The formula for selling viral toys, getting you to buy more

Create a viral marketing campaign around certain toys using social media influencers.
Undersupply the market with the toy. The limited amount furthers the frenzy and increases the desirability since now only a select number of consumers can get them (exclusivity)….


  1. Create a viral marketing campaign around certain toys using social media influencers.
  2. Undersupply the market with the toy. The limited amount furthers the frenzy and increases the desirability since now only a select number of consumers can get them (exclusivity).
  3. Launch PR campaign, supply media organizations with a few of the toys so they can them away as part of their holiday feel-good campaigns.
  4. Parents promise their kids the toy for Christmas, but can’t get it.
  5. Parents buy substitute toys for Christmas.
  6. After Christmas, toy manufacturer floods the market with the toy.
  7. Parents buy the toy when it becomes available, so now the parents have bought toys twice for the season: the substitute toys for Christmas day, and the desired toy in January or February.

And yet, what do I remember about my childhood holidays?

  • My grandfather building a gingerbread house with me.
  • Seeing and playing hide and seek with my cousins.
  • Putting together my family’s Christmas pyramid and being amazed by how the candles made it work.
  • Candlelight services.


Food for thought: Marketing to stop the demand for ivory

How could the same marketing principles we use to create demand be used to offer recommendations to eliminate the demand for ivory?

“Ivory Tusk Chinese Village” by Cliff, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In How Killing Elephants Finances Terror, National Geographic writer Bryan Christy managed to infiltrate the African ivory trade with fake ivory tusks with GPS devices in them to track the supply of ivory. I definitely commend their efforts and am excited to see “Nat Geo” taking such an active role.

Their article about the project tackles the supply side of the equation, but not the demand side. Most often, to kill a market, you need to address both, which got me pondering: How could the same marketing principles we use to create demand be used to offer recommendations to eliminate the demand for ivory?

Here are my top two recommendations.

Recommendation 1: Socially stigmatize owning ivory

Considering the prices to own ivory (the National Geographic article cites $1,000 for a pair of chopsticks made of ivory and carved tusks in the six figures), they are a luxury good, which means that they are purchased to fulfill a social status need vs. solve a problem.

Most of the ivory is purchased in Asia and I don’t have experience marketing in those cultures, but if it were in the United States, my recommendations (after market research) would most likely be to create an image campaign where people who own ivory are positioned as “uncultured,” “unintelligent,” etc.

However, that’s been done with other products (such as real animal fur) with very good results, but not elimination entirely. For this, you would have to somehow take away the high price tag as the high prices themselves signal “luxury” and “social status” to most. You would also need to find a way to heavily increase the value of the carving arts with other sustainable materials.

Recommendation 2: Make ivory undesirable

One bad product experience can easily turn a customer off for life and will most likely result in a significant amount of negative word of mouth. With this in mind, is there a way to create a negative product experience for purchasers of ivory? What if those $1,000 ivory chopsticks always broke during first use? What if the beautiful white ivory carvings turned an ugly color after a few days?

This one is much trickier to recommend an execution for, but if making the actual experience of owning ivory negative, we could very quickly reduce or eliminate demand.

What would you recommend to eliminate demand?

Don’t allow photography in your store? It might be costing you sales

“I’m sorry ma’am, we don’t allow photos,” called a clerk to me while I was visiting a local artist shop in Chicago. I smiled and put my camera phone away. This isn’t the first time that I’ve been stopped from taking photographs in stores and it won’t be the last. It happens most often to me with shops with unique, local artisan items, and I can understand why. They don’t want people taking photos so they can copy their ideas. But what they don’t realize is, they might be saving themselves from copycats, but they are also losing sales.

What the clerk above didn’t realize in the above example is that I was trying to make a sale for him; I was taking a photo because the sculpture would have fit perfectly in my friend’s home and I was sending him a photograph to see if he would like me to pick it up for him. In fact, most of the time I take a photograph in a store, it’s to ask someone else if they’d like me to purchase the item for them.

Two reasons people take photos in stores:

Taking photos allows them to buy things for others

It used to be that people would call friends or family when they saw something that the other might like and then the friend or family member would make the trip to see it. The younger generations found a way to skip the trip (unless it’s necessary), by taking photographs and offering to purchase and transport items for them.

