Under The Influence

Limited Edition Brands

Many marketers release special-edition products of their mainstream brands. It may be a special limited-time flavour, or colour, or it may be a kooky version of their usual product. It’s an interesting marketing strategy. Some work, some don’t - but the stories behind them are often fascinating.

Many marketers release special-edition products of their mainstream brands. It's an interesting marketing strategy. Some work, some don't - but the stories behind them are often fascinating.

Back in 2008, a painting entitled, "Keep It Spotless" was sold at a Sotheby's auction in New York for $1.8 million dollars.

"Keep It Spotless" sold for a clean $1.8 million. (Image Source: zingarate.com)

Another piece by the artist entitled, "Simple Intelligence Testing" was sold at Sotheby's in London for $1.2 million dollars.

"Simple Intelligence Testing" sold for a smart $1.2 million. (Image Source: listverse.info)

A mural painted by the same artist on the side of a house in Bristol, England, was put up for sale through an art gallery. It was listed as a $300,000 mural that came with a free house.

This $300,000 mural came with a free house attached. (Image Source: bbc.co.uk)

Incredible prices are being paid for works by an unusual artist.

Unusual, because nobody knows who he is.

He is known only as Banksy. Based out of the UK, he is a graffiti artist and political activist who straddles the world between street art and fine art.

Nobody knows his real name – or if he is a she – or if he is actually a group of artists.

But I'll call the artist he for now. As the story goes, Banksy was being chased one night by police for vandalizing a wall with graffiti, and while hiding under a garbage truck, he noticed a stencilled serial number.

That inspired him to begin stencilling – as it allowed him to create hundreds of works of street art quickly, without being caught.

His work has a subversive sense of humour, wrapped in a political statement. 

Another typical Banksy. (Image Source: nerdgirl.com)

In another found opportunity, a huge tree had fallen on a car, and Banksy wrote:

Nature (and Banksy) strike back. (Image Source: doobybrain.com)

On another wall, he painted a doctor holding a stethoscope up to the heart on an "I love New York" poster. 

Banksy's comment on the state of New York city. (Image Source: according2g.com)

Many times, cities don't know what to do when they discover a Banksy mural on a wall. Is it graffiti that should be taken down, or valuable art that should be protected?

In one of his most amusing stunts, Banksy set up a pop-up stall in New York City and hired an older gentleman to man the booth.

When the art world later discovered the paintings were by Banksy, two of those canvases sold at auction for $214,000.

The stunt was Banksy's comment on the world of art hype.

While most people can't afford an original Banksy, many art galleries sell limited-edition prints.

Signed prints can start at $16,000. Unsigned can be had for about $5,000 and up.

The world of marketing has its own version of Banksy limited-edition artwork.

They are fun or subversive limited-edition brands. Like Banksy graffiti, they show up quickly, and are only available in limited numbers.

And like Banksy pieces, they have a strategic mission. Sometimes limited-edition products exist to bring fresh attention to a brand, or to test-drive a new product, or to make a statement.

They may not be as valuable as a Banksy, but to marketers, they're money in the bank.

There are many strategies in the world of marketing to entice you to buy.

There are sales.

Loyalty programs.


Celebrity endorsements.

There are pricing strategies, weather strategies, emotional strategies and fear-based strategies.

And when a brand suffers product fatigue, or if it needs to generate a fresh reason to get you to look at it again, one of the most interesting strategies employed is the use of "Limited-Edition Brands."

Defined as when a marketer releases an unusual version of an existing product in limited amounts for a limited time only. Usually designed to attract quick attention.

Back when the last recession was beginning to stir in late 2008, Krispy Kreme in the UK did a survey of 1,000 workers.

Krispy Kreme gets into the shoe biz. (godrum.com)

They discovered 72% of those workers felt seriously stressed on a daily basis.

When prodded further, 81% said that a simple walk in a park calmed them down.

So Krispy Kreme decided to put out a limited-edition product to help stressed-out people instantly relax.

They created the world's first grass flip-flops.

