While writing an article on funny marketing, I recently came across some companies that are genuinely defying conventions.
Their products aren’t massively different to the norm, so they arguably don't slot into the category of 'disruptive tech'. But their marketing positions them so far from the industry standard, I like to think of them as anti-brands.
If you’ve ever thought about creating a brand that stands out, check out just how far some companies take it.
Fintech is a really interesting space at the moment. Banking customers are increasingly turning away from traditional banks in favour of innovative neo-banks that offer smart new ways to manage money.
You’ve probably already heard of Revolut, N26 and Monzo—but there are dozens more of these modern fintechs in every continent.
As these markets pile up with competitors who are all copying each other’s ideas, standing out from the crowd becomes almost impossible.
And that’s why Cleo is so noteworthy.
Cleo offers a banking app with a load of cool features, including an AI-powered assistant that tracks your spending and offers advice.
But the brand is also breaking the mould of finance with a laid-back, conversational writing style. A far cry from the usual suit-and-tie formality of finance, the brand talks to you like a friend would.
What’s more, this isn’t just a cool one-off website written by a creative copywriter.
The bank appears to have integrated this unique voice into every touchpoint, including in its AI assistant:
So how are things working out for the company?
In 2023, Cleo said it doubled its subscriber base in the previous year and has reached $45M in annual recurring revenue. On top of that, it seems to be providing genuine value to its subscribers—with 74% saying Cleo has improved their financial health.
No doubt its success is largely due to the great service it offers. But its marketing efforts are clearly attracting millenials and Gen-Z—the generations who are annoyed with the greedy tactics of traditional banks.
Cleo has essentially positioned itself as the antithesis to the money-grabbing, uncaring banking giants. And it’s a decision that’s paying dividends.
This is the strangest company I’ve seen in a long time. Yet somehow, Liquid Death is making a killing in one of the most boring, competitive spaces there is—the mineral water market.
Liquid Death started after its founders saw an opportunity to sell water to a hardcore punk subculture: the straight edge scene. People who are straight edge are essentially the same as any other hardcore punk fan, except they’re strictly against alcohol and drugs.
Still, sweaty punk gigs make people thirsty. Liquid Death figured that straight edgers deserve a refreshing non-alcoholic beverage in a cool-looking can, without the sugar content of popular energy drinks.
Of course, they also needed marketing that would appeal to fans of music that’s essentially designed to terrify old people.
Liquid Death has grown at an astonishing rate, raising $200m in investment and receiving a valuation of $700m. Still, the brand doesn’t take itself seriously—and if anything, it has become more outrageous as it has grown.
Customers enjoy its over-the-top branding so much that the company is almost transforming into a media company that sells water. For example, check out its zombie-themed water commercial, made in collaboration with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III:
Beneath all this fun, the company is being genuinely rebellious in its marketing. For instance, the company pushes traditional aluminium cans as being more eco-friendly than recycling plastic with its slogan ‘death to plastic’.
And they’re refreshingly self-aware about how disruptive they are, even making videos that mock traditional marketing:
So, are Liquid Death business geniuses, or just crazy people with more money than sense? I have no idea. But I know there’s no advertising school or copywriting course in the world that will teach you to make videos like this:
Klarna is the biggest Fintech company in Europe, famous for its 'pay how you like' app that lets shoppers make purchases in new ways. The service is a hit with gen-z and millennials, but it’s Klarna’s immersive advertising that gets people talking.
The brand says very little about its service in its adverts—instead focusing on the simple message of ‘smooth’ payments.
Klarna partnered with the global iconic rapper Snoop Dogg for its groundbreaking ad ‘Smoooth Dogg’ in 2019. This established a unique brand identity that Klarna could build on.
Klarna continued with its marketing strategy of partnering with influencers and comedians, creating the ‘I wish I’d bought it with Klarna’ campaign in the same year.
In this series we see Celeste Barber, an Australian comedian and internet sensation, addressing different types of shopping disasters. She advises viewers to avoid shopping blunders by using Klarna’s payment scheme:
Klarna’s highly visual advertising clearly targets fashion enthusiasts who indulge in 'I just want this now' shopping sprees. And its partnerships with celebs like Celeste are instrumental in creating a buzz for its schemes.
Unsurprisingly for a fashion-aligned brand, Klarna’s brand has a kooky, avant-garde vibe that Derek Zoolander would probably approve of.
The company had setbacks in 2022 but is still going strong and has now entered the US market. Its chic, comical content and clever collaborations have positioned Klarna as a company that attracts young, fashion-loving consumers.
What's interesting about Klarna's brand is that you almost forget this is a finance service. Almost everything the brand does on social media ties Klarna to fashion, culture and youthful spontaneity. Smooth indeed.
On one hand, these are B2C companies appealing to younger audiences. if you’re in B2B tech or SaaS, you’re probably not going to try anything like this.
But I think there’s still an interesting lesson here. People working in digital marketing spaces—particularly SaaS and ecommerce—tend to get laser-focused on data, tools, and the latest ‘growth hacks’ doing the rounds.
But there’s no marketing formula or tool that will tell you that you should use zombies to market your water brand.
We forget that sometimes, magic happens when companies make the decision to simply do the opposite to everyone else in their space. Or when they recognise that, in crowded markets, being bold and adventurous can get a lot more eyes on a barely-differentiated product.
For more daring marketing examples, check out my Hackernoon article: 5 startups using funny marketing to stand out