Taking photos helps them to share your products

The other way the younger generations are using photographs is to show their friends and family cool new projects and/or let their friends know about cool promotions. Check out this Facebook post by one of my friends below. Do you think Starbucks is upset that she took and posted this photo?

Starbucks sandwich sign free drink

So, if you have a “no photos” policy, I’m not saying you have to get rid of it. But weigh that decision carefully. Is it worth missed sales to protect your items? What is the likelihood of copycats?

Would you rather product placement be obvious or not obvious?

It’s no secret I’m a music-lover and one of my new favorite songs is the duet “Let Me Go” with Avril Lavigne and Chad Kroeger. But then I watched the video, at the two minute mark, there was an incredibly obvious product placement of a tablet. For me, it seemed over-the-top undeniable. But at the same time, it left me to ponder, would I rather have it be incredibly obvious so I realize what exactly they are doing? Or would I prefer they not so as to not distract me from the story line? Honestly I see positives and negatives with both.

Below are three examples of obvious, not-so-obvious, and my favorite product placement spoof. Which would you prefer?

Obvious product placement at the 2 minute mark

Not-so-obvious product placement at the 53 second mark (Ralston Hat)

And, of course, no product placement blog post could be complete without this famous spoof

Thanks, John Kerfoot, for showing us how to laugh at ourselves

This post is dedicated to someone I’ve never met, but want to thank.

For those of you “non-Michiganders,” you might not be familiar with John Kerfoot, but he’s very popular in Michigan. He owns Tri-Foot productions and is an instructor at Wayne State University, but we all know him because he’s the guy that publishes the Not So Pure Michigan videos.

The Back Story

A couple years back, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation decided they needed to do something to increase tourism. So, they produced an advertising/branding campaign titled Pure Michigan. The campaign, including television ads, are very well received and seem to do a lot of good for tourism for the State of Michigan. But, to those of us in Michigan, the ads are a stretch because we see the good AND the bad.

Enter John Kerfoot

The videographer very quickly began creating spoofs of the ads (which, most advertisers will tell you, is the ultimate compliment) and they went viral. Not only that, but his videos (which, a warning, contain a lot of swearing) are primarily responsible, in my opinion, for inspiring a whole new, sarcastic meaning to the phrase “Pure Michigan.” Examples:

  • If you see something that is completely unattractive, like a garbage dump, it’s not uncommon in Michigan for someone to point to it and say “See that? Pure Michigan.”
  • During a presentation on Broken Windows that I gave at a military base, I asked a high-ranking  officer what he thought of a picture I’d taken of a horrible billboard ad in Michigan. He smiled and sarcastically said, “Pure Michigan.”

Recently, via Facebook, he announced that he’s retiring the series. Even though I now live in Texas, I’m deeply saddened by the news. I still love watching his videos and happily share them with my friends in Texas who want to see the “other” side of Michigan. He’s taught us “Michiganders” to laugh at ourselves and he’s provided a great example of advertising spoofing done well.

So, John, I just want to say, thanks for the laughs. I’m going to miss your Pure Michigan series, but look forward to your future work.

And now, my favorite Pure Michigan videos (again, a warning, they do contain profanity and could potentially be offensive to some):

Hotel Derek: How a water bottle can leave a lasting impression

A water bottle with a label with the Hotel Derek logo, a card around the top with the word enjoy on the envelope
Hotel Derek water bottle with the enjoy tag
The card that was inside the envelope. The card reads, "Hotel Derek invites you to return for a second "mixer" of your choosing with this $25.00 dining or hotel accommodation credit. Valid through June 31, 2013
The card that was inside the envelope.

This past week, I attended a CultureMap mixer on behalf of the Houston Holocaust Museum’s Next Generation group. The mixer was at Hotel Derek, a very stylish classy hotel in the Galleria area of Houston. The hotel pulled out the usual marketing tricks to appeal to young professionals; they brought-out samples of their best food, hosted us in a small event room, discounted our valet parking etc. But they did do one thing that I didn’t expect.

I got home and starting gathering my things to go into the house when I saw a water bottle. That’s pretty common in my car, but I didn’t remember putting one there, so I looked closer and realized Hotel Derek did, and it had a card on it that said, “Enjoy.” Inside the card, was an invitation of $25.00 credit, to come back and visit them again soon.

