MailChimp: Marketing’s surprise viral sensation of 2014 – Part 1


Listen closely to this radio advertising success story.
Listen closely to this radio advertising success story.

MailChimp: Even if you don’t use the mass email system personally, you’ve likely heard the name. And that’s because the company, founded in 2001, struck gold in the last quarter of 2014 – quicker than you can say “brand awareness.” Now, MailChimp is already in the business of marketing. The company helps businesses design, send and track emails to partners, investors, customers, et al. So it makes sense that they have a cohesive strategy for getting their own brand out into the world. But what’s shocking about their newfound success is that it happened pretty much entirely by accident.

How it all started: “Serial”

It’s all thanks to a little podcast called “Serial.” A “This American Life” spin-off, “Serial” is an episodic storytelling podcast which, in its first season, tackled the true-crime tale. In 1999, high schooler Hae Min Lee was found strangled to death and her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was sent to jail for life. What’s curious, though, are layers of unexplained mystery that podcast producer and host Sarah Koenig struggled to unwrap and make sense of, week to week, over the course of 12 episodes. To wit, it’s a gripping story that quickly struck a chord for podcast enthusiasts and the uninitiated alike. It’s been hailed as the first viral podcast, and crowdfunding quickly provided for a second season of “Serial” in 2015.

But what does that have to do with MailChimp?

Before water coolers worldwide were dominated with chatter about “Serial,” the program already sold an ad spot to MailChimp to help cover the costs of production. Running at the start of each episode, for 12 weeks, a commercial featured an array of voices simply repeating the brand name: “MailChimp.” Fans of the program itself quickly began to incorporate jokes about the ad, especially one girl who mispronounces the brand name as “mail kimp.” Soon, “Serial” and “MailChimp” were synonymous, and the brand’s fate as one of the most famous advertising coups of 2014 was sealed.

How the radio ad’s simplicity begot its success, and how MailChimp responded: Coming up next week in Part 2.

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