Apr 21 · 10 min read

By Hanna Ronish

There was a time in history when billboards helped students pick the schools they would apply for, businesses would benefit from publishing their services in the yellow pages of a phonebook, and commercials were a mandatory disturbance in the middle of a cable television show. Today we have iPhones, that take pictures, store music, organize files and do everything a computer can do. Before that, we had iPods with a click wheel to navigate through five hundred songs purchased through the never-before-seen iTunes. Before that, MP3 players stored one hundred favorite songs downloaded from LimeWire. (Or some other risky, illegal music software that was guaranteed to ruin any desktop computer.) And before that, people were walking around with Discmans, circling through the same 12 songs, by the same artist, on one disc.

At some point in each of these product’s relevant shelf life, they were on top of the industry ladder. The Discman was the first handheld music device until the MP3 disrupted its authority and became the first device that was capable of storing and managing music on a memory chip. All of this change occurred because of innovative companies willing to disrupt the market. Each disruption challenged the traditional ways of marketing and introduced a new product that would be beneficial to users.

What is Disruptive Marketing?

Disruptive marketing occurs when a new product that adds new values to the current target market challenges the existing market. Kodak, for example, was the leading distributor for film photography for decades. In 1996, Kodak reached its peak where it commanded more than half of the photography market. The company was worth over $31 billion, and in 1996, there was no sign that the company would file for bankruptcy just fifteen years later. Kodak invested so aggressively in their existing film photography customers that the company missed the opportunity of digital photography which was overtaken by Sony in 2001. Disruption happens when companies focus all of their attention on retaining their current customers and lose sight of converting new customers. Leaving room for

Disruptive marketing is taking everything that has been traditionally practiced by marketers, writing it on a piece of paper, and lighting it on fire. Disruptive marketing is a way to communicate to the consumers that disruption is an answer to a person’s problem before the problem is recognized. Effective marketers no longer think like marketers. Instead, they relate to their target audience. The objective is to enter a market in an effective way that interrupts the industry and helps the consumers do their daily tasks more effortlessly.

It is lonely and uncomfortable at the top. When a company feels secure and comfortable because they are leading the industry ladder, it is the proper time to brainstorm new ideas to disrupt themselves. For example, Kodak passed up the opportunity to be the official film provider for the 1984 Olympics. While Kodak ignored the opportunity, Fuji Film became the official film provider, and through aggressive marketing and lower prices, earned a spot in the American film market. Kodak trusted their customer’s loyalty and dismissed the opportunity to market their brand to a massive market of people for the 1984 Olympics and then failed to improve its business when photography became more digitalized. Although Kodak had the technology to implement digital photography into their business model, they did not want to disrupt their business as it was. In turn, fell down the ladder behind companies who were effectively producing digital cameras and accessories.

Key aspects of disruptive marketing

Approachability: Disruptive marketing is not interruptive marketing. Traditional marketing would interrupt the consumer’s day by a phone call or a television commercial. Effective brands can be disruptive through storytelling, in hopes that their ad can be a topic of discussion in the consumer’s everyday life. One way to fit your product into the consumer’s everyday life is to stop focusing on what the product can do, and start focusing on how the consumer’s life would benefit with the help of the new development.

Affordability: Consumers want to be educated through entertainment and engagement. Disruptive marketing does not have to cost an arm and a leg, it simply has to change the way marketing has been done historically. For example, on just about every social media, consumers can find quizzes to fill out to see what kind of Starbucks coffee is parallel with your dreams, or which kind of lipstick you should wear based on your horoscope. Brands can develop interactive means of marketing for little to no cost, and it will make the social media butterflies add every Starbuck’s gift card and bright pink lipstick to their online shopping cart.

Curiosity: Consumers are curious and want more information on unfamiliar products. Disruptive marketing campaigns allow the consumer’s imagination to soar as they crave emerging items, and want to be the person with the newest AirPods.

