The boy who couldn’t fail: Marketing in a crowded marketplace

I’m not sure exactly how we got on to it, but I recently had a conversation with some colleagues about what we would call our autobiography. I can’t remember any of them, including my own, apart from one; “The boy who couldn’t fail”.

It was meant as a joke and made me laugh. It also got me thinking about Rik Mayall’s autobiography “Bigger than Hitler, better than Jesus”. I’ve never read that book, but I have never forgotten the name, and I instantly want to read it when I think about the title.

Why? Because they both stood out from the crowd, forcing their way in to my long term memory.


Advertising doesn’t have to be about relationships

There are two different thoughts on how advertising should work:

  • Be part of the conversation and a welcome addition
  • Smash your way in to their minds

Trying to insert yourself in to the natural flow of people’s thoughts is a very tricky and expensive way of advertising any product.

The traditional forms of advertising (TV, radio, print, direct marketing…) are all what you would describe as product and sales oriented. They are intruding on people’s time.

The challenge for any advertiser is how to rise above the general white noise of hundreds of marketing messages people are subjected to every day.

Price comparison websites such as compare the market and Go Compare recognised this problem in the UK and tried to stand out with abstract campaigns completely unrelated to their services. They are now a part of our cultural reference points and taken on a life of their own.

Here are some ideas for you to make your advertising stand out and become memorable:

Sex sells

A very old, but very effective method, this can be shoe-horned in to pretty much any industry. Although not to everyone’s taste, GoDaddy used this to tremendous success in my industry with their controversial super-bowl commercials. They are now by far the biggest player in the market.

Be abstract

The compare the market meerkats sum this up perfectly. When the ad first launched it was so out there it forced people to take notice. The catchy jingle inserted the URL in your brain and they are the first comparison website that springs to my mind if I want to use one.

Be loud

Being loud can be taken literally like the Safe Style Windows advert below…

…or it can come through your tone, colours and actions. An example of that would be Cillit Bang who use bright colours to stand out on the shelves.

Cillit Bang

Be funny

A very difficult one to successfully pull off, but incredibly effective if you do. The huge trap here is being cheesy or missing the mark completely.

A great example of this being done well is K-swiss trainers in the USA. I am a huge Eastbound & Down fan, so I loved these adverts and they did help to make K-swiss more attractive to me (I’m a pretty stoic Nike man).

Be yourself

Put yourself (or company director) forward as the face and voice of your business to humanise your brand, and increase memory recall.

One of the many great reasons companies have a figure head as the face of their company, is people remember faces and people’s names.

You think of the person and your mind instantly leaps to the business. Some internationally famous examples of company figure heads include Richard Branson, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs.

Be controversial

Being controversial makes people think (and possibly even question you), which means they are engaging with you and they are more likely to remember you.

Although it has now largely lost its meaning, naming a company ‘Virgin’ in the 70’s was incredibly risqué.

The trick here is knowing when to stop and not going so far you damage your business.

The most famous user of this approach is of course Benetton, but they allowed themselves to get lost in shock adverts to the detriment of their product.


It became bigger than their clothes, which for me misses the point of any advertising.

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