20 March 2012 Jay Shepherd

Tell people how you used to suck

How do you market a brand when people already know that it’s no good? The best way is to:

  1. remove the suckiness
  2. admit that it used to suck
  3. then explain how it doesn’t suck anymore.

Most companies in this situation overlook the second step, but it’s crucial. One of the central truths of marketing (and advertising) is that people won’t believe you when you tell them your stuff is good. Of course you’re going to say that: it’s your stuff, and you’re very proud of it.

But the converse is also true: people will always believe you when you tell them your stuff is no good. Or was no good. I mean, who would actually lie about that?

Microsoft, whose marketing is typically as bad as its products, has just launched a brilliant and fresh campaign for its new browser, Internet Explorer 9. Even nontechnical folks understand that IE has always been, well, not good. They say they’ve improved it, which itself isn’t remotely novel. But they also own up to the fact that it used to be very bad. And that is unusual.

Their campaign is called The Browser You Loved to Hate. The site is clean, simple, and well designed. It starts off refreshingly:

Some people are trying the new Internet Explorer and actually liking it. Not that they would say that out loud.

And rather than beating you over the head to switch browsers, Microsoft aims considerably lower:

Your current browser is probably great…

So keep using it. But there are probably a few sites that you go to everyday, like Facebook and Pandora. And for just those sites, try using Internet Explorer…. And when you do, you might find some stuff you like in Internet Explorer. Check out below for more reasons Internet Explorer is actually good now.

There is also an amusing video of a guy who used to run around uninstalling IE (and destroying his Mom’s gluten-free gingerbread-house blog), plus some funny, quirky graphs charting the coolness of different products (like unnecessary beanies and Pabst Blue Ribbon).

Most interestingly, the word “Microsoft” doesn’t appear anywhere on the landing page of the site.

Microsoft isn’t the only one using the three-step “we sucked” approach. Domino’s Pizza went this route in a well-received ad campaign where actual customers said that their crust was like cardboard.

If your company — or even your industry or field (lawyers: I’m looking right at you) — is saddled with a public perception of suckage, you could do worse than to follow Microsoft’s and Domino’s lead and own that suckle. And then explain why you’re better now.

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