There are some things in life that are absolutely expected. Like taxes, death and a sale at DFS.
And the birth of my son, a couple of weeks ago. That was very much expected – overdue in fact. When we went into the hospital, we knew we’d be leaving with a baby boy. Whatever happened, one way or another that baby was coming out of my wife.
The expected happened. It didn’t go to plan, but in the end, the expected happened. My son was born. As expected, he was a stubborn little thing. As expected, when they finally pulled him out, they had to give him a good vigorous rub to get him breathing. Which he did.
Then the unexpected happened. He stopped crying. He stopped breathing. Emergency buttons were pressed, alarms sounded, half a dozen medical staff appeared, oxygen masks were deployed.
He quickly got the fluid off his chest, coughing, breathing again, and then crying – as you’d expect from a newborn.
Watching the drama unfold, I then did the really unexpected. I passed out.
Change the focus, control the conversation
Apparently all that emotion was too much to take. That, or the fact that in the throes of intense labour my wife had banned me from eating or drinking. Either way, I hit the deck like a sack of potatoes.
As far as places to pass out go, the operating theatre of a hospital was a good choice. A dose of atropine and a bag of IV fluids later – administered by the anaesthetist who was overseeing my wife – and I was right as rain.
More to the point, I’d done the unexpected. I’d taken the attention away from my wife and newborn son, and focused it all on the plum lying sprawled on the floor.
I’d done what every business dreams of from their marketing. I’d focused everyone’s eyes on me.
If everyone zigs, you zag
Doing the unexpected with your marketing often means going in the opposite direction to everyone else. It often requires you to be bold, to take a risk, and to do something out of your comfort zone.
Dead Happy do this brilliantly.
Life insurance companies – and their advertisements – are typically very neutral. They all offer a financial services product, and they all sound like all other financial services. At best, you might see a lovely elderly couple on TV, making sure they plan for the future “just in case”, rarely referring to the actual reason why you might need life insurance.
But Dead Happy take this in their stride and does the unexpected. They refer to it directly. They invite you to come and make a death wish. They flip life insurance on its head by being honest and direct. They don’t beat around the bush, and the message is unexpectedly clear. “What do you want to happen when you die?”
Simple and effective, the unexpected approach immediately makes them stand out.
Honda did the same with their marketing. Every other car manufacturer was focusing on innovative features and powerful performance, with gorgeous lifestyle shots of luxury cars cruising through beautiful landscapes. Entirely unrealistic, but entirely expected.
So Honda released this advert – one of my favourite of all time.
Nothing about the type of car. Nothing about the specs or the features. In fact, you only get a brief glimpse of a Honda vehicle at the end.
It’s completely unexpected, but the pay off is perfect. “Isn’t it nice, when things just… work?”
When every other car maker is focusing on complexities and innovation, Honda do the unexpected and focus the conversation on them. You just want a car that gets you from A to B without any problems? We’ve got you covered.
It’s bold, but it works.
Another unexpected approach is to go meta and break the 4thwall.
That’s what Oasis drinks did.
When I first heard their radio ad, which openly admitted to how bad radio jingles and drinks advertisements were - and said the marketing department would stop if they reached their sales targets - I thought it was brilliant.
So honest, so tongue-in-cheek. So unexpected.
Of course, the advert was a big success – and Oasis’s marketing department continued the theme. It then became expected, and soon became boring. Oatly is also guilty of this with their marketing. They’ve tried to do the unexpected, but it quickly became the norm - as CampaignLive explain here.
There are always opportunities to do the unexpected
There’s a danger in becoming complacent, falling into the trap of trying to be different but just doing what everyone else is doing.
But if you’re smart about your marketing, keenly aware of your audience and focused on your message, there are always opportunities to do the unexpected.
There are always ways to change the conversation and stand out with your marketing – whatever medium, whatever service or product.
Take my experience becoming a new parent.
The marketing around breastfeeding is all about how “breast is best” and how breast milk is wonderful for babies. That may well be very true, but there’s an opportunity to do the unexpected here and focus on what really matters to parents; it’s by far the quickest, easiest way to feed your baby and keep them calm. Bottles are a massive faff.
That matters when you’re a parent. Beforehand, you focus on all the marketing of products aimed at giving your child the best start in life, helping them grow and develop and looking after them.
After a few sleepless nights, that marketing doesn’t matter anymore. You want to see the unexpected. You want to see a message for a product that says “Use this and you’ll save 10 minutes a day. 10 minutes extra sleep for mum and dad.”
There are always unexpected opportunities with marketing channels too.
For example, if your product is aimed at babies or newborns – why aren’t you doing the unexpected and advertising on hospital wards? If your content is informative and useful – and doesn’t incur the wrath of midwives – then there’s no reason why you couldn’t get your message across in this unexpected way.
I certainly spent many hours wandering up and down the hospital ward reading signs and notices.
And when we registered the birth of our son, we were given a ‘pack’ full of leaflets advertising baby services. It was unexpected (except for the one Andrew and I wrote!), and a great way for us to see new brands and products.
Wherever you look – whatever your business offers – there are always opportunities to do the unexpected.
You might just have to take a deep breath and be bold about it. Take the risk - we can help.
Just try not to pass out at those important moments.