How Cupcakes Ruined Google’s Marketing

Many years ago I used to hang out with someone who I had nothing in common with. He was witty and clever, I was the opposite. He was good-looking, I was…well, I was me.

He also did well at school. I didn’t.

I hung out with him because he was everything I wasn’t and this meant he got all the female attention I wished I had. Occasionally, some of these girls would stop gawping at him long enough to talk to me. I got a girlfriend or two out of it. It was a good deal.

It was an opportunity that I took advantage of.

Let’s call it the Burger King approach to opportunity.

The Burger King Approach

Years ago, after McDonald’s would spend millions of dollars and months of hard work finding the best places to locate restaurants, Burger King would simply place their restaurant across the street. This saved Burger King a lot of work and plenty of money. The research was done, the outcome was there. Burger King saw an opportunity and took it.

Sometimes in marketing it’s all about spotting the right opportunity, even if it means piggybacking off a competitor.

A little while ago, Google ran a campaign in Austin, Texas, where they asked people to try out their Photo app in exchange for a cupcake. It was basically a van with a cupcake on top, and you gained a sweet treat if you used the app. It was pretty popular.

Zappos saw this happening and moved their ‘box’ a few feet down the street (just like Burger King did with McDonald’s) and asked people to pay with a cupcake (as opposed to Google’s pay with a photo). Anyone who paid Zappos with a cupcake (acquired a few feet away from Google) would receive much better rewards, including bags, headphones and other cool stuff.

It kind of worked out well for Zappos. There are two reasons why it worked.

Firstly the campaign by Zappos (run by ad agency Mullen Lowe) was fun. It was low quality in that it was basically a person in a box, handing out free stuff through a slot. It had nothing like the style and marketing dollars that Google’s work did. It immediately disrupted a successful campaign, and a physical space.

Secondly, Zappos simply saw an opportunity to be cheeky, and to instantly create marketing magic. There is nothing wrong with hijacking someone else’s hard work if you do it with creativity and intelligence.

We’re not recommending that you do this kind of thing with your competitors. This is on-the-spot thinking, and it is probable that Mullen Lowe had no idea what was going on until the Google thing kicked off. This kind of marketing takes guts, creativity and speed.

But if you get a chance to take an opportunity to piggyback off of anyone else, to not reinvent the wheel but instead to put those cool spoke decorations on it and get more people to look at you than the other guys, by all means take it.

All’s fair in marketing.

And now and then, you may even get the girl.

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Sal Ashraf

I'm a freelance writer. This site is all about getting more business, and keeping that business, whether you're a solo entrepreneur, or a large company.

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