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Ryan's Blue Ocean
A marketing masterclass with Ryan Reynolds
Last week Ryan Reynold’s Mint Mobile sold for over $1BN. How did this telecoms challenger achieve such a sizeable valuation? And why was T-mobile willing to pay so much? The easy (and slightly lazy) answer is to say that it’s simply because Mr Reynolds is a Hollywood Celebrity. The more interesting answer, in my opinion, is that Mr Reynolds is a master marketer. Over the last few years, Reynolds & his business partner George Dewey, have created ‘Maximum Effort’ one of the most interesting marketing companies around. Want to know how they did it? Let’s dive in.
Let’s be honest, celebrity endorsements are nothing new. Brands have been leveraging celebrities to help promote their offering for decades. In recent years, however, we have witnessed an evolution in this type of endorsement. Increasingly celebrities (and now influencers) are taking an equity stake in the brands they promote. Today they are increasingly evolving from spokesperson to business partner. Despite this evolution, their approach to marketing remains formulaic; choose a high-interest category & get the celebrity to promote it. We only have to look to at the Tequila category to see how formulaic this approach has become.
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Ref #1: A brief look at the Tequila category reveals how formulaic the celebrity approach has become.
Some might argue that Ryan Reynolds has followed the same formula. He has launched Aviaton Gin into an equally celebrity-saturated category. However, taking a step back we can see that Reynolds's approach is far more strategic at both a business and marketing level. Beyond Aviation Gin Reynolds has adopted a ‘Blue Ocean Strategy’ (BOS) with his involvement with Mint Mobile. What is a (BOS) some of you may ask? And what does Mint Mobile have to do with it? Let me explain…
“Blue Ocen Strategy is the simultaneous pursuit of differentiation and low cost to open up a new market space and create new demand. It is about creating and capturing uncontested market space, thereby making the competition irrelevant.” W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, Blue Ocean Strategy
Mint Mobile adopts a BOS in a number of ways. It opens up a new market by offering a low-cost alternative to traditional telecom providers. However, it also captures an uncontested market space, by entering a low-interest category (telecoms) where no celebrity is currently playing as a brand owner. You see whilst many celebrities love to operate in glamorous categories such as alcohol & fashion, none of them have yet to venture into the fairly functional and practical telecoms category. This gives Mint (and Mr Reynolds) a huge advantage. It allows his celebrity status to cut through even more and in turn create additional fame for his brands. And as we know fame is the single biggest driver of long-term brand growth.
Ref #2: Fame is the single biggest driver of sales, market share & much more (source: IPA Datamine)
However, Mr Reynolds's disruptive approach moves beyond business strategy and is at the heart of what makes Maximum Effort’s marketing so successful. Let me break this down over the next few points.
#2 CULTURE FAST
Any of you who have worked brand side will know how frustratingly slow the process can often be working with traditional agencies. It takes months, sometimes years, to get a brand purpose approved or for a creative campaign to go live. That’s part of the reason we set up Defiant, where we do strategic & creative sprints in weeks, to get to the best work possible. And it seems as if Maximum Effort has copied our formula 😂. Anyway, what makes them so successful is that they operate at the speed of culture. They are culture fast. What does this actually mean? Well, any time something trends in culture they are able to jump on it and create content around it. Doing this sends their brand fame into overdrive. They are able to combine the effects of Reynold’s celebrity status and a trending topic to produce something that goes ‘viral’. (Sorry I hate the word ‘viral’ but you know what I mean). A great example of how they apply this approach was their response to the horrific Peleton Christmas campaign.
Ref #3: Maximum Efforts culture fast approach enabled them to quickly react to the horrific Peleton Christmas campaign.
This approach enabled the Aviation Gin brand to trend, achieving millions of views and even get picked up on national news.
Another great example is when actor David Foley tweeted Ryan Reynolds, asking if he could be in one of their up-and-coming ads. Not only did David feature but the whole campaign was turned around in record time. As Ryan Recalls:
“The Twitter interaction started to spread (unbeknownst to me). I got a call from George Dewey (co-founder of Maximum Effort) alerting me. He also shared he was on his way to set, writing the script in the car. We spoke for five minutes. We aligned on the concept, and that was it — we were on our way” Ryan Reynolds, Co-Founder Maximum Effort
The whole concept was turned around in a matter of days, not months. And because it tapped into an existing conversation it achieved fantastic traction & views.
Ref #4: The Foley & Reynolds collaboration is a fantastic example of being culture-fast.
