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4 brands that made magic with small budgets

4 brands that made magic with small budgets iMedia Editors

Every marketer's dream is to get a big impact from a small budget. To spend relatively few dollars and drive extraordinary behavior change.

Now, what constitutes a "small budget" varies by category. Launching a car model with a $10 million budget might arguably be even more impressive than launching a consumer-facing startup with $1 million. That's important because our focus here isn't tiny brands that got lucky with a viral message, but rather major players that got more from less.

4 campaigns that drove huge impact with small budgets

If we eliminate examples where luck played a key role in the success of a program, we're left with a fascinating collection of very different initiatives, each with a distinctive character.

It's difficult to identify a formula to follow from these examples, but there are some interesting observations we can make about communications styles and how brands can leverage these approaches to do more with less. We must also recognize that a darned good idea is a darned good idea regardless.

Here then are four such examples, along with simple lessons that we can learn from each.

Lyft shows us the power of target understanding

The number of next-gen taxi services seems to grow by the week. But one company that has done a great job of setting itself apart and creating a loyal following is Lyft. Lyft, a San Francisco-based livery provider, has grown markedly in its launch cities and has begun the process of major expansion. A key part of that success is that it outfits each of its cars with a fuzzy pink moustache.

Source: Lyft Blog

Silly? Yes! And that's the beauty of it. Who can resist finding out more about an outfit that does something like this. Who can turn down the opportunity of showing up at a club with pink facial hair leading the way?

That is ultimately about understanding the psyche of the target customer and the value of a funny image in the viral sphere. Lyft occasions are largely ones where the getting there is what matters, and if you can throw a little fun in on the way, well why the heck not?

In an industry growing more and more crowded, Lyft has captured remarkable attention. And meanwhile, it gives hipsters a reason to choose one ultimately similar solution over another.

The key to this effort, of course, is that the internet spreads the story of the 'staches farther and wider than ordinary word of mouth could ever deliver. This helped the company rapidly gain high quality awareness in first markets while paving the way for more success in expansion markets. These days, if you look up Lyft, there are more than 2.8 million search results from which to choose. And if you talk to their users, you get a sense of passion and loyalty that's darned impressive.

Lesson: Really know your customer inside and out, and trust them to reward your understanding of them with the viral push you need.

Kmart marries shock with cleverness in a joke that makes me "ship my pants"

While rough language has become far more accepted in our society, there are certain things that a brand simply doesn't say or do. But what about appearing to say them, while staying safely on the familiar side of propriety?

This much-talked-about play on phonetics from Kmart is amusing, memorable, and darned effective at getting its message across. Kmart, of course, spends good money on TV and the web alike. But it's the outsized impact of this campaign that is enabling the company to compete with the deeper pocketed Wal-Marts and Targets. It has garnered tens of millions of viral views and is the first Kmart campaign that people have talked about so positively in years. It also helps to clarify a unique brand character for Kmart, which competes with two of the most meaningful brands in the business.

The genius here, though, is not in the shock but rather in the clever way that it attracts loads of attention without offending anyone. It's shock without damage. And because the joke is centered on the service Kmart is marketing, it's pretty safe to suggest that message recall was quite high. Ditto on the sequel, "Big gas savings!"

Lesson: Shock value drives virality -- but a little cleverness can get you value without turning off half the audience.

Wonderful Pistachios helps you express your character

Certain ordinary products capture something human and extraordinary. They reflect our own unique and quirky natures rather than (just) brand strategies.

Wonderful Pistachios, the campaign for Paramount Farms International, is a charming example of an integrated omni-channel campaign. It has remarkable noticing value and business impact because it puts the fun and quirky essence of the user front and center, with the brand serving as the enabler. Here the user is the star. While this is ostensibly a celeb campaign, the executions really operate on the most personal and human of levels, giving the user permission to enjoy pistachios in their own way and on their own terms.

This is a brand that understands that its essence is in the user, not a brief. And yet it's simultaneously great at communicating the addictively delicious nature of pistachios.

Wonderful Pistachios' media spending is in the millions, but it's dwarfed by the massive efforts of other snack foods. Yet its business impact is colossal, as is the buzz that this effort has created online.

Lesson: Expressing passion is infectious, and real passion drives real impact.

McDonald's Canada impresses us with unvarnished honesty

There are a lot of different strategies to address less than optimal consumer perceptions. One of the least well-traveled paths forward is relentless honesty. By acknowledging an issue and speaking to people directly about their perception, such brands score big points and go remarkably viral.

McDonald's of Canada has such a campaign. Developed to face consumer questions about the quality and safety of its food, this campaign delivers real answers to real customer questions that get submitted via social media.

The answers to questions are direct, clear, and surprisingly specific.

Here, for example, is their response to the question, "Why should I eat anything with Dimethylpolysiloxane in it?"

"Hello Sarah. Dimethylpolysiloxane is a food-grade additive deemed safe by the World Health Organization, with no known toxicity. There is a very small amount in our frying oil to keep the hot oil from foaming and boiling over and potentially burning our crew members. Its use is permitted and regulated by the Canadian Food & Drug Act. If you're curious about its presence in any of our food, all of our ingredients are always listed on our Food Facts page."

Here's a video response to the question, "Does Egg McMuffin use real eggs? They look too perfect."

Almost 20,000 questions have been submitted, and most all have been answered -- even ones that most brands would immediately delete and hope no one noticed. More importantly, the brand has made real progress in changing the perceptions about its food quality, with steady improvement in quantitative studies. Not bad for a campaign built on two-way communications and virality rather than big TV spend. 

Lesson: Real honesty -- not "your call is very important to us" honesty -- attracts interest and changes perceptions for the better.


Each of these examples is unique, but they all share something that is forgotten all too often in digital marketing: the necessity of connecting with people emotionally. Perhaps because its origins are tied so strongly to direct-response marketing, digital campaigns often come up short on the emotional side. Which is really sad, because it is at least as important to touch people's hearts as it is to convince their minds.

Lyft does it by injecting fun into what is ultimately a very utilitarian experience. Kmart does it with a sort of devilish sense of humor that the vast majority of us like to show now and then. Wonderful Pistachios speaks to individuality at least as much as it does to appetite appeal. And McDonald's Canada shows us that it understands we deserve honesty, and that the truth often isn't at all what we think.

Maybe the key insight is that we all need to spend more time thinking about how to move people instead of spending all our time on rational arguments. 

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"Background. Boom comic book explosion" image via Shutterstock.

iMedia Communications, Inc. is a trade publisher and event producer serving interactive media and marketing industries. The company was founded in September of 2001 and is a subsidiary of Comexposium USA.  ...

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