Word-of-Mouth and Referral Marketing Blog

Sony’s Bottled Walkman: The success of newsworthy advertising.

Sony’s latest ad is incredibly popular, hitting several news sites and reaching the front pages of both Reddit and Hacker News.

The result: Lots of views, lots of positive comments, and best of all, people actually acknowledging that the marketing’s worked on them, and that they’re going to consider buying it. Every marketer’s dream.

So what should marketers learn from it?

The publicity from the ad is worth more than the sales from the vending machines.

At the time of this writing, the video has over 462,000 views on YouTube.

physical encounters < digital views

That’s more than a tenth of the entire population of New Zealand, where the campaign was run!

Is it just a publicity stunt?

Discussions on Reddit and Hacker News both speculate that this is largely a publicity stunt. According to this commenter on HN, it was a promotion in Auckland that lasted a mere 30 days, and the devices had to be bought with cash.

So there was at least one vending machine at some point in time.

Did anybody actually buy the devices from the vending machines?

It’s pretty unlikely that people would’ve seen the vending machine and thought “Oh, wow! I should buy this right now.”

Rather, they would’ve thought, “What on earth…? Why is there a walkman in a bottle of water? Whoa, a waterproof walkman! Hm, maybe I should get one.”

They were being marketed to at a moment where their guard were down, and the ‘unexpectedness’ factor would’ve seared the idea of the waterproof device into their heads. That’s the sort of imprint that marketers fantasize about.

Let’s examine the finer details:

The sales numbers from the vending machines are probably quite low.

How low? Definitely too low to be cost-effective as a primary means of distribution, or we’d see such vending machines everywhere. Nobody’s actually in a buying mood when they’re in the middle of a workout!

Marketing > Sales.

The marketing value of people seeing the vending machine, talking about it, telling their friends, taking pictures of it probably exceeds the value of vending machine sales. So even if the vending machines might not have great sales numbers themselves, they would’ve led to sales later on.

Digital > Physical.

This is the golden ticket. The value of media coverage of the ad and discussions surrounding that almost definitely exceed the value of all sales and marketing as a result of the physical vending machines. This is the Holy Grail of the modern ad campaign- to depict something that’s newsworthy.

So news is good. Great. How do you get featured in the news, then?

This was an ad by Coke. Not many people would’ve seen the physical ad, but hundreds of thousands have seen a video of it.

Help the newsmaker do her job.

The savvy marketer or advertiser understands that news sites are always hungry for anything newsworthy. What about your product might be interesting, shocking, surprising, unexpected? That’s where you’ll find the opportunity to create a campaign that generates some real buzz around your product.

We thought about the newsworthiness of various marketing efforts and ad campaigns, and realize that ads typically fall on a continuum.

Behold, the continuum of newsworthy marketing efforts:


The Cheap Shot is vacuous, and unrelated to your product.

You’ll get a bunch of views, many of them negative or hostile. GoDaddy did it. Axe used to do it (but they’ve since changed tack). The idea is to get tonnes of eyeballs, then convert a tiny proportion of those views into sales. It’s ugly, but it can work.

The Entertaining Spot is anything fun, clever, interesting.

Bottled Walkmen fall under this category. It’s a fun idea, something that makes you snort and think “Heh, that’s clever!”- and then tell your friends. Volvo’s ad with Van Damme was just that- though the Bottled Walkman is superior, because it’s entertaining and extols the value of the product.

The Big Idea requires some visionary thinking.

You can’t just throw one together- people can smell a fradulent vision a mile away. You need to dig deep into what makes your brand tick, and project it into the future. Coke did this recently with #AmericaIsBeautiful.

The Watershed Event requires serious commitment.

The best example we can think of is Red Bull’s Stratos event, where Red Bull dropped a man from the edge of space in an event that was watched by millions of people around the world. This requires serious investment. Fender guitars experienced a Watershed Event when Jimi Hendrix set one on fire at Woodstock.

The Big Product is the hardest of all.

This is when your product is so fundamentally revolutionary that it changes the way people act, work, live. Think about what the world looked like before smartphones, and after. If you can invent something like the iPhone, you won’t actually need to worry too much about ad campaigns. The newsworthiness is embedded in the product.

Read more: 8 Examples Of Creating Unexpected Utility In Marketing To Get More Word-Of-Mouth

Conclusion: Figure out what works for you.

Of course, everybody wants to change the world, and cheap shots are kinda inelegant.

But the point is, you have to figure out what works for you. Every situation is different. Every product is different. Every market is different. You can’t just replicate what somebody else has done, because once something has been done, it ceases to be surprising. You’ll need to figure out what’s unique about your offering. That’s a lot of hard work.

See you on the news! 😉


Read next: 6 Entrepreneurs Weigh In: The #1 Way To Accelerate Word-of-Mouth Marketing


Visakan Veerasamy

Visa is ReferralCandy's former Blog Editor [2013–2018]. He also co-founded Statement.sg, a fashion ecommerce label selling witty t-shirts. He's mildly Internet-famous for his elaborate Twitter threads. He hopes to enjoy a glass of scotch onboard a commercial space flight someday.

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