The Power of Weird: The Story of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter”

In 1979, J.H. Filbert company, based in Baltimore, Maryland, developed a type of spread as a low-cost alternative to butter. They called it “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.”

The inspiration for the name actually came from the husband of a company secretary who tried the product and instantly made the remark that lead to this very distinctive brand name. And when Unilever acquired the spread brand in 1986, they didn’t change the name; they understood the Power of Weird. Today, the spread brand leads the margarine category with product sales of over $240 million.

True brand- and product value comes from differentiation; when the name, design or story of the product are unlike anything out there – when something is weird.



Take the milk brand ‘Silk’ for example, a type of soy milk that doesn’t require refrigeration. Sales of Silk tripled when they moved their soy milk cartons among the regular milk cartons in the refrigerated section. People noticed it was different; Milk, milk, milk, not milk.

It worked because when evaluating brands, consumers use their emotions rather than factual information. Like milk, we don’t compare different types of butter based on their nutritional value. We just see a variety of butter brands on the shelf and think ‘butter, butter, butter, not butter.’



Weird alone is not enough, though. Whatever you’re selling needs to be relevant to people. For example, Cards Against Humanity managed to make $180,000 selling boxes of shit. Literally. But that was because they started selling their boxes in protest of Black Friday, making their product (even though it was really weird) really relevant.



Still, what’s weird for one person might make perfect sense to another. You might not be interested in the jars of fresh air that this British couple is selling for $115 a jar, but if you live in a pollution-plagued Chinese city then a jar of fresh air might not be such a bad idea. Weird works, as long as there’s a demand for it.




Power of Weird

Things that are different get shared, talked about and commented on. If something is unusual it will stand out. Weird gets our attention.

Ad man Rory Sutherland phrased it perfectly in his latest article in The Spectator:

“There are only three infallible rules of advertising. Be distinctive. Make a lot of noise. And try to feature a cute animal somewhere.”

So be distinctive, dare to be different and you’ll quickly discover the Power of Weird.


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