Interactive marketing is the kind of place where small ideas can go big and every idea seems to have a chance of actually being made. I think that is one of the reasons that so many of us are attracted to this little corner of the marketing world: we can experiment and innovate and act on an impulse and an idea that might never get made through other means. And sometimes, those ideas wind up catching more than just our imagination, they also ignite the community of consumers and fans.
This is just what happened last month for Chrome, a manufacturer and marketer of backpacks and apparel inspired by (and designed for) urban cyclists. Fairly recently, it began making shoes. Really, its brand is strongly associated with messenger bags, and it realized it needed to do something to get people to start thinking of Chrome for shoes. Chrome mostly advertises in magazines that specialize in the urban cycling or culture scene, but it does have a good size following on Facebook, so it decided it would try something there. The idea, sprung from the brain of someone on the marketing team, was simple: let's give away a bunch of shoes.
Turds for GoldOn March 17 , at 9:06 a.m., Chrome posted the following status update on its wall: Hey Everyone! We're doing a "Turds For Gold" Shoe Exchange and, starting RIGHT NOW, we're sending a FREE PAIR OF CHROME SHOES to anyone that sends us a crappy, worn-out pair of kicks. The exchange is two days ONLY and packages MUST be postmarked by 3/18 to qualify. In your shipment, please include a return shipping address and shoe size info.
Matt Sharkey, the head of marketing, told me that, when he first heard the idea, he grabbed a slip of paper and did some math. By his estimation, he figured they would probably give out 500 or so shoes. Quick multiplication told him that the cost wouldn't be too bad and they should go ahead and do it. The post went up on a Wednesday. Chrome also allowed people to bring their old shoes by its San Francisco store:For in-store drop offs, you have to bring us your favorite six pack of beer along with the shoes to get the free pair ;)
By end of the day Wednesday, Chrome began to get a sense that this promotion might be a bit bigger than it thought.
"Matt, Get in Here"
Two days later (on Friday), 12 rolling bins of shoes appeared at the Chrome store, containing 400 pairs. Add that to the 50 pairs Chrome gave away in-store, and suddenly, the 500 pair target is starting to look a bit worrisome.
The next day, Matt was hanging out at home with his kids when his phone rang. It was the president of Chrome and he said "Get your ass down here." Matt asked "What's up?"
Nine semi trucks were lined up in front of the store, loaded with shoes.
What happened next was truly amazing. Pretty much everybody who worked at Chrome got pulled into the massive effort of dealing with shoes. When Chrome stretched its staff as far as it could go, it brought in friends and family. It then called in some temps. Finally, Chrome went back to Facebook and asked for volunteers. A bunch of people showed up. Eventually, the company managed to give out over 5,000 shoes. A rough estimation is that the program cost (in terms of goods and work) about as much as running two-page ads in its top five magazines for the entire year.
There's a lot more to the Chrome story than can be told here. If you would like to hear the whole thing, you can download a recording of my interview with Matt here. But, for all of us who look to these amazing examples of grassroots marketing, there are a few lessons to be learned from this experience:
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Gary Stein is SVP, strategy and planning in iCrossing's San Francisco office. He has been working in marketing for more than a decade. Gary lives in San Francisco with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @garyst3in. The opinions expressed in Gary's columns are his alone.