Cool Marketing Isn’t Always Smart Marketing


The picture at the left is the cover of an origami book that I received from American Express. The pitch is that I should use my Amex card to pay bills, thus leaving me without a need to use checks. The origami book is for the old checks. It's a very cute idea. But I have mixed feelings about this kind of marketing.

In a world filled with increasing amounts of noise, the competition for attention is fierce. Unique ideas like this origami book are necessary in order to stand out. But at the same time, it didn't really work. The point is to get me to pay bills with the card and to save my checks. I'm not going to do that. That would save me all of 20 minutes a week, which isn't worth my time to figure out how to set up the Amex program.

Like I said, the book was cool, but is this really the best way to market? You could argue that it made an impact on me and that, if I ever do want to stop writing checks, I will look into the Amex bill paying setup. Or you could argue that it was a waste of their time and money. Is marketing useful if it doesn't command action?

While you are thinking about that, here is a picture from the inside of the book, showing me how to make a rowboat. Colorful origami papers were included.


  • Rob, I would respectfully disagree with your statement that “unique ideas like this origami book are necessary in order to stand out.”

    I’m afraid that unique ideas often come across as empty gimicks — which your anecdote above supports. (Sounds like you found the origami book quirky, but not particularly valuable to you.)

    Instead, I propose that in order to stand out, it is necessary to provide *value* to your clients (/customers / audience / etc.).

    Now, that value can certainly be entertainment value, which is what drives viral marketing initiatives.

    However, just “being different” is not enough.

    In other words, I support your position that cool marketing isn’t always smart marketing, and the way to make your cool marketing smart is to make sure you’re providing value. And while providing value without being quirky may not be “cool,” is usually still smart.

  • I like the check idea and it got you talking on your blog so it was successfull in some way. I agree that I dont want to set up my account to pay my bills either. One more login, one more account to check to make sure the bills were paid and then one more thing to learn and setup. Im using billpay from my bank and ill stick with that for now. If Amex really wants my business double the reward points and ill reconsider.

  • adam

    i’d sooner argue that if it took longer than 20 minutes to set up amex to pay your bills, you have some fairly serious problems. (also, you’d get reward points/frequent flyer miles, in addition to the extra 17 hours a year to blog about being lazy/inept/fearful of change.)

  • Rob

    Adam, I’ll take a stab and say that you work for Amex, but of course will never admit to it and there is no way to tell on the web.

    It has nothing to do with being lazy/inept/fearful. It has to do with not being locked in. Sure, it may take 20 minutes to set up, but if I really wanted to pay bills online, I would look at what my bank offers and my other options, which would entail a few hours of research. It would also put me in a bad spot if for some reason I wanted to cancel my Amex card, and I would be subject to their changes in pricing, web redesign etc., that may force me to change services again. It isn’t worth it to save 20 minutes a week. You might as well criticize me for going to Target instead of using Ebay.