Marketing the Unmarketable

Kirk Loftin

Imagine Don Draper standing in his office. He was just shown the film Spring Breakers. He downs his scotch and thinks, “how am I supposed to market this?” Although this is a silly hypothetical (Don Draper would have been in his 90s when that movie came out) (also, Don Draper isn’t actually a real person), it’s a real situation a lot of marketers find themselves in. How do you market the seemingly unmarketable?

One tactic is to lean into whatever makes your product less than palatable. Make a product meant for protecting babies bottoms when they’re in diapers? Call it Butt Paste. Is your company no. 2 in market share? Instead of hiding that, tell people you’re number two, and that it means you try harder, like Avis did. Your pizza is considered the worst? Admit it’s terrible, and that you’re changing it from the crust up like Domino’s.

Consider the context. “At Crazy Eddy’s, our pre-owned cars save you money, money, money!” works great for a used car lot, but not so much for a funeral home. You don’t want to bury grandma with a “Crazy Eddy’s discounted pre-owned coffin.” Also, banner ads for bright neon hair dye make more sense on Hot Topic’s website than the AARP’s.  You don’t pay to show ads for a Bar-B-Q restaurant on PETA’s website. Find your niche, your target audience that loves what you do, get your message in front of them.

One of the hardest things to figure out how to market is services instead of products. These can be difficult to explain to customers/clients in the context of an advertisement. On a product (for example, a new mop), you can show the features, show the product in use. How do you accurately advertise say, a life coach, a tax adviser, or a lawyer? For the lawyer, you’re probably picturing a bald guy sitting at a big wooden desk in front of a bunch of law books, with a mustard yellow text that says CALL NOW at the bottom of the screen. With services, the most important thing is clarity. “We help your business succeed” may sound good, but what services are being offered? It’s completely unclear. “We help your business navigate the complicated world of online marketing and search engine optimization,” may not be the most genius line ever written, but at least people will know what you’re offering.

You may think you’re facing an invisible monster called “the unmarketable product/service,” but the truth is that everything is marketable, you just have to figure out how to convey your company’s message. Through owning it, using humor, understanding context, or correctly conveying services, you can market anything successfully. After all, if Gary Dahl can make a mint by selling individual rocks in cardboard boxes to people, you can figure out something.

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