SOLO STOVE "SMOKELESS CAMPAIGN": a cautionary tale
February 12, 2024
A few months ago, the internet was ablaze when Snoop Dogg suddenly announced on X (formerly known as Twitter) that he was “giving up smoke.” Everyone was shocked. Many weed lovers were inspired to do the same, while some skeptics were adamant that it had to be some kind of PR or marketing stunt.
Sure enough, it was revealed that the cryptic message was part of a marketing campaign from Solo Stove, who cleverly used Snoop Dogg’s persona to promote their main product with its core value proposition: a “smokeless fire pit.”
The campaign was a viral sensation.
However, despite what appeared a smashing success, the CEO was fired a couple months later. Every headline covering this story read the same: "Despite raising awareness, the campaign didn't translate into sales.”
These headlines and some of the conversations online highlight a deep misunderstanding of how the marketing machine works. The Solo Stove story is also a great case study to address three common mistakes I see companies make all the time.
I. SETTING THE WRONG EXPECTATIONS
At any given time, there are two groups of potential customers for brands in every category– a group that is "out-of-market,” not looking for what you're selling and therefore would not buy your product after seeing your ad, even if it went viral; and a group that is "in-market,” looking for the kind of solutions your product or service provides, who is likely to buy if the conditions are right.
For brand campaigns like this one, the metric should not be sales— at least not in the short term. The metrics should be around brand awareness: brand recall, share of voice, social impressions and engagement, to name only a few. The goal here is to ensure that the group that is currently out-of-market can remember, recognize and choose the brand once they are in-market, which is why the effects on sales are usually delayed by at least six months.
Before spending all your money on a campaign, set the right expectations. Ask yourself whether your campaign is a brand play, a sales move or a bit of both.
II. WORKING IN SILOS
Brand-marketing and performance-marketing teams are separated in most companies. Their incentives and key performance metrics are often at odds so they compete instead of working together. As a result, there’s usually no coherent marketing plan and no clear handoffs. But marketing is too complex to not be practiced as a team sport.
If brand and sales were working together, they would've set up supporting sales activities to grow the pipeline and capture demand. They could have created a promotion to go along with the campaign to capture some of the existing demand. The two teams would work together to meet customers where they are on their customer journey. Brand would focus on building mental availability, which Byron Sharpe defines as "the likelihood of a brand being thought of in buying situations.” Sales would build a pipeline for future demand while also capturing existing demand on dedicated channels and landing pages.
Building this kind of comprehensive campaign requires a coherent strategy with a budget that spreads to support all brand and sales activities. It seems that Solo Stove ran out of budget. Having gone all out to get Snoop Dogg, they had no money left for other marketing activities, mistakenly believing that going viral would translate into sales.
III. NEGLECTING THEIR 4Ps
Treating the lack of sales as a "failure of the campaign" also ignores the fact that Promotion is only one of the 4 Ps of marketing.
The other three should also be scrutinized to find out why the brand didn't hit its sales target:
1. PRODUCT: Does the product do what it promises?
2. PRICE: Is the stove priced appropriately?
3. PLACE: Is it easy for people to find and buy this product?
If not enough people need or want what you’re selling, if your product is difficult and cumbersome to buy; and if it’s not priced appropriately for your target market, great promotion or even going viral will not translate into sales.
In the end, to avoid the same fate as Solo Stove, the lesson here for all of us is to set the right expectations, align our teams around the same goals and metrics and take a holistic look at our marketing mix.