Brand experiences are memorable, even when they are unintentional. So, what do you do if customers are buying your products and using them for something you never intended? Some of you are probably saying “Who cares? They’re still buying them!” Sure. A sale is a sale.

Well, picture you’re Gatorade. You’ve built a nearly six billion-dollar brand that’s focused on replenishing and refueling athletes. You have sports stars like Serena Williams and Usain Bolt representing you, a global product range and cutting-edge technology in your drinks. And, yet every weekend morning in America, sluggish Americans drag themselves to the nearest convenience store to buy your product in a hopeful attempt to stave off the worst of their hangover.

Do you celebrate? Call these customers a segment (Lovely Lushes!)? Build up a social media strategy around them? Or, do you pretend they’re not there and go about your business celebrating feats of athletic strength that could certainly not be achieved in the wake of such debauchery?

Via a few such stories, we review some approaches for taking advantage of these brand hijackings. Because unlike the brand experience you’ve chosen and crafted for your customers, THEY have chosen this one, and that makes it relevant, powerful and enduring.

Four Ways to Take Advantage of Unintentional Brand Experiences

1: Ignore it [but don’t].

Gatorade is very tight-lipped on this subject. And while they’ve never explicitly mentioned their product’s notorious popularity as a post bar-crawl cure-all, one must wonder if they don’t still market it as such. For example, you may have noticed that the beverage comes in a variety of what are very clearly “morning” flavors—Orange, Passion Fruit or Pineapple Mango, anyone? It can also be conveniently found at your neighborhood bodegas, gas stations, 24-hour pharmacies—anywhere that will be open when the bars close or when you wake up regretting that last cocktail. These are unlikely to be the same channels one would use to reach serious athletes, so we can infer that Gatorade is making the most of their brand’s little secret, while in fact, keeping it on the DL. It’s probably a wise move. They are faced with the difficult challenge of having a high crossover between what are their core base of “everyday athletes” and “people who enjoy the nightlife.” Gatorade would be hard pressed to tell two different stories, and so has presumably opted to tell just one, letting the second continue to be told by its customers.

2: Celebrate.

Similar to what Gatorade has experienced, Pedialyte saw increased adult use of their product between 2012 and 2015. Investigating further through social media and word of mouth tracking, they learned that folks were using Pedialyte as a hangover preventative. Unlike Gatorade, Pedialyte had more distinctive customer bases for each use case: a younger audience using their product for hangover prevention, and a slightly older demographic graduating to using it for childcare. To take advantage, Pedialyte began marketing itself to adults in 2015, with a targeted messaging campaign (“See the Lyte”), new packaging, and adult-friendly flavors. While Abbott (Pedialyte’s parent) doesn’t report specific revenues for Pedialyte, the brand has had an enormous resurgence amongst adults—celebrity endorsements, cult buzz around its effectiveness, and half of Pedialyte’s business today is now in households without kids.

3: Proliferate.

It’s no surprise to anyone who knows P&G that when research showed consumers were using NyQuil to sleep even when they didn’t have a cold, the CPG giant knew they had a potential opportunity on their hands. Enter ZzzQuil, a sister sleep aid to NyQuil—same sleep, sans the cold meds. This is a smart, efficient strategy because we see the same customer in two binary need states (has a cold vs. doesn’t), and there is low risk of cannibalization to the core brand.

4: Capitulate.

The last strategy is to simply become what your customers always knew you were. Raise your hand if you know what the Foursquare-like check-in app Burbn is today? You’d be correct if you guessed Instagram. When initial pickup for the app was slow, creator Kevin Systrom analyzed user data to see that while people were not using it as intended to check-in and share their whereabouts with friends, they were taking heavy advantage of the app’s photo editing and sharing features. The developers did a quick about face and the rest is history. It perhaps seems easier for a scrappy startup to turn on a dime when faced with such overwhelmingly compelling data, but the pharma industry is also famous for these kinds of right turns. Drugs like Viagra, Propecia, and countless others spent years in development for other functions before ultimately seeing success for wholly different use cases. And if big pharma can do it, anyone can.

Final Thoughts

All of these strategies are good places to start, and they can be further nuanced depending on your customers, who they are, and what they are trying to do. The most important thing is to see your brand the way your customers see you, and then be ready to challenge your own notions of what your brand is and can be about. It’s this kind of agility that defines the brands that consumers love persistently. And anyway, who doesn’t want to be in on a really good secret?

Learn how Prophet helps companies create their best brand experience to stay relevant in today’s ever-changing environment.