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Newsletter #997: The “Make It Ugly” Issue

[Welcome back to the Damn, I Wish I’d Thought of That! newsletter. This is text of the great issue all of our email subscribers just received. Sign yourself up using the handy form on the right.]

The race to make the flashiest, most impressive, and most beautiful is a crowded one. Sometimes it’s worth it to make something great — but sometimes, doing the opposite can help you stand out.

Here are a few examples to inspire you:

1. Compete with personality
2. Try lots of different things
3. Make it one-of-a-kind
4. Check it out: Fly Art

1. Compete with personality

For crowd-funded clothing company Betabrand, it was difficult to compete with tech giants in their area to recruit web developer talent. They had to be creative to get job seekers to notice them. So they destroyed their home page for a day. They used terrible fonts, rotating photos, a visitor counter — all of the stereotypically bad web practices of the 90s. The stunt got the attention of publications like Fast Company and Business Insider, and it lifted their expected sales by 30 percent that day (and even more in the following weeks). They also received 30 qualified applications for their web developer job.

The lesson: Instead of trying to outspend your competitors, why not try to outsmart them with something clever, unexpected, and fun?

Learn more: Betabrand’s Blog

2. Try lots of different things

Gag cartoonist Grigoriy Kogan said he had nothing to lose when he made banner ads by scribbling his ad message onto a white background in what looks like Microsoft Paint. He says that although it was “ugly as sin,” it was so successful that it saved his business. We’re talking about banner ads here — a notoriously ineffective and annoying marketing tool (you’re literally more likely to survive a plane crash than to click on a banner ad). Yet by going against all common sense, he managed to get the right attention.

The lesson: You never know when stuff like this is going to work. Why not experiment with lots of low-effort, creative marketing?

Learn more: Grigoriy Kogan’s Blog

3. Make it one-of-a-kind

Zoo Jeans look completely different from the usual distressed denim you might see in the mall. In fact, they’re kind of ugly with giant rips and holes that don’t look anything like the natural wear and tear design most clothing companies are going for. But that’s because Zoo Jeans are made from denim distressed by actual lions, tigers, and bears. They wrap sheets of denim around tires and rubber balls and leave them in the cage for big cats and bears to gnaw at the fabric and give it a unique distress pattern. After they’re done playing with the denim, the fabric is collected for designers create a pair of jeans. The proceeds from the Zoo Jeans are donated back to the zoo to help preserve the animals’ environments.

The lesson: This product has word of mouth built (or torn) right into it. When someone asks a person wearing Zoo Jeans why their pants look like they’ve been attacked by wild animals, they have a great story to tell.

Learn more: NPR

4. Check it out: Fly Art

“The persistence of Ms. Jackson” is a mashup of famous lyrics from Outkast’s song “Ms. Jackson” and Salvador Dali’s famous painting, “The Persistence of Memory.” This is just one of the amazing combinations of fine art and hip hop lyrics in Fly Art’s collection.

Check it out: Fly Art

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