13 Risky Brand Strategies That Paid Off

In Customer Engagement, Featured on App, Marketing and Sales, Social media by Vaughn Highfield

Getting people to talk and pay attention to your brand can be hard work. At first they don't really know why they should care about what you're offering them. If that wasn't enough you have to make it really stand out from the crowd otherwise it'll just become lost in the sea of other advertisements, logos and marketing techniques.

But how do you really go for that unique angle?

How do you actually capture it and capitalise upon it?

Simple. You take risks. Risks that may never pay off, but where's the joy in marketing if you don't jump off a cliff without knowing what's below.

Well, here's 15 brand strategies that took a risk that really paid off.


1. Virgin Atlantic


Instead of treating their customers as just another item for transport, Virgin instilled it's high customer service qualities and marketed the brand around the ‘rock star' service that they give every customer.


2. Lynx/Axe

Lynx Astronaut

The men's toiletries brand from Unilever has Рat least in the UK Рbeen associated with sweaty teenagers for years, but they've managed to turn that notion on its head with their edgy advertising that pulls away from the tired clich̩s found in other toiletries ads. Now they're going for humour and aiming for some stratospheric techniques Рincluding sending one fan into space.


3. Starbucks

Starbucks cup evolution

How can you deliver exactly what customers want without asking them? Clue: you can't. That's why Starbucks took a risk and launched ‘My Starbucks Idea'. This allowed customers to share ideas with the company, let them know what they thought of other peoples ideas and ultimately craft what Starbucks would start producing. Similar models have been seen with LEGO's CUUSOO project.


4. Burger King

Burger King Whopper

In a neat twist on the usual "share with your friends" links on Facebook when liking a page, Burger King bucked the trend by getting you to cull them.  Doing so would mean you'd get yourself a delicious Whopper for free, but in doing so, each of your friends you cull will be notified. Sever friendships for a burger? Why not, it's only Facebook after all.



Ikea Showroom

Facebook is a very popular medium for brands to interact with customers directly during the down-period between sales, however IKEA saw an opportunity to use Facebook's built in functions to enrich a shopping experience. By placing images up from its catalogue and using the photo tagging ability to link directly to the product shown, the Swedish furniture company essentially digitised their catalogue for all to see and use. Genius.


6. Dove

Dove real beauty

Dove did away with the notion of runway beauty found in many other skincare and beauty products and instead decided to showcase what "real" women look like. Putting aside the claim that models aren't "real" women, this campaign took a risk but hit home because it gave consumers something to relate to and showed them that everyone is beautiful. Most recently of all they did a series of ‘real beauty sketches' that showed how we view ourselves compared to how others view us.


7. The Great Schlep

The Great Schlep

In the run up to the 2012 US election, the Jewish Council for Education and Research paid to help get Obama back in the Whitehouse for his second term by tapping into the one thing they knew their target demographic loved more than anything else: family. They urged the Jewish youth to visit their grandparents in Florida to help swing the state blue. It was an edgy campaign that would have undoubtedly offended if not handled properly, luckily they brought on board Sarah Silverman and put together an amusing PSA as a call to arms.


8. Harley Davidson

Harley Davidson logo

Harley Davidson's motorcycles aren't just motorcycles, they embody an entire way of life and attitude. You love a Harley, you're probably a badass somewhere in your life. What could have just been another badge on a vehicle has evolved into a complete identity for many. They're a brand of rebellion and risk, and the risk they took in creating such an appearance has completely paid off for them.


9. American Express

Tribeca lgo

Having launched many marketing campaigns and lots of advertising partnerships, there's one risky venture that AmEx went into and it's turned into one of the most celebrated moments of independent cinema: the Tribeca Film Festival.


10. Old Spice

Old Spice On a horse

They went totally leftfield with their advertising strategy, focusing on the witty and the strange with their suave runaway hit of ‘On a horse' advertising campaign to help revitalise their tired brand. Their viral marketing campaign is also incredibly strong with Terry Crews winning over masses of the online market.


11. Skittles


Another internet sensation with their slightly interactive YouTube videos, but what really sets Skittles apart is its highly-surreal adverts. Where else can you see the Midas Touch turned into a debilitating problem with delicious consequences. It's macabre at times, but for those who understand the humour absolutely love it. For those who it's lost on, the brand still sticks firmly in their minds when they're shopping.


12. Victoria's Secret

Victoria's Secret NY

This lingerie retailer appeals to women with their flattering products and high-quality production. But it's interesting that it has such a large female following when the advertising and catalogue err on the edge of pornographic. It's no wonder why the brand has a fond male following either, but the issues of sexism and exploitation have rarely arisen around the brand despite the signs that suggest it really should have. It's clear that they've handled it all rather tastefully.


13. LEGO

star wars lego

Not only have LEGO taken a risk with CUUSOO, but they also branched out into the market of video games by using the brand licenses they've secured. It could have been an absolute disaster, but the entire charm of those plastic bricks has carried over to the virtual realm and Star Wars, Batman, and Lord of the Rings all manage to transfer themselves into sales of their physical bricks as well as the virtual goods.