One of my favorite podcasts, 99% Invisible, did an episode about one of the most basic, yet effective, means of advertising: stickers. Specifically, they were discussing coal miner stickers, which have become somewhat of a collector’s item in the industry, much like baseball cards or coins or professional wrestler figurines. (Just me? Cool.)
The host explained that the stickers started out as little advertisements distributed by the manufacturers of mining equipment. And even before the late 1960s, when safety laws started requiring reflective materials underground, those stickers were used so miners could stay visible to each other.
Over time, the stickers became more personal, boasting the wearer’s journey and accomplishments. Elaine Cullen, a representative for the government, decided to capitalize on this by creating stickers that would spread mining safety messages.
She learned that some miners called each other “coal hogs,” a reference to their enthusiasm and serious skill. The result? A sticker starring a muscular, hard hat-wearing pig that demands “coal hogs work safe.” They were a total hit, and the start of an equally successful series.
Just like the miners, my husband and I like to collect stickers. Every time we come home from a trip, a new, colorful addition is adhered to our cooler. Aside from places we’ve been, our cooler also boasts many logos from our favorite brands. (Yeah. We’re kind of the ideal consumers.) And you can build your own fan base if you put more thought into visible (and permanent) word-of-mouth recommendations which, according to Forbes, are more effective and powerful compared to digital. (Proving yet again that stickers > computers.)
So, if you’re interested in replicating coal hog sticker success, here are some things to keep in mind:
Do your research.
Sure, statistics are a great insight into your target audience, but sometimes it pays off to get outside the office and step into the consumer’s shoes. Like how miners have a thing for stickers.
Connect on a personal level.
Take those insights and build a relationship with your audience. If your message resonates (see: “coal hogs work safe”), consumers will personally endorse your brand. Why? Because “people remember one-third of what they read, one-half of what they hear, but 100% of what they feel.”
Make something people actually want.
Something as simple as a sticker can be a way for your audience to showcase their personality through your brand. Whether it’s real-life stickers for their hard hats or virtual stickers on Snapchat, make sure you’re making something they’ll want to stick, share, and show off.
Have an especially adhesive weekend, everybody!
– Your let’s-stick-together friends at Brokaw.