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Less than two months ago, Solo Stove embarked on what was widely heralded as a genius marketing campaign.
The brand partnered with legendary rapper Snoop Dogg to use his not-so-secret affinity with cannabis to trick the world into thinking he’d given up “smoke,” only to reveal that he was partnering with Solo Stove to promote their smokeless fire pits.
A masterpiece in viral marketing, people said. Ad Age listed it at #18 on its Top 40 Ads of 2023.
Solo Stove was chuffed with it too. Then CEO, John Merris, said on his LinkedIn at the time, “this one will go down as one of the best. Snoop Dogg is incredible to work with and we found the perfect collaboration between two brands.”
And yet, as of Jan. 15, John Merris is out of a job. According to Solo Stove interim CFO Andrea Tarbox, the campaign “raised brand awareness” but “did not lead to the sales lift that [they] had planned.”
Was this a case of a poorly spent marketing budget? Or unrealistic ROI expectations?
A pivot in strategy
Let’s look a bit closer at Solo Brands. The company grew steadily through the Covid-19 pandemic, likely a result of a great product fit for all of us stuck at home. But since then, the brand has managed to keep that revenue stable, with net sales of $329.5 million for the last 9 months of 2023, up 2.8% for the same period in 2022. Not just a smokeless flash in the pan.
Until recently, Solo Stove had been predominantly a direct-response focused business, investing in social media and other measurable marketing channels.
So this Snoop Dogg campaign was a huge leap.
Don’t run an awareness campaign and judge it on sales
Too many times we see brands tick every box when it comes to what they’re looking for in terms of ROI for a campaign. Newsflash: you cannot have it all.
In the days after the campaign went live, the brand gained more than 60 thousand Instagram followers, the posts received more than 30 million engagements and they also generated billions in earned media impressions and got coverage from mainstream media outlets like CNN.
However, based on the CFO’s comments, Solo Stove did not see the uplift in sales that it had expected. Or is “hoped for” a better way of wording it. Because what could they truly have expected?
According to Forbes, Solo Brands traditionally generates 35-40% of their sales in the 4th quarter. Great. But they launched the campaign with only a month left in the quarter.
Given the product line falls between $200-400, it’s more of a considered purchase for most. I doubt many people were ready to click “buy now” right away, especially given many had likely already committed money elsewhere for the holiday season.
Regardless, using sales lift as a primary metric for an awareness campaign is completely flawed. The idea is to grow awareness, bring in new audiences and turn them into customers over time, perhaps in the spring/summer period. A slow burn, you might say.
An unfinished story
It’s difficult to provide a robust assessment of whether this campaign was a success or not. For starters, it’s only been two months since it launched.
We don’t know the internal conversations that took place, what was promised, what was expected. We don’t know the cost, but based on previously reported figures for other brand campaigns, I could see Snoop having charged easily in the mid-seven figures for this.
But, as far as pure brand awareness goes, no one could argue that this was a roaring (last fire pun I promise) success. Millions of people who had no idea who the brand was, now do. That’s a win.
It’s now the responsibility of the current team to use that awareness to drive revenue. Solo Stove might still do this but unfortunately for Merris, he won’t be leading the charge.
For what it’s worth, this campaign was likely not the sole reason for Merris losing his job. Likely more a result of stalled growth, coupled with a big bet that didn’t provide immediate bottom line results.