8 Brands That Took Marketing Risks

  1. Burger King
  2. Aldi
  3. Dove
  4. Twitter
  5. TOMS
  6. Microsoft
  7. Target
  8. Charmin

Brands are constantly competing for our attention (and hard-earned money). Sometimes, a business has to take a risk in order to set themselves apart from their competition. Whether the risk is through a comedic commercial, new product, or a redesigned retail store, there are countless ways businesses have taken the path less traveled.

Here are 8 brands that took a risk and won because of it!

1. Burger King

In August 2019, Burger King added the Impossible Whopper, a plant-based protein version of a beef burger, to their menu. The Impossible Whopper quickly became a success, with sales increasing by 5% for the quarter compared to the previous year. This was the biggest increase for Burger King since 2015.

cnn.com

What Was the Risk?

Burger King took a risk by moving away from their famous beef burgers and offered a meatless option. This was a risky move because original Whopper lovers might not want to try it, and vegetarians might not trust it. Honestly, the commercials of blind Impossible Whopper taste tests seem convincing!

Why It’s a Win:

Burger King set themselves apart from the other fast food chains by offering something a vegetarian option. The Impossible Whopper is advertised as looking and tasting exactly like a regular Whopper. They also catered to an entire new audience of people who might not have eaten at their restaurants before because of dietary preferences or restrictions. Other chains followed suit, like McDonald’s in Germany.

2. Aldi

Aldi divided in half in the mid-1960s over whether to sell cigarettes. The half that did not sell cigarettes was named Aldi Sud. Aldi Sud decided to bring the grocery store from Germany over to the United States. Today, Aldi is a top competitor alongside stores like Walmart and Kroger. This small foreign grocer is in the big leagues with 2,500 expected locations by 2020.

cnn.com

What Was the Risk?

It was a risk coming to a new country with rock bottom prices, smaller selections, and no name brand items. American shoppers are used to large grocery stores packed with options from countless brands. Aldi is unlike the shopping experience Americans had been used to.

Why It’s a Win:

Aldi found a niche of being small, simple, and convenient. Aldi’s business model helps the company increase profit margins and maintain low prices through unique stocking and hiring strategies. Now, Aldi has a sort of cult following. There’s even a Facebook group dedicated to all things Aldi with nearly 700,000 members!

3. Dove

Dove created the “Real Beauty” campaign after losing sales to other companies. They conducted a study of 3,000 women in 10 countries and found that only 2% of respondents thought they were beautiful and as a result created the “Real Beauty” campaign.

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What Was the Risk?

Dove took a risk by stepping outside the norm of advertising to women using billboards and commercials. The campaign doesn’t use professional models and caters to women of all shapes, sizes, and ages, which is something no beauty company had done before.

Why It’s a Win:

It’s pretty refreshing to see people who look like you and me modeling for a major beauty brand. Dove paved the way for advertising with women who aren’t career models and the positive response encouraged other competitors to follow suit like American Eagle, Forever Yours Lingerie, and Elle Magazine.  The campaign also resulted in over 1.5 million visitors to the Campaign for Real Beauty website.

4. Twitter

In 2008 Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg offered to purchase Twitter for $500 million because he wanted to lessen the risk of competition as the platform grew. Twitter executives declined the offer because they knew it would be billion-dollar company and that the uniqueness of Twitter could not be duplicated. Turns out, they were right to trust their gut!

dustinstout.com

What Was the Risk?

For Twitter’s co-founders Ev Williams and Jack Dorsey, selling might have been an easy out. However, they took a risk by sticking through tough times and allowed the platform to become what it is today. Declining the offer was a risky choice considering the platform had bugs and malfunctions, and they knew it would be no easy fix.

Why It’s a Win:

In 2008, Twitter had 6 million users, compared to 330 million in 2019. The company finished 2018 earning $3 billion in revenue. Twitter became a stand-alone social media platform and didn’t need the Facebook name to make it happen.

5. TOMS

When the idea for TOMS was first pitched by founder Blake Mycoskie, investors turned their nose up at the style of the shoes and the “buy one, give one” business model. Critics believed the model wouldn’t be sustainable enough because of the cost involved in donating so many shoes.

TOMS 2019 Global Impact Report

What Was the Risk?

Despite the feedback, Mycoskie started on his company from the ground up. Founder Mycoskie knew his business model was going to be a success and took a risk by staying true to his mission.

Why It’s a Win:

TOMS shoes are wildly popular today, making it a win because people feel good when they purchase a pair knowing another pair is going to someone in need. Just about everyone you know either owns a pair or has at least heard of the brand. TOMS has helped millions of children and families in 82 countries and 38 U.S. states. As of 2019, TOMS has donated over 95,000,000 pairs of shoes to those in need.

6. Microsoft

In 2001, Microsoft entered the gaming world with the release of its first famous console: the Xbox. It was released in North America in November 2001, and overseas in Japan in March 2002.

xbox.fandom.com

What Was the Risk?

