Some of the most popular branding and marketing campaigns of all time have involved jokes, characters, or clever "hooks" that stick in your head. Many started as jingles, parodies, and big budget ads like the kind we see during the Super Bowl.

In the modern era, viral advertisements and guerrilla marketing -- sometimes ones that don't make any sense -- have also been popular. But there's one marketing method that entails a practical facet no other approach does; and if used properly, it can be the most effective means you have of spreading the word about your product.

The Demo as a Marketing Strategy

Product demonstrations range from basic to exceptional, but the premise is always the same: Show that the product you're selling is worth the money you're asking for it. Unfortunately, it usually isn't enough simply to show your product, because that won't generate any hype, and probably won't impress people.

History is rich with examples of companies who successfully used a product demonstration to take their brand to the "next level," yet not just any product demo will suffice ... so what made these special cases so effective?

Take a look at three highly memorable examples.

Number One: The Pepsi Challenge

You know what the Pepsi Challenge is. It's entered our lexicon as a means of describing any high-stakes competitive gesture between one brand and its closest competitor. In the ad series, a group of strangers were asked to sample two unidentified sodas; one filled with Coca-Cola, and the other with Pepsi.

The results of the "experiment" would suggest that people strongly preferred Pepsi when brand names were removed (though as Malcolm Gladwell would later suggest, the test was flawed). But flawed or not, the ad was successful. It even prompted Coca-Cola to fire back with parody ads.

So what made it effective? First, the stakes. Pepsi had enough confidence in its soda that it was willing to let strangers decide which product was better. Second, it inspired thought; how much does a brand influence our decisions?

Finally, the concept was original; up to this point, no other advertising campaign had been so bold to attempt such a blind experiment.

Example Two: The Egg and the Mattress

When we mention "the bowling ball and the mattress," this description should conjure a mental image of a particular ad from the 2000s. There were actually a series of these ads, all for Tempur-Pedic memory foam mattresses, but all of them fell into the same format. A participant would set a filled wine glass on a mattress and then repeatedly attempt to disrupt it by walking on the bed, jumping on it, or even dropping a bowling ball next to it. The demonstration illustrated the impact absorption of the material, though in a way few people would ever attempt. The impact was widespread. Soon, competitors began to copy the ad.

Now, modern mattress company Purple has attempted their own, even higher-stakes demonstration, upping the ante with a more compelling (and impressive) scenario. Purple recently demonstrated their "No Pressure" mattress to be capable of cradling raw eggs under more than 1400 pounds of pressure, setting a new industry standard in the process.

So what makes this idea so unique? First, there's a degree of risk involved, or at least the illusion of risk. If those eggs break, the mattress is ruined! Therefore, this company has extreme faith in their product. Second, the image is ludicrous. Who would ever need 1400 pounds to drop on their mattress? Who's bringing raw eggs to bed? This helps the image stick in the consumer's mind. Finally, it was repeated; there are enough plays of these ads, and in enough variations, that it has become a meme (in the original Richard Dawkins sense).

Example Three: Will It Blend?

The ongoing Will It Blend? campaign by Blendtec is a solid example from the current era of advertising. Using online videos (starting on YouTube), Blendtec showed off the capacity of its signature consumer blenders (and the durability of various substances) by attempting to blend items that one wouldn't ordinarily blend.

Recent examples include an iPad and an Apple Watch. Why would one blend an Apple Watch? The answer is simple: publicity.

So why is this series effective? First, it really does show the limits of the product. Browse through the video catalogue and you'll find items you might have thought were unblendable getting pureed to a pulp, and seemingly blendable items that don't quite process.

It's imperfect, and therefore seems trustworthy. Second, it's absurd: Like the wine glass on the mattress, the image sticks in your head. Finally, it's repeated on an ongoing basis, with new technologies and new ideas to blend on a regular basis.

Key Takeaways for an Effective Product Demo

If you're thinking about launching a product demo-based ad campaign, there are a handful of essential takeaways you should derive from the above examples:

  • Make the test convincing. If your users suspect you of manipulating the results in any way, the demo won't be convincing. Show everything ... even if some data or results might work against you.
  • Take a risk. Don't take the safe route. Truly test the limits of your product. Can it take 200 pounds? Try 400 pounds. Can it survive being underwater? Put it underwater for a week. The bigger you go, the more impressed your users will be.
  • Make it crazy. Throw in something random, weird, or downright perplexing to make the image of your test stick in your users' heads. This is apt to become your "hook."
  • Repeat it. Don't just do one video; make it a series. Keep escalating the stakes, and generate excitement for the next installment.

Follow these steps, and you might be able to adapt any product for a fantastic ad campaign. Get creative, and you can probably do it for very little cost!

Published on: Feb 29, 2016