One of Amazon's lesser-known innovations crept onto the radar screen four years ago this month. Dubbed the Treasure Truck, it's a service for Amazon app users that offers access to a daily bargain, a specific item (a truckload's worth) discounted steeply.
Just wait for a text alerting you that the truck will be in an area near you, loaded with hand-picked, heavily discounted GoPros or paddleboards. Place an order and go get it that same day, wherever the Treasure Truck is stationed.
There are 33 such trucks across 30 states and the United Kingdom waiting to surprise consuming clickers. The trucks look like carnival midway games, complete with bright lights, bright colors, a cinema-style marquee, video walls, "dope beats" (as Amazon's website puts it), a bubble-blowing machine, a place to sample the product, and even free food served from a grill.
It's like a sketchy white van selling stuff in a parking lot, but it's not sketchy and sure as heck isn't white. It's like a glorified, discount ice-cream truck on steroids, but it serves hot deals instead of cool treats. Surely, you didn't go to work today thinking that during lunch you'd pick up a Once Upon a Leprechaun costume for 41 percent off (yes, the daily surprise offering could be that varied and offbeat).
It's intended to bring joy, intrigue, and a little delight to your day. It can't possibly be making any profit given the expenses involved, even before discounting a mediocre margin product at a steep clip. So why do it?
Here's why the Treasure Truck is brilliant
Having spent 25 years in marketing and advertising at Procter & Gamble, I came to fear one and only one thing when it came to marketing. Something I desperately did not want my brand or marketing efforts to become:
Indifference is death in the world of marketing.
While Amazon can't hope to scale the Treasure Truck to a point where it would even make a blip on revenue or profit, one thing is for sure: It can't be ignored. It makes you feel something -- like the best brands and best advertising do. You might find it ridiculous, silly, or "inefficient and unnecessary," like one writer for Vox. You might find it frustrating that the trucks often sell out within 45 minutes before moving on to the next stop. Or you might find it delightful, fun, and clever.
But you can't not have an opinion of it. It's bold, innovative, and out-of-the-box enough that it leaves an impression.
Jeff Bezos himself gave a shout out to the oddity in a recent shareholder letter, writing:
Our bubble-blowing, music-pumping trucks fulfilled hundreds of thousands of orders, from porterhouse steaks to the latest Nintendo releases. Throughout the year, Treasure Truck also partnered with local communities to lift spirits and help those in need.
At a minimum, it's hard not to admire Amazon's creativity and experimental spirit. When you add the Treasure Truck to the Amazon Go stores, drone to doorstep deliveries, and all the company's other experiments, it undeniably makes you feel like Amazon as a brand is pushing boundaries.
It's this kind of sentiment that stokes relevance. You see the Treasure Truck and you say, a) Amazon is trying fun experiments and not taking itself too seriously, and b) maybe the company will innovate in a way that changes my life at some point (if it hasn't already).
For every Treasure Truck, there's a dump truck, a clumsy, garbage-filled effort that stinks up a brand. But consumers are forgiving when the experiments demonstrate a brand's willingness to explore. Some of those experiments just might open up new paths to brand relevance.
And that's a treasure hard to put a (discounted) price on.