Against the Odds
Offbeat Marketing Ideas That Made a Lasting Impact
By SHAMONTIEL VAUGHN | CONTRIBUTING WRITER
National Dance Day on September 21 works well for health clubs trying to sell fitness merchandise. National Plus Size Appreciation Day on October 6 is as good of a time as any for plus-size retail stores to display their best new fashion apparel. National Electronic Greetings Day on November 29 is the perfect time for greeting card companies to organize a marketing campaign or e-newsletter to subscribers. And National Winter Skin Relief Day on January 8 is lucrative for cosmetics companies with dry skin products.
And the list goes on.
While some of these days, and even ideas, may seem to be a bit of a reach, some of them actually work if promoted correctly and consistently.
One of the more well-known unofficial holidays is Sweetest Day. Cleveland consumers reportedly spend even more for that day than Mother’s Day. And Sweetest Day started off as a way to show love for the city’s orphans and others who are underprivileged. Nowadays it’s Valentine’s Day Part 2. Philanthropist and candy connoisseur Herbert Birch Kingston thought of something out of the box in the 1920s, and his idea became a calendar mainstay.
For some companies and trendsetters, drawing outside of the lines is one of the most successful ways to advance sales.
Ideas that flopped and flourished
Kat Von D could have advertised her makeup line the usual way — postcards, brochures, commercials and social media posts. Instead, the tattoo artist and reality TV cast member from “LA Ink” created street art. An artist was hired to draw images of her new lipstick line on Canadian streets. Hashtags such as #KDVLook and #SephoraCanada were drawn next to them.
This marketing technique exposed a whole new line of potential customers who may have had no idea who she was on social media or television. They just happened to be on the right street at the right time.
Sometimes graffiti marketing promotion doesn’t always work out as seamlessly as it ideally would. Justin Bieber, who advertised his last album with a series of street art seen worldwide, ended up in trouble because it didn’t wash off in the rain. (Still, though, “Purpose” became his fifth million-selling album when other artists struggle to get over the sophomore jinx.)
Both ideas worked to the artists’ advantage, but they both had to be ready for it to fail too. And that’s the beauty of an idea. If it hasn’t been tried before, they’re all uncertain tests.
“Look at other innovative retailers,” said Diane Ellis, C-suite executive and consultant. “For example, American Eagle put washing machines in their nearby NYU store. They understood the typical NYU college student. What do [students] do with time on their hands? Wash their clothes. So why not have them hang out in the store while they’re doing that?”
The 2017 store, AE Studio, opened with three new washers for which students could wash their clothing for free. And other students don’t have to worry about someone abandoning the machines. The catch to free laundry is students must hang around for the entire washing and drying cycles, which means they definitely have a free hour or two to look around the American Eagle store.
Urban Outfitters understands how college students—and the rest of the 94 percent of Americans who regularly consume pizza—think, too. The company didn’t just stick a few oven pizzas near the front entrance. It bought the Vetri Family restaurants, which include the pizza chain Pizzeria Vetri. (This restaurant was honored as the best pizza restaurant in America by the Food and Wine magazine. Consumers who just don’t feel like having coffee, which was already available at certain Urban Outfitters, can opt for cheese and pepperoni pizza instead.)
No such thing as a bad idea
Brick-and-mortar retailers continue to advance their creative ideas. In an industry that is partnering with its own online stores, competing against online retailers or going under because it couldn’t float, consumers want to know what makes a store stand out.
Would they rather go buy a shirt and leave, or purchase the shirt in one hand with pizza in another? Would they rather check “laundry” off their to-do list while they replace a shirt or two? Would they rather quietly buy a festive gift, or loudly boast about a trendy “holiday” on Twitter to join in on the fun retail updates?
In today’s retail world, companies have learned that shopping needs to feel less like a chore and more like an experience. And as long as retailers are willing to find out just what consumers actually need and want, they may find their concepts become everlasting.