Take a walk on a park. (ohgizmo.com)

And here's the best part: It's not fake grass, but real growing grass.

The soles contained grass seed. When watered, the 5,000 blades of grass would take about three weeks to grow. And if watered regularly, the grass would last the entire summer.

The donut company only made a limited number of grass flip-flops, and gave them away for free.

Now – what is the connection to donuts, I hear you ask?

Well, here's how Krispy Kreme explains it: They try to cheer people up with one-of-a-kind donuts, and wanted to cheer people up with a one-of-a-kind summer flip-flop.

As Krispy Kreme said in their press release, it gives people a way to escape the concrete jungle and walk around in their own "mobile meadow."

Your own personal "mobile meadow." (bagofnothing.com)

It's not easy to generate attention in the donut business.

But here was a limited-edition product that made people happy while generating press.

Mission accomplished.

Every July, Collingwood, Ontario, holds their annual Elvis Festival.

It's a fun couple of days where over 100 Elvis impersonators converge to perform and compete, there's Gospel Elvis at the arena on Sunday morning, and some special Elvis guests make appearances.

Over 100 "Elvi" come to compete in Collingwood every July. (rcinet.ca)

Last year, Pricilla Presley was there.

Pricilla Presley came to the Elvis Festival last year. (collingwoodelvisfestival.com)

It's the biggest Elvis festival in North America.

And during the festival, Collingwood Tim Hortons locations create a limited-edition menu item.

Elvis cookies.

The delicious, limited-edition Elvis cookies. (let-them-eat-vinyl.com)

They're made of gingerbread, complete with a high collar made of icing, an Elvis hairstyle, and his famous lip snarl.

It's a fun way for Tim Hortons to be part of the festival, and it's a limited-edition treat that sells out every year.

When the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2013, they won it in Boston.

The windy city blows by the Bruins to win the Cup in Boston. (voanews)

So the Blackhawks wanted to do something special for their fans to celebrate.

Just before the last sheet of "championship season" ice was taken up at Chicago's United Center, a portion of it was saved and melted.

Then, two-thousand vials of melted ice water were made available to fans at a cost of $99 each – complete with a collectible box and a letter of authenticity.

A vial of championship ice. (brocouncil.com)

The promotion was called, "Own The Ice," and the $200,000 in proceeds went to charity.

It gave the Blackhawks some nice publicity, money went to a good cause, and it was a way to give something to their biggest, diehard fans.

And the 2,000 limited-edition vials sold out in one single day.

You can still find a few on eBay – selling for over $350 each.

The 2,000 limited-edition championship ice vials sold out in one day. (cbssports.com)

In the marketing world, it is believed that North American families buy the same 185 products over and over again.

Those 185 items make up about 85% of their daily household needs.

That's great if your brand is on that list, but what if it's not? How do you break in?

One of the ways is through limited-edition products.

The novelty of limited-edition products attracts attention. The packaging is usually bolder than regular brands.

There is usually a tie-in that is intriguing, maybe enough to get you to try a product for the first time.

And if you like what you see, one of the 185 brands on your list might just change.

The world of cosmetics is famous for limited-edition brands.

When Dolce & Gabbana released their limited-edition Animalier Bronzer in a leopard spot package, it become their 4th best-selling item in 2011.

The limited-edition Animalier Bronzer became one of D&G's top sellers. (harrods.com)

And here's why limited-edition items are important to Dolce & Gabbana: Over 65% of the people who bought Animalier were new to the brand.

Releasing limited runs of unique products is a tactic that has little risk when you consider the potential upside.

A limited-edition product can attract new customers. It can generate buzz.

It can act as a "halo," drawing people back to the original brand. And if a limited-edition really takes off, it has a chance of becoming a part of the regular collection.

In other words, it's a great way to test-drive new products.

Cosmetic brand MAC has a long history of interesting limited-edition items.

For example, back in 2003, it teamed up with cross-dressing comedian Eddie Izzard to create a collection of cosmetics called "Sexie."

