How I Turned $121 Into $500,000 in Sales
An unauthorized, viral sour candy campaign in Finland
An unauthorized, viral sour candy campaign in Finland
In 2013, I worked for a Welsh confectionary company called BonBonBuddies. One day, I did what Tom Cruise does in every “Mission: Impossible” movie: I went rogue. I secretly shipped £100 ($121) in free product to Finland against my boss’ will.
The result was a viral sensation on YouTube and over half a million in sales in the first year alone.
The next year, I was asked to give a Keynote speech at Tubecon in Finland to Nordic departments of Sony, Xbox, Cosmopolitan, and others — so they could find out how I did it.
This is how.
What I Was Able to See
Understand that in 2013, influencer marketing wasn’t as prevalent as it is today.
Celebrity endorsements have always been around, but holding YouTube stars in the same high regard was a relatively new idea — one that only young people really understood at the time.
At age 23, I was working as a digital marketing executive, so I was above the target age demographic of the product, but I consumed YouTube instead of television.
He fills a cereal bowl full of these sour candies and bathes it in more sour liquid. Hilarious, even if you don’t speak the language.
It currently has 400,000 views, but at the time it was probably around half that.
My boss was worried about the legal implications of providing him with new sour candy samples and expressly told me not to do it when I pitched the idea of a follow-up video.
I, however, decided to trust the legal disclaimer on the packaging and shipped a box of free items to Eeddspeaks — with no instructions.
This was the resulting video. 1.4 million views.
The cost of this was about £20, or $24USD total, with perhaps two-thirds of that cost being shipping fees of the package from the U.K. to Finland.
Expanding on This
I began talking to Eedd and built a great friendship. That’s the secret to influencer marketing of this calibre. It’s not a one-way street. You need to give value to get value.
With the free product, Eedd’s videos were blowing-up and helping to grow his channel. I also selected some new, unreleased (in his area) product to showcase on his channel as a strategy — BrainBurnerz!
Then, this “free product” tactic was replicated on more of the rising stars in his territory, asking them to take the “sour face challenge” that was created alongside the product.
I estimate an additional £80 was spent sending other YouTubers free candy.
Viewers all over the Nordic region (but especially Finland) were dying to get their hands on BrainBlasterz’s entire product line. Sales went through the roof.
Were they as sour as they look? Only one way to find out. Buy them.
Virality took over. Smaller and smaller channels and Instagram users were creating their own challenge videos all over the world. Shops were bare and struggled to keep up with demand.
The social proof in Finland was enough for me to help our sales team close bigger and bigger deals on BrainBlasterz sour candy in other territories too, including the United Arab Emirates and Europe.
The Big Deal Worth Millions — On a Hangover
As mentioned, the following year in 2014, we sponsored Tubecon, a YouTube event in Helsinki, Finland. I was asked to give a keynote at the same event.
This is a video I took of my colleague Peter and how crazy our stand was. In the end, we let hoards of eager kids rip the candy right out of our hands — before going on stage to thousands of people and throwing sour candies into the crowd.
As long as I don’t die on the toilet later in life, that event will probably be the closest to being a rockstar that I’ll ever get.
I can tell this story now because I no longer work there, but the night before our final day, I went out to a bar called Grotesk in Helsinki and got moderately irresponsible (I was in my early twenties, after all).
The next day, we’d set-up a meeting with a big confectionary distributor in the Nordic region to discuss BrainBlasterz and the potential of him making an order.
Although scheduled for midday, that distributor decided to show up early to take advantage of my free hotel breakfast — but thanks to his surprise 9 a.m. call, I was still hungover and massively underprepared.
Thick, whiskey-scented effluvia emanated from my pores, but he didn’t care. He was fascinated by the impact BrainBlasterz had made in the region and enjoyed the more informal discussion.
I told him everything we’d done in the last 12 months to promote the brand and how we were driving sales. No stone unturned.
Perhaps it sounds cliché, but sales are about people first. Those who try too hard can’t sell as well as those who don’t. Sometimes it’s as easy as just being you.
He didn’t care about the product, the packaging, or the brand. He cared about the story and the hype that was created for it. He cared that we created “demand” before “supply.”
The meeting ended with a purchase order that was worth millions of pounds over the years that followed. The shocking result of just £100 influencer marketing-spend and a mediocre, free breakfast.
Can It Still Work?
Since that point, influencer marketing has gone from undervalued to massively overvalued. Brands have tried to create their own viral campaigns and priced smaller players out of the market.
I am not in the business or marketing sour candy anymore, but if I was, I’d look for big fish in smaller ponds and offer them some free product in exchange for promotion.
This tactic worked because it was a mutually beneficial relationship and lacked corporate competition in that region of the world.
The CEO of BonBonBuddies later offered me a promotion for my work on own-brand digital marketing, like that done with BrainBlasterz. Ironically, it was a reward for the type of work I wasn’t authorised to do in the first place.
Realising creative differences and the value I could provide elsewhere, I resigned to pursue other challenges.
According to their U.K. companies house filing, BonBonBuddies (owner of the BrainBlasterz brand) turnover grew by 7% from £37million to £39million and their pre-tax profit grew by a whopping 39% during the time that I was there.
No correlation, of course.