"Take an old boot. Burn it. Soak it in seawater."
That's not exactly the kind of language usually considered flattering ad copy, but it's exactly the lack of general appeal that makes the copy so effective for the Scotch whisky brand Laphroaig.
The liquor category is often defined by promises of great tastes and good times. So, Laphroaig's campaign—built on brutally honest reactions to the product from fans and foes alike—defies conventional wisdom. The brand has proudly advertised a comparison of the Laphroaig experience to "eating some burnt barbeque driftwood," a statement that it's "like drinking from a wooden medicine cabinet while it's on fire," and a claim that it tastes like "burnt Harley engine oil."
Laphroaig is a Scotch drinker's Scotch, with one of the strongest flavor profiles on the market. It's never going to be a hit with anybody looking for an easy-drinking, trendy summer cocktail. But Laphroaig's audience takes special pride in enjoying something that the rest of the world considers downright nasty.
By emphasizing that fact instead of ignoring it, Laphroaig earns special credibility among its target market. To those people, it defines itself as the strong, smoky Scotch brand rather than one among many. They could order another brand—perhaps even one they really enjoy more—or they could order one that gives them insider status as an elite, serious Scotch drinker. The benefit of that shift is enormous, and the expense is minimal. All it costs Laphroaig is admitting it doesn't have an audience that it never had anyway.
It's a tried and true strategy. Google once famously ran a billboard campaign that featured no logo, no website, and no contact information—just a math problem that, if solved, would lead the target to a job application.
Google, like Laphroaig, appealed to its target precisely by driving away everyone else. But by doing so, the company won the attention and admiration of the few who were in on the joke.
The principle of exclusivity is easily understood