Arrrgggh! I left my camera in the hotel. Too bad, because on a cab ride to Massey Hall in Toronto, I passed by a superb sign. While I can't do the colors and layout justice, I think the words alone will suffice. The sign was for one of the dozens of Karaoke bars that line Yonge Street, but the sign for this one read:
100% Celine Dion-free Zone!"
Hilarious and biting, but more importantly,it got me thinking. I don't know if the proprietor of said club even realizes it, but this is great Surprise marketing, as sometimes, what you aren't is more important than what you are.
Canadians realized this conundrum many years ago. With lack of a strong national identity, the best its denizens could come up with for a long time was "We are not American." While simultaneously self-deprecating and somewhat insulting, it served its countrymen well, particularly those traveling overseas.
The best, and most classic, "What We Ain't" marketing example I can think of is the soft-drink 7-Up. What is 7-Up? The Un-Cola, right? Well, it was for years, and carved out a niche against the brown behemoths of Coke and Pepsi.
These days though, it's just another lemon-lime drink. According to its website, it has a "famously crisp, refreshing taste" of "100% Natural Flavors!" It may taste great, but you also need to down a coffee or two to keep you awake after that most dreary and common of marketing descriptions. (You can't believe how dull the entire site is; I've seen laundry detergents and lip balms with more exciting marketing messages.)
What 7-Up is can never be as exciting as what it's not. The same may go for your company or your product. But it takes big buckets of guts to adopt this counter-intuitive stance, as it admits front-and-center that your own persona is little to crow about. (Think about Richard Nixon. He never said "I am an honest man!"; he said "I am not a crook.")
Trust me though; although this tactic may put you on the defensive, and bring your competition into your backyard...
It's better to be remembered
for what you're not,
than to be forgotten
for what you are.