September 9, 2015, was the day one of the world’s biggest marketing success stories was upstaged at its own game. What’s more, they were beaten by someone you’ve never even heard of.

Saying “do you know who Apple is?’ is a bit like asking someone if they’ve ever tried breathing. The tech mega-giant is a colossus in the corporate world, a brand so well-known you could probably draw its logo now. As a result, when the time came to launch its new iPhone 6S range, technology journalists from across the globe descended upon San Francisco to give near blanket coverage of every event.

But when it came to initiative-based marketing, it was not Apple who took the day but a small New York-based firm who happened to share the same name as its latest product.

A 6-cessful stunt

On a number of billboards – including one in Times Square – the company 6S Marketing wrote an open letter to the “Universe” saying “Please call it the iPhone 7”. They redirected this plea to Apple through a similar message written on the side of a truck, while also sending #WeAre6S trending throughout Twitter. Their co-founder even wrote a heartfelt plea to Apple on the company’s blog. It was ingenious, like a modern day marketing David upstaging a revered Goliath.

A sort of accurate representation of 6S Marketing and Apple. It works.

Why did it work so well?

One of the things that made this marketing campaign so brilliant was the fact that it capitalised on an incredibly well-known brand to push its own message. Apple is so distinguished that 6S didn’t even need to mention them on its Times Square billboard. This tactic worked particularly well because they timed their stunt perfectly to maximise press attention, receiving the sort of coverage that would have cost millions through advertising.

But the best call in this superbly executed strategy was to make it appear covert. Bombarded by adverts on a daily basis, people often have an instinctively negative response to businesses selling them stuff. 6S Marketing got around this by sincerely portraying their campaign as a grievance and, although everyone knew what was going on, they didn’t react negatively because its tongue-in-cheek humour was genuinely amusing. They were in on the joke, and they admired 6S for it.

Their stunt probably left Apple with a rotten feeling (apologies).

What can we all learn from 6S?

Aside from being prepared to pounce on any golden marketing opportunities whenever they arise, this campaign teaches companies that humour works best when it’s so obvious that your audience is in on the joke. It shows that keeping such jokes emotional can also work well in moderation – just enough to make them funny, but not too gushing.

As well as this, the campaign acts as an inspiration for smaller firms, showing them that if they don’t have a grand stature they can still secure significant coverage by piggy-backing on the reputation of others. This stunt wasn’t successful because it was little-known 6S who did it, it was a success because it mocked universally-recognised Apple. Tying well-known brands into a campaign can allow a small company to benefit from their star power and amplify their own message through it.

Finally, it tells businesses to give the media something to photograph that can be understood quickly. Barely anyone will have read the lengthy blog post, yet countless readers would have got the message instantly through a single shot of that Times Square billboard. Make it simple for everyone to realize why you’re brilliant, and realize they shall.

Media Shower writer Aidan Phillips is well known for his work in journalism and copywriting, particularly in the education, marketing, and travel fields. You can follow him on Twitter.

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