Using the vehicles that came out of the garage before mine at the valet stand as a barometer (not fool-proof logic, but good enough for this), the young professionals who attended the event were mostly affluent, they have discretionary income, and they like upscale and trendy atmospheres. This makes them a perfect target audience for Hotel Derek. The hotel knew it and took the initiative to go the extra mile and leave a lasting impression.

Congratulations to the marketing department at Hotel Derek. You did a great job!

Church marketing: Marketing thoughts for an open and affirming church

As a favor to a friend and as community service in my field, I wrote the following about church marketing, and particularly marketing an open and affirming church. Some details have been removed to keep the church’s information private. 

This letter is in response to your inquiry about marketing your church. In the below write-up, I focused on your recent transition to an open and affirming church and how you can actively talk to those who fit the description of wishing to attend a church like yours.

The below is based on my experience in marketing (which you can find at and the community that the church resides in.  These are merely my thoughts and reflect a unique marketing view as compared to the suggestions that you will probably receive from other marketers.

Don’t create a marketing plan, create a movement

What I am proposing is something not unheard of, but unique in the marketing realm, especially for churches. I am suggesting that you not create a traditional marketing plan. Instead, I’m recommending that you create a movement. That doesn’t mean you won’t need a plan, but this plan will be more loosely organized, less controlled, and go way beyond increasing the number of visitors to your church. This will focus on the fundamental role that your church plays in the community.

I am recommending that you focus on your recent transition to an open and affirming church and make that your church’s mission in everything they do. Every aspect of the church must live and breathe this movement and mission or your efforts will be in vain. Think Westboro Baptist Church, but positive vs. negative.

So, instead of developing advertising and spending money on media placements, I’m recommending that you instead focus your efforts and finances on hiring an experienced movement facilitator to come in (OFTEN) and walk you and your congregation of a process of taking a look at every aspect of your church, your church’s interactions with the community and see how the message that “everyone is loved and everyone is welcome” (or something similar, “open and affirming” is too stuffy and vague) can be incorporated in every aspect of what you do.

Ask everyone’s help

Imagine one of these sessions (all hypothetical for this portion of my write-up). The facilitator is leading your church through the discussion and hands and ideas are shooting up everywhere.

  • A couple that attend the traditional service point out that most of the people who are seeking an open and loving church go to the Koinonia service. But, that many of these people stop by coffee hour between the services. The couple admits that there isn’t much interaction between the two groups. They vow to step out of their comfort zone and say hello to visitors and make them feel welcome. They also vow to remember these visitor’s names the next time they come and invite them to meet for lunch the following week.
  • The man in charge of the visitor’s table raises his hand and says, “You know, coffee mugs are a great gift, but I was thinking, if we are trying to communicate that God loves everyone, why not spend the extra money and give them each a copy of The Ragamuffin Gospel?”
  • The lady in charge of booking outside groups also raises her hand, “It didn’t occur to me until now that we have a lot of support groups meeting here. Yes, we offer them space, but does that really communicate that they are welcome? Perhaps one of us should be there each week just to say hello? And maybe bring them a snack?”
  • A congregation member points out that the website could use some updating to really communicate the new message. When visitors reach the website, the message that everyone is loved and welcome should stand out and be the first thing they see. There should also be more of an emphasis on communicating the different service times and styles of worship so that visitors can choose the one they are most comfortable with.
  • Everyone at the church must make a commitment not to judge and to step out of their comfort zone.


Empower them to act

The idea is that it’s not just the church leaders or a committee flaming the fire; it’s the entire congregation. But, beyond that, the church community must feel energized and empowered to take action and represent the church on their own (note, there is a danger in this, but I still recommend it). Imagine the possibilities:

  • A guy is standing on a busy street corner in Battle Creek with a sign that reads “God hates [a homosexual derogative].” An older member of the church drives by and sees this. She was going to go shopping, but she decides instead to take action. She calls a couple of her friends and they gather supplies and head out. The guy with the sign is still standing there, but with him are three older women with signs that say “No he doesn’t,” “Jesus loves you” “Not at our church” and they put the name of the church on the signs so people will know what church loves and supports them. Note: This one is especially powerful because it’s older people taking action instead of young people. People perceive older people to be less welcoming of alternative lifestyles, so the shock of seeing older people supporting them will be even more powerful.
  • A couple of church members are talking about a church that always hands out “You are going to hell” style propaganda at the annual town festival. They decide to create their own hand-out and spend their time at cereal festival handing out their flyer to let people know that not all Christians think the way of the other church.
  • A member of the church reads an article about a new LGBTQ group forming in the community. Even though he doesn’t fit this lifestyle, he decides to join as a friend of the group to show them that there are those in the community that care about them.
  • A church member decides not to sell his van, but to instead use it and go around his neighborhood and ask his neighbors without transportation if they would like to join him at church.

