The Power of Contrarian Thinking

Some companies don't hesitate to use the power of contrarian thinking to their advantage, even if this means—sometimes—encouraging customers to buy less. Recently this idea was unpacked by Terry O’Reilly on his CBC Radio show, Under the Influence. At a time when it’s getting harder for brands to differentiate, some companies help consumers change their behaviour for the better by encouraging them to make more considered purchases.


Shaving blade companies have been notoriously tight-lipped about how long their blades last. Under attack by upstart Dollar Shave Club, Gillette retaliated with their ‘5 Weeks Around the World’ ad campaign, which boasted that their razor would last well beyond 5 weeks of use. Rather than fighting via price, Gillette essentially said buying their product meant buying less often.


The California-based outdoor clothing company has always had a sustainability and authenticity at its core. Recently, it began to actively encourage its customers to take an unusual pledge: through ‘The Common Threads Initiative’ clients commit to buy less, repair, reuse and recycle. Not just empty statements, Patagonia has created partnerships with the likes of eBay, creating a unique site where customers can sell their used Patagonia clothing instead of sending it to the landfill.

Max Burgers

The Swedish burger chain chose the extremely counter-intuitive strategy of trying to influence their customers to buy less beef by actually posting the carbon emission stats for each product on their menu. The result? Max stores enjoy 11-15% profit margins, versus 2-5% for their bigger competitors (more profitable than McDonalds). It is the fastest-growing chain of restaurants in Sweden and has had the most satisfied customers in Sweden for the last eight years. Clearly, customers are attracted by the company’s philosophy, transparency and the ability to make their own choices.


Lately, the Connecticut-based company has been implementing a new strategy to help their customers print less. That's a big shift in business-as-usual, considering Xerox sells printing devices and the paper that comes with it. But while Xerox has been helping customers print less, they have also developed a large service business that allows companies to outsource their document needs to Xerox, and the shift to services seems to be paying off.


Subject of CNBC’s The Costco Craze, the US wholesale club, whose stock has soared 5 000% over the last 20 years, has never been shy of making contrarian decisions. No advertising, no signage, no bags and no clients (like American Express, Costco only has ‘members’). While most retailers stock between 15 000 and 25 000 products, Costco does not carry more than 4 000. And while retailers normally enjoy 25%-30% profit margins, Costco is happy with 15%. As a result, 90% of members renew every year and it has the lowest employee turnover in all of retail. The $93b (USD) company doesn’t even have a public relations team.

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