The Ninja Turtle Marketing Strategy

About 15 years ago, traveling to California with K and Number Three Son, I met one of the originators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

He was sitting next to my son. We got to talking. My son was a big fan of the turtles back then. This guy, I forget his name, drew a turtle for him.

I asked him how he came up with such a creative idea.

“It wasn’t creative at all,” he said. “It was a calculated marketing strategy.”

This young man was in his early twenties at the time. He and his friends had developed the concept when they were in their teens. It didn’t seem likely to me that they could be so calculating, as he put it, at that age. I figured he was pulling my leg.

But then he explained.

“We were sitting around one day talking about how cool it would be to have a bestselling comic strip. ‘To do that,’ one of us said, ‘you’d need to pick something that was really cool with kids who read comic books.’

“So then we talked about what the coolest things were. We made a list and we decided that the three coolest things were mutants, ninjas, and turtles. We made them teenagers because we knew it would be teenagers who we’d be selling to.”

“Wow!” I thought. “That is a calculated marketing strategy.”

In the years since that conversation, I’ve thought about it many times when brainstorming new products. “What is really hot right now?” I always ask, to get the ball rolling.

By “What is hot?” I mean two things:

  • What are the products our prospects are buying now?
  • What are the topics they are talking about?

The purpose of these questions is to discover their most current thoughts, feelings, and desires. (This is a very important lesson for copywriters, as well as marketers. It is explained fully in AWAI’s Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting.)

Finding out what prospects are buying now tells you about their recent past. Finding out what they are thinking about gives you a perspective on the near future.

When I brainstorm like this, I am usually searching for a single idea — a single, powerful idea that I can use to create a new product or promotion. But sometimes I see an opportunity to do something like those kids did with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: to create one super-powerful “mutant” product or promotion by combining two or three hot topics or ideas.

Let me give you an example:

A colleague of mine created one of the bestselling promotions in the financial advisory industry last year by combining what were then the two hottest topics of discussion among the investors who were subscribing to his newsletters. Those topics were China and gold. So he led off the promotion this way:

Why Chinese Gold could pay 100% MORE than U.S. Gold over the Next 2 Years

Don’t buy another ounce of gold until you read this report.

In short: The Chinese government has created a secret new gold investment. The last time the gov’t did something like this, investors could have made 1,084%.

The copy went on to excite the reader about the enormous strength of China as an emerging economic power — something every investor was acutely aware of — and the dramatic rise in value that gold had taken in the past several years.

Harnessing these two immense forces, the copy suggested, would be a very fast and smart way to become wealthy quickly.

As I said, the promotion was extremely successful. It brought in more than double the number of buyers and millions more dollars than the publisher expected. He specifically attributed its success to this strategy.

Let me give you a second example.

The iPhone — one of the most brilliant marketing coups in recent memory.

The iPhone is a beautiful mutant. It is a state-of-the-art cell phone, a sophisticated MP3 player, and an easy-to-use mobile Web browser, all in one.

Of course, it’s much more than that. But these three functions were particularly positioned in the marketing. And for good reason. They are the three hottest trends in technology today. They are must-haves for everybody from students to business travelers to retirees.

Finally, let me tell you about a business I’ve noticed here in Delray Beach.

It’s a restaurant that offers a large selection of microbrew beer, caters to the “foodie” crowd with gourmet menu items, and restricts itself to tapas-style dining by featuring appetizer-size portions.

If you know anything about the restaurant business — in particular, the market in South Florida — you know that these are the three big trends. By combining them in a cohesive way, this restaurant became an instant success during a time when many restaurants have been foundering.

But three ideas at once? Doesn’t this violate my much-touted Rule of One?

Yes and no. The Rule of One, as you will remember, states that a marketing campaign does best when it begins with an emphasis on a single idea or benefit. When I see marketers and copywriters throw a bunch of ideas/benefits into the headline and lead of a promotion, I know it’s because they can’t decide which one will pull people in.

The Teenage Mutant Turtle strategy is different. It doesn’t come from doubt about which idea/benefit is strongest. It comes from recognizing that there are two or three really hot trends in the market at the moment. And it takes advantage of them.

You can’t always use this strategy. Most of the time the product you are selling cannot be connected with two or three super-hot trends. But when it can — and you can find some way to put them all together in a single package — well, then you can have the Teenage Mutant Turtle effect.

So how do you develop such a promotion?

Let’s go back to the financial advisory business. And let’s assume you’re brainstorming ideas for a new promotion for your investment newsletter.

China and gold were very hot last year. But, for various reasons, they are not so hot this year. What’s hot today? Brazil and oil, to name two.

So what if you could get your investment guru to find some Brazilian company that is specially situated to take advantage of oil in Brazil? One that would exemplify the best aspects of each trend but in an integrated way? Do you think that would work?

I bet it would. (I’ll let you know for sure as soon as I can get one of my clients to try it.)

In using the Ninja Turtle strategy, be sure your copy follows all the other tested and true rules of good promotional writing.

  • Make sure there is a primary benefit for your reader contained in the principal idea.
  • Make sure the copy makes that benefit real with specific examples of how your reader will experience it in his own life.
  • Make sure it makes claims and proves them — being as specific as possible.

The Ninja Turtle strategy won’t work if your product doesn’t genuinely provide the benefits needed or if the two or three ideas can’t be coherently linked together.

But when it works, you will sense the power of your copy as you are reading through it yourself. And you will see the benefit of it when your prospects respond to you in droves.

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]

Mark Morgan Ford

Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Wealth Builders Club. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.