Eddie Izzard teamed up with MAC to create a cosmetics line. (spokeo.com)

As MAC stated at the time, the Eddie Izzard line reflected MAC's diverse take on beauty.

Izzard does a little touch-up. (express.co.uk)

It sold out immediately.

As one cosmetics expert stated, limited-edition cosmetics are beauty's answer to fast fashion. Consumers are trained to come back to retailers like H&M on a weekly basis to see what's new. The cosmetic product cycle doesn't allow for that – so limited-edition items help generate new reasons to shop.

MAC also did a fun "Venomous Villains" limited-edition line of cosmetics.

MAC's fun Venomous Villians line. (alllacqueredup.com)

Instead of fashioning a line based on heroines, it chose to go to the dark side.

The limited-edition cosmetics featured famous Disney villains, like Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmations and the Evil Queen from Snow White.

You, too, can look like Cruella De Vil and the Evil Queen. (makeupandbeautyblog)

The packaging was eye-catching and highly unusual, as were the colours – described as "shadowy for a bad-girl vibe."

Lipsticks were named "Innocence Beware" and "Toxic Tale." Eye-shadows were "Vile Violet" and "My Dark Magic." The blush was called "Bite of an Apple."

And all the shades were based on the original Disney character sketches and pantone colours.

Auto manufacturers often make limited-edition models.

Fiat recently put out a limited-edition model in collaboration with GQ magazine. It was an interesting strategy, because Fiat sometimes struggles with being seen as a woman's car. So branding the Fiat 500c GQ Edition with GQ logos was not just a tactic to get attention, but to subtly re-position the car as male-friendly.

A Fiat crossed with GQ Magazine. (Image Source: fiat.co.uk)

One of the more daring limited-edition cars to come down the road in a long time was the 2013 Chevrolet Camaro Special Hot Wheels Edition.

Camaro was one of the original 16 Hot Wheels toys launched in 1968. And it's surprising that it took a car maker this long to link a full-sized model with the Hot Wheels brand.

The Camaro had Hot Wheels logos embossed on the leather seats, as well as logos on the front fenders, decklid and steering wheel. It even had red striping around the rims like the original Hot Wheels toys.

Here's the Camaro design director describing the attention to detail:

At the Canadian International Car Show, it was displayed on a giant orange Hot Wheels track - of course.

Chevrolet also created a Twitter-activated vending machine that dispensed one of two Hot Wheel Special Edition toys in exchange for a tweet.

The strategy was to engage kids, thrill baby boomer Dads who had grown up with Hot Wheels, leverage the 97% awareness the brand enjoys among Moms, excite auto enthusiasts and create media buzz.

It was a win-win – Camaro generated over five million media impressions, and Hot Wheels reached an all-time high for Twitter followers.

Artist Andy Warhol created quite a stir when he unveiled his series of Campbell's Soup-can paintings back in 1962.

Andy Warhol paints his favourite lunch in 1962. (Image Source: hyperallergic)

The inspiration for the artwork came from a habit he had of eating the same lunch every day for 20 years. That lunch… was Campbell's soup.

When Campbell's heard about the 32 silkscreen paintings, it considered taking legal action because Warhol had not sought permission to use its trademark. But the company decided to take a "wait and see" approach.

It was a smart move. The paintings became a phenomenon, and Campbell's realized it had a free marketing campaign on its hands.

The relationship paid off for both parties – Campbell's became one of the most recognized brands around the world, and the artwork kicked Warhol's fame into overdrive.

Warhol's Campbell's Soup paintings made both Warhol and Campbell's famous. (Image Source: imgkid)

Warhol had been a successful advertising illustrator, and therefore had a great sense of pop culture and celebrity. His most famous quote was, "In the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes."

Though he passed away in 1987, Warhol's influence on the art world is still felt. In 2010, one of his soup paintings sold at Christie's for $23.9 million dollars. (And by the way, you could have bought one for $1,500 back in 1962)

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Warhol's Campbell Soup artwork, Campbell's Soup - the company - released four limited-edition cans bearing Warhol-inspired artwork.

Priced at 75 cents each, the Warhol-edition soup was sold exclusively at Target stores.