It can’t be duplicated: Although disruptive products can be imitated, Consumers often favor the first brand that entered the market. For instance, Sony has been at the top of the digital camera industry since they overtook Kodak in the film department in 2001.

DJs as Marketers

DJs relate to content marketing because they act in a particular manner that a successful marketer should perform as well. They refer to their audience, they entertain their audience, and they educate the crowd on the new hits, sounds, and styles.

DJs relate to their audience and play the songs that will be relevant to the people in the room. Given that it is 2019, If the event is hosting high-schoolers for their spring fling, the DJ will be playing the top 40 hits; featuring Arianna Grande, Post Malone, and Cardi B. The following weekend, the DJ can be mixing for a wedding where a late-twenties couple requested a reception where songs from their high-school days will blast over the speakers. “To the windows… to the walls.” The DJ must understand and think like the high-schoolers on the dance floor, or the rambunctious wedding party to determine the next song that will get people out of their seats. Similarly, to marketers who have nailed disruptive marketing; they understand their audience and have narrowed it down to the people on the hypothetical dance floor. They take risks on the next necessary move to get people out of their seats, and they drop the act of thinking like a marketer and begin to think like the people on the dance floor to make a more robust prediction on the disruptive step.

DJs entertain their audience. Millennials; people born between the years 1981 and 1996, prefer to be educated through entertainment and engagement. Billboards displaying bland messages are not as successful at converting customers as an interactive “take this quiz to find out which Scentsy fragrance perfectly describes your personality.” Emotions sell, and when a consumer feels an emotion toward a product or advertisement, they automatically feel a connection with the brand. People between the ages of 23 and 38 are the most significant consumers, and in order to attract their attention and create a life long consumer, a company needs to have entertaining content. Apple is one of the leading brands when it comes to disruption. When Apple launched the iPhone 7, they eliminated the 3.5mm port that was used to plug headphones into and introduced a new accessory, the AirPods (wireless headphones). By doing this, Apple’s intention to transition to a wireless future is jumpstarted by its disruption to traditional headphone companies, such as Beats by Dre and Bose. With the new information and the gutsy attempt to remove the headphone jack, Apple users had very mixed feelings. People were worried they would lose a single headphone, or they would misplace the dongle; an adapter accessory, provided by Apple that would convert the charging dock to headphone plug-in to assure traditional headphones would still be useful. The AirPods commercial attracted the audience through entertainment, the message felt more like a story with emotions rather than a senseless ad. The AirPods advertisement features a street style dancer who is defying gravity with his electric dance moves while listening to a modern song through his AirPods. The commercial displays age appropriate music and an appealing dance style for Apple’s target market. Rather than a redundant message, Apple provided an intriguing commercial.

Lastly, DJs present emerging hits and styles of music while engaging with the crowd. Similarly, Disruptive marketing is driven by curiosity. Consumers are intrigued by the unknown and they want to learn more about unfamiliar products. Marketers can use disruptive marketing to inform the market about upcoming technologies and begin to engage their curiosity. Marketers should understand their market, to effectively predict what will spike the consumer interest and shake up the existing industry.

Just Do It

In 2016, there were at least 962 fatal incidents caused by police brutality and at least 258 of these people were African American. At this time, it seemed like police brutality was a crime that was going to go unspoken of. Until a took a successful NFL quarterback took a stance against this injustice.

Colin Kaepernick used his platform to take a knee during the national anthem as a silent, harmless protest to the obvious nationwide issue of police brutality. When Quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers remained seated for the National Anthem there was an uproar of angered fans. After refusing to stand for the National Anthem at a Preseason NFL game, there was a social media storm and fans across the nation were enraged that he was disrespecting the flag and the men and women who fought for his freedom. Shortly after the initial protest, Kaepernick had a meeting with a fellow NFL player, and Army Green Beret, Nate Boyer, where they discussed the act of taking a knee shows respect to the military while staying true in his pursuit for social justice against police brutality. “We were talking to him about how can we get the message back on track and not take away from the military, not take away from pride in our country but keep the focus on what the issues really are,” Kaepernick said after the game. Only the most daring of companies would use this type of controversy in attempt to drive revenue and show transparency. And That is exactly what Nike did.

