If you think you’re selling a dull product, ask yourself what the world would be like if that product suddenly disappeared. Could we do without toilet paper? Or sliced bread? Or any of the thousands of other things that we all really need but that just don’t seem as cool to market as a the latest iPhone or a Porsche?

The trick to marketing any product, no matter how ordinary it may be, is to remind people why they love it so much. Bathroom tissue becomes so soft you could float away on it or is so much fun because those oh-so-cute kittens are playing with it. Bread is just bread but when it’s wrapped around a hot barbecue snag dripping with tomato sauce, it becomes a sensorial experience.

Baby animals and fun summer dining are great ways to boost some products but they’re not going to work for every sale. Drain cleaner, for example, is going to need a different approach. You have to sell the benefits of the product: “It’s so easy to use,” or “Your drains are going to be so sparkling clean as soon as you pour the magic formula down the sink.”

Finding that sweet spot has been the secret to most successful marketing campaigns. So what are people looking for? What attracts our attention? Sociologists at the University of Pennsylvania found that things were more likely to catch our attention and to go viral if they were awe-inspiring, emotional or surprising. And positive pieces are also much more likely to get emailed or posted on social media than something negative. Common sense tells you that it’s better to have your message focused on loving the product rather than fearing it.

Companies that successfully promoted ‘boring’ products

The element of surprise has often relied on humour and the just plain weird. For example, Blendtec makes blenders. Everyone knows what a blender is and what it can do. But what if you make it do something totally out of the ordinary. That’s what the company did with a series of YouTube videos blending things you would never put in a blender, such as Justin Bieber CDs or an iPhone.

Tipp-Ex used the same tactic to market its white-out tape. It created a series of online videos about a hunter and a bear doing just about everything but what you’d expect. The hunter played football with the bear, and drank a beer with the bear, among other things. The videos received a million hits and 100,000 shares on Facebook. Sales soared for what would otherwise have been a pretty uninteresting line of office supplies.

Airline passengers make a habit of ignoring the safety instructions that are required before any plane takes off. A couple of airlines decided to turn that boredom into surprising viral content that people checked out even when they weren’t flying. Air New Zealand took advantage of the Lord of the Rings movies when it created a safety video featuring characters and scenes that looked like the fantasy masterpiece. Shot in the green hills that were the backdrop to the films, the video features characters with pointy ears and speaking elvish as they demonstrate seat belt and life jacket safety.

Car insurance is one of those things everyone has to have but we all hate having to pay for. Esurance made sure its product stood out in the field with a big giveaway during the American Super Bowl. It’s the most expensive advertising on television – tens of millions of dollars for one spot – but Esurance used its thirty seconds on the big game in 2014 to build its brand. It offered a sweepstakes giveaway on Twitter and got 200,000 entries within the first minute of the ad going to air. Within 24 hours, it had 4.5 million uses of the hashtag, #EsuranceSave30, which tied people to the draw but also reminded them that they could save big by checking out the company’s car insurance policies. Even if you don’t have the money this company had for its marketing draw, you can offer other more economical products to entice customers to think about your product no matter how uninteresting it seems when it’s just sitting on the shelf.

Unlocking the secret to these campaigns

The secret to all these campaigns was to take the product and made it interesting, exciting and even sexy. That’s not a bad way to think of marketing your products – whether it’s through advertising or other promotional efforts. Only a handful of people will get excited about your brand because of the technical specifications of software or copper pipe (or whatever is relevant to your product). Everyone, though, loves to buy into the fun or the offbeat and that’s where the focus of these successful campaigns has been. Think about the benefits of your software, and show how you’ll change the customer’s life through it. Point out what can go wrong when the plumbing fails and remind the audience that your pipes are made to last so they will never be flooded again.

There’s a reason that the contents on your bread packet is in very fine type, but the brand is in two-inch letters. It’s because the name reminds you of all those great sandwiches that you’ve eaten, and no one ever built a successful marketing campaign around ingredients like “unbleached wheat flour” or “soy lecithin” (unless it was to make fun of it and remind us that inside the bag it’s still that wonderful fresh bread we’ve always eaten at a sausage sizzle!).

Nick Sims

Nick Sims is the Founder and CEO of Edge Loyalty. With more than 22 years experience in marketing, promotions and incentive programs, Nick is committed to helping brands connect with their audience.

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