3 min read

Cheap(ish) Tricks

"Hey, Jon," I was asked. "What if we just did something huge? Like... let's give away a car!" "You mean... like Oprah?" I responded. "Yeah! But maybe not that many cars."

"Hey, Jon," I was asked. "What if we just did something huge? Like... let's give away a car!"

"You mean... like Oprah?" I responded.

"Yeah! But maybe not that many cars."

This seems to be the way everyone thinks about marketing. They don't think about the years of slog that went into Oprah's moment of giving away cars – they acknowledge it, but they don't really think about what it took. In her case, I was lucky enough to hear her talk about it in person once: what I took away from that talk was being intentional, every single day, about what you're putting out in the world.

She (and I) mean this in the most direct way possible: only put stuff out that you believe in, and that you think has a reason for existing. It doesn't always need to be your best work, because all of us – including Oprah – have deadlines. Quality and being intentional are different animals: when you bring them together, you get something pretty amazing. But you can still get the job done with just being intentional; you can't with just "quality" because quality without intention doesn't mean anything to other people.

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I've been a little bad at that lesson as I've started these doodles, partially because drawing something every day is a lot when I'm also starting a company, partially because I'm not a great artist, and partially because I haven't been totally sure what my intention is with them beyond making me and a few people smile or chuckle.

Most businesses, though, are far worse than me. At least I'm consistent; every time I see something that's a big PR splash, I think to myself that their traffic will look like this:

graph showing a short spike in website traffic
being a one-hit wonder

That was my experience, over and over, as I saw products I worked on get on things like the Today Show (do people still watch that?). A flood of people would come, look around for a few seconds, and never return. I've never really understood the allure of that, but almost every business I talk to looks for that rather than the steady growth that's the hallmark of most truly successful businesses.

There are examples where it worked through sheer luck – I remember Jim McCann, when I worked for him, talking about how he was the only advertiser on CNN during the early stages of the first Persian Gulf War, and that really got the 1-800-flowers brand in front of a lot of people when he otherwise could not have afforded it. Still, that was a consistent campaign over a many months.

My least favorite marketing vehicle is the giveaway, combined with some dumb internet trick. It's great when it's for a good cause, like the Ice Bucket challenge. Most people can smell when it's not for a good cause, though, which is what almost every contest I see out there is, even when a business tries to align itself with a charity.

So this is my response to that guy who wants to give away a car to get people to come to their site:

if you twist this image around fast enough, i'll buy you a tesla copyright jon brodsky
terrible marketing gimmicks

While it would be fun to see people twisting their phones like crazy to get a car, this isn't a real contest.

Oh, fine. Go nuts. If 1,000 people go and put up videos of themselves twisting their phones like idiots and tagging Hopara.com, I'll buy one of those people this Tesla. This is void where prohibited, which is likely almost anywhere, and you must ask your parent's permission if you're under 18.