In 1987, when Rick Astley filmed the video for his hit song Never Gonna Give You Up, he had no idea it would eventually become one of the most viewed videos of all time.
By 2011, the video had been watched over 50 million times. Never Gonna Give You Up’s resurgence began in 2007, when a user on an obscure gaming site posted a link to Rick’s video under the heading for a trailer of the not-yet-released Grand Theft Auto IV video game. One year later, the phenomenon had become commonplace and was dubbed “Rickrolling,” a term that is now ubiquitous with any Internet misdirection technique.
Although Rickrolling is a harmless, rather pedestrian prank, many companies unknowingly Rickroll their customers and prospects by improperly aligning their products’ capabilities with their respective marketing messages.
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According to Guy Gabriele, Chief Creative Officer at Idea Engineering, brands live in the minds of customers and prospects. Guy believes that your brand is not what you say it is or what you hope it will be. Rather, your brand is a promise which is interpreted by those to whom you message. When your product or service is unable to deliver on this promise, you are effectively Rickrolling everyone who responds to your misaligned messaging.
At Computer Motion (NASDAQ: RBOT, acquired by Intuitive Surgical), our initial brand’s promise was, “Robotics will reduce costs within the operating room.” Although we did not intentionally mislead anyone, the customers and prospects that believed us were Rickrolled. We assumed that robots would perform tasks that would reduce the required number of surgical staff persons. The reality was that robots added costs to surgical procedures because the size of the surgical team remained unchanged. Once our target market acted upon our call to action and experienced our products, they revised our brand’s promise as follows: “Robotics are cool, hard to use and add costs to surgical procedures.”
It took us a couple of years to realize that our brand’s intended promise was not in sync with reality. We eventually modified our promise to: “Robotics will enable new minimally invasive procedures.” Fortunately, we delivered on this revised promise and ultimately helped create a multibillion dollar industry in which costs increased, but patient outcomes were greatly improved.
We were slow to revise our brand’s promise because we wanted robotics to reduce operating room costs, as we felt that such cost reductions were a requisite for our success. Avoid Rickrolling your customers and prospects by ignoring what you want your brand’s promise to be and understanding the actual promise that resides in the minds of your intended users.
Rick Rolls On
Rick Astley’s career was revived by the Rickrolling phenomenon. Never Gonna Give You Up has been a tongue-in-cheek nominee for a number of awards, including the 2008 UK Christmas song of the year and the seventh inning stretch song played during the New York Mets’ games. Your customers might never “give you up,” if you maintain congruence between your brand’s perceived promise and the promise that your product actually fulfills.
John Greathouse has held a number of senior executive positions with successful startups during the past fifteen years, spearheading transactions which generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.
John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.
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