that are not supported by the product experience. If you don’t have the goods to back it up, don’t over-expose yourself. It will only make your brand more vulnerable.

Written by Ilana Grossman

user Ilana Grossman

Ilana was the CMO of Gust with experience at Digitas and Organic. There, she led the development and implementation of several CRM and digital campaigns for clients such as Bank of America, Sanofi-Aventis, Johnson & Johnson, and Astra Zeneca.

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