Champagne marketing on a beer budget: 3 start-ups who have created a splash

Champagne marketing on a beer budget: 3 start-ups who have created a splash

To launch a successful marketing campaign, there must to be a budget of proportional weight and heft.
- Traditional Marketing Proverb

A decade ago the above dictum was the perceived wisdom for marketers.

Now, thanks largely to the proliferation of social media platforms, if you have a great business idea, making it big doesn’t have to equate to breaking the bank. Social media has made it feasible to leverage the power of word-of-mouth marketing — and to amplify its reach, on a small budget (We recently discussed how Australian non-for-profit Movember, did just that, going from 30 pledgers to 5 million.)

However cheap doesn’t necessarily mean easy. Many marketers make the mistake of viewing social media as the end itself, rather than the means to end. A social platform should just be the frame for a great message or idea, rather than the lodestone of your whole marketing campaign.

If you want to make a real impact, you need have a deep understanding of who your customer is, where they are and how the environment is going to evolve (after all today’s Snapchat is tomorrow’s Myspace). Below, we look at three examples of how fledgling start-ups created champagne campaigns on beer budgets.

Magic Leap

Magic Leap has been described by Wired as ‘the world’s most secretive start-up.’ Aside from being a Florida-based Mixed Reality (MR) company, the details around their product are murky, the launch date is vague and they’ve not even conducted beta testing. Yet they’ve amassed 87k Facebook followers and nearly 50k Twitter followers. The question that needs to be asked is: how have they managed to attract so much attention while giving away so little?

In a word: their content. In the words of one commentator, Magic Leap’s content is ‘intense.’ In a rare interview, founder Rony Abovitz has stated ‘My generation are the children of Steve Jobs and George Lucas. We grew up on that, and our brains all got scrambled. . . . My friends and I all wanted to be Luke Skywalker and defeat the Death Star and build C-3PO.’

The sense of wonder and excitement that they have for MR (not to mention their fantasy fanboying) is clearly evident in their gorgeous videos, which confidently show off how exciting, beautiful and revolutionary this technology could be (while not actually mentioning their product.) 

Their confidence and enthusiasm is infectious. They give the viewer a glimpse as to the possibilities of the technology – and leave them intrigued and wanting more. This approach hasn’t just attracted many followers, it’s also caught the eye of industry heavies like Google and Facebook, as well as investors (to date Magic Leap has attracted $USD 4.5 billion in funding). Attracting initial attention has been the simple part for Magic Leap, their real challenge will be to ensure that their product can match the frenzy they’ve created.


Uber wasn’t always the poster-child for disruption. A few short years ago, they were trying to gain a foothold in the industry. One of their turning points hinged on a very simple, clever and inexpensive strategy.  At the SXSW Conference in Texas, Uber gave out free rides. As one commentator notes, ‘During a single week, thousands of people right in the sweet spot of Uber’s demographic were motivated to try out the service.’ These people were then encouraged to rate and share their experience with friends on social media.

This one stunt allowed Uber to show, rather than tell people how great their service was, it gave them huge exposure and even though they’ve gone onto bigger and better things, they’ve revisited this stunt, most notably on Valentine’s Day where they gave out roses (#romanceondemand). This demonstrated two key things. Firstly a great idea can be recycled and that romance is still alive and well.



Speaking of romance (though frankly, romance may not be exactly the right word) Tinder is another disruptor, now synonymous with the idea of modern dating, though this wasn’t always the case. To gain real traction, Tinder got cofounder Whitney Wolfe to go back to college, and onboard users there. According to Business Insider, Wolfe would travel throughout the USA going to local fraternity and sorority chapters:

‘Her pitch was pretty genius. She would go to chapters of her sorority, do her presentation, and have all the girls at the meetings install the app. Then she'd go to the corresponding brother fraternity -- they'd open the app and see all these cute girls they knew.’

Before the tour, Tinder had less than 5,000 users. Upon Wolfe’s return, she had more than 15,000. While this strategy was brilliant, it also highlights how hard start-ups need to graft in the initial stages. Tinder didn’t complacently leave their success to chance, they went out to their customer heartland and ensured that they knew about their app.

It’s hard to believe that Tinder was only launched in 2012 (that’s right, it’s only been around for five years!) yet it’s had a dramatic impact on the way we define and approach relationships. As the Telegraph puts it:

‘Everyone from me to your teenage cousin to Olympic gold medallists are using it – and they're not ashamed of it either. Amy Williams, who won gold in the bob skeleton at the 2010 Winter Games for Britain, seems positively proud of meeting her handsome soldier husband through the app; and why shouldn't she?’

Dating online isn’t just becoming a novel way to find your significant other, thanks to Tinder it’s starting to become the norm.

Key takeaways

We didn’t regale you with tales of big start-ups to discourage you, rather we hope to show that everyone has to start from somewhere, and often that somewhere is a place where money isn’t growing on trees.

These three companies got to where they are because they used what they had at their disposal to generate chat. For Tinder and Uber, it was a matter of creatively getting would-be customers to use their products to see its potential, for Magic Leap, their excitement, enthusiasm and confidence in the technology was the component that drove the interest. All these companies also had a very good understanding of who their customer would be, and in the case of Uber and Tinder literally went to them.

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