So what can we learn from this? Well, a couple of things. First, if you're a scaleup massively outspent in your respective category jumping on trends can be incredibly powerful. Sure you may not have Reynolds's levels of celebrity fame, but tapping into trends at the right time can prove hugely effective. Second, a long process is often the enemy of great and effective work. I am sure many of us will relate to this second point. I am sure many of us will have seen a great idea get eroded down by slow processes, bureaucracy and too many stakeholders. The truth is when you're a scale-up or challenger brand you simply cannot afford to do this. You cannot afford to round off the edges. You need to be bold, daring and impactful. You need to embrace a faster approach. You need to be culture fast.
As highlighted in our free trend report ‘Thriving In Uncertain Times’ authenticity is one of the megatrends of 2023. Some call into question whether a brand can truly be ‘authentic’. They argue that a brand is a corporate entity that can never be truly honest. However, I hold a different point of view on this. I strongly believe that in an era of transparency, where people can see through brand mistruths more easily, authenticity has never been more important. And when it comes to authenticity Reynolds has been ahead of the curve for quite some time.
What is so powerful about Maximum efforts work, is that it leverages Reynolds's candid style. He always speaks in a straight-talking, no-fluff or BS way. He loves to poke fun at the flaws of other brands’ (Peleton) hype cycles in culture (ChatGPT) and even some of the IP he has worked on himself (Green Lantern). It is this approach that enables his work to resonate so much. It also creates work that cuts through in a sea of celebrity sameness, which is often too polished and perfect.
Ref #5: The Foley & Reynolds collaboration is a fantastic example of being culture-fast.
What can we learn from this? Stop trying to be so perfect all the time. Your brand should embrace its flaws and admit when it’s wrong. Be willing to poke fun at yourself. Be more human & authentic. Some of the best scale-ups around are already doing this. Brands that we have already in the newsletter, like Mid Day Squares & Liquid Death.
#4 COMMUNITY BUILDING
Community building is the new buzzword within marketing. And while many traditional marketers are sceptical towards it, I think it can be tremendously useful for scale-ups and challenger brands. If you want to deep dive into the world of community building you should check out the think piece I wrote here called Community Building Is A Con. Anyway let’s bring it back to Mr Reynolds and reveal how I think he has become a master of the model I outlined previously.
Ref #6: A new model for community building as featured in “Community Building Is A Con”
As outlined there are three elements to building a successful brand community; identify what your customers values, uncover what makes your company unique & find a gap in the market. Using these three elements enables you to find focus and develop a distinctive content roadmap, which in turn will help you to build a loyal fan base and a community. Reynolds is a master at this. Let’s look at Mint Mobile as an illustrative example.
Consumers increasingly don’t want the inflexibility or high prices of long mobile contracts.
Mint Mobile offers a low-cost & commitment-free mobile network.
The vast majority of US telecoms content focuses on tariffs or new handsets and it normally portrays this information in a fairly confusing & boring way.
Mint Mobile gives people what they value (flexibility and cheaper prices) and delivers content that not only stands out (entertaining, simple, not confusing) but plays to Ryan Reynold’s strengths (cheeky, no BS style).
What can brands learn from this? Well of course if you happen to know a Hollywood celebrity, this will be incredibly helpful. However, even if you don’t there is always an opportunity to disrupt your category by giving consumers what they value and delivering cut-through content to help build a community around your brand.
This think piece is dedicated to all those who claim Mint Mobile is only a success because Ryan Reynolds is a Hollywood Celebrity. I honestly think it is a lazy take on what he has built with Maximum Effort. I hope you agree he offers a masterclass in modern marketing. Let’s recap what any brand can learn from it:
Blue Ocean: always look to expand your brand into new categories or audiences where there is less immediate competition.
Culture Fast: slow process is the enemy of great & effective work. It can confuse your strategy and dull your creative work. Move at the speed of culture and jump on trends when you can. And of course, work with us at Defiant if you want to do that.
Authenticity: we live in the era of transparency where anyone can do their own research and see through your brand’s mistruths. As such don’t strive to be perfect. Always strive to be authentic & embrace your weaknesses.
Community building: if your a challenger brand or scale-up it’s always worth plotting out your content roadmap with the view to building your community.
Anyway, that’s it for this week. Thank you to all of you who have subscribed, we are fast reaching 1,000 subs! If not too much trouble we would love to get there a little faster. As such if you enjoyed this post, or any of the previous ones, please spend a few seconds sharing it on Linkedin. Thank you.
Have a great Sunday.
Please excuse the typ0s i’m proudly dyslexic
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