A Controversial But Highly Effective Way to Make A Brand Famous.

A Controversial But Highly Effective Way to Make A Brand Famous.

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Fame. Every brand needs it to become successful, but generating it in the early stages is HARD.

For the past few years there’s been a real focus on start-ups using influencers to generate a following, without much capital. Some brands have managed to leverage this strategy to great success. For example Gymshark who used Instagram to become the fastest growing fitness brand in the UK. Or HiSmile; an Australian teeth-whitening start-up brand saw a turnover of $10 million in just 18 months, predominantly through social media marketing.

These spaces can be really cost effective as they‘re essentially highly curated media channels, allowing you to reach a much more refined audience than traditional mass market channels like billboards.

However, whilst this is great if you’re trying to generate fame in the wellness sector. Or soft furnishings which photograph well. If you’ve come up with a revolutionary new private security system or the next Dropbox, your audience may not be the 18–24 year olds spending an average of 53minutes a day on Instagram. They’re elsewhere. And you’re gonna need to reach them where they are.

Now, before I dig into this technique, I should warn you that some might find it a little immoral. Personally, I don’t think it is, but you may be treading a line. Authenticity will be key.

It’s something I’ve seen many successful people do to drive fame, either for themselves, or for a brand. And it works. The outside world won’t suspect the true motive for your activity and even if they do, if they agree with what you’re fighting for then they’re likely to still buy in.

Intrigued? I’ll tell you a story.

In 2011 an ambitious woman went for a drink with a mentor. She’d had two failed start ups and no capital but remained hungry to build and run a company. Fascinated by the intense speed with which the tech industry was disrupting daily life, she knew there were huge opportunities.

Her companion presumed she had some knowledge in this area and proposed, well presumably you know how to code…. urm well I urm she stuttered. No, I don’t. I haven’t even seen a line of code. 

Shortly after that conversation she decided there was a market for demystifying computer science to less-techy people, in a time efficient way. She made the promise to be able to teach people how to code in 1 day. A good headline. Sounds ambitious but arguably it’s like saying you can teach a language in one day. Whilst your customers aren’t going to go to bed fluent, the language might go from a series of noises to something more comprehensible.

With an idea and a mission, Decoded was founded. Six years later Decoded is a thriving company with a rapid growth trajectory, running in 85 Cities globally.

You may be thinking, ‘I can see how that would grow easily as it’s a smart idea.’ Well yes, it is a smart idea, but so are many companies that fail to even make it to the runway. Success is never just about the best ideas, its also about getting the right buzz when you need to generate revenue. Either from consumers or from Investors.

So how did Decoded first create this buzz, with £0 PR and Marketing budget? Well, founder, Kathryn Parsons had the smart idea to front a campaign. Not an advertising campaign. A Government campaign. A campaign for code to be made a mandatory part of the national UK curriculum. A campaign that made journalists care about the mission and subsequently secure Kathryn and Decoded, tonnes of PR with major UK news outlets including The Sunday Times, The BBC and The Independent (approx. £17million worth of publicity).

This campaign was something the company and it’s founders avidly believed was important. But fighting for it made a much better story for UK media than “Tech Start-Up Wants to Demystify Code.”

So who else has this worked for?

Not a start-up but a company thats seen accelerated growth in the past ten years; Seventh Generation sell household cleaning products. Pay a visit to their website and you’ll see three clear tabs at the top of their homepage:

  • Products
  • Inside Seventh Generation
  • Action

Their success can be largely attributed to their commitment to a mission statement, which asks that all development be considered with the next seven generations in mind. ‘Because you can’t live a healthy life on a sick planet.’ They live out that mission statement by campaigning. Currently they’re campaigning for both a country-wide switch to 100% renewable energy as well as full Ingredient Disclosure in products, for which they’re using the slogans “Right To Know” and “Come Clean”. Spot the smart marketing in the latter. 

In 2016 the company was acquired by Unilever after turning over $200million the year before.

"What about Nike and Colin Kaepernick?"
Whilst this was a brilliant move from the Sports brand, they weren’t campaigning. They were using advertising to send a message. Different. And more effective if you’re already famous enough for people to care about controversial moves like that. If you aren't yet a household name, you need to be fighting for the change with your brand name simply as sign off. Success by association.

Amber Rose. Model, TV Personality, Dancer and ex-girlfriend of Kanye West, Wiz Khalifa and 21 Savage. In 2015 she started campaigning against slut-shaming. Something she was particularly exposed to in her line of work but something that most women experience to some degree. It’s no secret that there’s a double standard between the number of sexual partners men are encouraged to have, versus women.

Amber was fed up and took a stand. She took the lead in the 2015 “Slut-Walk” and organised her own events in Los Angeles to draw attention to the issue.

To be crystal clear I do not believe Amber Rose fought against slut-shaming to make herself more famous. 

But, as a byproduct, it did make her more famous; and richer.

“I did not create the SlutWalk movement. I did, however bring it to the forefront for this generation.” —  Amber Rose

And then there’s Lyft. The San Francisco start-up that dared to take on Uber. Whilst not starting one specific campaign, Lyft generated a lot of media attention by being the ‘Nice Brand’. They used word of mouth to build hype around their role as a community transport app, standing for security and humanity within the sometimes cold-face of mobile apps. An experience which got journalists talking.

Their action included the launch of a ride safe program. Something designed to encourage people to get a lift home after drinking, rather than driving their own cars. They also recently got behind the ‘March For Our Lives’ movement, offering marches ‘relief rides’.

The app itself includes features like ‘Roundup and Donate’ which makes it super easy for riders to donate to charity, simply by rounding up their fare to the nearest $. They also offered riders the opportunity to donate to America’s Military Service Members; a charity the Lyft team promised to donate $100,000 dollars to within a year.

This angle allowed them to actually leverage Uber’s fame, with PR headlines like “There’s An Ethical Alternative to Uber!”.

And finally, remember 2014; The year of the #IceBucketChallenge (ALS) and the ‘No Make Up Selfie’? Every brand was briefing their marketing agencies to “come up with a version” of these. But the big brands were missing the point. 

Those campaigns didn’t just do well because they were entertaining, easy to replicate stunts. They did well because people were responding in the name of a greater cause. By taking part in the stunts people could entertain and engage with their friends, whilst at the same time coming off as a charitable person.

Now of course, throwing paint on Canada Goose won’t make your vegan fur brand soar into a million dollar company, but fighting for something which people care about in their day to day lives, can be a much more effective way to generate a following than investing in banner adverts and relying on your logo.

Plus, you get to actually make a difference in the world, so its win win.


Lexy is a writer, DJ and marketing professional living in London. She is a gemini and a feminist who loves coffee and leather trousers.


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