One Red Paperclip Guy, Kyle MacDonald, Teaches Us What Marketing Is Really About

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It-s one day after the CMA — Canadian Marketing AssociationFrom Mass To Grass — Word Of Mouth Marketing Conference and the presentation from One Red Paperclip guy, Kyle MacDonald, is still replaying itself in my mind’s eye. It really struck an emotional chord with me. He’s a very passionate guy and not, necessarily, about marketing. I think people who were following his story were champions during the trades because of the idea (“some dude, is trying to trade one red paperclip up to a house, yup… let’s help him”). That’s fine, but after listening to him speak, I think Kyle understands marketing better than most of the people in attendance yesterday (this includes me)- and my guess is he doesn’t even know it.
Marketing Lessons From The One Red Paperclip Guy — Kyle MacDonald (as translated by me):
1. If you’re going to do it, do it with integrity.
Kyle had many opportunities to sell-out, take advertising or sponsorship and do other things for personal material gain. Instead, he chose to keep the trades alive in the spirit of “bigger or better” — the game he played as a child and the idea spark he got when he first saw the one red paperclip on his desk and came up with the initial idea. He could have got greedy fast for money, but he did not.
2. Instead of building something that’s of benefit to you, try taking your next steps by finding out what other people would be interested in.
Along the journey from one red paperclip to a house, Kyle could have traded for things that would have benefited him directly. Instead, he focused on trades that would open up the project and community by trading stuff that would be of more value to others in the spirit of meeting more interesting people.
3. Do it first and let the community help, direct and re-focus/re-fine the idea.
Kyle sat for one month with the Blog and no traffic or interest. When things started to pick-up, Kyle did not try to control the entire situation, he opened it up and leveraged his Blog to incite conversation, debate and yes, even criticism. His PowerPoint featured slides of comments from his Blog—very funny stuff. Quotes like “dumbass” and “worst trade ever.”
4. The idea has to be of interest to the community—even if you are the benefactor
Let the community have the most fun with the process. If people felt like Kyle was only out for himself in this process, it would have never worked. Kyle really focused on making the trades interesting to the community—not just himself. In the end, Kyle did not get the house, the community did it and allowed him.
5. Be open.
Kyle left his mobile number on the Blog from day one and told the From Mass To Grass crowd that he would not accept a trade offer with anyone who didn’t call him with the offer. All email trades were rejected. The person who wanted to trade should have no trouble calling up and delivering the proposal by voice. I guess things are better heard than read.
As Marketers, I’ll let you draw the deep and philosophical lines to how Kyle laid out a simple, pure and believable road map to marketing (and word of mouth) success.
In the end, the Word of Mouth Marketing Conference made me realize that real word of mouth is not just about digital channels. From lululemon to the World Rock Paper Scissors Society, what is really driving word of mouth is people connecting to people. The digital space has been a magnificent magnifier and connector of this of this (think six pixels of separation), but it’s just one channel for true word of mouth preeminence. Lululemon has a basic brochure-ware website—they build communities in stores, through events and through causes.
In the end, people always count. I spent the day, in person, at the From Mass To Grass Word Of Mouth Marketing Conference connecting. I didn’t sign up to a webcast or read live Blogging. I went. To meet, to network and to grow. Through that channel, I was able to connect to people and spread the word of social media.
Lots of lessons learned.


  1. I’m regretting not being able to go and I wish I was at that presentation– but fascinating stuff! Successful blogging was always about transparency and integrity. So even though he was trading up to get his own house, he proved that honesty is indeed the best policy when your goal is to engage/build a community.
    Thanks for posting this!

  2. You’re right Daniele. But, beyond honesty, I really found of the elements in Kyle’s story really impactful if, as a Marketer, you could transcribe what he was saying and bring it over to a marketing mandate/strategy.

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