The Dandelion Approach.

At a summit last year, I heard Rory Sutherland discussing the idea that in advertising, we should act like dandelions. I’ve since seen Faris talk about it a bit, and traced it back to this article by Cory Doctorow.

The analogy does have merit here are 5 lessons we can learn from dandelions.

1. Get lots of content out there.

Cory tells us that a single dandelion may produce 2,000 seeds per year. Most will fail, but that’s not important to a dandelion; it just wants to be sure that every single opportunity for reproduction is exploited.

On the web, it is almost impossible to predict what will be have a large “earned” impact. I freely admitted that I would not have predicted the success of the T-mobile dance clip, which to me was just a copy of things already done on the web. But it is clearly a success, with over 16 million views now, and is now one of the first things you find if you search for T-mobile on Youtube (which is the default search engine for some kids nowdays btw).

Some companies have tried to release multiple things simultaneously, and just hope that one of them succeeds. See this case study about Officemax.

2. Capitalise on fertile areas

As my good friend Juuso Myllyrinne pointed out to me, if we act like dandelions, then we perhaps fail to capitalise on successes. The randomness of the approach could mean that we are oblivious to market feedback.

But I think the analogy still holds: Some dandelion seed fall on particularly fertile ground. When this happens, dandelions reproduce quickly and plentifully.

Same with creativity: when something lands on a fertile creative patch, it is possible to take advantage of this situation and capitalise. And as Ben Mason over at 101 Culture says, organisations need to listen more and then be able to react quickly.

3. You’re not in charge. (No one is.)

Just as dandelions can’t control the wind, Brands can’t expect to control the ways in which content and stories will be reproduced, altered, improved upon.

Instead, we should actively encourage reproduction and remixing: In total, the high-quality consumer-generated Cadbury’s gorilla remixes got more views than the awesome original.

4. Make things easy to spread.

Dandelions make it incredibly easy for their seeds to fly. Any wind, from any direction is enough. Don’t restrict the ways your content can be shared.

“Send-to-friend” is not really the answer either: sometimes just making it possible to link to something – and not burying it under pages of Flash – can be enough.

5. Be a valuable part of your ecosystem

Dandelions aren’t looking to win or destroy others; they are trying to survive by being a valuable part of an ever-evolving ecosystem.

Be valuable. Keep your content flowing. Get people to create it with you.

Reach places that you could never reach alone.

Be part of something bigger than just you.

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8 thoughts on “The Dandelion Approach.

  1. Asi says:

    Move over bonfires (so 2009), it’s the time of the Dandelion!

    very interesting analogy.

    I think that on a very practical (budget) level, some brands and companies should look at moving away from a ‘2 big TV ads in a year’ into 8-12 smaller activations/productions that live mostly digitally.

    Imagine a company we both know shifting only 10% of it’s annual media budget to doing some things that adhere to the 5 points you were making here, and it’s not necessary content.

    To slightly spoil the analogy we don’t need loads of exactly the same or very similar seeds, the new landscape allows you do try loads of different things.

    I think that Burger King are doing it nicely with drip feeding fairly inexpensive stuff (e.g whopper sacrifice)

    As to the inability to capitalise on success, while again we are diverting slightly from the analogy it still holds as we can spot something that has been well received and direct resources to amplify the story. The best example is the infamous (compare the meerkat). The brilliance of this campaign wasn’t in Anton Orlov the meerkat – let’s admit that – his fate could have been the fate of Churchill the dog insurer – another hugely annoying talking animal. But the brand and their ad agency were absolutely brilliant in spotting the growing popularity, realising what a golden goose they had and cleverly capitalising on the success with drip feeding stories to the web.

    happy 2010

  2. dagood says:


    Great points.

    Captilizing on this is key. Another (far less beautiful) analogy I’ve been thinking about is R&D, where 10 projects are started, but only 2 make it to beta and 1 makes it to market. Perhaps we should consider marketing projects in the same way.

    In terms of variation, @blether made the same point when I spoke to him about it, but I think that’s where the metaphor maybe needs a bit of imagination!

  3. patrick syms says:

    Amen. Wise words, Dan.

    One thing we haven’t got to the bottom of yet (in the brand world) is how we choose which ideas/seeds to back.

    The dandelion has an equal investment in each of its seeds because, er, they’re all identical.

    This isn’t the case with brand ideas. Some will inevitably cost more than others – in time, effort and budget. But as we all know, the investment – and the budget, in particular – is often the one aspect that people fixate on when deciding which ideas to run.

    Yet for the very reason you describe, there is rarely a correlation between that investment and the degree to which the idea spreads.

    So how do we stop ideas being evaluated by budget?

  4. dagood says:


    Hi there!

    Maybe it’s like investing in stocks…

    Then in an environment like the web, in which pretty much everything is a high-risk stock, we need to spread our bets appropriately.

    Although we can never be 100% sure, we still do our research and hope to have an understanding of the potential upside.

    The we need some super-smart eggheads to teach us how to do something like “the fuzzy logic pay-off method for real option valuation”… 😉

  5. neilperkin says:

    Hi Daniel. Great post. Just to let you know that it’s shortlisted for the Post Of The Month thing I run over on my blog…

  6. Be valuable to your ecosystem – I love the metaphor and can hardly contain my interest in this field of albeit grass that’s cut by search engines.

    It is so important to stay within the ecosystem when for instance optimising online and indeed this is what I strive to create myself as I inspire clients of mine to develop resources rather that aimless man made point-link daisy chains in their druids.

    Matthew Wright.

  7. […] is dandelion marketing as we cannot be sure which voices will be most popular, so we are instead creating the eco-system […]

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