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How to spend your marketing and ad budget

I've worked for companies that spent their entire ad and marketing budget on making their existing users deliriously happy. Let's say your marketing and/or ad budget doesn't have the same legs it used to, or that you've just decided to make a change. Or maybe you don't even have a marketing budget. Is there something you can do that might be more creative and, in many cases today, at least--if not more--effective?

These are off the top of my head and my usual disclaimers apply (doesn't work for everything, etc.), and I hope others will add better ideas.


The Sarah McLachlan music video for World on Fire puts a different spin on alternative uses for promotional budgets—they took nearly all of the $150,000 production budget for the music video and spent it on other things. I'm sure you've all seen it by now, but here are a few sample screens that come on (in between a few home-movie quality shots of Sarah playing her guitar):




Bonus: by putting the information into the video, they're also teaching fans/users the true costs of both the production of the video and things like the cost of educating a girl in Afghanistan.

Most of my suggestions aren't nearly as "worthy" as what they did with the World On Fire budget, but to a real user... having a better experience using the product or better yet--getting to the kick ass threshold more quickly--is still a pretty damn worthy cause.

And hey -- if you can help them get laid (by creating/supporting user groups and online communities where people often find meaningful and lasting relationships), then you've got something more powerful than all the "twins" ads money can buy. ; )

Please, add your ideas.

[Relevant links: Heifer International, World Changing, and Gaping Void)]

Posted by Kathy on October 29, 2005 | Permalink


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Oldway---New way
Hire a sales guy to convince prospective clients to buy the product.---Give tools to your users to get new clients.

Posted by: vishi | Oct 29, 2005 6:25:59 PM

The text in the music video is so fast, you can hardly read and understand everything. The should've showed it longer so you actually get what they want say.

Posted by: Julian | Oct 30, 2005 2:29:54 AM

Also did anyone notice, the font they're using in the McLachlan video is a free font (Blue Highway)? I guess that's another cost-cutting measure they took!

Thanks for the articles, Kathy! You sure are making passionate users out of us :)

Posted by: Rico | Oct 30, 2005 2:48:04 AM

In my mind there's not really a talk about the old way / new way. What you describe as the "old way" still works and works well. What you describe as the "new way" also works - and has worked for many years (if you look aside the internet perspective).

The "old way" is mainstream marketing. The "new way" is more of a word-of-mouth, or viral marketing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viral_marketing) approach.
The "old way" targets the masses. The "new way" targets a narrower market segment.

There is no revolution - you're just describing old terms with new terms.

Posted by: Anders Toxboe | Oct 30, 2005 5:47:00 AM

Sarah's idea was wonderful but should everyone mirror her efforts, like all good ideas, it will quickly lose its impact and the good will she has gained from her philanthropic efforts will not replicate itself through repeat efforts. At what point does "good will" lose its appeal and the bottom line, which is still being fed through this effort, rears its ugly head and the "old" way becomes the new way once again.

Posted by: Doug Craig | Oct 30, 2005 6:11:31 AM

Ooooh I'm loving this post - right up my street and totally on the money!

The world is changing fast and more importantly, the next generation are expecting many of the 'new ways' outlined as standard - the attitudes of the young people I talk/work with and the research I recently carried out reflects this!

Posted by: DK | Oct 30, 2005 1:52:44 PM

Old way----New way
Give product only to people who pay.---Give a partial experience away for free and give a better and complete experience to paying customers.

Posted by: Vishi | Oct 30, 2005 2:13:13 PM

It seems that the old way methods listed are all attempting to sell users a product or service, while the new way is more about creating the culture around the product and users in order to sell an experience--that notion of the Experience Economy.

It strikes me that the "new ways" in the table are more about doing and making things better than selling extant things. I'm heartened by the idea that creating a better experience will trump traditional advertising and marketing; I can only hope it will pan out in the real world.

And I love that Sarah McLachlan video. Astonishing, and eye-opening. I wonder what kind of impact it ultimately had on viewers, though? Most people I know who've seen it just said, "Yeah, that was really cool." I don't know that it did anything beyond the good recounted in the video itself (which is not to say it was a wasted effort).