Contact the media when action happens

When something dramatic happens or if you know something major is going to happen, call up your local media sources and let them know. They may come out, they may not, but it’s still worth the phone call.  The action must be unique and significant for the media to pay attention (and please don’t contact them if it isn’t . This means your meetings you hold don’t count. But, taking the examples above, the older women standing next the man with the derogatory sign, for example, should be reported to the media immediately. Just in case it doesn’t last long enough for them to get there, snap a close-up, high resolution photograph and email it to them. Consider also posting it on your website and social media sites.

I would also recommend creating video testimonials from a wide variety of people at your church on the subject of everyone feeling welcome. These do not need to be professionally done. In fact, they will probably seem more genuine if they aren’t. Post them on YouTube and Facebook and embed them into your website.

The commitment

As you can see from the above, this isn’t a marketing campaign. It’s a movement and that means the church, if they choose to do this, must agree to a long-term commitment. This isn’t a month or even a year campaign; this is a radical change to how the church is involved in the community.  There must be a long-term and serious commitment to this movement or it will not work and could potentially backfire (people thinking you just were “in it” if you could get new congregants out of it).

The biggest commitment will be time and effort. Again, I recommend you hire a facilitator, someone who is very knowledgeable in change movements, to come in regularly to meet with your church and keep the momentum alive. Your church will be facilitating a lot of discussions, making a lot of changes based on suggestions, and need to find a way to celebrate and encourage positive changes within the church and the community. As a pastor, you will probably find that this is taking up a majority of your working hours each week.

In regards to costs, there will be the cost for the facilitator, any costs from holding the meetings (you know people love food at those), and additional costs based on changes. An example of a cost based on changes is above in the coffee cup example. The coffee cup is a lot less expensive to give out to new people in comparison to the book, but it’s not going to be nearly as effective either.

Another factor to consider when looking at the costs of something like this is in comparison to a traditional advertising and marketing campaign. Although I believe heavily in traditional advertising and paid advertising for many organizations, I don’t think it will be effective for your church. Your target audience is used to people paying lip-service to their cause, but not being willing to take action. So, you could spend $20,000 to $50,000 per year in advertising (which would probably be the minimum in your market using newspaper ads or radio or billboards to effectively get your message across), but, in my opinion, it would be a lot less effective than creating the above described movement.

The results

Despite what some marketers will tell you, it is very difficult to judge whether or not a marketing campaign is working. For more on this, read Addressing the question: Measuring advertising ROI.

With that said, I think the movement vs. a traditional campaign is going to have the best chance of success. Not only will this campaign reach those in the LGBTQ community, but it will also reach those who are looking for an open-minded, accepting church.  In addition, this approach has the added benefit of enhancing the mission of your church as an open and affirming congregation and one who is spreading the word of God to all people.

Ultimately, how well this movement works is entirely up to your and your congregation’s commitment. If you do this campaign half-heartedly or don’t keep adding wood to the fire of the movement, it won’t be successful. Also, if everyone is not on-board, it won’t be successful either. Think about it from a traditional business perspective, a company can do all of the advertising in the world, but if you walk-in and have a bad experience with an employee, none of that advertising matters to you. And, you are likely to tell your friends, which will overrule any positive advertising effects they have had too.

Within a couple of months, will you see dramatic increases in attendance? Probably not. This type of campaign will take a long time to show results. This is mostly due to the skepticism of the target audience and their perception that this is a short-term campaign vs. a long-term commitment to making them feel welcome. Also, building a strong reputation takes time in general.  Very few organizations gain a solid reputation overnight. Most take at least a year if not more depending on the size of the market area. Finally, people are busy and distracted now more than ever. Reaching them will take repeated exposures to your message in a variety of ways before it will finally “click.”

Thank you

I’m not a long-term candidate for advice or consultation on this project due to the distance of where I live compared to you now and my lack of interest in doing any consulting work, but as a form of community service, these are my thoughts for your consideration.  Thank you for allowing me to share them with you.  If you have any questions about this write-up, please feel free to contact me.

Nicole Finkbeiner