This manufacturer shows your brand’s only as boring as you make it

Jan 15, 2018

Why do companies in serious industries — financial services, manufacturing, law, health care, etc. — think their marketing has to be boring?

Carey and Nancy Smith didn’t think that way, even though they founded what would seem like a pretty bland enterprise back in 1999.

Based in Lexington, Kentucky, they manufactured giant fans meant to cool industrial facilities.


Because their fan blades were enormous, they moved lots of air while spinning slowly, regulating temperature through a process called destratification.


The business was called HVLS Fan Company, which stood for high-volume, low-speed.

Yep. That’s about as dull as it gets.

But the Smiths weren’t interested in being uninteresting.

They decided to mail postcards to 30,000 potential customers in 29 states. On them, they had an image of a donkey’s backside next to the words “Big Ass,” and an image of a $4,000, 20-foot fan, next to the words “Big Ass Fan.”

“We didn’t think that was any racier than ‘Make 7-Up Yours.’” Nancy Smith later explained to the Lexington Herald-Leader. “We wanted to break through the clutter.”

Yes, it wasn’t exactly a stroke of genius, but it grabbed people’s attention, and customers started calling in immediately.

In fact, the cards were such a hit, they renamed the entire company to Big Ass Fans, and adopted the donkey as their mascot. The irreverent branding has earned them tons of national media coverage.

Sure, some people were offended. But when they got angry phone calls, or their advertising was rejected, they just got more attention.

Did any of that devalue their work? Doesn’t look like it – they were recently acquired for half a billion dollars.

Long story short: it doesn’t matter how conservative, technical or obscure your business seems. Your brand is only as boring as you make it.

This article first appeared in our weekly newsletter, Long Story Short. It was written by Lee Procida and Marissa Reale.

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