When mavericks and misfits make millions

I’ve always had an affinity for rule breakers. Call them mavericks or misfits, people who obey the rules selectively, push boundaries where they can get away with it, and have the self confidence to chart their own course, deserve credit for oftentimes shaking up an industry for the better. Among others playing it safe, they’re the disruptors.

Regular readers will know I love the concept of disruption applied to marketing. That’s likely why one of my subscriber colleagues tossed me the tip recently for this weeks content.

“Have you heard of Deciem?” came the text. “They’d make a good topic for your newsletter.” Indeed.

Deciem is a Toronto-based skin care company, with a cult millennial following, $300 million in sales this year, and an unpredictable mavric CEO at the helm, who boasts spending $0 on advertising to sell products at a fraction of the price compared to competitors.

Deciem makes over 300 skin care products sold online and in 24 stores located in Toronto and Vancouver, and in 5 other countries including the US and the UK. The “Ordinary” line is a rebel in the beauty business. Where other brands have mark ups of 80-90%, Ordinary products are cheap at $5 rather then competitors $25-30. Packaging is simple, and offers modest benefits, rather then grand claims.

Traditionally beauty product companies sell at high prices, because the perception is that a higher price means better quality. And when you’re “selling hope” as Revlon found so famously put it, price is not longer a concern. Add to that the traditional model of devoting 20-30% of sales to advertising in the skin care industry, and you can see how Deciem has become a disruptor.

Deciem’s tagline is “The abnormal beauty company” and the company website proudly states that Brandon Truaxe, the CEO is “screwed up.”

That might be an understatement.

In the past 6 months he has fired and re-hired his co-founder, had a CFO resignation, taken over the company Instagram and Twitter account – then posted dead animal photos boasting they don’t conduct animal testing, lashed out at detractors through Youtube videos and has been seen incoherently mumbling about taking pills in his hotel mini bar. This is not the stuff of CEO’s online. A traditional company would fire an employee behaving this way. But Deciem is far from traditional. Plus who is going to fire him?

Truaxe has been quoted as saying; “Bad publicity that you explain is actually better than good publicity, because good publicity you always question.”

Now THAT is the statement I want you to ponder. With the line between genuine earned media being crossed with sponsorship, native content, and other forms of paid editorial which have become the norm, along with an era of “fake news” being used to dismiss anything not in agreement, bad publicity explained is actually attention getting and authentic. Is it possible that we could be becoming numb to earned media not being genuine? Depending on the target audience, and given the right context, bad could actually be good. Think about that for a minute. Certainly for Deciem, the irreverent approach of stirring the pot and then explaining or dismissing it later, seems to resonate with their target audience. Customers remain fiercely loyal, often stocking up on their favourite items in case the company actually were to go under, or patiently putting their name on a waiting list for a sunscreen the company is to be releasing. Seriously – what other company could cause their customers to “wait list” for sunscreen? Obviously promotions and publicity only go so far. A superior product has to be behind things. But still, this maverick approach is making them millions….

Is there something to be learned here?

I’m not suggesting we should all go off and riff on Twitter after a few late night drinks, or post inappropriate content. But I do want you to consider for a moment how this tactic is a promotional and earned media disruptor. Is there a way to leverage this approach in your business? Maybe. I’ll leave that for you to decide. The approach has to be congruent with your brand positioning for sure. What do you think? I’d love your thoughts or comments!




Mary Charleson

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