Is Disruptive Advertising Still Disruptive?

When you hear the word disruptive, what comes to mind? In social media or Information Technology context? One good example of something disruptive is Drake’s In Your Feelings Challenge. It got millions of people across the world off their seats and got them dancing beside a moving car. That is what disruptive advertising aims to do. Advertising that has the power to influence people in some way. That gets them involved and motivated and creates excitement. Disruptive advertising challenges the conventional way of thinking in any market. It makes the weird, sometimes inappropriate seem normal and exciting.

Disruptive advertising is a concept that has been in existence for a long time. Many major brands have used it to their advantage, in different ways. The first name that comes to mind is Coca Cola and their “Share a Coke Campaign.” It does not get more disruptive than that. That campaign made such a big splash that its ripples could still be felt years later. As fun as this sounds, how effective or practical is disruptive advertising in today’s market? Is it something brands should try?

What Is Disruptive Advertising

There are moments in every industry that change the order of things. For example, the transportation industry has never been the same since ridesharing companies became a thing. The likes of Uber and Lyft entered the scene and put everything on its head, in a good way. Now, most people cannot remember a time when they could not simply order a ride on their phone. Wait a few minutes for their ride to arrive, and be on their way.

Now bring that general mindset to advertising. That is essentially what disruptive advertising is. A moment of advertising brilliance that changes the consumer’s perception of that brand or product forever. Advertising that pushes limits and smashes boundaries. Advertising that breaks free from restrictive this-is-how-we-do-it thinking. It dares to be different.

Normally disruptive advertising is a one-trick pony. A one-off advertising campaign that is meant to grab consumer attention and trend on social media. But a more effective use of disruptive advertising is to channel it towards changing people’s mindsets. A good example of this was Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign. The personal care brand broke all the existing norms about what beauty should be and look like all in that ad. They turned the whole beauty product industry on its head and it worked wonders for them. They made a campaign where they used full-bodied female models and untouched photos showing all their “imperfections.” It was a defining moment in the beauty products industry, and it was not only a one-time thing. It became what their brand was all about; it became their story as a brand. It was brilliant, and brought about a huge increase in sales. That is what disrupting a market can do.

This whole concept of disruptive advertising sounds like a good idea right? Why doesn’t every brand go for it? Well, not every brand can pull it off. Not every company possesses the level of innovation that is necessary to pull off this marketing approach. A company has to always reinvent itself and find new ways to solve problems. The story of Apple is an important case study here.

Before Apple became the giant they are now, Apple products were regarded as overpriced bland products. Users thought Apple products were only clones of products that were better in every way than they were. Apple’s stocks took a nosedive during that period. Fast forward to today, Apple is now a name synonymous with sleek and wondrous products. Products that people cannot get enough of. People now wait for days so they can be the first to buy new Apple products. What changed, you might ask? How did Apple change its story around? Well, they came up with something that most people could not even imagine at that time; an mp3 player.

The iPod changed the music player market entirely. The only players available then were Discmans. These were regarded as the height of technology. These products could only play one CD at a time, one artist and one album, except if it was a ripped CD. iPods then came and blew everybody’s brains with its ingenuity. The game-changer was the ability of the iPod to play specific music from different musicians. You could do this without having to download their entire album first. That was it for Apple, market disrupted. Apple has kept that energy up, always at the forefront of new technology and designs. This is the kind of far-reaching effect that disruptive advertising can have on a company and any industry as a whole.

Why Customers Are All For Disruptive Advertising

People always get behind disruptive marketing because it always brings something new, it is exciting. It changes the way we see and interact with companies and their products. It sometimes even changes our language and culture. When was the last time you wanted to go somewhere and said: “I want to take a cab?” You would probably find it easier nowadays to say “I want to take an Uber.” That is what disruptive advertising does, it gets in your head. There are other reasons why people are all for disruptive advertising, here are some more:

It Is Relatable

Disruptive advertising always creates a story in such a way that the majority of the users it is targeting can relate with it. An interesting example of this is an ad that took Spain and the entire world by storm a few years back. It was an ad that spoke against abuse in children. It was a simple message that resonated with adults and children alike around the world. Although, it was truly understood by children (the demographic it was directed at). The ad showed a child with the caption: “sometimes, child abuse is only visible to the child suffering from it.” That wasn’t all, viewed from a certain height (the typical height of a child), the message changed. It showed the same child with cuts and bruises. The caption now reads “If someone hurts you, call us and we’ll help you.” Powerful message, controversial in some circles, but ultimately disruptive, effective, and relatable. The ad went viral, of course, it would. That is disruptive advertising at work.

It Does Not Cost Much

Here is another endearing characteristic of a well thought out disruptive advertising campaign. You can pull it off without having to go bankrupt. You only have to make it effective. There is an ad campaign that Airwick worked on a while back. They created a quiz to enable customers to choose a scent based on the mood they want in a particular room.

The scent decorator, as it was called, helped you choose the feeling you want in a room. It then showed you the air freshener that would complement that feeling. It was basically using what you perceive to influence your emotions. This was a simple concept that probably did not cost much. But it was effective in a way only disruptive advertising can be. It went viral and lots of people got behind it.

