How eBay and The Guardian channelled the spirit of punk to boost online startups

eBay supported 15 start-up businesses as part of the camapign.

The Guardian was commended for Best Retail Marketing Strategy at The Drum Content Awards 2019 for its ‘Punk Business’ campaign for eBay. Here, The Guardian team reveals the challenges faced and the strategies used to deliver this successful project.

The challenge

Ebay want to encourage more people to start their own business (on eBay) and then help them sell stuff (on eBay). 28% of British adults have considered turning their passion into a business. The problem is that less than a third go on to try.

This is partly because business is plagued by jargon and people making it seem more complicated than it is. We worked out that there are 4.5m ideas hatched every year that don’t ever get to eBay because they’re extinguished by the complicators. For eBay, that’s a big problem – that’s 12,328 ideas every day (around 8 a minute) that never make it to eBay to be sold – all because business feels like something ‘other people’ do.

If we could make business feel like a more diverse, inclusive world, then maybe more people would give their ideas a chance…

The strategy

The thing is, eBay is egalitarian – anyone can come up with an idea, make it and start selling. We thought it was a bit like punk. The cover of the first punk fanzine ‘Sniffin’ Glue’ showed just three guitar chords and the words: ‘Now go and form a band.’

We wanted to bring the spirit of punk to the world of business. You don’t need loads of training if you’ve got interesting ideas. Anyone can have a go. Forget about your average ‘entrepreneur’ stereotypes. The best way to inspire real, diverse people to start businesses was to show them some real and diverse people starting businesses!

The Guardian Labs asked our readers for their business ideas, taking the brand off-platform and acting as eBay’s creative agency for the first time to do so. We designed co-branded napkins and beer mats encouraging daydreaming people in pubs and cafes to scribble their ideas and send them into us. We picked the best ones and persuaded eBay to give us some money to fund them and then followed their story.

The campaign

We cover-wrapped our paper and published articles with tips on how best to articulate the schemes and plans they’d come up with. Within weeks we’d ended up with more than 250 brilliant ideas, enlisting Dragon’s Den’s Touker Suleyman to help whittle them down to our lucky few: the 15 eBay Doers. We then gave them some money, got their business going and paired them with expert mentors for jargon-free advice – documenting their journey.

We created thriving new businesses making things such as plant-protecting snail barriers, eco-friendly scents, smart sunglasses and arty glass vases that grow acorns into oaks. That’s what you get when you ask Guardian readers for their business ideas!

More than that, we created a diverse, jargon-free vision for business in the UK in 2018. Our readers realised that eBay is a place where people like them could turn their ideas into businesses and thrive.

The results

  • 73% of our readers began to see eBay as a business that celebrates diversity (up 21 percentage points)
  • 39% of our readers now believe that they could start their own business with eBay (up from 15%)
  • Brand love increased from 28% to 41%
  • Trust increased from 38% - 46%

Gareth Jones, chief marketing officer at eBay, said: "We were delighted to work with the Guardian on such an innovative campaign - it made setting up a business seem so simple and accessible, achieved spectacular results and was built on the egalitarian principles that are so important to us as a brand."

This campaign was commended in The Drum Content Awards 2019. If you think you can do better, register your interest in next year's awards.

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