Earlier in our series on experimentation as strategy, we looked at conducting social experiments, trying out new products and exploring new technology.
In our final post, we look at two more approaches – playing with data and the importance of embracing failure.
Play with data
Compare the Meerkat
By now, everyone knows Alexandr the Meerkat, spokesperson for one of the UK’s biggest price comparison websites. But what many don’t know is Compare the Meerkat was the result of an experiment. As ‘Compare the Market’, the brand was nowhere, sales were flagging and their reliance on the most expensive Google Adwords – ‘compare’, ‘market’ – were eating into their budget. To get around this, they found a similar sounding, much cheaper word to substitute for ‘market’. They bought comparethemeerkat.com and built a small campaign around that. The move quickly turned out to be extremely effective, and the rest is history. Compare the Meerkat shows how a little lateral thinking and a willingness to experiment can transform a business.
The world’s biggest music streaming service has one amazing resource at its fingertips – its users’ listening data. Instead of running a standard Christmas campaign, they used their customer data in a really creative way. Bearing the tagline, ‘Thanks 2016, it’s been weird’, their ads celebrated their users’ weird and wonderful listening habits. A bit like the world’s shortest story – ‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn’ – their bizarre messages suggested their own background stories, like, ‘To the person listened to ‘I Took a Pill in Ibiza’ 52 times on the 9th of February’. Each to their own.
The Next Rembrandt
ING, a Dutch national bank, wanted to re-energise its sponsorship of art and culture in the Netherlands and improve its image as an innovative bank and needed a campaign to blend these two strands as a way to reach 20-34 year-olds. To provoke brand conversation, they asked, could a machine ever be the next Rembrandt? To answer this question, the experiment literally translated Rembrandt’s physical paintings into raw data, enabling facial recognition software and a bespoke 3-D printer to ‘paint’ the first original ‘Rembrandt’ painting since the master’s death in 1669. The project reached 60% of Dutch citizens were reached and 50% of their target audience, generating €12.5 million in earned media.
Creativity and innovation always involves risk, and fear of failure can often kill great ideas. Yet, doing something is often better than doing nothing, provided experiments align closely with a brand’s purpose and values.
For example, the US military and Alphabet, invest huge sums in developing cutting-edge technologies, most of which don’t make the grade – like Google Glass. But they only have to succeed once to win big.
This can often be a classic case of brands playing on a ‘small admission of weakness’ to communicate their strength: a commitment to doing better.
(Apologies for the bike examples.)
Volvo Life Paint
In 2015, Volvo developed and launched a new, reflective ‘safety spray’ to improve cyclists’ visibility on the road. Sprayable onto regular clothes, Life Paint is invisible by day but reflects cars’ headlights at night, making cyclists visible to drivers. The product created huge buzz, but following its launch, Life Paint drew criticism. Cycling pressure groups accused the car manufacturer of shifting the blame for cyclist safety from drivers to cyclists, but, mainly, criticism focused on the product not really working. Nevertheless, the brand was relatively unaffected – with their brand built strongly around safety and innovation, they received kudos for doing something rather than nothing, and it led to the launch of commercially viable product.
Van Moof Bikes
Dutch bicycle brand Van Moof became worried that too many of their bikes were being damaged during shipping. As a premium bicycle brand with a reputation for quality, their reputation was suffering. They explored all the options before settling on the simplest (and cheapest) possible solution: they redesigned their shipping boxes to look like they contained a very large, expensive flat-screen TV. The experiment resulted in a 70-80% reduction in damages and a huge amount of earned media. Because their young brand is built around innovation, they could turn their Achilles’ heel into proof of their smart product.
This Bike has MS
If ‘disinnovation’ was a word, then it would describe an affecting campaign by Australia’s national multiple sclerosis charity to raise awareness about the disease and raise funds to assist those living with it. Their ‘This Bike has MS’ campaign brought together cyclists, engineers and neurologists to design and manufacture a bicycle that mimicked the effects of the disease on the human body. By experimenting with ways to make a high performance bicycle function even worse, the campaign powerfully demonstrated how the disease affects people, driving public awareness and debate about it.