Breaking the rules can pay off royally.
Think of how art would have suffered if Leonardo Da Vinci hadn't pilfered cadavers from the morgue. History is chock-full of such examples.
Most entrepreneurs still adhere to do's and don'ts. But those who rebel are feeling good about being bad.
Company: Big Ass Fans
Rule It Broke: Keep your marketing PC
Why It Likes Being Bad: $37 million per year and growing
Thou Shalt Not
In the advertising industry, being politically incorrect is possible but not recommended.
got away with its FCUK T-shirts, but
had to apologize for its campaign featuring inmates on death row.
An un-PC campaign might get you noticed, but it will likely polarize a majority of your demographic, says Steve Woodruff, president of branding consultancy,
"You get really close to putting a gun to your head when you cross the lines of sensitivity," he says.
The risk becomes greater with a narrower demographic, says Woodruff. "If all your business comes from tool manufacturers, you better not offend them," he says.
"People are trained to be offended these days," warns an advertising director for a multinational New York firm. He notes that risqué advertising usually prevents a company from reaching a broad consumer base.
Big Ass Fans CEO Carey Smith begs to differ. His industrial fan company, which adopted the name on a whim in 1999, started by catering to the equine industry and has since grown to warehouse distribution centers, aviation and sports venues like the Miami Dolphins stadium.
"If anything, the name has helped us catch more attention," says Jason Yount, director of marketing for the company.
Originally dubbed High Volume Low Speed Fan Company, they changed to their current M.O. after clients repeatedly remarked: "Man, that's one big a** fan!"
To ignore such unanimous feedback and stick with the stale marketing typical of industrial products "would have been dumb," says Smith.
"It's not the steak, it's the sizzle," says Smith when asked why the risqué name works.
Many businesses make the mistake of relying on shocking advertising alone, he says. The name must be intimately related to an equally standout product and be consistent with the company's whole image.
"We have a whole lot of capital tied up in the name," says Smith, "But it only provides an invitation to the party."
Most of Smith's clients forget the name, for example, when they learn that the company's largest 24-foot fan can cool an area as large as 30,000 square feet on a 2-horsepower motor.
Additionally, the company backs up its novel name with online merchandise like donkey mascots and baby clothes. At trade shows, the company's spokesman, NFL veteran William "The Refrigerator" Perry, always draws a crowd.
While people stand in line to get The Fridge's autograph, company representatives explain the technology to a captive audience.
Smith doesn't consider the name offensive -- it's a synonym for donkey in the dictionary -- but a small percentage still won't do business with him because of it.
The company's ads, which range from fan postings on YouTube to ads in winery magazines, were only rejected by one publication:
The Wall Street Journal
The company's Web site still gets hate mail from offended Web browsers and concerned parents, but as the brand becomes more established, enthusiastic blog posts and virtual high-fives are a lot more common.
A glance at the company's sales figures shows why Smith isn't losing sleep:
- 1999 Revenue: $1.2 million
- 2007 Projected Revenue: $37 million
- Average Annual Growth: 30%
The Big Idea
When I called the company and the secretary chirpily answered: "Hello, Big A** Fans," I laughed and felt immediately at ease.
The company's focus on friendly customer service and a laid-back work environment apparently pays off: A look at their fan mail page shows people eager for jobs.
"Any marketer, regardless of size, can have fun with their ads yet still remain in good taste," says Smith, referencing the recent foldout Wonderbra ads from
as a clever example.
His industrial fans, which are made in the U.S., are winning out over industrial outsourcing in the states, and more than 20,000 have been sold worldwide.
"We think we're in danger of genericizing the name -- like Kleenex," says Smith.