5 Tips for Marketing Like A Troll. Seriously. My Walk and talk with CEO of MSCHF, Gabe Whaley

In Posted November 11, 2019
Gabe Whaley, CEO of MSCHF

Here’s a short summary of my chat with Gabe from the prehype podcast. Check out the episode here!

Growth tactics are changing. Fast. They’re getting tougher to execute, more expensive with less return, and easier to spot from a customer’s point of view. So now, as marketers, we’re faced with the problem of finding new ways to grow a business.

That’s why I chatted with Gabe Whaley, CEO of MSCHF, a company that he calls an “attention and fame machine,” which totally makes sense, considering they’ve produced products that capture the evergreen zeitgeist of human nature — like Times Newer Roman, Jesus Shoes and, of course, a decapitated inflatable swan.

An expert at trolling the masses, I asked Gabe how he helps his employees access that magic that all of their products seem to have. Here are the five things I learned that go into the MSCHF secret sauce.

You can check out the episode here!

1. Creating an environment without competition can help spur spontaneity — which can lead to great ideas.

As I mentioned before, MSCHF creates viral products & experiences that tap so specifically into the human zeitgeist, it’s scary. So, where do you start? Gabe mentioned that before even launching into a creative brainstorm, the environment has to feel judgment-free.

He said that the most important thing is to do is make sure you have a healthy creative culture because he’s seen first hand how creatives feel the pressure that they need to compete with each other to have the best ideas — which can lead to them being extra hard on themselves.

And the way he practices this idea is quite brilliant: a spontaneity whiteboard. “I erase it every Friday, and put [the ideas] into an idea pool which I have a process to flow through and cut down into our pipeline. That’s a free space where, at the end of each week, we see what crazy shit we came up with this week,” he said.

One keeper? CBD infused communion wafers. While this may or may not come to fruition, this process is central to what MSCHF is — a group of culture hackers. “Everything is a storytelling device. The power of distribution is infinite on the internet as we know it,” he said.

2. Separate your monetizing brainstorms from your true creative brainstorms.

Gabe’s team holds two types of brainstorms per week: FPPs and RPPs.

An FPP is a Fame Producing Product, which are ideas that will generate attention, press, shares and excitement — but these sessions are not conflated with questions like: How do we monetize that? How do we boost retention? How do we boost growth?

But there’s a place for those ideas, which he saves for RPPs, a set of brainstorming and thinking around the idea of: How do we make sure it’s a MSCHF idea, but we’re building growth channels around it? How are we distributing it? How are we finding ways to monetize?

Gabe said that he likes to create opportunities to just see where the magic goes, and refine from there.

3. How do you tap into the nerve of the Internet? Pull out the optimization tricks, and focus on the thinking.

Gabe describes that there’s an undefined black magic to figuring out what people love and why they love it, which seems nebulous. But in fact, Gabe sees it as a strength, and also potentially where marketing is headed. He predicts a rebirth of really creative, commercial and content output — a movement for brands to tap into the thoughts and ideas themselves — not the optimizations of them.

Right now, we’ve commoditized literally everything to the point where we’re annoyed. We’re irritated. We know that people are pulling tricks. Really, all that’s left for marketers, product people, founders, entrepreneurs, is to put some soul back in their thoughts again,” he said.

4. MSCHF-style marketing isn’t a young person’s game. It’s a human truth game.

Just because Gabe’s company creates products for young-ish people doesn’t mean their focus is youth culture. Instead, it’s evergreen human truths. “We’re not creating a commentary on youth culture. We’re creating a commentary on eternal human insights,” he said.

Gabe gave a few examples to back this up, which I found so interesting. For example, when MSCHF worked with Casper, they tapped into the human insight of wanting to go out on a Friday night when you’re too tired to hang out. So they used SnapChat to help you fake a social life — right from your bed.

“These are the things that separate MSCHF. We make narrative driven products rather than pure stunts, because they’re based on insights that are little bit more eternal, than say, Logan Paul going to Times Square and pulling someone’s pants down on camera,” he said.

5. Marketing like a troll — like marketing in general — starts with problem statements.

Gabe laid out the basics for how his team approaches the general MSCHF formula. Here’s the secret sauce.

  1. Narrow down a theme. For example, when you look around Times Square, people are taking selfies with superheroes and Sesame Street characters.
  2. Name that as your theme on a whiteboard, then start plotting mannerisms you observe. Things you see. Things you find amusing. And most importantly: problems. For example, there are too many tourists, but not enough superheroes to go around.
  3. Come up with solutions to the problems you’ve observed. Eventually, you’ll come up with something that generally will involve an input and an output, some sort of interaction, some sort of experience.

And voila. Your next viral product is born. Talking to Gabe left me feeling inspired to keep tapping into human truths, and how addressing those truths as a full story, rather than a one-time stunt, can reveal whole new ways to connect your brand to culture.

The next release you can expect from Gabe’s team? In an effort to capitalize on accessible fitness, a steel 5lb iPhone case. The troll game is strong with this one.

We talk more about decapitated swan heads, his brilliant font Times Newer Roman and more on the episode. Listen here.

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