Why MailChimp's Insane Fake Ad Campaign Paid Off

The company's 'Did You Mean MailChimp?' helped the email marketing platform reach 334 million people.
Magazine Contributor

Did you recently pick up a free bag of FailChips at your local convenience store? See a preview for an art-house film called KaleLimp? Or did you hear about Blood Orange’s latest music collaboration, VeilHymn? 

If you answered yes, then you were sucked into the weird and wonderful “Did You Mean MailChimp?” campaign. MailChimp, the email marketing platform, created it over the course of a year in partnership with advertising agency Droga5. The idea, inspired by a 2014 advertisement on the Serial podcast where the brand’s name was mispronounced (remember the little kid who said “Mail Kimp”?), was to promote nine sham products, trends or pieces of content that rhymed with MailChimp, and then target them at different subcultures within the small to medium-size businesses that MailChimp courts. Then the brand would sit back as curious consumers were sucked into an internet rabbit hole that, in time, led back to MailChimp’s landing page.

Related: 5 Rules for Stand-Out Marketing Campaigns

“At one point, our account director at Droga5 sat me and our CMO down and said, ‘This feels borderline reckless,’” recalls Mark DiCristina, MailChimp’s senior director of brand marketing. “That’s when I knew we were onto something.” 

They were. Prior to launch, MailChimp’s most successful marketing campaign was the one that played ahead of Serial. That spot reached 36 million people; after just a few months, the new “Did You Mean MailChimp?” campaign has reached 334 million. “Social sentiment has been hugely positive, and the few times people are not loving it, they actively hate it,” DiCristina says. “They think it’s either the best thing or the worst thing. And I’m proud of that. I love that no one was like, meh.” 

Here’s how some of the MailChimp ideas came together.

VeilHymn

The musician Blood Orange teamed up with Bryndon Cook to create a new song, “Hymn,” which has been streamed more than 1.5 million times. “Literally the only direction we gave was to name this new collaboration something that sounds like MailChimp,” DiCristina says. 

Related: How Marketing Is Getting More Creative

FailChips 

Potato chips were perfectly crushed, bagged and distributed to real stores in 10 cities. “The chips earned the most vitriol from consumers,” DiCristina says. “They’d put them on Instagram with a caption declaring the end of the world.”

MaleCrimp 

During New York Fashion Week in February, MailChimp hosted a one-day pop-up at Made Man Barbershop in Chelsea to, yes, crimp men’s hair.

WhaleSynth 

A web-based instrument that let users mix real music with an array of… whale sounds.

MailShrimp/kalelimp/jailblimp

Three short surreal art films -- about a crooning shrimp in a mailroom, a dog made out of kale and a blimp-shaped piñata full of convicts -- ran ahead of features in 95 art-house theaters and 180 regional chains across the country.

NailChamp 

Designed for the Instagram set, NailChamp was a six-week online battle between nail artists. “We really wanted these things to appear in the world as if they were happening naturally,” DiCristina says. It worked. NailChamp earned coverage from Teen Vogue.

Related: How Marketing Psychology Can Improve Your Bottom Line

SnailPrimp 

Snail secretions are the latest beauty trend (for real), and during a one-day pop-up spa on the roof of the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles, visitors were treated to free snail facials. 

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