Rebel With a Cause: How to Market Your Brand Like a Delinquent Teen

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“You’ve gotta do something. Don’t you?”
– Buzz Gunderson Rebel Without a Cause

If you are not familiar with the movie Rebel Without a Cause, it’s about three teens looking to find a unique way to make sense out of life. It’s a concept people in marketing understand all too well. Whether you work at a Fortune 500 company or run your own small business, the goal is the same — build up the brand while engaging the audience.

You can follow the crowd and focus your campaigns on traditional and somewhat tired strategies or you can rebel against conformity to find a distinctive voice that shouts “You’re not tearing my brand apart” to the world.

Get an Analog Tattoo

In the age of Facebook scandals and Twitter politics, maybe offline is an approach that can work for your brand. You still have to find a way to stand out, though, so how about getting the marketing version of a tattoo. In other words, something big and visual like a mural on the side of your building, a moving window, a billboard that makes them look twice or even a print ad that says I’m too cool for digital. If you do it right, it will pay off with viral images, Google hits and social media posts, taking your offline rebellion back to where it will get the most views.

A good example of this concept in action is Target’s 2010 Lightshow for New York Fashion Week. They rented all the street-facing rooms in Standard Hotel in Manhattan. When the sun went down, the curtains on the rooms opened and 66 dancers put on a show in Day-Glo suits. Somewhere between 3,000 to 5,000 people watched on the street plus it was web-casted, Youtubed and Facebooked millions of times. If you live in a cave and missed it, people from all over the world still watch it here.

State of Marketing Report 2024

Act Out to Get Attention

It’s guerrilla marketing at its best and one of the least expensive approaches to developing brand awareness. The only limitation is your imagination.

  • Flash Mobs
  • Skywriting
  • Treasure hunts online or off
  • Funny video series

It can be artistic. It can be comic. It should be mind-boggling. There are a lot of good examples out there but the plane mob orchestrated by Germanwings takes rebellion to the next level. They positioned a few strategic travelers on a competitor’s plane. During the flight, and when the flight attendants were not looking, they quietly held up signs talking trash about the airline and reminding the other flyers that there was a better choice. They used the plane mob action to create a video ad that went viral.

Talk About Your Feelings

Or, more to the point, blog about them. It’s an approach that works well for Richard Branson, founder of Virgin. His blog, aptly titled Richard Branson’s blog, isn’t about the company. It’s about him. He talks about things that matter to him like the environment, people he knows, tons of technology and other things that get him motivated. He talks about how he feels and, at the same time, draws in traffic to the company website. While you read the blog, you are invited to Discover Virgin, top up your mobile and even book a flight. Richard pours his heart out and Virgin reaps the benefits. Don’t have the writing chops of Sir Richard? No problem, hire a writer to create words around your thoughts. Who’ll know?

Take a Stand

Take a stand as a brand for something that matters, maybe global warming, clean oceans, school safety or #metoo — you get the idea. Once you have your cause, take the fight to your audience. Build marketing campaigns that talk about how this cause important to your company while mentioning the brand name a few times, of course, to create a connection that sticks.

State Farm took on obesity, for instance. They started the 50 Million Pound Challenge with Dr. Ian Smith to motivate the African American community to lose weight and, today, it’s a nationwide health initiative.

If you want to market like a delinquent teen then do the unexpected. Be different just for the sake of being different.


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