The Opposite of the Hail Mary


I remember going out to dinner at a fine Italian Restaurant with my family.

At the end of the meal, we were stuffed, but the wait staff brought out 1 Andes mint for each of us as a treat at the end of the meal. 

Do you know what fine Italian restaurant I’m talking about? 

Answer: Olive Garden.

I’ve been thinking about a few campaigns that all sort of “smell” the same to me. And I recently realize why.  

They didn’t take a Hail Mary to produce. 

I applaud Nike and Red Bull with their Hail Mary’s of the 2 hour Marathon and the epic jump from space.

They PUSHED all the way to the edge.
And it *maybe* paid off for them, depending on how they thought about the ROI.

What I’m talking about are ideas that don’t cost that much to produce, but have an incredible ROI.

This is the opposite of the Hail Mary. I don't have a word for it,
so maybe I'll call it the Small-Mary?

The Andes mint at Olive Garden is an example of the small-mary.

I still remember that part of the meal with my family, and if you knew what restaurant I was talking about while you read that, then you do too. 


Let's break this down. 

  • The servers win, they increased their tips (according to studies).
  • The customers win, memorable moment with the family at the end of the meal (what Olive Garden’s brand is about).
  • Andes wins (Bulk buyer, unique distribution channel). 
  • Olive Garden Wins (Customers tell other customers).

The point is that the cost of this was basically zero. 
The actual cost was the “risk” they took to decide to give the mint in the first place. 

The point of this is not to discuss Olive Garden. The idea is that it's possible to alter brand perception and experience without taking a major existential risk to the business for the return. 

Let’s look at a more current example of what I’m talking about. 

The 100% Human campaign, by Everlane. 

A clothing campaign, by a clothing company that printed clothing for people to represent themselves not by their gender, race,e or sexual orientation, rather that they are human. With this campaign they've sold out of merchandise twice and raised over $75,000 in donations for the ACLU.

Here’s the key. They broke their business wide open by only the slightest tweak to their existing product. Just a simple message.

The R&D for this product was ESSENTIALLY ZERO.
Yet attention + sales skyrocketed.

So what’s going on here? 

The expectation is that companies need to innovate, and spend massive dollars to do so in a way that they will generate a healthy return.  The problem though is that these innovations are incredibly costly in time and money.

What I’m seeing some successful indie-brands do is make the innovation with an inexpensive risk. A risk worth taking because failure won't bankrupt the company but the upside could be great.

One time at my company Death to Stock we created a USB drive, called the Mystery USB - which was filled with stock media we sourced mostly for free. The idea was that you'd buy the USB stick but not know what media was stored on it until you received it in the mail.  This cost us essentially zero to produce, sold out in a day, and generated 800+ sign ups for a waitlist. 

The idea was a stretch into something interesting and extra, but it wasn't that innovative from a product standpoint. In fact it was on old technology, a USB.

While the Hail Mary implies that you’re risking it all. 

The opposite of a Hail Mary is to have your cake and eat it to. 

  • Do something out of your brands comfort zone.
  • Take a risk, but don't over invest in it. 
  • Find success in ideas that would have a huge ROI if they do work (mostly because they’re low cost to produce)

Bonus Example:

Lil Dickey produced both the small-mary and the Hail Mary. Both were successful.

Save Dat Money.
What: A music video that spent no money to make for a song about not spending money.
Cost: $0
Views: 78 Million

Pillow Talking ft. Brain.
What: A music video that uses the newest technology to show the story of a late-night-conversation-post-hookup. 
Cost: $700,000
Views: 11 Million

Both work, no question. One was harder to come up with, and is perceived as a bigger risk. The free one. It feels safe to "guarantee" our success by spending $$.

So, what's your small-mary?

Ready, break!
Everlane, 100% Human

Founded in their already transparent values, Everlane's 100% Human campaign run's a small mary and has already run out of stock twice.