When Being Banned Becomes a Big Win: Four Lessons From Beats by Dre

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One of the biggest stories to come out of the 2014 World Cup was the ban on Beats by Dre headphones and the brand’s remarkable victory despite the apparent setback.

As one of the most recognized brands in the world, Beats headphones are often seen being worn by celebrities, top athletes, and famous musicians. In the marketing world, Beats is recognized for its compelling campaigns and creative strategies.

Beats consistently looks for opportunities to insert its brand, seizing moments to make a positive impression that fits perfectly into its marketplace.

Getting banned typically isn’t what a brand wants, but learning to turn a negative into a brand goldmine is something every company would want. Companies can learn important marketing lessons from the World Cup experience and other strategies employed by Beats.

1. Brand Authenticity

Beats raised awareness and was top of mind at the World Cup simply because it was banned by FIFA. Although Sony was the official sponsor and sent free headphones to every team, players stuck with Beats. That did more for credibility and brand appeal than any official sponsorship could do.

The message that Beats is a brand for sports and music lovers came across loud and clear, and it was received as authentic and credible. The brand remained part of the conversation and got its message out in real time—without trying.

The lesson here is to stick to your key message—always. If you aren’t a sponsor at an event and you don’t want to be one, yet you think that your audience would still benefit from your brand’s presence at that event, look to reach out to them in organic ways to tell your company story.

What we can learn from Beats in this instance is that not every obstacle needs to be perceived as a negative.

2. Ambush Marketing

One of the most effective marketing strategies employed by Beats at the World Cup—and the 2012 Summer Olympics in London—was ambush marketing, a term used when running an ad campaign that harnesses an existing campaign’s momentum without being an official sponsor.

Beats used the 2014 World Cup as an opportunity to launch its biggest ad campaign with the “Game Before the Game” video, released days before the World Cup and featuring Neymar, Mario Götze, Jozy Altidore, and Chicharito. The video has more than 19 million views on YouTube.

To get its message out at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Beats sent every athlete a pair of headphones despite not being an official sponsor. Athletes from around the world were seen with their Beats headphones when walking into the stadium during the opening ceremony. That spoke volumes about the power of imaging tied to messaging.

Just because your brand is banned or prevented from spreading its message through mainstream channels does not mean your brand won’t have a presence. It means there is an opportunity to get creative and to employ nontraditional marketing tactics. Find uncommon and unexpected—yet relevant—ways of talking about your brand to remain top of mind with your audience.

3. Fearlessness

Fearlessness has become one of the core pillars of the Beats brand and marketing strategy, according to Beats’ EVP of global marketing, Omar Johnson: “Truth is the foundation of our brand—from all we do across sports, headphones and music—it is all based on truth. The difference between us and other brands is we have a relentless passion to tell the truth even if it is unsavory or uncomfortable for people who don’t want to hear it. This brand lives it. We want to be known for being fearless.”

Threats of lawsuits and possible infringement on sponsorship rules would be enough of a deterrent for most brands. However, Beats takes risks in its ad campaigns and in its real-time marketing efforts. The brand has become a disruptor in marketing, and its fearlessness and commitment to the truth continues to pay off.

The lesson here is that businesses must remain dedicated to the brand’s mission and values, and take advantage of opportunities when they arise for the benefit of the brand. If that means taking risks to meet a goal, take a chance in your marketing pursuits. Ask yourself, What is the foundation of our brand? What do we want to be known for? Do we align with this mission?

4. Emotion

Emotion has been the backbone and strategy of several Beats campaigns. For its “Hear What you Want” campaign, it used real stories from athletes about why they choose to wear Beats headphones in their pre-game warm ups. Among the featured athletes were Italian striker Mario Balotelli, who endures racist abuse from fans of rival teams at matches, and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, who uses the headphones to escape the media’s questions about his actions on the field. The ads are relevant, memorable, and capable of evoking emotion in audiences.

Emotion as a part of your marketing campaign is an effective strategy for connecting with your audience. Even if your brand or product is not emotional, look for ways to tell your story from a perspective that is relatable and will help you better connect to your customers.

* * *

Beats turned a potentially negative situation into a positive one that resulted in global coverage and brand exposure, perhaps more so than if the World Cup athletes had been allowed to use the headphones.

Brands should make a point to look for the positive in situations that get people talking about their brand. There are opportunities to get creative and turn obstacles into a positive and rewarding experience.

So, remain authentic, take risks, think outside the box, and put emotion into your campaigns to help boost your brand and make a memorable impact. Goal!

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