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Season Five.
"Opportunism In Advertising"

Airs Saturday May 14th and Thursday May 19th, 2011.

This week, the Age of Persuasion features an encore broadcast of "Opportunism in Advertising." Every now and then, marketers throw away the playbook, and create campaigns based on surprising opportunities that suddenly appear. Sometimes it's taking advantage of a news story, or a competitor's ad, or a new economic reality - or even the launch of the Space Shuttle.

It takes courage and ingenuity, but when opportunism works, it can put a brand on the map.

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All of the TV commercials and print elements we referred to in the episode, as well as some bonus materials, are below. Enjoy.

There's a story from the 1912 US presidential election - that the Progressive party launched a pamphlet on behalf of its candidate- Mr. Roosevelt.

After three million copies of that Roosevelt pamphlet were printed, the horrified campaign manager realized that he had not obtained rights to the photograph that appeared on it. Under U.S. copyright law, he knew he could be liable to pay as much as $1 per pamphlet to the copyright holder.

Thinking quickly, he fired off a telegram to the copyright owner. It read: "Planning to print three million copies of campaign speech with photograph you took. Excellent publicity opportunity for you. "How much," he asked, "are you willing to pay to have us use it?"

Within an hour he received the reply from the copyright holder: "Appreciate opportunity," it read, "but can only afford $250."

It was a wily piece of opportunism.

So often, the business of marketing is all about executing carefully-laid plans. But every now and then, it's also about good old fashioned, spontaneous opportunism. Advertisers throw away the rulebook and take advantage of situations and opportunities that present themselves.

It takes courage and a nimble organization, but it can also lead to major business gains.

Years ago, pizza company Papa John's was taken to court by a competitor. At issue was a claim that they made in their commercials, stating that their pizza was "better." Not "better" by some empirical measure, or quantifiable science.

Just... 'better.'

Papa John defended itself by leaping behind a legal precedent that allowed advertisers to make unproven claims by arguing that the boast was mere "puffery" and that consumers would perceive it as such.

Once Domino's heard the word "puffery" they challenged Papa John's claim, and threw the word "puffery" back at them. Papa John couldn't say much about it, as it had been their legal defense.

It was a perfect bit of opportunism for Dominos.

But the interesting thing to note was that the Papa John lawsuit wasn't brought against them by Dominos. It was instigated by Pizza Hut 10 years earlier.

What Dominos did, all these years later, was dig up this court case to attack Papa John's, and refute any claim that their new pizza could be bested.

It was a crafty bit of negative advertising, and a brazen act of marketing opportunism.

Blendtec is another smart advertiser.

Blendtec's series "Will It Blend?" has blended every imaginable object, all to show how powerful their blenders are.

CEO Tom Dickson has blended Bic Lighters, marbles, light sabers, golf clubs, baseballs and more.

But when the iPad was launched, Blendtec saw an opportunity.

And blended Apple's newest, hottest product:

When Tiger Woods hit his personal life into the rough, Nike had to decide whether to stick with their number one spokesperson, or abandon him, as other sponsors had.

Nike chose to run a controversial commercial during the Masters.

They chose not to have Tiger speak.

Instead, Nike chose the voice of Tiger's late father, Earl Woods, from remarks he made in a completely different context. Earl's voice serves as his conscience; Tiger's own personal Jiminy Cricket.

It was a bold piece of opportunism for Nike. It garnered press from every corner of the planet.

The jury is still out as to whether Tiger can regain his glory, but Nike is still number one in golf.

Not long ago, a 62-year-old woman from Richmond Hill, Ontario pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an incident in the parking lot of a Toronto fitness centre.

She was caught on videotape, and it soon became a YouTube favourite:

London's Daily Telegraph dubbed it the worst parking error on YouTube. The driver was fined, ordered to pay restitution, given probation, and restricted from driving during certain hours.

Within days the video yielded a million hits on YouTube. Seizing an opportunity, a marketing team from Hyundai sprang into action.

A week after the incident, they ambushed the man whose Elantra was smashed, and presented him the keys to a brand new car:

What Hyundai called a "random act of kindness" was, on another level, an inspired act of marketing opportunism. Handled with incredible speed, in an industry where meaningful decisions often take months.

Their happy customer got his car. And video of the ambush got itself hundreds of thousands of hits.

Even NASA has taken some opportunism of their own. During the Shuttle Discovery launch, there was an added sell line in the countdown sequence:

"...paving the way for space missions, beyond!" was an opportunity for NASA to sell its mandate to the American public. As we're seeing now, public support for the Shuttle program has been waning, and the last one is scheduled to launch shortly.

VW has a long, creative history of opportunism.

The day after the moon landing, VW ran this full page ad in the New York Times:

Ugly VW.jpg

During the gas crisis of the 70s, VW ran this ad:


In Montreal not long ago, Apple posted a billboard showing its line of Nano players. Each nano was a different colour, each looking freshly painted, with the paint dripping from each player, right off the bottom of the poster.

In an inspired bit of marketing opportunism, Rona Hardware's agency, Bos Advertising, saw a way to advertise Rona's commitment to eco-friendly initiatives. So they created a banner ad to be placed immediately below the Apple billboard. It showed paint cans, perfectly placed to catch the dripping paint from the Apple ad. Rona's headline was "We recycle paint."

rona #2.jpg

Because there was no billboard space beneath the Apple ad, Rona hired a small army of people to show up in the middle of the night and quietly string the ad up, using two cranes, 130 feet in the air.

In the end, Apple was not amused. But Rona scooped a bunch of free media attention, and at least one major ad award.

It is said that leopards are opportunistic hunters.

They don't stalk or stick to routines, but rather pounce on prey as it appears.

Most marketers never hunt for spontaneous opportunities and stay with their carefully laid plans.

But others have their antennae finely tuned and are able to seize an opportunity. It takes a combination of courage, ingenuity and a rare degree of nimbleness.

And not all opportunities are obvious.

Many marketers look but never see.

But as I'm fond of saying, there is an opportunity hiding in absolutely everything.