When a Brand Wants to Be

May 15, 2021


In retrospect, some things were inevitable.

Millennials valued experiences over job security. Peer-to-peer platforms came on the scene. The cost of airfare continued to fall.

Cue Airbnb.

Its explosive growth didn’t come from a huge market study. Nobody said, “Rent out an air mattress in some guy’s living room. That’s the next billion-dollar business.”

Airbnb’s founders didn’t create a market. Their rented air mattress opened the release valve on pent-up demand, something searching for an outlet. The market was already there.


I call it “an idea whose time has come.”

Something that wants to be. Something that will be. Inevitably.

“Business” meant suits and ties. Stifling hierarchies. The assimilation of corporate culture. A few weirdos wanted something else. Something different. 

Apple’s “Think different” ads weren’t wildly successful because they hired the most expensive agency on Madison Avenue. The message struck a deep, resounding chord with people who were different. People who yearned to be different.

That slogan wouldn’t have worked twenty years earlier. It won’t work twenty years from now. But it worked then because it embodied an idea whose time had come.

In 2005, Zumba was the joke of the fitness industry. A cheesy infomercial in an overcrowded marketplace. For twenty years, the fitness world believed “no pain, no gain.” A workout wasn’t something to enjoy but something to endure.

Every day, someone invented a new machine. Rolled out a new program. Discovered a new way to lose weight.

The companies behind them poured millions into marketing and advertising to sell “better, faster, cheaper.” We couldn’t compete. In fact, we didn’t know how we’d survived this long. Our frontman could barely speak English. I remember doing fifty-six takes on set just for him to get the line “long, lean-looking muscles” right.

Why did people keep coming to Zumba? Why did they keep buying our awful tapes?

I watched a taped Zumba class. About twenty minutes in, something happened. You could feel the energy in the room shift. People stopped worrying about how they looked. Whether they got the move right or not. They lost their inhibition.

I freeze-framed the tape, zooming in on one woman’s face.

She looked happy. Looked like she was having fun. Looked like she had let go.

That’s when it hit me. Zumba was still alive because some people wanted something different. They didn’t want to endure their workout. They wanted to enjoy it.

We threw out our marketing playbook. We threw everything behind that revelation. Our new slogan became, “Ditch the Workout, Join the Party.”

That’s how we became a global phenomenon, the largest branded fitness program in the world. Millions of people lose themselves in the music every day in nearly every country on earth.

Not because of a brilliant leadership strategy or a massive marketing budget or meticulous consumer data…but because we listened to an idea whose time had come.

If it hadn’t been Zumba—or Airbnb or Apple—it would have been someone else.

An idea whose time has come is inevitable.

A good business wants to be…. A good entrepreneur allows it.

Mel Ziegler, The Republic of Tea