Big Brands Need to Feel Custom-Made

Big Brands Need to Feel Custom-Made

Hijacking a Trend

I love things that are hand-made and have schlepped through more craft shows than I can count. I now consider myself to be a master of the strum stick and a Kettle corn connoisseur, that salty-sweet popcorn sold in gigantic bags at every craft show imaginable. When I discovered, it was love at first crocheted baby blanket.

The explosion of hand-made and custom-made sites like and cater to people like me. But the cool cash that venture capitalists are putting behind these sites (Etsy just grabbed another $40 million in a round of financing) tells me that, duh, I am not alone.

It makes sense that handmade, custom-made, monogrammed, personalized things are booming now. In our high-tech, low-touch, mall-ified world, we all crave something that’s made just for us.

If I was developing PR and marketing programs for brands that are far removed from this trend, for example Quaker Oats, or Toyota Prius, or Aveeno, I would be asking: can we hijack this passion? What can we own about hand-made?

Duct Tape did this brilliantly with its duct-tape prom dress initiative launched a few years back. Sharpie does this well, too. But those are tools and, not to detract from the brilliance of the prom dress idea and the fun of Sharpie’s, it makes sense to see what you can make with products that help make other things. But when your brand is about warm cereal, saving gas while enjoying the open road, or eliminating wrinkles, the answer is not so clear.

To get started, imagine what your product would be if it were custom-made. Custom-made oatmeal? Sure. Create a custom-make-your-own oatmeal bar with all the fixings, put it in an unexpected place, have oatmeal fans share their favorite mix-ins. Have contests for the most fattening, the healthiest, the sweetest, the most savory. Invite home ec teachers to judge. (Do they exist anymore? If not, they should). Make an app. You get the idea.

Custom-made Prius? Maybe it’s not about the car, perhaps Prius has discovered that their customers are incredibly loyal, buying not just one, but many. Reward them. Make a contest of it. For every dollar saved on gas, maybe they earn points towards something planet-saving and custom-made. A partnership with Woodworking classes?  Just thinking.  Isn’t it fun?

Beauty brands like Aveeno might take another route, hitching their wagon to the custom-made star by organizing knitting or sewing or painting classes for bloggers. Creating how-to videos and sharing on YouTube. Taking a custom-made message to farmers and flea markets that dot high-end neighborhoods on the weekend, co-sponsoring programs with Fiskars or Brother sewing machines. Or, reversing that thinking, setting up workshops with large pharmacy chains.

The creative possibilities are there; but the custom-made essence must remain in order for the program to authentically connect with consumers.

Thinking about how your brand can connect with a white hot trend is a worthwhile brainstorming exercise and can result in a memorable campaign. What trends have you hijacked that are strategically aligned with your consumer? Remember, Food Trucks are so 2011. Look ahead. What’s coming up?  Share your story here.