July 19, 2021
In the world of advertising, supply is far greater than demand. Millions of brands clamour for the attention of the public and only those with the most stand-out campaigns will be noticed. If your brand isn’t one of them, it’ll be lost in the sea of competition and forgotten.
This is why it pays to think outside the box. To really stand out, you’ll need to do something new, exciting, and different. Here are three examples of brands that did just that!
In late 2018, a pothole-filled road in the town of Bartonville, Texas was repaired by a crew of road workers. Only one thing was unusual: the repairs were funded by fast-food giant Domino’s Pizza.
The stunt was part of a project, named Paving For Pizza, which had the aim of fixing deteriorating roads across America. People could nominate their city on the Domino’s website, with winning cities being sent a grant covering the cost of road repairs. The equipment used by workers was Domino’s branded and the company’s logo was spray-painted onto the asphalt when the work was finished.
The reasoning given by Domino’s was that poor roads made for a bumpy ride from restaurant to house, endangering any pizza being delivered. “We don’t want to lose any great-tasting pizza to a pothole, ruining a wonderful meal,” explained Russell Weiner, president of Domino’s.
The campaign was successful because it did two things: it addressed people’s frustrations with potholes, and it brought the company’s social conscience front and centre. The novelty factor caused it to be reported on by popular media outlets like USA Today and Bloomberg, further increasing its exposure - it received over 54,000 organic mentions on social media, and proved to be popular enough that Domino’s launched a second phase of the project in 2020.
Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) are a form of transmedia storytelling. They use a blend of online and real life gameplay to tell a story, and encourage participants to interact with the narrative to move it forward. Examples include Niantic’s Ingress and Adam Ellis’ Dear David. Although not all ARGs are used for advertising, many are, and one of the earliest and most successful was in 2004 with I Love Bees, a marketing campaign for Bungie’s then-upcoming video game Halo 2.
In the lead-up to Halo 2’s release, a trailer for the game briefly flashed the URL ilovebees.com onto the screen. On the surface, it seemed like an amateurish website dedicated to beekeeping. Investigating more, visitors discovered odd symbols, codes, and phrases hidden throughout the site. They soon realised the site had been ‘hacked’ by a strange presence, and banded together to uncover the mystery behind it.
Over many months, players interacted with the site and the real world by solving puzzles and performing tasks. For example, at one point players needed to use clues on the website to determine the real world locations of certain payphones. These payphones were set to ring at specific times, and players needed to answer the calls with a password. Answering the calls unlocked more puzzles on the website.
As more puzzles were solved, more and more of the site’s backstory was revealed, and its connection to the Halo universe became more apparent. Once all the puzzles had been solved and the story concluded, players were invited to visit one of four cinemas to play Halo 2 before its official launch and receive a commemorative DVD.
Although ARGs are more commonplace nowadays, I Love Bees is notable for being one of the first. It was an extensive global event, and due to its complexity required a significant investment (over $1 million) - a risky move considering how untested large-scale ARGs were at the time. Fortunately, I Love Bees proved to be an enormous success. The site was visited millions of times and the story was even picked up by mainstream media, drawing attention from outside the gaming community. It won numerous awards for innovation and inspired dozens of other ARG ad campaigns.
Its success can be attributed to its subtlety; it didn’t seem like it was marketing a product, but rather presenting a puzzle to be solved. It lured visitors in with the promise of a mystery to uncover, and kept them invested with a compelling, free-to-access story that led into the beginning of the paid-for game.
I Love Bees proved that it can pay to take a risk when creating a campaign. There was no guarantee that audiences would want to get invested or interact with the site, but Bungie decided to go ahead regardless - resulting in a fascinating campaign that contributed to Halo 2 becoming the best-selling game on the first-generation Xbox.
In 2006, American conglomerate 3M decided to create a unique bus stop advertisement in Vancouver, Canada: they filled the casing with $3 million in cash, and covered it with their product Scotchshield, a transparent film designed to strengthen glass. Anyone who managed to smash the glass would get to keep the money in full.
Hundreds of passers-by tried to destroy the glass, but none were successful, and the stop was eventually taken down with no one having claimed the cash.
Of course, there were stipulations. People were only allowed to use their feet to break the glass (a rule enforced by nearby security guards), and the stop was only up for one day. It was later revealed that the money inside was nowhere near $3 million - there was actually only about $500 in real money, with most of the other notes being fakes. If someone did happen to win, they would’ve been given the $3 million in cheque form instead.
The public was largely unaware of these conditions, so the stunt proved incredibly popular. Images of the bus stop were widely spread and the story was covered by newspapers and television stations worldwide. The good publicity resulted in Scotchshield being sold out for months, and an estimated $1 million revenue for the company - especially impressive considering how little time and money were invested.
The bus stop stunt was powerful because of its simplicity. The message was clear: 3M were so confident in their product’s effectiveness, they were willing to put millions of dollars on the line to prove it. The striking image of so much cash just barely out of reach spurred strong emotions, and much like game shows, it played on our desire to win big through comparatively little effort.
To make your brand’s advertising stand out, it needs to do something new. The three examples above were successful because they took risks and used new mediums for marketing their products. The novelty factor encouraged news outlets to pick up and increase awareness of them, and their creativity and uniqueness helped capture public attention. In the end, they all created memorable campaigns that generated more sales and interest than traditional advertising would have allowed for.
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