Companies that embrace the unexpected

Companies that embrace the unexpected

In this article I like to show you some examples of brands that made some odd and unexpected moves to change people’s mindsets. I like to show you why these campaigns worked the way they did by laying out three ways that brands can use to change how consumers feel about them and, in turn, what consumers say about them. To hear the rules, read on.

Companies that embrace the unexpected

1) Patagonia asks consumers not to buy their products

In 2011, the outdoor gear brand Patagonia put out a surprising message to customers: “Don’t buy this jacket.” It became an instant hit. They took a full-page ad in The New York Times and sent an email that reads,

“Today is Cyber Monday. It will likely be the biggest online shopping day ever… Because Patagonia wants to be in business for a good long time — and leave a world inhabitable for our kids — we want to do the opposite of every other business today. We ask you to buy less and to reflect before you spend a dime on this jacket or anything else.”

Instead of buying something new, the company urged customers to repair the gear they already own. The company also asked that, should anyone decide to buy something new, they pass on their old equipment to others. [The Cleanest Line].

2) Interflora sends bouquets to customers having a bad day. 

The British flower delivery service Interflora came up with a creative way to show consumers that they were, in fact, always in the room. In 2010, the company launched a campaign that monitored Twitter for customers who expressed that they were having a terrible day.

From there, the company not only tweeted a cheer-up message to them, but sent them a surprise bouquet. The campaign director, Simon Collister, explained the rationale, saying, “You need to listen to people’s needs and respond in a human, empathetic way.” [Marketing Magazine].

3) Semco lets employees set own hours … and salary. 

At the Brazilian manufacturing company Semco, employees do not have to work from 9 to 5. They are empowered to set their own hours that mesh more completely with their personal lives. Similarly, employees are asked to set their own salaries — they even pick their own bosses. The company has held this policy for the past 27 years now.

4) Radiohead lets fans set the price for their album.

In 2007, the band Radiohead announced that they would be releasing a new album, In Rainbows. But rather than sell it through traditional channels, they were making it available on their website — and allowing consumers to set their own price for the download.

The move was risky. And when the band shared the results of the experiment a year later, they found that, yes, the majority of fans chose to pay nothing for the album. But at the same time, other fans more than made up for the freebies. The album brought in more money than the band’s previous major-label release, Hail to the Thief. [NME].

5) Anthon Berg sells chocolates for good deeds. 

Last March, Danish confectioner Anthon Berg set up a pop-up store with a twist — customers paid for boxes of chocolate by promising to do a good deed for someone they love.

At “The Generous Store,” boxes of chocolates wore price tags that read, “Serve breakfast in bed to your loved one” or “Don’t lie to your dad for a week.” Rather than swiping a credit card, customers paid by posting their intention on Facebook. [Dogo News].
Opening The Generous Store.

6) Netflix offers employees unlimited vacation

Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, wrote an article in Business Week earlier this year titled “How to Set Your Employees Free,” to explain his rationale behind giving employees as many vacation days as they want to take. He writes, “We focus on what people get done, not on how many days they worked,”. I was intrigued by what he had to tell about this topic ofcourse, because it sounds almost too good to be true.

While Netflix’s policy may not be all-new — IBM has had a similar policy since 2003  — many more companies have recently adopted this policy, including Hulu, Morningstar, Motley Fool and HubSpot [CNN].

7) Microsoft supports hacking

Microsoft learned an important lesson in 2010 when it released Kinect, a motion-sensing device that allows users to communicate with the Xbox 360 through gestures. The device caught the attention of open-source programmers, and the community set its sights on creating drivers for it. At first, Microsoft said it would be working closely with law enforcement to keep the system from being hacked. But that stance changed when Microsoft recognized that encouraging Kinect hackers was a lot more fun. [Mashable] Here, 14 Kinect hacks. [Toms Guide].

8) KLM makes happiness strike again

Dutch airline KLM launched a campaign in 2010 that was all about “little acts of kindness” toward customers. When a random customer checked into the airline via FourSquare, their social media profiles were scanned for insight into what they might like as a surprise — champagne, a watch, a set of notebooks, specialty foods. One customer, a soccer fan on his way to New York City, was given a Lonely Planet guide with all the great soccer bars highlighted for him. [The Next Web].

