There’s a difference between marketing that’s smart and smart marketing. Smart marketing is clever, immaculately designed and plays by the well-established practices of marketing and advertising.

Marketing that’s smart does stupid things well. It’s intelligent not because it’s polished and pristine, but because it learns from its mistakes more quickly than the rest. It’s dumb because it appeals to the messy way our minds make sense of the world. If you’re looking for a new way to reach your audience, learn from these four ways to do “stupid” ideas right.

1. Write in Oxymorons

Bittersweet; awfully good; deafening silence; dull roar; oxymorons confuse readers into considering how opposing ideas share something in common, which makes them a powerful tool in marketing copy. Take this powerful quote, from American author and philosopher, Eric Hoffer.

“When people are free to do as they please, they imitate each other.”

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

2. The Broad Appeal of Small Secrets

For consumers, well-regarded brands make them feel more sophisticated, stronger or more attractive—think Nike shoes, Apple electronics, Prada bags. This loyalty is invaluable to companies’ bottom lines.

Non-branded items, however, like the bags of “no-name” cereal on the bottom shelf of grocery aisles, are seen as cheap, replaceable.

Sometimes, though, having no brand, or a secret brand, can create a similar, and sometimes more powerful, sense of loyalty.

Take the Japanese just-about-anything manufacturer and secret brand Muji. Muji’s is short for “Mujirushi Ryōhin,” which actually translates to “no brand quality goods.” The items Muji sells don’t have logos. Like Ikea, they spend very little on advertising, and when they do, ads are more impressionistic than communicative of product features.

This allows secret brands two key marketing advantages: scarcity and experimentation.


Frist, since they make a product that is unique in design, like a bath towel that’s designed to be cut into washcloths once it’s worn, customers can’t find their products elsewhere. Mujiers, for example, can find wall-mounted CD players elsewhere, but there’s only one place that offers one that hangs in the Smithsonian Museum of Design.


Second, secret brands allow for brands to experiment with ideas and audiences they can’t reach with their current branding. Case in point: Muji originated as a brand of a larger supermarket franchise, The Seiyu. It was originally an experiment in making simple cheap products with no-frills packaging, and was made possible by the supply chain, resources and relationships of the parent company. This experiment worked. Muji became independent from, and more renowned than, the parent brand.

3. To Do Something Well, Make Something Bad and Improve it Fast


What the popular meme has failed to explain is the toll coffee took on this woman’s pearly whites.

Shameless plug warning: AdRoll’s platform processes millions of data points per second, and communicates that data to online ad auctions around the globe in around 100 milliseconds or less. Our Chief Technology Officer, Valentino Volonghi, who oversees the nuts and bolts of what makes AdRoll work, shares a counterintuitive, and revolutionary philosophy along with many engineers: speed beats quality. That’s because the quicker you screw up, he said, the quicker you learn from your mistakes.

What does this have to do with marketing? Hold on a little longer.

Volonghi uses an example to prove the philosophy: take two engineers trying to write code to solve the same problem. One made something that works 80 percent of the time and requires a person for the other 20 percent. The second engineer tries to create a perfect, high-quality solution that works 100 percent of the time. Way before the second engineer releases the perfectly designed product, the first engineer has released and improved his code so many times that it reaches that 100 percent functionality—way before the second engineer found their perfect, elegant solution.

Speed in Marketing

This philosophy has clear parallels to marketing. Marsha Lindsay, CEO of branding agency Lindsay, Stone & Briggs, writes a compelling argument that you need to deliver immediate satisfaction to your customers. After all, they’re already able to ship electronics overnight with Amazon, make same-day doctors appointments and wait only a few minutes for their Uber or Lyft ride home.

Add a “faster than the competition” speed component to all of your metrics, as in launch faster, learn faster, improve faster, and iterate extensions faster than the competition.. With the goal of acceleration top of mind, it’s likely you’ll accomplish more faster too.

4. Being the Opposite of What Customers Love About Your Competitor Can Make You Desirable

Marketing often focuses on telling customers that your products is better than the competitor. However, some notable marketing successes have arisen from turning a perceived competitive weakness into a strength.

Volkswagen is a classic and oft-used example in such marketing campaigns. The late ’50s and ’60s were the heydey of big American cars and muscle cars. Volkswagen, then a small player in the US auto market, launched their “Think Small” campaign in 1959, which highlighted the vehicle’s slick, compact design in advertisements that were as popular as the cars they pitched. By 1961, VW went from selling 33,000 per year to producing their millionth Beetle.


The most popular ad of VW’s “Think Small” campaign, displayed in millions of magazines and thousands of Advertising 101 seminars, probably.

It may not be in your company’s best interest to market yourself as better than your competitors. Instead, tell your audience what makes your product or service unique, and make them question their loyalty to status-quo philosophies.

Finally, To Dream Up Your Own Ideas, Make a Habit of Being Creative

To make room for creatively brilliant so-bad-they’re-good ideas, it’s essential to break up your marketing routine. When done right, routines can breed creativity, and when done wrong, they stifle our appetite for new ideas in favor of performing tasks using the least amount of thought. Quick tip: develop routines activities that are unique, something you don’t associate with work, like a walk, emotionally intense, and repeat them to condition your brain to enter a creative mood when you do your activity. Soon, you’ll have a reliable source of great ideas: you.

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