Marketing Secrets of Poison Ivy

poison ivy

What’s good about poison ivy? Absolutely nothing, as far as I’m concerned. For the past month I’ve been waging (and losing) an epic battle against the noxious plant – or rather, against the aftereffects of exposure to urushiol, its potent oil. I am one of the unlucky who are exceptionally allergic to this scourge of the outdoors, so a bout involves myriad potions, ointments, prescriptions, doctors and emergency rooms. Even for those with a typical response, however, dealing with the inevitable rash and itching is a nightmare.

While I’ve been more or less incapacitated and unable to work, I’ve racked my brain for anything nice to say about the plant, in a mostly unsuccessful attempt to maintain a positive attitude. Food for goats? There’s plenty of kudzu for them around here. Attracts beneficial insects? Not really. Looks gorgeous as long as you stay away from it? No, and the berries are toxic as well. It’s invasive, destructive and even sneaky, adapting its leaf shape to mimic the plants growing nearby so it can lurk undetected, ready to wreak havoc on a hapless victim’s summer.

Clearly, I am not a fan of poison ivy. The one positive thing I can say about the weed is that it provides an excellent role model for marketing. Not that your marketing efforts should cause pain and unrelieved anguish for all who contact it – far from it! But many of the traits that make dealing with poison ivy such an ordeal are precisely the goals to seek when marketing your firm.

  • Memorable. If you’ve had a run-in with poison ivy, you can probably report accurately about the place you got it, the duration of the experience, the palliatives you tried and even the clothes you were wearing at the fateful moment. Once aware, you are no doubt hyper-alert to its characteristic appearance and can visualize it easily as well as identify it instantly. This plant made an impression like no other!
  • Adaptable. Poison ivy is not a frail flower. When the slightest opportunity exists, this intrepid flora sallies forth to seize it. After land is cleared through natural or man-made activity, the plant springs up. It’s just as comfortable claiming space in an already crowded forest or garden. It climbs trees as a vine, blankets the ground as small shoots, or grows into a nice-sized shrubbery with equal ease. Never one to wait until conditions are ideal, poison ivy finds a way to succeed in any environment, right now.
  • Resilient. Try as you might, you won’t easily discourage poison ivy. Hit it with Roundup, it laughs. Pull it out by the roots, it’ll be back. Burn it, and you’ll wish you hadn’t. Even global threats don’t daunt a survivor like this: as the climate warms and CO2 levels increase, poison ivy only expands its range and increases its potency. Fires, floods, and killer bees hold no terror for toxicodendron radicans – it’ll rise from the ashes and thrive once again. A firm that shrugs off blows like this is one to be reckoned with.
  • Effective. There’s no question about it; poison ivy is effective. You may not notice it the first time you encounter it, but once introduced to the impact of urushiol you will be highly motivated to take action. You’ll pay buckets of money, avoid risky behavior, and take whatever dramatic steps are necessary for the rest of your life. Imagine the power of marketing that inspires changes in behavior to this degree!

Obviously, there are limits to the parallels when it comes to successful marketing. Poison ivy changes minds through sheer terror, while your marketing should definitely avoid tactics that leave your audience traumatized. But when your marketing is as memorable, adaptable, resilient and effective as poison ivy, there’s no stopping you.


Posted in

Sarah Warlick

Sarah Warlick founded Proof Positive Content to provide professional service firms with high-quality content that resonates with their target audiences. Sarah's writing appears in books, on the websites of over a dozen Top 100 Accounting Firms and in Accounting Today, Forbes and other leading publications, but usually under another name. Ghostwriters rarely get the glory - their clients do!