A brilliant, but seldom used, marketing tactic.

by Mac McLaurin, Co-founder, Director of Creative and Strategy

Sept 2

As a fellow marketer, if the brand you are currently involved with is the category leader, congratulations. Feel free to skip this article and continue dominating as per usual. However, if the brand you currently involved with is what we refer to as a “challenger brand,” you may find the following tactic to be quite interesting — though most of you would never consider using it.

For challenger brands, especially start-ups, building awareness is key. The faster you get your name into the heads of more potential customers the higher your potential for quick growth. Which brings me to a seldom-used marketing execution I first encountered while working with ad legend Jerry Della Femina. I refer to it as, “Inviting your self to the party,” and while it’s not a long-term strategy (though there have been exceptions), it is a very effective way to instantly place a challenger brand among the category leaders.

During my career I’ve used this tactic myself several times with good success. Today, walking down Broadway, I noticed a billboard for a company called Swarm, which employed this tactic beautifully (see photo above).

Who or what is Swarm? Exactly. And, while it turns out that Swarm is a new suped-up version of Foursquare (an app that allows users to share their locations within their social network), it is far from being a top-5 app like Foursquare was in its heyday. Yet, as I strolled down Broadway, there it was on a huge billboard: the unknown Swarm app, displayed right alongside Amazon, Uber, Weather, and the New York Times.

The formula for creating an invite-yourself-to-the-party ad is simple:

1) Write a compelling headline that includes the names of the category leaders.

2) Place your challenger brand’s name in said headline.

That’s it.

The first time I ever encountered the invite-yourself-to-the-party tactic, was in an ad Jerry had written for Financial Security Assurance (FSA). At the time, FSA was a very distant 2nd-tier player among global credit insurers. FSA could essentially do everything the three market leaders could do, but they weren’t top-of-mind and rarely got the chance to compete for the big accounts. To get FSA into this coveted considered set, Jerry’s agency placed a full-page newspaper ad with the acronyms for the “top four” bond insurance companies (the top three market leaders + FSA) typed in the center of the page in bold type:





And that was it. There was no mention of who’s ad it was and only a single line of copy was included below the list:

The four top names that are your guaranty of Triple-A financial strength in the bond market.

The ad only ran once, nationally, in the New York Times, but it’s credited with helping to create a huge increase in FSA’s business. The reason it only ran once was that the Chairman of AMBAC personally called the Chairman of FSA and told him that, while he didn’t know whether FSA was the one who ran the ad, it was brilliant, and if it ran again he’d have to file suit asking for substantiation of the “the four tops names” claim. FSA pulled the ad, but not before it had done its job.

A similar approach was later used to promote St. Francis The Heart Center on Long Island in New York. The ad ran in the local editions of the New York Times and the New York Post and contained the names of two hospitals very prominently:

Cleveland Clinic.

St. Francis Hospital.

Then the copy line underneath read:

These are the two best heart hospitals in the East. One is 497 miles away. The other is off Exit 47 on the Long Island Expressway.

The ad was loved by the hospital’s management, board and doctors and was also very successful in attracting new patients and retaining patients that might have otherwise traveled to Manhattan or out of state. Anecdotal evidence showed that some patients mentioned the ad directly as contributing to their decision to choose St. Francis Hospital for heart care.

Looking for an effective way to quickly place your challenger brand into your target’s considered set? Try inviting yourself to the party.

About The Author: Mac McLaurin is the Co-founder of Fifteen Degrees Marketing & Digital. You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.