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Unintentional Marketing: Hitler’s Profile on a JCPenney Ad?

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I like to read the news on my smartphone. On May 28th, an article caught my eye. It was entitled “JCPenney TeaPot Resembles Hitler’s Profile”. Of course, I could not resist reading that and was instantly amused when a photograph immediately emerged of a billboard with the Fuhrer’s likeness! What was interesting however, was discovering that not only did this billboard go viral, but the teakettle itself sold out in a matter of hours! You can see the billboard and read more about it here. 

My musings led me to write this quick article because what I’ve come to realize is that we can strategize, plan, execute and cross our fingers, but we will never know what will catch on. Honestly, JCPenney had to release a statement saying that it was completely unintentional on their part! There was no way they could’ve planned that! The main lesson here is that social platforms can reach more audiences that you wouldn’t reach through conventional methods, as well as the power to reach audiences in ways you don’t always intend to reach them. In a nutshell, this means that you have to be innovative to be noticed.

Brian Rosenberg, President of Macalester College, participated in a video that was later posted on YouTube. He was stunned by the result of 39,000 views in a month’s time. When I stumbled across his story in The Chronicle, I was impressed by his statement:

“We should never underestimate the power of humor and of positive messaging, particularly during periods of great social and economic stress.”

This is the point of my post today. The buyers of the “Hitler Teapot” probably did not need a new teapot. The humor and the buzz of social media ignited an emotional purchase, profiting both vendor and buyer. I believe marketing is two things, observation and innovation. I can’t help but wonder…if the JCP marketing staff had noticed their teapot looked a bit like a German dictator, would they have released it anyway?

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