We all know Elon Musk is an engineer, businessman, and something resembling the corporate version of a rock n’ roll star, but a marketing genius? It might just be true. The South African always seems to succeed when he puts his mind to it. And it’s possible that he could add ‘marketing genius’ to his already pretty extensive list of achievements.
Indeed, you probably don’t need to dig too deep to come up with that view. You just need to read the newspapers/search for his name on Twitter/have a conversation with someone in the pub. This is a person that generates a lot of conversation. If we were to apply Andy Warhol’s adage, “Don’t pay any attention to what they write about you. Just measure it in inches,” then Musk would be a marketing superstar.
In this blog, we’ll take a closer look at Musk’s marketing strategies, as well as offer some useful tips on how you can include some of Elon’s marketing tools into your own strategy.
20,000 Flamethrowers and $100 Refundable Deposits
Most companies that wanted to advertise a flamethrower would not go viral, and they would be unlikely to sell 20,000 of them. But that’s just what Musk did back in 2018 when he made flamethrowers available to purchase through The Boring Company for $500 a pop.
The result? He sold 10,000 of them within forty-eight hours, and it wasn’t long before the entire allotment had been sold. You imagine that there was some profit from the project ($500 is $500, after all), but the biggest impact of the sale was to generate buzz for his company. And that’s certainly what he did.
It was all anyone could talk about for a few days. And the marketing budget for this project will have been close to zero; the media and social media users did all the work on that front.
Another of Musk’s attention-generating gimmicks was to offer deposits for Tesla’s Cybertruck for $100 each. And the $100 was refundable. Of course, people made the deposit, posted the good news on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook, and then asked for their money back. Will Musk have cared? Probably not. He wasn’t expecting all these people to eventually buy the truck. He just needed people to get excited about the truck, which was very far from being ready anyway.
He got probably the equivalent of millions of dollars worth of publicity, all for charging people $100. Wild.
Buying Twitter: Calculated Stunt?
Will Elon Musk buy Twitter? The jury is out. But you have to imagine that Musk will come out on top either way.
Let’s consider the possibility that Musk never intended to buy Twitter. For one thing, he could have just been flexing hard, as if to say, “just so you know, I could buy and sell you tomorrow if I wanted to.” As well as flexing on Twitter, he’s flexing on all of us. He’s letting the world know that it’s within his power to buy one of the world’s biggest companies, further legitimising his position as “world’s most successful person.” And that’s a reputation that anyone would like to have.
The other scenario is that Musk genuinely did — and still does — want to buy Twitter. In which case, his approach was a masterclass on how to get what you want. His marketing approach was essentially, “tell the world my plans and force Twitter to accept my proposal.” He knows that his cult of personality means that negotiations will be better (for him) if they’re out in the open rather than behind closed doors.
Doing Things Differently
Musk plays up to one of his best assets: his position as a rogue, free-spirit, freewheelin’ renegade operating in a world that does not usually value those qualities. In many ways, Musk had to lean into this persona in order to get his head above water. It’s worth remembering that many of his ambitious plans have not yet come to fruition. If he was a “nobody,” then his company might be dead in the water. But his personality keeps things alive.
Indeed, even when things are going poorly at his companies (say, issues at Tesla factories, low sales, etc.), Musk somehow manages to turn things around and get people rallying behind him. He manages to win the approval of the public even if the numbers on the board aren’t quite there. In this sense, he’s given himself an extra cushion of security. People can lose faith when a company hits a snag. But Musk’s companies will always rally because Musk is there. His personal branding is an excellent business move, essentially.
Lessons to Be Learned
We can’t all be like Elon Musk. But we can take some of his lessons on board and incorporate them into our own social advertising campaigns. If you’re looking for a viral marketing win, then try the lessons below.
Be The Real You
Love him or loathe him, you can’t deny that Elon Musk is very much true to himself. He doesn’t try to be anyone else. And that’s a big part of what makes him appealing — people can sense when someone (or a company) is being genuine or not. So let your inner-self shine through with your marketing tactics. It can feel risky, but once you get started, you’ll find it’s not only easier to take this approach but that it’s more effective.
Connect With Audiences
Bill Gates cuts himself off from the world (largely). Musk engages with it. He doesn’t want to just have the world hear his opinions. He wants debate and engagement. Companies that engage with their customers are more likely to form long-term partnerships.
Believe In Your Products
If you don’t believe in what you sell, no one will. Musk well and truly believes that his ideas and products are viable, and that kind of belief is infectious.
Musk may not have set out to become a social marketing genius, but that’s what he’s inadvertently ended up becoming. Maybe once he retires from The Boring Company, he can pick up a part-time consultancy gig at an advertising company….