How to Waste $154,980

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A full page ad in the New York Times will run you something to the tune of $154,980 … not for the faint of heart.

With a price tag like that, you’d expect advertisers to give it everything they’ve got. It’s a one shot deal after all. Once the day is over — or more likely, once the morning is over — no one will see their ad ever again.

On June 21, Hampton Creek — a food company that makes mayonnaise and cookies — decided to take out a full page ad in the main news section of the Times.

Here’s what it said:

Dear Food Leaders,

I’ve had lots of successful folks give me advice about you. Advice on whether to work with you (be wary), on how to grow with you (go slow)—and the good we can do with you (very little).

We built a movement, and the fastest-growing food company on earth, around intentionally ignoring all of it.

We started Hampton Creek because we believe in the goodness of people—in the goodness of you. And you, the same folks who created a food system that often violates your own values, have validated what all of us knew: It turns out that when you create a path that makes it easy for good people to do good things—they will do it.

I know we’re all buried in the to-do list of the day. But you should know, that as of 5:33 AM EST on Sunday June 21st, our movement includes:

The largest food service company in the world

The largest convenience store in the world

The two largest retailers in the world

The second largest retailer in the US

The largest natural grocery retailer in the world

The largest grocery retailer in the US

The largest retailer in the UK

The largest grocery retailer in Hong Kong

The largest coffeehouse in the world

Two of the top ten largest food manufacturers in the world

Two of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women (Forbes)

The sovereign wealth fund of Singapore

A former Republican Senate Majority Leader

The world’s leading virologist

The Co-founder of Facebook

A Medal of Honor recipient

The leading experts in machine learning

The Godfather of hip-hop

4,121 public schools

12 billionaires

And many of your kids

Just three years ago when we started, I thought you were the problem. And I was wrong. You have always been the kinds of folks who know what the right thing to do is. You have names. And families. And you, just like all of us, want your kids and friends and loved ones to admire who you are. And you, just like all of us, are just trying to figure it all out.

Did you know that our manifesto was written by you?

And that our 2015 impact is driven by you?

1.5 billion gallons of water saved

11.8 billion milligrams of sodium avoided

2.8 billion milligrams of cholesterol removed

You should feel insanely proud.

Talk soon,

Josh Tetrick, CEO & Founder

PS: You can reach me anytime at (415) 404-2372 or jtetrick@hamptoncreek.com

Not sure what just happened? Me neither.

This ad would fail as a blog post, let alone a six figure campaign in a prestigious national paper.

It’s not worth hashing out all the problems with the ad because it’s obvious to anyone who read it. But it is worth thinking about what went wrong here for a moment.

Disaster could’ve been averted if Hampton Creek stopped to ask a few simple questions before running the ad (via Seth Godin):

WHO are you trying to reach? (If the answer is ‘everyone’, start over.)

HOW will they become aware of what you have to offer?

WHAT story are you telling/living/spreading?

DOES that story resonate with the worldview these people already have? (What do they believe? What do they want?)

WHERE is the fear that prevents action?

WHEN do you expect people to take action? If the answer is ‘now’, what keeps people from saying, ‘later’? It’s safer that way.

WHY? What will these people tell their friends?

Marketing isn’t complicated, it’s common sense. If your ad, email, campaign, or launch strategy doesn’t address the simple questions — you’re wasting time and money.

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Flickr creative commons image via Michael.