In September of 2018, it was announced that Kaepernick would be the face of the 30th year anniversary for the Just Do it ad campaign by Nike. Without doing the research, many NFL fans and loyal Nike consumers threatened to boycott Nike, burn their already purchased athletic apparel and made hostile social media posts; stemming from the same beliefs that Nike supports someone who will disrespect the flag and the nation as whole. When in reality, Nike supported this athlete as a person; not a performer and put their weight behind Kaepernick and his battle against racial injustice. By launching an ad campaign with Colin Kaepernick as the front man, it offers another platform for the political activist to continue being the voice against police brutality. In a time when our country is politically divided, people want to take a stand for something and brands are respected when they are transparent and stand the social issues they believe in as well. Nike proved that as a brand, taking a stance in a political controversy can be a beneficial disruption to their own brand.

Nike’s advertising history is filled with controversial social messages. In 1988, Nike aired an ageism advertisement that starred an eighty ear old man who “run’s 17 miles before breakfast,” to prove ageism is irrelevant. In 1993, they told a story through Charles Barkley stating that he is paid to dunk a basketball, not be a role model, supporting the fact that athletes should not be held to a higher standard. In 1995 HIV-positive and openly homophobic, professional runner, Ric Munoz was praised for the miles he has conquered. In 2012 the familiar phrase “I’m a girl, that doesn’t mean I have to wear a skirt.” was released through the woman empowerment Nike Ad. Although all of these commercials have significant social standings during the time in which they were aired, the Colin Kaepernick campaign ad received, as predicted, the largest uproar of supportive and threatening followers. Controversial advertisement after controversial advertisement proves that Nike is not afraid to take chances as a brand. Nike also understands its audience and its disruptive tactics that it works out for them in the long run as the Nike brand is worth $32.4 billion, ranking number 88 on the fortune top 500 list claiming the title the largest athletic apparel supplier.

It was predicted that there would be both positive and negative feedback after the debut of the Colin Kaepernick “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything” Ad. Through the hatred and angry tweets (even from the president himself) Nike generated $163.5 million in media exposure within a week of the unveil of the advertisement, with shares hitting a record high of $83.83. This movement was calculated by Nike in attempts to engage with their target audience, (people under the age of 35) and stand up for a social cause that was making noise. “Among fans, 62 percent of people ages 18 to 34 believed that athletes were “doing the right thing” when they protested by kneeling during the National Anthem,” according to a CNN-SSRS poll from last September. By disrupting the advertising industry through using social issues, Nike managed to gain an emotional connection and relate to their target market, as well as hit record sales and share prices.

In Conclusion

In order for companies to survive, marketers need to push the boundaries, take risks and create greatness. Consumers are overwhelmed with tasteless advertising that content needs to be surprising and real. Otherwise, companies like Kodak will fail to compete in the market and companies like Nike will thrive because of their understanding of their audience and vulnerability to taking their content outside of some people’s perceptions of acceptable.

“Sometimes greatness is something you plan, but most of the time its just something you try.” (Nike, 2012)

Mui, C. (2016, June 20). How Kodak Failed. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/chunkamui/2012/01/18/how-kodak-failed/#1d95b63a6f27

Colon, G., & Craven, G. (n.d.). Disruptive marketing: What growth hackers, data punks, and other hybrid thinkers can teach us about navigating the new normal.

PatrickCoffee. (2018, September 04). A Brief History of Nike Using Advertising to Address Social Issues. Retrieved from https://www.adweek.com/agencies/a-brief-history-of-nike-using-advertising-to-address-social-issues/

LaVito, A. (2018, September 06). Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ads created $163.5 million in buzz since it began — and it’s not all bad. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2018/09/06/nikes-colin-kaepernick-ad-created-163point5-million-in-media-exposure.html

Nike. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://fortune.com/fortune500/nike/


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