PROFIT Magazine: “Unconventional Wisdom” Column, April 2010

By evoke
April 26, 2010

Courageous. Controversial. Canadian? In February, Toronto restaurant Mildred’s Temple Kitchen launched a promotion suggesting Valentine’s Day diners expand their sex lives beyond their bedrooms and into the restaurant’s communal washrooms.

What started as a newsletter item quickly got picked up by the Toronto Star, then raced around the world via blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Two days later, Jay Leno joked about it in his opening monologue. (A big deal, even if he was still on in prime time.)

Bold and brave, this marketing idea was quintessentially un-Canadian. Most Canuck companies stay safely in their comfort zone, refusing to take the risks that can result in big rewards. To be fair, there is always a potential downside to ideas this big. Indeed, Mildred’s lost control of its message in the online social media tsunami and became overwhelmed by the international attention. Was being this audacious a smart move for Mildred’s? And how do you launch a marketing missile this big and remain confident that it won’t blow up in your face?

To mitigate the risk, you must have an underlying discipline to your creativity. Ask yourself the following three questions: is the idea truly aligned with who we are — and want to be — as a company; are we supporting the initiative adequately; does the idea truly support our business objectives?

Mildred’s anwered “yes” to all three: it always had an element of playful sexuality to its brand; it had a well-conceived, multidimensional promotion planned and supported; and the purpose of thecampaign was to spread business over a long weekend, not just Valentine’s Day, which it did.

One final question: ask yourself if you’ve considered and prepared for the full magnitude of the potential response, good and bad, should your idea go viral. This is where Mildred’s fell down. “Not in my wildest dreams did I expect it to go global,” says co-owner Donna Dooher, who admits she had to spend a lot of time with her staff figuring out how to deal with the media onslaught.

Still, knowing what she knows now, would she do it all over again? Says Dooher: “Of course.”

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