Want to Make Your Product More Popular? Find Its "Peanut Butter"

April 21, 2017

Brands like Geico and Cracker Jacks have used this classic marketing technique, to great success.

In 2013, the insurance company Geico released a commercial featuring a talking camel. In it, the camel was particularly excited because it was “hump day” – aka Wednesday.

Here’s the commercial, in case you haven’t yet blocked it out of your mind yet:

Is this commercial funny? Ehhh, kinda. Is it creative? Somewhat. But did it have a massive impact on Geico’s success?

Believe it or not, yes.

After that commercial was released, Geico began winning the “search wars” with rival Progressive. In insurance, where a single click on a Google ad can cost more than $54, getting organic (i.e. unpaid) search is critical.

Why did Geico start winning the search wars? Because of a huge spike on Wednesdays, thanks entirely to that commercial. People would Google that commercial each Wednesday, thinking they were funny by playing it to their friends and colleagues, and that would cause them to think of Geico.

And that caused them to search for Geico more, particularly on Wednesdays.

So what’s the marketing lesson here? In his LinkedIn Learning course on viral marketing, best-selling author Jonah Berger said Geico made Wednesday its proverbial “peanut butter.” In other words, they linked their product to a regularly occurring trigger, and each time that trigger came – Wednesday – people thought of Geico.

And that’s a classic marketing strategy that’s worked for years.

What does it mean to “find your peanut butter”?

Jelly’s peanut butter is, well, peanut butter, Berger explained in his course. In other words, whenever someone thinks of peanut butter, they instinctively think of jelly.

They are linked. And so the more peanut butter is mentioned, the more jelly benefits.

Companies do this all the time to market their product; they tie it to a regularly occurring event. Here are a few examples:

  • The beer Corona has made the beach its peanut butter. Whenever someone sits on the beach and wants a beer, often the first one they think of is Corona.
  • Along the same lines, St. Patrick’s Day is invariably tied to the beer Guinness. While this has historical precedent, Guinness markets itself heavily so it remains the first beer you think of when you think of St. Patrick’s Day.
  • A few years ago, KitKat started a new ad campaign called “KitKat and coffee.” The idea was to have a KitKat each time you have a coffee. The year the campaign launched, KitKat’s revenues increased from $300 million to $500 million, as now when people drank coffee – a frequent occurrence – they increasingly thought of having a KitKat.

Two rules to picking your “peanut butter”

Okay, so maybe you want to tie your product to some trigger. Which trigger should you choose?

Well, in his course, Berger gave two guidelines when choosing your peanut butter:

  • Pick a trigger that happens often.

Wednesdays and coffee breaks are great examples – Wednesdays happen every week and lots of people drink coffee. Conversely, you wouldn’t want your trigger to be associated with a solar eclipse or the sighting of Halley’s Comet.

  • Pick a trigger that happens at the time of action.

You want the trigger to coincide with a time you want an action to occur, not before or after. For example, the government of Australia a few years ago wanted more people to use sun tan lotion. To make the message stick, they advertised a picture of a beach towel with a chalk outline on it, like the police do for dead bodies, meaning you could literally be killing yourself by sun bathing.

That’s an effective campaign on its own. But it also tied their message to a beach towel – the perfect time, considering people usually can grab their sunscreen at the same time they grab their beach towel. By tying it to the right moment, people were more likely to remember and bring their sunscreen.

The takeaway

You probably think there should be more rules to picking your peanut butter. For example, shouldn’t your product have some connection to the trigger?

That helps, but look at the Geico example. Insurance has no connection to Wednesday and it still worked.

In fact, writing this article reminded me of a discussion I heard on a podcast a few years ago. In it, the two hosts were debating why root beer floats weren’t more popular. After all, root beer floats are delicious and unique, and yet they are hardly dominating the market.

You know what root beer floats need? A peanut butter. If root beer floats tied themselves to say, the 4th of July, saying it isn’t 4th of July without a root beer float, they’d invariably be more popular. People would look forward to the 4th of July, partially to have a delicious root beer float.

That’s just one idea (root beer makers should pay me a hefty royalty if they take it). But surely there’s some trigger you can tie your product too, which will help its popularity. What will you pick?

*Image from Matias Garabedian, Wikipedia Commons

Want to learn more about viral marketing? Check out Jonah Berger’s full LinkedIn Learning course on the subject today.