It Cannot Be Duplicated

Here is an important reason why disruptive advertising and brands that do it are lauded by customers. Pay attention when an ad or product that disrupts the industry and changes the consumer’s outlook is released. It is very difficult to try and copy or replicate it later. Especially after the fuss has died down on the original concept.

Even Coke tried to replicate the success of their “Share a Coke” campaign by trying to make it into a platform. It was not as successful the second time around. Why? Repeating an idea is not disruptive. People will generally not look favorably on a second reiteration.

It Hits A Nerve

The reason why disruptive advertising works so well is that it usually touches on a common issue. It works to provide a solution to a common problem that everyone can relate with. Take, for instance, the dove ad example given above. The ad sought to open up a conversation about society’s definition of beauty. It made it clear that beauty is only determined by yourself and not about what someone else thinks. This is a common pain point among women who might not feel beautiful because of a blemish here and there.

The child abuse ad mentioned above is also a great example. These are campaigns that went viral because people could relate to them. They could put themselves in the story and feel like the ad is talking to them specifically. This is why disruptive advertising has been working and will still continue to work.

How A Disruptive Advertising Plan Is Developed And Deployed

You have been taken through the concept of disruptive advertising. You’ve learned its advantages and why consumers are gaga over it, every time. The next part of this interesting concept that will be discussed is how to develop and deploy a disruptive marketing campaign. Any brand that plans to disrupt the market in its industry must be willing to make a long term commitment. Maybe even change their entire business model.

A disruptive company wants to do one of two things. The first is to design a new product or service to meet the needs of an existing market. The second is to recreate an existing product or service. They can do this in a way to please current customers, those that are not impressed with the current offerings of the company or market. This is where the disruptive marketing minds come in. They may design a campaign that will challenge the normal thinking in an existing market. Another option is to design one that will reach out to an entirely new market.

Here are the steps brands can take to put themselves in the advertising hall of fame with their disruptive ideas:

Make Sure Everyone Is In Sync

Creating and deploying a disruptive advertising campaign takes a lot of commitment from the staff and stakeholders of the company. This is why it is essential to make sure everyone is on board from the get-go before embarking on that journey.

Is the company attempting a shift in their brand story and perception? Are they trying to redesign their product completely? Either way, they will need the commitment of every member of the organization. In this case, it does take a crowd to make it work.

Be Ready To Change Your Business Model

Organizations that are looking to deploy a disruptive advertising campaign must be ready to have a rethink about their business model. Sometimes, they might even need to change their products, services, or brand story. This is not an easy thing to do for a company of any size. It could be risky and requires a lot of effort. But it is even riskier if they refuse to change and maintain the status quo.

A prime example of this is the case of Kodak. The American company produced photography related products. They were hugely successful and were once the 4th most valuable brand in the entire world! But they had to file for bankruptcy in 2012. Why did this happen? They could not keep up with innovation in the photography industry. They could not change their business model fast enough. From producing photographic films to producing digital photography equipment. The market was shifting and the company had grown too set in its ways to shift with it. The market was disrupted and Kodak refused to follow suit. The only way to survive in this fast-moving and cutthroat business world is to adapt fast and in a manner that is effective.

Collect All The Relevant Data

To create the right kind of disruptive marketing campaign that will spur your customers into action, the first thing you need to do is get as much information as you can about them. You need to know their spending patterns, who they are, where they live, how much they earn. The list goes on, but more importantly, you need to discover why they would go for a certain product and not another.

To do this properly, the marketing team has to get qualitative data. That is, data from physical interviews, surveys, and quizzes. You need to be in possession of this data before you can understand your customers. Only then can you understand their language and speak to them through your campaign.

Develop A Strategy

Once the market you are speaking to has been determined and understood, it is time to create a strategy that would effectively speak to them. This should make use of relevant media channels. Of course, it would include having an online presence. The next step would be creating content; lots of content, images, and copies. These will be your means of communicating with your consumers.

All the content that your marketing team will be pushing out there should be consistent. It should be continuously driving a particular narrative. This narrative should be one that you have determined and agreed upon beforehand. The team should also be on hand to reiterate and adjust as the campaign progresses. They should be able to find out which strategy is working or not and change as needed.


In some circles, disruptive advertising is seen to be time-consuming and a waste of resources. Others only have a few words to say about it: disrupt or die. As far as they are concerned, there are too many products and services from other companies competing for your customer’s attention. They believe a company has to come up with something that no one else has to catch their attention and keep it. This plan is still working for companies bold enough to take the bull by the horns and venture into the road less traveled. Companies like Apple, iTunes, Spotify, Netflix, Uber, Facebook, Tinder, and YouTube. The list goes on and on. These are companies that have dared to be different and are reaping the benefits. Disruptive advertising does work, ask any of these high flyers.

Table of Contents

With Scrollable Navigation

Chapter 1 – Is Disruptive Advertising Still Disruptive?

Chapter 2 – What Is Disruptive Advertising

Chapter 3 – Why Customers Are All For Disruptive Advertising

Chapter 4 – How A Disruptive Advertising Plan Is Developed And Deployed

Chapter 5 – Conclusion

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