you zigged when they zagged?

Like anything else, marketers tend to become infatuated with the buzzy technology of the times. Whether it was the introduction of television advertising in the 1940’s or the rise of social media in the twenty-first century, marketing departments love to play with a sexy new toy. And like clockwork, with such infatuation comes the opportunity to zig while they zag.

As your competition is being blinded by novelty, they become susceptible to the more proven tools they’ve chosen to ignore. Recognizing this tendency will work in your favor in a multitude of ways, not least of which is in your media strategy. Your job is to find and own these newly barren communication mediums and exploit them.

This generation’s shiny new ad toy is social media. According to AdWeek, nearly 90% of businesses are using some form of social media to promote their brand to 3 billion active users. At the same time, while social media is growing at astronomical rates, global ad spending on outdoor advertising sits at less than 6% according to the Wall Street Journal. When your rivals open one door (social media), they have no choice but to close another (out of home). Thus, the opportunity.

Despite the congestion, many of your competitors will still race to invest their money into social media with hopes of cashing in on those 3 billion users. I, on the other hand, have consistently chosen to take the road less traveled…for that exact reason. Less competition means a better chance of making noise. And while I may be advertising to a smaller base, I’m more likely to make an impression on not only my target market, but perhaps more importantly, the media.

Which brings us to April 4th, 2016, a few weeks before Major League Baseball player and Most Valuable Player, Kris Bryant made his debut for the Chicago Cubs. Prior to his introduction to the majors there was controversy over when the Cubs would call him up to play for the club. By keeping Bryant in the minors for the start of the 2016 season, the Cubs would be guaranteed another year with their future star thanks to a loophole in his contract. Of course, that didn’t sit well with the fans or the media who had been eagerly awaiting Bryant’s debut. The people wanted Bryant and they wanted him now.

So, as we often did during my time at adidas, we seized the moment and poured a little gasoline on the fire. Gasoline in the form of a billboard located right outside of Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs. Our billboard featured a photo of Kris Bryant himself, with a message that simply read: “Worth the wait.” As we had hoped, the media ate it up. Our stunt would go on to garner headlines from the likes of ESPN.com, Bleacher Report, ABC, NBC, Yahoo and more. We had inserted our brand into a culture moment and at the same time elevated the stature of our young star in the making.

But the lesson here is not about timing, though it was critical in our success. The real lesson is in the medium. We were the only brand that broached the subject by purchasing billboard space adjacent to Kris Bryant’s future home field. And that’s why it worked. Had we taken that billboard imagery and instead simply pushed the content out through our social media channels, there wouldn’t have been a story. Rather, our message would have been lost among the sea of angst already brewing over the perceived mishandling of Bryant’s contract. While the country flocked to Twitter to scream their displeasure, we were left as the only voice screaming from directly outside of Wrigley Field. The media chose our message to write about because we zigged, when everyone else zagged.