Posted by: Max Leibman | Oct 30, 2005 4:43:51 PM

Anders -- I completely agree. There's almost nothing "new" in the "new way" column(minor exception being the blog recommendation). What I meant by "new" is that the relative strength, importance, effectiveness, value, etc. of the right side is definitely new. The "old" ways still work, sure, but for so many things today, their value is diminished or at the least -- for many things they simply aren't *needed*. When a product or service or cause can go from zero to several million people learning of it on the web within 24 - 48 hours, all without spending a dime on anything called "marketing" -- but simply because the thing is... whatever it is that causes people to talk about--THAT is definitely new. And really, really, really fortunate for those of us with ideas, and the ability to execute, but no budget and no interest in VCs.
And I never used the word "revolution". I think it's an *evolution*, supported by the Web, and made more important by the increasing difficulty of reaching a large audience through traditional approaches (assuming you even HAVE a big budget) thanks to Tivo, increased competition for attention, etc.)
Apple still benefits from plenty of traditional "old" ways, but I write mainly for those of us who are more on a Nano budget, but who would like to make a difference in the lives of our users. And the great news is that today... that can often be enough to produce at least enough success to stop us from having to take another job, so we can keep working on making whatever it is we make a better experience for the user.
But anyway Anders, I agree and I probably could have used a different word for that column.

Doug: yes, that could be a problem. At least in the meantime, it's a win either way, since it's doing some real good! And I think it's more about creativity than trying to copy what she did for that video. But I think the WOF video is important for two almost orthogonal reasons--1) the donations to charity, and 2) that it *teaches* users/fans.

Max: I don't know either -- other than a few anecdotes from people who'd kind of "forgotten" about her but were inspired to pick up her latest CD after seeing this. They were already fans at one point, though. I don't know if any converts were made, but I do know the video has been passed around quite a lot. That can't be bad for Sarah or the causes supported by the production budget.

Posted by: Kathy Sierra | Oct 30, 2005 6:12:05 PM

Rock on!!!

Check this out:


Posted by: olivier blanchard | Oct 30, 2005 7:00:23 PM

Lovely post.

I think we are moving into an era of customer conversations. Hence, the new way of marketing has to adapt itself to the marketplace where conversations take place. It is no more a monologue. It is no more "spray and pray". It's no more control and inform. It is no more tell and bulldoze.

Posted by: S.Swaminathan | Oct 31, 2005 8:43:09 AM

Most of the posts to this blog fit the equation:
be good to users = more success for me

It's dangerous to pigeonhole this thoughtful post to the same category, to assume that we should all donate money only so we could somehow receive a monetary benefit from it.

I'm often a cynical person but I doubt that Sarah's intentions were for personal gain. There are times that decent people make decisions that contradict the normal way of life, the normal pursuit of joy and avoidance of pain. Sometimes we do things simply because we know we ought to.

There is more purpose to life than securing your future. There's more to success than dollar signs. There are more people to look out for than just Numero Uno.

Should everyone mirror Sarah's efforts, the impact will NOT be lost. The impact will amaze us.

I think Kathy has wandered us into one of the final pieces of what Passionate Marketing (not viral marketing, mind you) is all about. It's compassion.

Posted by: Marc Peabody | Oct 31, 2005 9:28:40 AM

I want to retract part of what I stated in my last post:
"Most of the posts to this blog fit the equation:
be good to users = more success for me"
I didn't mean to imply that the purpose of this blog is to teach people to be selfish.

Forgive me if I'm being presumptuous, Kathy, but I want to attest to where your heart is and recapitulate that the philosophy of Creating Passionate Users is rooted in caring about people. Viral marketing EXPLOITS social networking. The idea of Creating Passionate Users, however, is not a selfish endeavor.

Sure, most of the time karma will make its rounds and you will reap great rewards for having cared about your users. But be warned! At times you may become a martyr for the cause. Kathy has testified to this by her story of a past employer. Yet there are worse things in store for those who don't care about their users - the users will see through the bull s**t of selfish mainstream and viral marketing schemes.

