7 Brilliant Strategies from DHL’s (Disowned) Marketing Prank

What if you could trick your competitors into advertising for you? Would it be tasteful? Maybe. Controversial? Certainly. Effective at garnering viral social media attention? Undoubtedly.

Just ask the folks at DHL, who recently created packages with temperature-sensitive coverings. Big, black boxes were shipped to difficult-to-find locations through carriers such as UPS, USPS, and TNT. The catch? Once the right temperature was hit in the truck, the black coverings melted off, revealing the message, “DHL is faster.” Ouch!

Deliverymen became walking billboards for their competitors as they transported these packages in front of hundreds of eyeballs, trying to find these impossible-to-discover delivery locations. Of course, the entire spectacle was caught on film, resulting in a viral video garnering nearly 4 million views in less than 72 hours.

What’s even more interesting is that DHL is now denying any involvement in the stunt, saying, “This video was not something initiated by DHL. The video was created by an external agency for their own internal competition. We were aware in advance of the intention to use it for this purpose.” So while DHL understandably distances itself from the prank, it appears that they aren’t unhappy with it either.

Regardless of the masterminds, the prank is clearly simple and brilliant, providing many lessons for marketers and content creators alike.

1.   Remember the Trojan horse. The visual of competing deliverymen transporting Trojan packages is a stark reminder of “Trojan marketing.” In today’s digitalized world, consumers are quick to build up defensive walls the moment they see marketing messages or promotions. To get past a prospect’s barriers, you have to provide a gift of value.

The immediate value this prank provides to consumers is humor and entertainment, which then becomes a vehicle for the message, “DHL is faster.” There are a lot of gimmicks in the marketing and content creation industries, but at the end of the day, it’s all about value. Whether it’s entertainment or information, brands must provide valuable content to succeed.

2.  Authenticity matters. Part of what made the DHL stunt go viral is the use of real deliverymen. If actors had been used and the video staged, it’s unlikely that people would have shared the clip with friends. In a previous post, we discussed how brands landed themselves in hot water for staged marketing. American Airlines, for instance, received social media backlash for its use of “scripted tweets.”

Despite the age of mass media and mass production, consumers crave authenticity. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t use an editorial calendar – of course, you should. But it’s equally important to give content an opportunity to organically grow and develop. An editorial calendar will help produce regular content, but it shouldn’t make content feel overly produced.

3.  Walk the line. Was the DHL prank funny or mean? Because the stunt walks a fine line between creative genius and business bullying, there’s virtually no blowback to the stunt. Instead, it has generated a conversation where marketers, consumers, and business owners alike are asking, “How far is too far in marketing?” The prolonged conversation provides DHL immeasurable, free advertising.

Similarly, don’t be afraid to take a risk in content marketing, especially if the content isn’t distasteful. It’s possible to bring up controversy without engaging in it, especially if there’s no brand mud-slinging. Still unsure about how far you can safely push the content marketing envelope? Then consider A/B testing!

4.   Simplicity rules. The simplicity of the prank is part of what makes it so effective, making it easier for consumers to share. Instead of bogging down the viewer with statistics detailing DHL’s delivery times, performance, etc., the message, “DHL is faster,” sticks in viewers’ minds.

5.   Make content funny. Whether it’s video, written, or audio content, remember to tactfully incorporate the power of humor. Not only does this create an emotional connection with consumers, but it also humanizes your content. Personable content is shareable content, especially in an age where consumers are wary about marketing strategies. This is why so many brands use humor in social media.

6.   Call out your competitors. While you want to avoid mud-slinging, it’s ok to call out your competitors. Brands such as Google, Bing, Hefty, Wimpy, General Motors, Ford, and many more have aggressively hammered their competitors in marketing campaigns. The DHL prank slyly calls out its competitors through difficult-to-find delivery locations, exaggerating consumer dissatisfaction with slow delivery times.

It’s a fiercely competitive world and consumers want to know what differentiates your brand from its competitors. Utilizing your business blogging platform to call out inefficiencies by competitors and how you offer solutions will bolster your sales cycle.

7.   Do what hasn’t been done before. It’s tempting to study major brands and analyze how they engage customers through content marketing. While this is a technique every brand should embrace, it isn’t the only one available. The reason the DHL prank went viral is because it’s a stunt that no one has seen before. For instance, if the stunt were based on a previous prank between FedEx and USPS, virtually no one would care. Originality is value. Value provides viral potential.

So what do you think about DHL’s (disowned) marketing stunt? Is it creative and brilliant? Or was it a mean prank? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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Daniel

Daniel Chioco is a writer living in Nashville, TN. He earned his Commercial Music degree at Belmont University, where he also studied creative writing and wrote for the student newspaper. When he isn't creating content, Daniel works as an actor and films YouTube videos. He is also a freelance musician and is authoring his first fantasy novel.

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