9) On That Ass surprises every month

On That Ass is a boxershort brand for men. For a fixed amount of money each month, you have an abonnement for a customized boxershort delivered at home. It is always a surprise what you will get and the designs are truly unique as well.

10) American Express turns travel into a game

While some travelers want every detail of their trip planned out far in advance, American Express recognized that lots of travelers embrace last-minute adventure. Earlier this year they launched Nextpedition, a travel feature whereby a cardholder answers 15 questions about how they like to travel. From there, the service creates an ideal trip, keeping all the details of where the cardholder is going and what they’re doing a secret until just before the plane takes off. [Travel and Leisure]

Why these campaigns were successful

Above, I mentioned 10 companies that embraced the unexpected. But it can leaves us with the why. Why did these campaigns work and what can we learn from them?

1) Great storytelling

Part of the success of a brand is due to great storytelling. As far as these campaigns, all of them had a clear structure and showed a sense of purpose in the stories that they have been telling. For example:

  • Netflix tells the story of giving employees a sense of freedom, trust and responsibility by letting them determine how much they work. This not only enables Netflix to show their brand culture, but the vacation policy also allows them (as they claim) to create more self-motivated and self-disciplined workers.
  • Anthon Berg tells the story of generosity. Letting customers pay with a good deed and asking them to post it online, not only creates an online buzz in which generosity and love among friends and loved ones is spread, but people will also associate that good deed with the chocolate and the brand itself.

By telling these kind of structured stories, these brands showed us something about themselves – about where they stand for and what you can expect from them. The stories and their messages are characteristic for who they are.

But the stories also showed a sense of purpose. Great stories often make great impact on people because they appeal to certain feelings. Science shows that people tend to remember information that evoke emotions. Setting your own working hours will not only appeal to a sense of freedom people like to have, it also reminds them of the kind of life they wish to have.

So by crafting a story that both serves a real purpose because it appeals to a certain dream and peoples’ feelings, your stories will have a bigger impact on people and the world.

2) Giving people more control

In building a good relationship with your customers, trust is key. But how to build trust in business? As we have seen in the mentioned examples, giving people more control is one way of creating trust among your audience. And there are many ways of doing that too.

Like with Netflix, you can give people more control over their time for example. Or like Radiohead did, you can also let people determine the price of the song themselves. Another possibility is to engage your audience in the process of creating ideas, content, design or products. Trust is needed for the brand to become well-known and giving people more control in these kind of ways will make them feel responsible and trusted. So giving people more control is definitely a good way of building that trust.

3) Create meaningful experiences

Traditional business wisdom holds that trust is earned by predictable behavior, but when everything is consistent and standardized, how do you create meaningful experiences in business? Countering the abundance of choice might be a wonderful way to make your customers happy too.

Take for example the travel service NextPedition. NextPedition turns the trip into a game, with surprising twists and turns along the way. It does not tell the traveler where she’s going until the very last minute, and information is provided just in time. Similarly, Dutch airline KLM launched a surprise campaign, seemingly randomly handing out small gifts to travelers en route to their destination. U.K.-based Interflora monitored Twitter for users who were having a bad day, and then sent them a free bouquet of flowers. 

All in one, in these campaigns there was an aspect of not knowing, which makes people curious and intrigued with the brand.


All of these brands tried to change a mindset. Whether that mindset was to challenge the status quo of buying clothes or by allowing people to set their own holidays whenever they want to. These companies embrace the unexpected and by doing so, they have shown us where they stand as a brand.

You know, Patagonia did a great job by challenging the status quo with this ad and it also was something unexpected. But at the same time it’s something that we could expect the unexpected from these brands. Because since the brand is out there, they always did things to awaken people. Which makes the action ever better – it allows them to show people where they stand.

One of the reasons why these actions has worked for the brands, is because they embraced the idea of giving people a sense of ownership. When you can decide yourself whether you are going to work today, or you can decide when or how lang you can have your holiday, you leave people with ownership, but also with responsibility. It forces people to think differently.

So giving people more control, great storytelling and creating meaningful experiences are 3 ways for brands to change the way people feel, what they think and say about them. Leave a comment down below on which campaign you liked the most and why. I like to hear from you!

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companies that embrace the unexpected
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