Daniel’s text was just a URL to a video
. It was an IG post from Drake’s story. In the video he’s calling out the “Yay” Area and celebrating in the aftermath of the Raptors Game 4 victory over the Warriors. I thought for a split second that maybe he was talking to me. “No way” my internal monologue continued. “There’s not a chance Drake is referring to the billboard.”
A few seconds later, Daniel text me again. “Maybe you should take down the billboard.”
Well damn. Maybe Drake was addressing me in the video.
What started off as a dumb internet joke turned into a fun cultural moment and marketing case study on how lateral thinking can lead to viral content.
Hours before Game 3 of the NBA Finals, my friend Juan
and I put up a billboard in Toronto in support of the Golden State Warriors. Kind of. The Raptor’s Ambassador and unofficial 6th man had been trolling opposing teams throughout the playoffs and the Warriors throughout the finals. Our billboard
, taken out near the rapper’s mansion in the Bridle Path neighborhood of Toronto, reminded him of his love for the Bay Area.
In his hugely popular 2011 single “The Motto”
, Drake pays homage to Bay Area legend Mac Dre in saying "Rest in peace Mac Dre, Imma do it for The Bay.”
Juan and I slapped the bar on a billboard, added some Golden State colors to it and did our best to contribute to the Warriors Championship run.
This was our way to have fun with the series and add to the banter. We actually found Drake’s trolling — like him wearing a Dell Curry jersey
in the opening game of the finals—quite funny. (I should note I’m a massive Drake fan. I’ve had Take Care
on repeat to help me get through the pain of a missed Warrior three-peat.)
Outlets like Time Online
, Barstool Sports
and The Athletic
picked up the story and made the billboard viral within a matter of days. Friends thought this stunt had the potential to be big. But we didn’t imagine it would get such positive feedback or even provoke Drake to respond. We even made it on a popular meme
As marketers, we’re only responsible for the idea and execution. The results are out of our control as even the best ideas serve at the feet of Fortuna. I’ve seen much better ideas and executions garner much less coverage. Even in our case, had the winds been a bit more favorable we could have had a much more significant impact.
For one, the Warriors lost games 2 and 4. A win in either game would have increased the tension and drama throughout the series. Secondly, two stories took precedence the day after we put up the billboard.
One of the Warriors minority owners got suspended and fined for pushing Toronto Raptors player Kyle Lowry during Game 3. During the same game, an interesting exchange between Beyonce and Nicole Curran, wife of Warriors owner Joe Lacob, set the internet ablaze. If those stories not been the headlines following Game 3, we might have received more attention. But again, there is a luck component one cannot account or plan for.
Marketing —and stunts like these in particular —is an inexact science. Some might argue going viral is a matter of being in the right place at the right time. This is partly true as the reality is you have to be in the right place all of the time. A bear doesn’t always catch salmon. But by being in the same place time and time again, he increases the likelihood of a tasty meal.
Thus, while you can’t guarantee virality, you can absolutely optimize for it.
Sometimes coming up with good ideas is simply a matter of applying old ideas to new situations. Part of the inspiration for the billboard came from a marketing campaign Juan I had worked on in the past. We had pitched a concept of using relevant rap lyrics to announce a product launch in Southern California. The idea never made it past the pitch phase, but it stayed in the mental notebook.
(To our old managers: We told you culturally relevant rap lyrics in targeted locations could make noise!)
If you want to come up with good ideas, then read widely and become knowledgeable in three or four disciplines. This will allow you to borrow concepts to the different areas you’re playing in. For example, content marketing, one of the more serious buzzwords of the last five years, has been prevalent in hip-hop for decades. Content marketing in hip-hop is called mixtapes!
Scott Adams, the author of Dilbert said something similar. “Everyone has at least a few areas in which they could be in the top 25% with some effort. In my case, I can draw better than most people, but I’m hardly an artist. And I’m not any funnier than the average standup comedian who never makes it big, but I’m funnier than most people. The magic is that few people can draw well and write jokes.”
The billboard is a convergence of sorts for Juan and I. Juan isn’t Steve Jobs, but he’s a damn good designer. I’m not a social media influencer, but I know enough about the culture to stay relevant, fam. Furthermore, neither one of us are experts in NBA tactics, but we’re knowledgeable enough to know Drake has Durant and Curry tattoos and that the Warriors are headed into a crucial and transformational free agency period.
Lateral thinking can allow you to create new ways to tell existing stories. It’s not always easy, and sometimes people will look at you funny because you’re using an anecdote from The Iliad in a marketing pitch, but it helps you create new ideas.
One of the most common questions I have received is, “was it worth it?” We spent almost 4K to make this dumb internet joke. And while we did it for the sake of doing it, we also had indirect and unexpected benefits.
We called in some favors from smart friends. I think executing on something like this allowed us to work with friends whose work we admire. It also gave us credibility within their circles. Another unexpected bonus was increased visibility with recruiters. I’m not looking for a move, but when it comes to thinking about the next step, I’ll have something to point back to and include as a stand-alone CV.
If there is one thing we missed on is we didn’t have a direct CTA. We weren’t selling a product or service and thus there was no connection or sales follow-through.
But most importantly, this billboard activation allowed me to reconnect with y'all, my friends and readers. It’s been over a year since I last updated my newsletter (my preferred medium for writing and connecting with friends) and I can’t think of a better excuse than a viral billboard to reach back out and re-up on my writing habit.
The 2019 NBA Season didn’t go Golden State’s way. But big ups to Toronto. Anyone who knows basketball knows the Raptors rose to the occasion and outplayed the Dubs. Congrats as well to Drake. He’s a massive fan. I mean, my team’s good, we don’t really need a mascot.
A much delayed fourth issue. Thank you for your time this Monday afternoon. Hope y'all’s week is off to a good start.
And if you need a fun jam, here’s what I have on repeat