Disruptive Marketing and Disruptive Brands: Successfully Challenging the Status Quo

Ross Miles - 15.02.2019

Disruptive marketing is all about challenging the conventional thinking of the moment and looks to move and redefine the conversation. It usually takes one of two approaches:

  • Novelty – A customer’s need is satisfied is a new way – i.e. iPods/Uber/Airbnb.
  • Adaption – Re-imagination of a product or service so it is better/faster/cheaper i.e. Amazon.

Sounds great in principal, so why do so many business struggle to grasp the opportunity of new technology?

In our experience it isn’t complacency that makes business’ resistant to change, or to pick up the mantle of ‘early adopter’ of tech. Rather it’s an aversion to risk, grounded in an ‘if it ain’t broke’ approach. This is why start-ups, with less to lose, can become the trailblazers in what previously thought a mature market.

If you want to read more about the origins of disruptive marketing you can read Clayton M. Christensen’s theory of ‘disruptive innovation’. Or, if you want to get on with cutting through the noise in your market with your brand, then read on what we think it takes to break up a market hegemony…

Disruptive Approachability

When we talk about disruptive marketing the focus is on cutting through the noise in order to engage your target consumer in a way that your competitors are not.

It’s about breaking down barriers and telling a story that resonates.

A classic example would have to be the infamous Dollar Shave Club for men advert.

It’s a simple and effective marketing message, taking a position in opposition to the pre-existing market leaders, in this case Gillette, who had a 75% share of the men’s grooming market estimated to be worth $15 billion.

Once you’ve stripped back the tennis racket, Pop Pop, the man in a bear costume, Pedro and the raining dollar bills, Dollar Shave Club’s marketing message was quite straight-forward – our product is significantly cheaper and a lot less of a hassle; it’s hardly a revolutionary proposition. But, the disruptive nature of the advert and well executed comedic delivery from CEO Michael Dubin helped launch the brand into the stratosphere.

Within 48 hours of the advert going live Dollar Shave Club had 12,000 new members for their monthly subscription service for razor blades. Within four years they had seized a 15% market share. Fast forward another twelve months and Unilever bought the brand for $1 billion.

They key to the Dollar Shave Club advert’s success was its approachability – although it is an example of disruptive marketing, the core message it was getting across was easily understood and exploited a pain point of many customers.

Disruptive Innovation

You really don’t have to look far for other examples of wildly successful disruptive brands who have revolutionised their own industries.

Consider Airbnb, the upstart that has sent shockwaves through the travel industry. Popular with millennials and the young, urban, middle class, Airbnb gave homeowners an avenue to rent out their homes to travellers who wanted affordable accommodation and to ‘live as locals do’. Whether it’s a weekend break in Vienna, or a month’s internship in New York, Airbnb can cater to your needs.

Launched back in 2008 from a bedroom in San Francisco, Airbnb now has approximately 150 million users covering more than 65,000 cities, offering approximately 4 million listings and is valued at approximately $30 billion. It’s worth remembering that Airbnb do not own properties, it is simply a broker service taking a percentage when a home owner agrees to rent their properties.

Their marketing captures the idea that travel is better when its authentic, when it’s local, which you can’t get from staying in a hotel.

This messaging, as well as competitive pricing, provides travellers a novel way of experiencing new destinations that the regular travel industry can’t compete with.

We’d be remiss not to mention Uber when it comes to disruptive brands. While the cost of an Uber regularly undercuts local alternatives, the truly disruptive element that drove its success was the mobile app.

Think back to getting a taxi before Uber. Depending where you were, your experience went as follows; wait on the roadside flagging down taxis until one stopped, call a taxi firm number you know (or Google one), or ask a receptionist/bartender to call one for you. If you hadn’t found a taxi on the roadside, you’d then be told there would be a 30-minute wait, during which time you’d try and find a faster alternative, before settling for the one you had already ordered. Once finally picked up you hoped you had enough money on you to pay the fare, or you’d have to ask the driver to stop at a convenient cash machine on the way to your destination.

Uber understood the mobile-first generation expects convivence. From being able to order your ride and view its progress to your location LIVE on your mobile with just a few presses of the screen, to automated payments – no need for bank cards or cash. Uber was simply cheaper, faster and better.

Disruptive Thinking

One of my favourite disruptive marketing campaigns in recent years targeted the Super Bowl, where a 30-second advert currently costs around $5 million. Volvo ran a competition where whenever another car manufacturer’s advert played during the Super Bowl, people could tweet #VolvoContest and nominate someone to win a Volvo.

The result was Volvo were the only car brand to trend nationally and globally during the game, with as many as 2,000 tweets a minute being posted using the hashtag at peak times. The $60 million spent cumulatively by other manufacturers on advertising helped Volvo to dominate the social conversation and resulted in a 70% increase in sales of the XC60 model the following month.

Disrupting Perceptions

Another great example of disruptive marketing came in the form of Toyota’s “Fueled by Bullsh*t” campaign. Hybrid and electric cars have come under a lot of scrutiny from the fossil fuel industry, petrolheads and critics who labelled hydrogen fuel-cell technology “dead on arrival” as well as more derogatory things… which inspired their subtly-titled campaign. Toyota’s response was to literally show that their hydrogen-powered car, the Toyota Mirai, could indeed be powered by bull excrement, and then created a 3-minute documentary style advert showing this process step by step.

Disruptive Failure

The old adage goes that all publicity is good publicity, but that wasn’t the case when Pepsi’s attempt at some disruptive marketing in 2017 spectacularly backfired. An advert featuring Kendall Jenner attempted to tap into the unrest sweeping America (most notably the Black Lives Matter protests), but the poorly conceived and executed campaign tried to capture a disruptive tone for the sake of it and it rang hollow with consumers.

Piers Morgan labelled the advert “stupefyingly diabolical”, #boycottPepsi was trending with both the left AND right who were both offended somehow, while several bigwigs in the advertising industry called it the ‘worst advert of all time’. Within 24 hours Pepsi had pulled the advert and published an official apology, while Kendall Jenner herself offered a tearful apology of her own.

Clearly disrupting your market, or running a disruptive campaign can help propel your brand to bigger and better things, but if it is perceived as ingenuine then it can harm your reputation. As an agency we excel at helping clients identify their competitive advantage and leveraging it for commercial success. We’re fed up with homogenous high streets, bland marketing campaigns and empathise with bored consumers. We want to make a dent in the world, so if you think your marketing could do with some disruptive thinking in your next campaign, why not give us a call?

If you’d like help challenging the status quo with some disruptive marketing of your own, please contact Ross Miles on 01202 559 559 or drop us an email.