Companies that produce silver bullet ideas over and over have this in common: They foster an environment in which creativity is not only accepted, but expected—and rewarded. It sounds obvious, but the realities of today’s competitive marketplace make doing the obvious nearly impossible. In a crowded marketplace, innovation is one of the only ways to stand out from the crowd, but with pressure to deliver value and proven results, innovative thinking all too often gets edged out in favor of safe thinking.
According to Satkar Gidda, sales and marketing director at SiebertHead, a packaging design house in the United Kingdom, “Every new product or pack concept is researched to death nowadays—and many great ideas are thrown out simply because a group of consumers is suspicious of anything that sounds new.” Gidda cites two examples of classic products that might never have made it into production in today’s more fearful atmosphere: Toblerone chocolate, because of its awkward triangular shape; and Polo mints, because of their unnecessary hole in the middle.
The same could be said for Life Savers.Ironically, while corporations are frozen by a decision-by-committee paralysis, consumers are clamoring for exciting new experiences. As marketers, we are paid to be creative. However, we are seldom allowed to pursue creative lines of thought without feeling the pressure of time, productivity and other realities that keep us from reaching breakthrough solutions. In the end, we become as practical and risk averse as our clients. The irony is that the biggest ROI comes from the buzz factor that erupts when a truly creative idea captures the public imagination.
Conservative ideas bring conservative returns.
Handled correctly, big ideas have the potential to erupt in a big bang.
Give ‘Em What They Always Wanted (Even If They Don’t Yet Know It)
Often, silver bullet brands fill a void in our lives that we never even knew existed. Suddenly, a product or service comes out of nowhere to answer a need we might not have been conscious of. This springboard has the potential to take unknown products to superstardom, as more and more people discover the genius within it.The trick to this springboard is in knowing what the public actually needs at any given point in time and tapping into that need successfully. Some would argue that there are no more “needs” in modern society. We have available to us any number of arguably excessive products and services, from doggie psychiatrists to valet parking at gyms to Botox injections. It seems that our choices multiply daily. But how many of these choices actually fill a void in our lives? Very few. Those that do have a very real shot at becoming silver bullets.Consider the thong. Not very much to it. Very little, in fact. Yet in the past few years, lingerie brand Cosabella has managed to produce a line of colorful, functional and sexy thong underwear that has become an instant classic. Up until that point, most women—even women who care about such things—considered panty lines an undesirable, but accepted fact of life. Sure there were ways around it, most notably by going au naturel under stockings, but this had limited applications. (For anyone who’s not a Rockette at Radio City Music Hall, wearing stockings with shorts is not a viable option.)Today, panty lines are simply not acceptable to a growing number of women. They don’t have to be, because these women are now loyalists of the Cosabella brand. How did they hear about the brand? Entirely through buzz. The brand does not advertise, instead relying on editorial coverage and word of mouth. Thus far, Cosabella has popped up on hit TV shows (Friends, Sex and the City), in movies (Crossroads, starring Britney Spears) and on such A–list celebrities as Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lopez and Kirsten Dunst. In fact, when Vogue UK recently asked Dunst, costar of the blockbuster Spider-Man, what clothing item she could not live without, she responded, “Cosabella thongs.” Once an article of clothing deemed vulgar and inappropriate for most women, the thong is now a must-have item, even among the Hollywood elite.