Tonight I finished a book, The Accelerated Learning Handbook, that closed with the following exemplification of a Passion Evangelist:
"The future belongs to the learners. Only those... who can continually learn will survive and thrive. And the learning that will bring the brightest future... concentrates not merely on how to make money but how to work and live in a way that honors our humanity."

Back to the topic of charity - if we are truly motivated by a passion for people, donating is done not as a marketing ploy but as a natural response to a human need. It's as inherent to us as breathing.

old way: I care about me
new way: I care about you

Posted by: Marc Peabody | Nov 1, 2005 7:25:29 PM

Hey Kathy - as a TV hater but pictorial comms lover (nice contradiction), and someone that once thought a tablet might be cool - i felt i should point out this superb story about TV and the evolution of man... which prolly took five mins to knock up but says it all

Posted by: james governor | Nov 2, 2005 9:06:29 AM

Way up the comment stream - "the old way still works" Um, well, depends on who you talk to. For example, the folks who sell the interruption advertising are (with an increasing aura of flop sweat desperation) still screaming about commercials and such. So, don't seem to be working? We'll just do MORE! Which just gives the views more time to do things like finish cooking dinner (or switch over to HGTV.) Both of which I did last night everytime the commercial breaks started.

Seems to me the "old way" is about talk, talk, talk. The "new way" is about walking the talk and making real connections with the customer (delivering value versus noise.)

Posted by: Mary Schmidt | Nov 2, 2005 2:15:01 PM

Why do you have to "hire" a creative user-focussed product designer? I'm being pedantic but that top entry was for me a source of dissonance. Your whole company should to greater and lesser degrees be your product design team. The new way emphasises (to use an overplayed word) its holistic nature. Hiring seems to imply that certain skill-sets an attitudes are missing and I believe if you go down the new way road, then you will generate the skills within. Your later example of promoting a use rhappiness expert from within captures the essence of your thesis much better I think.

Posted by: john | Nov 2, 2005 3:17:11 PM

for some reason the trackback isn't sticking:
Microsoft Needs to Fire the soap powder marketers

Posted by: james governor | Nov 3, 2005 10:47:39 AM

I have just carried out a translation of the chart
Thanks for the passion


Para aquellas personas que deseen encontrar la tabla y un poco más en español.

Posted by: Almaju | Nov 3, 2005 12:25:26 PM


Sorry, This is the real link.

Posted by: Almaju | Nov 3, 2005 1:42:18 PM

Thanks so much for posting this fascinating study on the old vs. new way of marketing.

Best, Wendy Maynard

Posted by: Wendy Maynard | Nov 7, 2005 12:40:58 PM

Let’s examine what benefits the brand can get from a “making a difference”
campaign to rebuild lives and communities that have been decimated:

1. Free worldwide media coverage on national news
2. Low production costs
3. A viral/word of mouth opportunity – no PR costs
5. Creating a communicative brand that cares about its customers, listen to
them and puts their money back into the community

Posted by: tamir | Nov 7, 2005 5:35:48 PM

Old way works? Maybe so. But don’t forget that traditional media has been here for about 60-70 years and things are now changing rapidly. Surveys and studies show that advertising on TV loosing its power, young adults spend more time on the net, producing their own content. It's fair enough to say the old way still works but just see what companies like Heineken, Lexus and others are doing with their advertising budget.

this is where you can read more about my last post

Posted by: tamir | Nov 7, 2005 6:08:39 PM

I love this blog!!!! Thank you so much! Shel Israel was in our offices this week and we came across this blog while we were looking around the blogosphere. I'm back to reread and mull it over.

We are a new little company YackPack in the throes of trying to figure out who we are and what we are. One thing we know is that we want to put the customer and user experience first and we don't have huge marketing money to bring in a huge user-base. I just got started...I'll be reading more!

Posted by: Melissa | Nov 11, 2005 11:17:38 AM

Who Else Wants To Start Their Own Gift Basket Business, & Earn A Fortune Working In A Fun Business That You Absolutely Love!.

Posted by: Nima Sherpa | Feb 11, 2007 10:18:03 PM

I went through this article... but i don know how can i utilize it with my marketing plan. confused i need visitors on my site...

Posted by: Gautam | Jun 13, 2007 12:15:13 PM

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