“Weird is good.”
This is what Johnny Earle, aka Johnny Cupcakes, thought when he decided to launch his food-themed clothing brand in 2001. It turns out that people agree with him. He went from selling t-shirts from the boot of his car to opening his first retail store in two years. The interesting part of the story? The growth was only due to word of mouth. Public knowledge of Earle before his clothing line was limited to the hardcore music scene thanks to his time in a band called On Broken Wings. This served as a nice little launching pad within local circles to give the Johnny Cupcakes brand some life, but things started to progress beyond the music community quickly.
Earle used the investment in a retail store to create another talking point for the brand by making his shop look like a bakery. He would even go so far as to package sold clothing in paper bags, like actual cupcakes, to the point where potential customers still enter the store daily thinking they can get a snack. The word of mouth that helped to spread the brand initially was never forgotten. The advertising budget is used to create events or products that expand the brand even further. People have grown so passionate about Johnny Cupcakes that over two-thousand customers have had various brand imagery tattooed on themselves.
“Good packaging does not get thrown away, and it acts like a miniature billboard.” – Johnny Earle
Simply put, the Johnny Cupcakes ethos is to have fun and not take itself too seriously. This resonates well with their target audience, millennials, who choose to line up for hours to get a Johnny Cupcakes limited release. It’s not just the physical retail world that can enjoy the playful tone of the brand. Online shoppers are likely treated to an extra little surprise when their purchase arrives in the mail. Earle claims that he has spent little to no money on traditional advertising. He opts to fund unique events helping market the brand in a fashion aligned with the company ethos.
Another unique marketing venture that Johnny Cupcakes has excelled in is collaboration. By carefully choosing a range of different creative partners the brand has been able to cross-pollinate to reach even larger audiences. Clothing collaborations with the likes of Nickelodeon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, music festivals and even sports stars have proven hugely successful. They have become a staple element of the company.
As Halloween approaches, it would be remiss of the brand to not capitalise on such a fun calendar event. This year it’s glow-in-the-dark t-shirts themed with various Halloween imagery. Bats munching on cupcakes and skeletons doused with icing. They have just completed the There’s Something In The Cupcake Mix event in the Boston flagship store. This featured an exclusive clothing release and raffle giveaways. The must-have design of the event, of which only fifty shirts exist, is a cartoon characterisation of Pinhead from the popular cult horror series, Hellraiser.
It’s not all about the clothing however, Johnny has created a brand diverse enough to include events that a purely for the sake of fun and brand awareness. The man himself recently performed at an all vinyl 45s DJ event in Los Angeles. The show featured Mr. Cupcakes along with DJs Malachi Pearson and Andre A spinning the small wax. Specialising in soul, funk and boom bap with nary a t-shirt sale in sight.
To further pay homage to his humble beginnings, Johnny created a yearly event called ‘The Suitcase Tour.’ This featured Earle himself driving around America, opening one day pop up shops in various cities. He sold t-shirts from his boot just like when he first started. By using his large social media following to his advantage, he tweeted out a random location, for example, an ice cream parlour, shouting anyone who rocks up in a JC t-shirt a free ice-cream. Johnny Cupcakes sponsors dodgeball games and charity events, scavenger hunts and in-store musical performances to help connect further to its fanbase, and above all, have fun.
The brand’s motto Do More of What Makes You Happy seems simple enough. Even a little bit unrealistic when dealing with the world of business. For Johnny Cupcakes, it has worked wonders. The hefty dose of playful fun the business approaches its endeavours with has become the lynchpin of its fan base. While this may not work in all instances or apply to every business model, the ethos is something to consider. The creator’s joy transcends to his customers. A personal connection is formed, and that kind of brand loyalty is the icing on the cake.