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Extreme Marketing – 1910s Style

extreme-marketingI’ve always wanted to be the kind of person who lives their life on the edge – to be brave and adventurous. I think a lot of people do. But why? Do we want to test ourselves? Do we want to have something to write home about, to brag about?

Sir Ernest Shackleton picked up on this way before I did. He set out to find a group of men to join him on his 1914 Alaskan expidition with an ad that read:


A lot of people might read this and think “Who would ever apply to be part of this adventure?” “Who would ever volunteer to work for little to no money, in bad weather, while in danger, with the probable risk of death.” But the key to a great marketing campaign is knowing your target audience, and although this wouldn’t appeal to many people, it would appeal a HUGE amount to a small number of people.

Let’s take a look at what techniques made this ad successful here and why.

Complete, Absolutely Brutal Honesty CAN Go A Long Way

Most ads in the past were focused on selling something by making it glamorous – and things haven’t changed all that much since then. We’ve all seen it a thousand times before. It works.

But a new trend among a younger generation has emerged and sometimes we stumble across ads that are done a little differently. The customer is more aware of what “sells” and therefore, can be less captivated by it. The problem with these standard glamorous advertisements is that we know that they are trying to sell us something. And if we know this immediately, then right out of the gates we’re deterred, because it makes us afraid that we are being lied to or taken advantage of. Often this is a more than reasonable assumption, since we can’t possibly attain a glamorous lifestyle from just purchasing one item!

What Ernest did was revolutionary because he really hit the nail on the head when addressing his target audience. He was also brutally honest from the get go and it was very powerful because it automatically made people trust him. Obviously he was telling the truth because why would you lie to make something seem worse? This safety made consumers feel like they weren’t being sold something, and that the ball was in their court.

And of course – if you didn’t respond to his ad… well, that makes you a bit of a wimp, doesn’t it?

But That’s Not All You Need: Get Your Audience To Identify With Your Ad

Now I know I said that honesty goes a long way, but it doesn’t go the WHOLE way in getting someone to respond to your ad the way you want them to. In order to be successful with marketing on the edge, you have to really know your audience. Why? Well let’s just say that not even a classy old cigarette ad will make smoking look sexy to someone with lung cancer. You have to know your audience, what they want and need, and know that they will identify with your ad.

Another trick Ernest used that was in line with his target audience (strong, capable young men) was to appeal to their sense of adventure, desire to be brave, and most importantly, to be able to brag about these traits with proof.

Sir Ernest tailored, his advertisement to address these desires that were in line with the social construction of what it meant to be a “man” at the time – and he got the feedback he expected.

What was the result of the above ad?

It seemed like every man in England applied for a spot on the expedition. Also: six women.

I’m Not A Wimp!

Of course the men interested in going on this journey wanted to be seen as brave and honorable! Who wouldn’t want to? NO ONE. That’s what made this ad so successful. Tons of men who encountered this ad, automatically identified with being publicly brave and adventurous. If they backed down from this advertisement after identifying with it, or had to admit to their friends, families or love interests that they weren’t interested, someone might think they were one of those most vile creatures: a coward. So instead of looking little wimpy, men signed up in droves and committed to probable death.

This is important:

If you can make responding to a call to action mean something more than just filling a need or achieving a delight, when you can tie it to someone’s sense of themselves – it’s going to be a lot harder for them to ignore you.

It works two ways – if someone has already made a commitment to you – like by subscribing to your email list for example, you can reward that action, and reinforce that it was a good idea by ascribing desirable characteristics to them. People like people who think highly of them!

For a good example of this, check out Copyblogger’s classic (and very good!) email series: Internet Marketing for Smart People.

How Does This Apply To Your Business? Three Recent Successful Examples of Living on the Edge Marketing

Hans Brinker Hotel

With the slogan “It can’t get any worse. But we’ll do our best’, it’s pretty easy from the beginning to know what you’re getting into at this budget hostel. They put a hilarious spin on their advertisements, portraying their lack of services as “eco-friendly”. They know their fun-loving, on-a-budget customers well, and are honest with their own shortcomings from the beginning. After the implementation of this ad campaign strategy, the hotel was fully booked for 3 months! Customers love these ads because they are funny and like Sir Ernest Shackleton, they appeal to the love of adventure and the bragging rights that come with doing something gross, dangerous or crazy.


Here is a video tour of the Hans Brinker – with a new theme – accidentally eco-friendly. In the comments – let us know who this might appeal to, and what values it’s trying to get people to identify with. 

Dick’s Last Resort

This not-so-fine dining establishment coined itself  “The Joint Yer Mama Warned You About!” It started in Dallas, TX but now has several locations across the United States. This restaurant takes extreme marketing to the, well, extreme and focuses around fun and harsh-humour instead of its food. Though it serves some American grub, the waiters there actually audition for their jobs! Their audience has to be into being insulted a bit (not being given cutlery, rude service, references to genitalia) and especially into having a laugh. Customers are drawn to this place and the advertisements that accompany it because they are funny and are really selling entertainment more than food. Dick’s stands out against its competition by reinventing the typical pairing of food and entertainment.


Dawson City’s Sourtoe Cocktail

Who would’ve thought that putting a severed, dehydrated HUMAN toe into Yukon Jack’s Whisky would bring tourists flooding in? The Sourdough Saloon in Dawson City, Yukon! Their advertising slogan is “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow. but the lips have gotta touch the toe”. This bold idea brings in more than 1000 eager tourists a year to come and take the shot, suck on the toe, get a certificate and be part of the tradition! Customers love this gimmick for the same reason as the ad by Sir Ernest Shackleton. Its weird, gross, and taking part demonstrates bravery, a good sense of adventure and leaves you with a pretty good story and bragging rights. But this goes even further with the certificate, which makes people feel as though they are part of a club. It reminds me of hazing to get into frats and sororities. To each their own! But I would not drink toe whiskey.


Three Key Takeaways For Powerful and Successful Marketing

These are all successful examples of what Sir Ernest Shackleton started– Extreme Marketing. But from these examples, there are three key points that are extremely useful for all marketing, extreme, or a little more down-to-earth.

  1. Be Honest. Even if you don’t want to be brutally honest in the same way that these examples have done so, and pointed out their flaws, it helps to be honest and rid your marketing of an obvious sales pitch. In the case of these ads, the marketers use honesty in play on other elements people react well to, like humour. Although this is still honesty, it is honesty with an agenda, and the marketers aren’t only doing it to be good Samaritans.
  2. Identification and Commitment. It is especially important for these intensely negative ads to be consistent in their marketing because it allows them to build an aura around their company or brand that makes it easy for customers to identify with. This consistency can work to your advantage too. Your customer is only going to commit to the sale if they identify with the advertising! Although this is a super vital element to any good ad, there is still a lot more that goes into closing a sale then just trust and identification with the ad.
  3. Know Your Audience. I can’t stress this enough. Know everything about them and really get into their head before you start marketing online. Once you know your audience, it’s easy for you to connect with them and create advertisements that they will truly identify with!

Okay – here’s your assignment for this post: Look at the ads above, and try to create an “On the Edge” campaign for your business, OR for a business you know well. Something that will:

  • Be honest in an unexpected way
  • Cause the reader or viewer to identify with it.
  • Prove you know EXACTLY who you’re targeting.

Let’s see your examples in the comments – tell us your business, your niche and how you might market to them on the edge!

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