We Agree with Elon Musk: “Silly and Fun Things Are Important”

Earlier this month SpaceX successfully launched the Falcon Heavy rocket ship, the most powerful rocket to be sent into space by a private company to date. Even though the launch was nearly flawless, paving the way for a new era of space exploration, the most talked about aspect of the launch wasn’t the rocket, but its payload – a red convertible sports car. Elon Musk, owner of SpaceX and the electric car company, Tesla, tested the ship’s carrying capacity by loading it up with Tesla’s Red Roadster. About four minutes after launch a live video feed of the car aired from space, featuring a mannequin dubbed the “Spaceman” who was strapped in the driver’s seat wearing a SpaceX spacesuit. Majestic scenes of earth in the distance silhouetted “Spaceman” as the car-laden rocket began its orbit around the solar system.

In one week the YouTube video had over 14 million views and every news outlet imaginable reported, first on the launch, then again about Tesla in space and some a third time about whether or not the live feed was real. The internet exploded with links to the video, diagrams of the solar system – featuring planetary orbits that included the trajectory of the Tesla – and commentary.

The New York Times quoted Musk saying, “It’s kind of silly and fun, but silly and fun things are important.”

Suffice to say, the stunt was marketing gold. The New York Times quoted Musk saying, “It’s kind of silly and fun, but silly and fun things are important.” Musk could have simply launched the Falcon Heavy and received comprehensive press coverage for that impressive milestone, but instead he captured the imagination of the world – engaging audiences and making both SpaceX and Tesla awe inspiring. And he’s right, “silly and fun things are important,” especially in marketing, because help consumers to connect to a brand on an emotional level.

When consumers connect with a marketing campaign they get excited and talk about it, they share ads with friends and create commentary (blogging and making parodies), forcing news outlets to follow and report on the extra excitement. All this engagement is what the marketing industry calls earned media – media publicity gained through promotional efforts – and stunts are an effective way to garner impressions outside traditional media buys.

As technology catches up and allows business owners to see the return on their investment in stunts and silly, I predict that there will be an increase in this type of marketing

Musk’s Tesla stunt is an extreme version of this model, but shooting a car into space isn’t the only way to capture consumer’s attention. Tide’s 2018 Super Bowl ad takeover was a stunt that was silly enough to engage viewers, while fitting into the traditional commercial mold. Tide set up the audience with a spot in the first quarter suggesting that all ads are really Tide ads – because in ads, everyone’s clothes are clean. Then followed up that idea with three more commercials, styled as ads for other industries – only to interrupt them at the end, saying “it’s a Tide ad.” This tactic created a sense of suspense and expectation that truly turned every Super Bowl ad into a potential Tide ad. In this instance silly worked, but sometimes it’s hard to measure how well it works.

In my experience in the advertising industry, selling silly to a client can be a difficult task – mostly because earned media is extremely hard to quantify. The resources it would take to track down engagement across independent sites, blogs and social media could easily eat up the gains that extra engagement made, and if you can’t track it how do you prove it has value? Forbes published an article last month that addressed this difficulty, highlighting advancements in tracking software that can do some of the legwork for advertising agencies. As technology catches up and allows business owners to see the return on their investment in stunts and silly, I predict that there will be an increase in this type of marketing, and I look forward to it. Who wouldn’t want a little more fun in their advertising?

Here’s a couple campaigns we’ve done recently that are on the silly and fun side. I invite you to take a look and consider what a bit of fun could do for your business.