Extra Gum: A Marketing Story That Stuck

marketing that sticks

I just read Stories That Stick by Kindra Hall. You should, too. It was outrageously insightful and approachable for non-industry experts. I will be passing it around to others, for sure. The book begins by unpacking the 2015 Extra gum 'romance story' campaign called Sarah and Juan. You probably remember the ad – it was a two-minute production cut into shorter segments for multi-channel social-media distribution. It tugged on the heart-strings; only the hardest heart would be unmoved.

Extra Gum Commercial Recap

In case you don't remember it, the campaign follows a young couple from their first interactions on a high school campus: first glance, first interaction, first day at the park, the prom, first fight, first time apart in different cities, and so on. Juan, the male lead, keeps drawing on the inside of the Extra gum wrappers at each encounter. Juan is 'commemorating' these moments and the spot builds to a final scene wherein Sarah arrives at an art studio with framed Extra gum-wrappers that reconstruct the timeline of their relationship. Just when you thought the emotional impact blast radius couldn't keep rolling, Sarah turns to find Juan on one knee. I Can't Help Falling in Love plays in the background. These crazy kids are in love and they're going to build a life together. Magical.

How Did the Commercial Perform?

Extra gum was losing market share year by year; they needed a game-changing campaign that breathed new life into a time-tested product. It worked. Oh boy, did it work! Ellen Degeneres pushed it and it exploded in popularity, drove gum sales, earned millions of views, and will serve as a marketing case study for many years to come.

The Power of Sticky Stories

Kindra Hall uses this story to make a point about the power of stories; they didn't make a spot emphasizing the benefits of long-lasting chewing gum, or their bonus size packaging, or the value they bring at their pricepoint because nobody buys gum based on these logic-driven considerations. We make counter-sale impulse buys from the gut, from our emotional self (many argue that is how we make ALL buying choices and we simply create rational articulations to bolster our emotional choices). Human connection is the deepest human truth; gum is a sharing kind of interaction; good gum produces joy, just like the human emotion love. Bingo. Link these together. Extra used the most insignificant thing – a used gum wrapper to get to the story of the most significant moment; choosing one's spouse. More than that – they took a stick of gum, wadded it up and 'stuck' it into the deepest human impulses: our humanity and romance and destiny. They were brilliant.

Key Take Away

So good marketing, via good stories, taps into deeper, emotional truths. Extra's marketing firm said they learned this:

Instead of playing to people’s heads with messages about flavor or function, we realized that it was far more important to win over their hearts with powerful storytelling that infused the brand with meaning. In a cluttered category that relies on quick impulse purchases, we needed to tap into consumers’ emotions to have our brand subconsciously remembered, and thus more often chosen, at the shelf.

You Can Be Brilliant, Too.

Notice that Extra didn't change their product. They didn't change their distribution channels, alter their packaging to include Sarah and Juan's bright young faces, or anything drastic other than connecting their product to their audience using a creative piece of storytelling. It landed. Now, it's true that Extra had a great team that knew their research and discovered a key insight – the 'sharability' of gum and connection with others. But good business owners listen to try to hear past the surface level communication points that most often deal with pricing, timelines, features/benefits, or how to position against others fighting for your market share.

The point is: discovering a key insight you can link to our shared human experiences (frustrations, pain, bliss, aspirations) isn't as shrouded and impossible to discover as it may seem. We know it feels daunting – like you'd have to dig through hundreds of miles to find the diamond in the dirt and rock. Asking the right questions over enough hours with quality brains in the room can dig these insights out of your terrain much more quickly than you ever thought possible. Pick up a copy of Stories That Stick by Kendra Hall and start looking for the stories that your customers need to see.

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