Deviant Marketing

April 18, 2012 ~ These days consumers curate the advertisements they want to watch, read, or listen to, so if brands want to be heard, they have to be deviant. Not morally deviant, but deviant in terms of product development and marketing. This is the topic of Ryan Mathews’ and Watts Wacker’s book The Deviant’s Advantage: How Fringe Ideas Create Mass Markets (2002—an oldie but goodie). 

Deviance is based on a brand’s core competence. The core competence is the life preserver that will keep the brand afloat when it dives beyond the cutting edge—into the fringe. 

Examples of deviance: 

Wikipedia—Its core competence is not information but collaboration. It used collaboration to meet a market demand for free, instant information on any subject matter. 

Papyrus—Its core competence is not paper but the personal touch. When the world got wired and the price of stamps went up, Papyrus reminded us of the specialness of handwritten communications—from people who care enough about you to ink their feelings. 

Victoria’s Secret—It’s not about lingerie but about innuendo. In concealing, they reveal. When diversifying into loungewear, they chose the name PINK—the color of the erogenous zones. Now PINK is not a color but a brand—and PINK can be blue. 

Whole Foods—Yoga classes in a supermarket? Whole Foods isn’t about groceries, but about wellness. 

Paperless Post—They’re not about the invitation, but about anticipation. Their slow-motion re-enactment of the opening of a physical envelope generates that thrill of knowing you were invited and wondering—by whom? 

San Pellegrino—I rarely drink sweetened beverages, but I went to a seminar the other day and they were giving out Limonatas. I couldn’t help myself. I had to lift one of the cans and gently cup it in my palms, turning it left and right, gazing upon it from all angles. I brought it back to my desk and displayed it amongst my vases and framed pictures, where it still resides, unopened. San Pellegrino is not about carbonated beverages—it’s about beauty…Italian style. 

Some people call it innovation, genius, thinking outside the box, or “crazy.” Mathews and Wacker call it deviant—jumping out of the mainstream, over the cutting edge, and into dangerous waters—confident that your unique brand advantage will keep you afloat. 


About Ruth Zamoyta

Communications strategist, project manager, épée fencer, poet.

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