Capture the Moment
Some silver bullet brands capture so accurately and viscerally the feeling of a moment that they become the symbol or point of reference for that which they have encapsulated. This happens most often with places, people and media. Places can be the geographic hub of a movement, people can be spokespersons for a movement and media can be the mouthpiece of a movement.The pace of life today makes this springboard one on which it is very difficult to capitalize. Movements happen so quickly that they’re gone before most people have a chance to respond. Of the four springboards, this is the most likely to be driven by buzz alone. It is not unusual for silver bullets in this category to find themselves swept along in the momentum of the moment. It is also easier to look back and spot the winners in this category than it is to recognize who they will be while the play is still in motion.Consider music festivals. The original Woodstock was the symbol of a generation. Beyond the music, it represented a way of life, a political statement, a spiritual experience and, ultimately, a historical event. Today, brands strive mightily for that kind of social import but very rarely succeed. When corporations tried to revive the spirit of the original 1969 festival in the form of Woodstock 1999, their plans were thwarted by unruly youth setting fires, rioting and assaulting women. Very un-Woodstock. Vans, the skateboard brand, was more successful with its Warped Tour, developed to capture the essence of action sports—a leading movement of our times. As a company involved with the athletes on the cutting edge of the movement, it knew how to put together an event that would authentically capture the sentiment of its most enthusiastic participants.The kind of instant hit status that comes from capturing a sentiment happens with television shows all of the time. Much like a mirror, TV reflects our lives at a point in time. Its role as a social lens is the equivalent to the role of art in past centuries. M*A*S*H, Cheers, Seinfeld and Sex and the City became hits because they were well written and well performed, but also because they tapped into something that truly resonates among the viewing public. We identify with the characters, so we tune in every week to see what they are up to.
Rules are made to be broken and conventions are begging to be challenged. This is the way renegade marketers have to think these days. This springboard, perhaps more than the other three, requires the kind of courage that we talked about in the introduction to this chapter.Taking the norm and turning it upside down is a gutsy thing to do. Done right, it can lead to some of the biggest, boldest and fastest silver bullet brands.We are surrounded by conventions in our everyday lives. Most of the time we go about our daily business oblivious to how many things we take for granted. You take it for granted that breakfast is to be eaten in the morning, that the bank will be open on nonholiday weekdays, that your office will be functioning when you get there, that the mail will arrive at around the same time each day, that the water from the hot tap will be hot and the water from the cold will be cold . . . really, it is an endless list. What happens when something takes place to disrupt the usual flow? You take notice. Just think how surprised you would be if you turned on the faucet to brush your teeth and out came milk, or you opened the refrigerator and it was a balmy 100 degrees in there.Branding guru Steven Addis believes in the power of surprise. He recounts a recent experience at a fast food chain that left him “charmed and disarmed.” At the end of a long day he pulled up to the drive-through window of California’s retro burger chain, In-N-Out Burger, ready to place his order. He was pleasantly surprised when the voice coming out of the speaker cheerfully asked him, “How’s it going?” rather than the rote, “Can I take your order, please?” True to the buzz continuum, Addis’ pleasant experience, though it seems small, was recounted to us and is now being published in our book. Way to go, In-N-Out. The company seemingly has created an environment in which employees feel comfortable winging it, and that freedom has allowed them to challenge the convention of the fast food experience. “Brands that really succeed redefine the category,” says Addis. “In fact, you should define yourself in a way that is counter to the category.”
Questioning is the basis of scientific discovery, and it should play a part in the development of products and marketing plans, as well. Just think about how many of the great inventions in our society came about because someone did not accept an idea that everyone else believed to be true. Over the years, some of the best campaigns have developed because someone had the guts and creativity to question conventions.
Consider just a few such examples:
Convention: Cars are a serious purchase.Challenge: Saturn told us that buying a car can be painless . . . even fun!
Convention: Breakfast cereal is eaten with milk in the morning.Challenge: Cold cereal can be eaten at any time of day, with or without milk, as an on-the-go snack.
Convention: Coffee is a hot drink that wakes me up in the morning.
Challenge: Coffee can be a communal experience or a relaxing ritual at your local Starbucks.
Because conventions are so ingrained, we forget sometimes to think about them, much less challenge them. This should be the role of the marketer whenever a new project is approached. Leave no stone unturned in the development of an unconventional idea. In the right hands, no idea is too small to make a big impact.
One of the greatest challenges marketers face these days is finding new and inventive ways to stimulate interest. Consumers are overstimulated as it is. The common element shared by the brands we have showcased in this chapter is the element of surprise. Each has taken a different approach to surprising the audience, but all have worked hard to foster a creative environment that encourages and protects breakthrough ideas. They keep their sights fixed on the consumer and on ways to attract attention and fill needs.
Will all of these brands achieve superstar status? Perhaps not. But all have a far better chance at it by having been propelled into the public consciousness by a silver bullet idea