Dec 17, 2014

Betabrand Makes Money by Making Fun of the Holidays

Betabrand has always been pretty weird. So it was no surprise when the San Francisco-based retailer went a little over the top with the holidays this year, sending campaigns that promoted their end-of-year sales while mocking the very idea of end-of-year sales.

"We like to make fun of the excess, the gluttony, that comes along with the holidays," says Betabrand E-commerce Analyst Elan Levin. “Christmas has become this big, fat beast. We acknowledge we’re a part of it, that we still have to participate in it, but we’re going to have fun with it."

They got started early—like, really early—with Santa Sleighs Halloween, a videogame in which Santa Claus stabs Dracula and chokes zombies. Next, they highlighted a rather non-traditional holiday.

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"We’ve celebrated this for many years," Elan says of Betabrand’s Corduroy Day celebration sale. "Nov. 11 is International Corduroy Day. The 11s make vertical stripes like the pants. This moved the product line about four times more than usual over a normal day. We promote existing obscure holidays that happen to coincide with our product line, and we like to think the world is a better place for it."

As November winded down, they got ahead of one of the year’s biggest retail days:

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"This is the Friday before Black Friday," Elan says of Betabrand’s Blacker-Than-Black Friday sale. "It’s just a sale on all our black clothing. We know people want traditional Black Friday sales, and you’ll get that eventually. But we’re not necessarily gonna play by the rules, and that really resonates well with our customers."

Then came December. And with it, Betabrand’s most excessive holiday excess yet.

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They kicked off an advent calendar that’s been counting down the 25 days of Christmas with 25 specials, each delivered by email, once a day, every day.

Doing excess right

"Generally speaking, our regular emails during the year are slightly crazy, long-winded, funny stories—really good editorial and visual work," Elan says. "During the holidays, we can’t do that. We have more eyes looking at our emails for fewer seconds. We have to make it really succinct as well as having a really good handshake when you click on the email to the landing page on the website. The entertainment is built into it, but we want to make it as easy as possible so you can buy, maybe laugh a little, find something worth sharing with your friends, and get on with your day."

During the rest of the year, Betabrand sends about 2-3 emails per person, per week. So before they launched their advent calendar campaign with its daily emails, they gave their subscribers a chance to opt out of the whole silly endeavor. Hundreds of people took them up on the no-advent option.

“Those are people I’m very happy not to send this promotion to," Elan says. "I’d rather have them take a month off and not lose them as opposed to what I find myself doing during the holidays: ‘Oh my god, this email burden is ridiculous. I need to unsubscribe from these people.’ When I learned that MailChimp sent 720 million emails on Cyber Monday, I wasn’t surprised, because it felt like they all hit my inbox."

Irrelevance reduced, Betabrand went all in: Big sales, little sales, giveaways, niche promotions—all in the name of overdoing it. They doled out fancy skateboards, sent a customer to Iceland. One giveaway even turned into a big seller.

"The most surprising personally has been the disco kippah," Elan explains. "We make this disco fabric, and there are plenty of Jewish, joyous events that you wear kippahs for, so we decided to make a bunch of disco kippahs and give them away on the website. Well, we quietly put it live on the site a couple days before we were going to give them away. I’m looking at the sales reports, and every day we’re selling a couple dozen of them, totally organically, even though they’re buried deep on our website. And what we realized is there’s actually a demand for these disco kippahs! Eventually, my customer service team comes to me and says someone wants 250 of them for their wedding. We didn’t produce enough of them for that! It’s just not how we expected to give them out. That’s a great example of the way Betabrand works. We’ll do this thing because we think it’s really funny, and then it grows into something we couldn’t even have imagined."

Lessons learned

Give and you shall receive. Or, in Betabrand’s case, send and you shall receive—lots and lots of data. And it’s already shaping their holiday plans for next year.

"This is a learning process," Elan says. "We have learned a lot, but we will continue to learn, and that will impact next year. It’s sort of the cadence and the rhythm with which we communicate with people during the holidays. We do a lot of internal checks to say, ok, the sale is performing like this, and the conversions are like this, so we should send a reminder in the afternoon. More so than ever before, we’re getting very analytical about when it’s worthwhile to send that next email."

This penchant for the absurd isn’t for everyone. It’s maybe not the kind of holiday tip we’d give to most of our 7.5 million users. But for Betabrand, weird totally works.