5 Big Marketing Risks That Worked


Photo Credit: Alan Light via Compfight cc

We’ve talked a lot about tiny tweaks you can do to adjust your marketing strategy and achieve better results.

But sometimes, it’s less about optimization. It’s time for a big strategy overhaul, a rebrand, or a gutsy campaign to really net the results you’re looking for.

With that in mind, here are 5 examples of big marketing risks that paid off big time.

1) The Wayfair Rebrand

Founded in 2002, Wayfair was originally known as CSN Stores. It grew to be a network of more than 200 disparate shopping sites.

In 2011 its founders decided to consolidate those sites under a new brand and website – Wayfair.


Bootstrapped for nearly 10 years, the company raised several hundred million dollars in funding to invest heavily in advertising campaigns, including TV commercials, all as part of an effort to build awareness for the new brand and attract new customers.

The Payoff

Wayfair went public this fall and raised more than $300 million in its IPO. It is highly regarded as a Boston success story and new “anchor company” for the city.

The Takeaway

Wayfair focused maniacally on SEO, customer service, and amping up the selection at their site, becoming one of the few to compete with Amazon (at least in the homegoods category.) To expand, they aligned themselves with the rise of social media and discovery-focused shopping with their rebrand, which included a unique approach to content marketing which is focused on shopper ideation and conversions. All in all, the rebrand spearheaded growth in many other areas of their marketing and was instrumental towards them achieving an IPO.

2) The Obama Campaign’s Email Testing

The 2012 Obama for America team took a big bet on email marketing to drive donations.

Encouraging people to make repeat donations was a central part of their strategy, but more than anything, gaining buy-in for and establishing a process for testing was paramount. A team of more than a dozen writers, analysts, and marketers worked tirelessly to test different subject lines, designs, and segments each day in order to achieve their results.

The Payoff

The online donations totaled about $690 million. More than 4.5 million people donated, and the average gift was $53. Most of those donations came through email.

The Takeaway

This Ted Talk by Amelia Showalter, the director of analytics for the campaign, is all you need to know. She was a vital member of the team who drove results through testing, and her talk is about the value of an experimentation-focused mindset in marketing (and life!) This explains the strategy behind the email marketing campaigns, and its something that can be applied to your company too.

3) Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” Social Media Campaign

Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign was sparked in response to a consumer trend: It turns out that women make more than half of body wash purchases. In response, Old Spice wanted to get couples to talk about body wash, avoid accidentally buying body wash with a feminine scent for the guys, and of course, get them to choose Old Spice.

The “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign, starring popular spokesman Isaiah Mustava, launched online Superbowl weekend in 2010 with YouTube videos. The company did a complimentary media buy during TV shows couples watched together (Lost, American Idol, etc.) They achieved a ton of buzz and increased share of voice through the campaign, particularly among women.

That summer, the team wanted to play off of that initial success with an encore performance, but they sought to do something more engaging.

With that in mind, the team conceived what became one of the most successful social media campaigns ever. The new social campaign was centered around short videos starring Mustava. The Old Spice team invited Twitter followers to submit questions to Mustava, and he answered them with 205 humorous 30 second YouTube videos like the one below.

The Payoff

The campaign attracted more than 80,000 Twitter followers in two days and Facebook fan interaction spiked 800%. According to Weiden+Kennedy, the agency mastermind behind the effort, reported in August 2010 that since campaign’s launch, Old Spice Bodywash sales ultimately went up 107%.

The Takeaway

This campaign was unique and incredibly integrated across marketing channels. Even though it touched so many different channels, they were still really focused on what they wanted to achieve. They chose the right spokesperson who would appeal to both men and women, and did videos that were funny and had universal appeal. This engaged the the buyer – the woman – without confusing or alienating the man. At the time, social media was still hugely untested waters for this kind of thing, so it was a massive risk to take. They “de-risked” the campaign by leveraging previous success. The lesson is to certainly take risks, but to also take smart risks.

4) Taco Bell Mobile App Launch

Taco Bell swung for the fences with its recent mobile app launch, which enables patrons to place mobile orders right from their phones.

They replaced their website with this image:


In addition, Taco Bell redirected social media followers to the app. Taco Bell killed its TwitterTumblr and Facebook presence to promote the app. The social media profiles now feature a single post with the hashtag #onlyintheapp.

How’d they do this? Well, Taco Bell has 1.4 million Twitter followers. But they locked the main account under another username for the campaign. In its place, Taco Bell set up another account that promotes the app with a single Tweet. For Facebook, I think they hide all previous posts (an option that’s available to admins.) In short, I think this is more them pausing their social media accounts – not deleting. But the stunt is shocking nonetheless, given the ad dollars and effort that went into building the presences.

The Payoff

One day after the launch, 90 percent of the chain’s 6,000 U.S. stores began accepting mobile orders and payments through an iPhone and Android app. Additionally, Taco Bell said 75 percent of all stores had processed a mobile order. If they were looking to redirect sales to the app, it’s certainly working.

The Takeaway

Typically when launching a new product, app, or social presence, brands fumble to channel attention earned in other places towards that new platform in an effort to deepen the customer relationship. But an experienced brand like Taco Bell knows that page updates and ads only go so far. This risky move ensured they’d get attention for the new app.

Not to mention, the timing for this was spot-on. Halloween is a huge party weekend at colleges, and Taco Bell is a popular late night spot for students. With the launch happening just before the big weekend, it’s yet another reminder of how polished  and well-thought-out this campaign was.

5) Eat 24 Quits Facebook

Protesting changes to the Facebook newsfeed, which limits brand page posts that are shown in the newsfeed, Eat 24 made the risky choice to quit Facebook.

In another bold move, they announced the decision via a viral “breakup letter” on the company blog.

The decision garnered a ton of reaction, especially from the marketing community. Many marketing professionals criticized the brand, emphasizing the Facebook does work if know what you’re doing with ad targeting and write great content. Eat24’s response was diplomatic; they agree that it can work, but it just wasn’t working for them.

The Payoff

Eat24 followed up their breakup letter with a status update on what had happened after they quit Facebook. In short, they claimed nothing, but did have a few success metrics to speak about.

  • App installs from the week following the breakup letter totaled 1.75x more than they got from all 2013 paid Facebook ad campaigns combined.
  • Their weekly email open rate skyrocketed. They went from an average 20% open rate to an astounding 40%. Not only were people reading the emails, but in many cases they were actually getting replies to the marketing emails. Tougher to measure in terms of ROI, but it’s hard to argue that these replies weren’t indicative of stronger engagement with customers.
  • In 2013, prior to quitting Facebook, Eat24 spent nearly $1 millions in Facebook advertising. One of the strongest benefits they mention about the breakup is that they can redirect that spending elsewhere. That means more staff, swag for customers, and more coupons.

The Takeaway

Ignore the status quo.

This was a bold move to say the least, but it seems to have paid off.

The ability to focus their marketing channels on the ones that deliver the greatest ROI is a major advantage. Eat24 focused completely on the metrics and on what worked for them. It wasn’t about “best practices” or impressing the industry. In addition, their snarky announcement of the choice fit their brand and enhanced relationships with their customers.

What interesting marketing moves have you seen? Let us know in the comments.

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