It was risky for Microsoft to create a gaming console since the company wasn’t a household name. In the gaming world, Nintendo, Sony, and Sega already had superfans. In order to compete with companies like Sony and Nintendo, Microsoft had to create something unique and better. In 2002, Microsoft decided to slash the price of its console from $299 to $199 so more families could take home the gaming system.

Why It’s a Win:

Besides everyone’s little brother being obsessed with it, Microsoft had an edge over the already popular PlayStation with the first-person shooter game Halo and its unique PC-like build. They also took the Xbox to different expos early on which helped the console gain traction, and the inclusion of a new gaming experience increased anticipation. Slashing the price also allowed Xbox to outsell the Nintendo GameCube, which released a few years later.

7. Target

E-commerce is becoming widely popular, and many brick-and-mortar locations are struggling. Target has changed this narrative by using their store locations to increase digital growth. After 3 quarters of declining sales, 40 stores are also now being redesigned to the experience for shoppers who are only running a quick errand. These new stores will feature 10-minute parking, product and grocery items near the entrance, as well as more self-checkout lanes.  

buisnessinsider.com

What Was the Risk?

Target estimates it will spend $7 billion to renovate stores and improve their e-commerce experience. The risk is that shoppers still may choose to turn to the competition, despite Target spending billions to keep people in stores.

Why It’s a Win:

This strategy is a win because it helps their brick and mortar stores to compete with online retailers like Amazon. Since 50% of Americans live within 4 miles of a Target, they have an easy advantage to get people in their stores. Let’s face it, part of the fun is going to Target and leaving with everything but what you went there for. Its appeal isn’t fading anytime soon!

8. Charmin

After decades of selling toilet paper, Charmin decided to refresh their marketing strategy in 2014 by making consumers laugh. They needed a way to stand out and become more memorable from competing companies.

What Was the Risk?

This strategy was a risk because for some, bathroom-related humor may seem like a route to avoid, but for Charmin it was a game-changing decision!

Why It’s a Win:

By 2017, Charmin had 1.09 billion in sales and remains a top-3 toilet paper brand. From hilarious commercials to engaging their followers on social media, Charmin has found what works and they’re sticking to it! Today, you can easily recognize the family of cuddly bears from any Charmin advertisement. The increase in sales from the start of the new strategy in 2014 to 2017 is proof of the success.

Why is Taking a Business Risk Important?

Taking a risk can sometimes mean the difference between the revival of your business or facing the demise of it. A risk is important because it is a chance to set yourself apart from your competitors and reach new levels of success.

Taking a risk can help a business:

  • Change the public’s perception of your brand
  • Gain the interest of a new audience
  • Increase profits
  • Be the first to offer a product or service
  • Try out a new market
  • Learn what does or does not work

“Because if you’re prepared and you know what it takes, it’s not a risk. You just have to figure out how to get there. There is always a way to get there.” – Mark Cuban, Owner of the Dallas Mavericks

Before taking a risk, companies should create a plan to work out the fine details. Knowing what the goal is ahead of time will help ensure success!

You have seen the ways businesses can take a risk then reap the reward. While this isn’t always the case, a successful risk can be a game changer for a company or even an entire industry.

Resources

TOMS. (2019) 96.5 million lives impacted – and counting. Retrieved on December 18, 2019, from https://www.toms.com/us/impact.html

Shahbandeh, M. (2018, July 12). Sales of the leading 10 toilet tissue brands of the U.S. 2017. Retrieved on December 18, 2019, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/188710/top-toilet-tissue-brands-in-the-united-states/

Marshall, Rick. (2019, April 18). The history of the Xbox. Retrieved on December 18, 2019, from https://www.digitaltrends.com/gaming/the-history-of-the-xbox/

Bahadur, Nina. (2017, December 6). Dove ‘Real Beauty’ Campaign Turns 10: How A Brand Tried To Change The Conversation About Female Beauty. Retrieved on December 18, 2019, from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/dove-real-beauty-campaign-turns-10_n_4575940

Business Insider Intelligence. (2017, March 22). Target’s brick-and-mortar stores are key to its digital growth. Retrieved on December 18, 2019, from https://www.businessinsider.com/target-stores-key-to-digital-growth-2017-3

Panzarino, Matthew. (2013, November 4). The Three Reasons Twitter Didn’t Sell To Facebook. Retrieved on December 18, 2019, from techcrunch.com

Valinsky, Jordan. (2018, August 16). Aldi is going granola to compete with Whole Foods. Retrieved on December 18, 2019, from https://www.cnn.com/2018/09/30/business/aldi-expansion/index.html

Meyersohn, Nathaniel. (2019, May 17). How a cheap, brutally efficient grocery chain is upending America’s supermarkets. Retrieved on December 19, 2019, from https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2019/05/business/aldi-walmart-low-food-prices/index.html

Wiener-Bronner, Danielle. (2019, December 18). Burger King is giving delayed travelers free Impossible Whoppers. Retrieved on December 24, 2019, from https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/18/business/burger-king-delayed-flight-impossible-whopper/index.html

About the author

Gianna Petan

Meet Gianna - no stranger to all things promo products. Her background in research-based writing, linguistics, and advertising gives her an edge in blogging about the marketing industry.