Campbell's put out Warhol-inspired soup cans in Target stores. (Image Source: 411posters)

And the entire 1.2 million can collection sold out within days.

As a respected art magazine recently said, the Warhol/Campbell's Soup relationship is an interesting story.

It's a rare instance where an artist uses a trademark without permission to create an artwork, the company considers suing, then years later the artwork is re-purposed into a marketing campaign for the original company.

A rare full-circle art-to-marketing moment.

But just because Campbell's was OK with Warhol commandeering its trademark doesn't always mean that's always the case.

In 2008, Campbell's sued a New York fast-food company called Pop Burger for posting a wall-length mural of Warhol's soup can paintings.

Campbell's sued fast feeder Pop Burger for posting the Warhol Campbell soup posters. (Image Source: streetgrub)

They claimed copyright infringement.

Yet interestingly, the Warhol Foundation didn't sue.

Maybe that's why the poster still hangs at Pop Burger, and why the lawsuit went away in about… 15 minutes.

One of the most active categories for limited-edition products is the alcohol business.

Not long ago, distilled beverage maker Pernod Ricard launched a limited-edition Vodka-based liqueur called "Oddka."

Can we pour you a glass of freshly-cut grass, perhaps? (Image Source: ursofrench)

One of the flavours was called, "Freshly Cut Grass."

It is described as, "Fresh, citrus-y, sweet and refreshing."

If that doesn't pique your interest, there is a "Salty Caramel Popcorn" flavour and even one called "Wasabi" – named after the Japanese horseradish found in sushi restaurants.

As strange as those flavours may sound, Pernod Ricard has a strategy when it comes to limited-edition brands. They want to broaden their footprint in the Vodka category – get more shelf space - and attract attention by releasing highly unusual flavours.

Plus, they get to minimize risk by test-driving flavours before a national roll-out.

Back in the 1940s, Frank Sinatra asked Jackie Gleason to recommend a drink that would get him "smashed."

Sinatra getting smashed with Jackie Gleason. (Image Source: vhlinks)

Gleason said Jack Daniels was a pretty good place to start.

Over the years, Sinatra became a big fan of the brand.

In 1955, the Jack Daniels Distillery sold 150,000 cases. The next year, Sinatra began calling it "The nectar of the Gods" while sipping a glass of Jack onstage.

The chairman of the board pours a little Jack. (Image Source: adweek)

Sales doubled.

The Chairman of the Board's endorsement helped make it American's best-selling whiskey – yet the company never paid Sinatra to do it.

So in recognition, Jack Daniels recently released a limited-edition version called "Sinatra Select."


Selling for a pricey $175 U.S., the whiskey comes in a package trimmed with Sinatra's favourite colour – orange – along with a book entitled, "A Timeless Story of Friendship."

The slogan for Sinatra Select is: "They were inseparable, and as it turns out, they still are."

Now – you may be wondering what "They still are" means, considering old Blue Eyes has been dead since 1998.

Well – it turns out there's a good reason for it.

Sinatra was buried with a bottle of Jack Daniels.

Frankie took a bottle with him. (Image Source: adweek.com)

There are many strategic reasons for limited-edition products.

Sometimes brands suffer from the blahs, and need a boost to re-ignite interest.

Like good old Campbell's Soup did with their recent Warhol collection.

Sometimes a brand needs to tweak its appeal – as Fiat did by teaming up with GQ Magazine to get a limited-edition fill-up of testosterone.

Sometimes a marketer wants to test-drive a new product in a risk-adverse way. Oddka's Freshly Cut Grass-flavoured Vodka didn't make the cut.

But Jack Daniel's Sinatra Select is still on the shelf.

And sometimes, a limited-edition item is created for the buzz – like a vial of melted Chicago Blackhawks ice, or a pair of Krispy Kreme "mobile meadows."

But every time you see a limited-edition product, know that it is serving a bigger marketing purpose.

It may just look like fun, but it's really trying to dislodge one of the 185 products you buy over and over again…

…when you're under the influence.