Almost anyone with a social media account saw the announcement a few weeks ago that rapper Snoop Dogg was “giving up smoke.”
The internet went wild with speculation about what he meant. Was Snoop going to be only consuming cannabis edibles now? Only THC-infused beverages? Surely he wasn’t going to quit marijuana altogether.
The news hung in the air for a few days until Solo Stove and Snoop announced that the only smoke the rapper was giving up was that coming from a fire pit.
The video reveal posted online starts with a close-up of Snoop “making an announcement.”
“I’m giving up smoke,” he says. “I know what you’re thinking. ‘Snoop! Smoke is kind of your whole thing!’ But I’m done with it.”
As Snoop says he’s tired of coughing and his clothes smelling bad, the camera pans wider to reveal he’s sitting in front of a “smokeless” Solo Stove firepit.
The marketing campaign was a huge success for Solo. Ad Age ranked the collaboration #18 on its list of the 40 best ads of 2023. CEO John Merris said in the days after the ad dropped they gained some 60,000 new followers on social media.
The collaboration led to a limited-edition Snoop Stove that’s already sold out.
The Daily spoke with Merris about putting the campaign together, Solo’s broader marketing efforts, and how he hopes to leverage the success into more opportunities.
How It Came Together
The company has been growing steadily through the COVID-19 pandemic and after, with net sales up 8% to $110.3 million in the third quarter ended Sept. 30.
Solo’s firepits are a good example of a product that people purchased during the pandemic because they were stuck at home and wanted to entertain themselves in their backyards.
Despite the success, Merris still saw a need for more brand marketing.
“Our unaided brand awareness was low,” he said.
Up until recently the company has operated a direct-response focused business, he said, investing in social media and other measurable marketing channels.
But the company wasn’t satisfied with its word-of-mouth reputation.
Until this year, Solo had done most of its creative advertising work in-house. Then it brought on the Martin Agency to help.
It was in the agency’s war room where the idea for the Snoop campaign was launched. Snoop’s picture was on the wall with a speech bubble coming out of his mouth saying, “After much consideration and conversation with my family, I’ve decided to give up smoke. Please respect my privacy at this time.”
The Solo team heard about that and started to explore the idea, eventually bringing it to Merris.
“I was just like, ‘stop. This is insane,’” he said. “‘This is so good.’”
Merris paused to consider the implications, including what it might mean for his brand to align itself with Snoop, who is often profane and known for his prodigious marijuana consumption – not to mention a major star who would be expensive to sign. As a publicly traded company, Merris declined to say how much they spent on the campaign.
“We had to ask ourselves, ‘Are we really ready to take this swing?’” he said.
The ultimate test was when Merris showed the campaign to his wife who said it was “genius.”
When his wife wasn’t turned off by the idea, Merris started to feel more comfortable.
Making Contact with Snoop
The next hurdle: Nobody knew how to get in contact with Snoop.
It was eight weeks until Black Friday, so they had to move fast to get ahold of him, convince him of the idea, and make the first cryptic announcement.
Fortunately, someone on the legal team at Solo had a connection. Merris reached out, and he got a call from Snoop’s agent. Merris had to make the pitch over the phone. It was only six weeks until Black Friday.
A week later the phone rang, and the rapper was on the other line.
Merris made the pitch again, and Snoop “was on board in minutes,” he said.
Two more weeks of negotiations left the team on a two-week timeline to make the video. Merris said his favorite moment during the shooting of the video was watching Snoop roast his very first marshmallow, at 52 years old.
The next trick was keeping it a secret until the campaign came out.
“We worked really hard to keep it tight-lipped,” Merris said. “Nobody saw it coming.”
Return on Investment
Aside from the Snoop campaign, Solo has been betting big elsewhere, including a big spend to enter a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade this year.
The company has been able to take these big swings partly because of how well it did during the pandemic.
“We’ve been super fortunate to operate a profitable, cash generative business,” Merris said.
The strategy is to spend more on “longer-tailed” marketing initiatives that build the audience for the brand, but tracking the return on investment is more difficult.
“You certainly aren’t tracking it to revenue,” Merris said. “You’re tracking it to things like unaided brand awareness.”
A lift in unaided brand awareness can be determined over the next four to eight quarters if there’s a lift in the business, according to Merris.
However, the increase of 60,000 new followers on social media in the days after the Snoop launch is a tangible ROI.
“We definitely got new audience from that,” Merris said.
To turn that new audience into sales, Solo needs to “create and deploy value” for consumers.
“Now the work that’s ahead of us is to take those eyeballs and get them to open their wallets,” Merris said.
Solo’s Future Plans
Over the past couple of years, Solo has invested in product innovation, including adding furniture, pizza ovens, and patio heaters to its product mix.
The company wants to add value to customers’ outdoor experiences beyond just firepits, Merris said.
Solo has also pushed its acquisition strategy, including buying indoor fire product company TerraFlame. In addition, the company also recently opened a European headquarters in the Netherlands.
“We think there’s a lot of whitespace out in front of us,” Merris said.
The Snoop partnership wasn’t a one and done, and Solo has some collaborations in the works with him next year, Merris said. Solo wants to work beyond that “gotcha” moment and use the attention to show consumers more about its brands and products.
“Snoop’s a genius,” Merris said. “I feel blessed to have interacted with him and learned from his marketing and business genius.”
Bart Schaneman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.