Dave Chappelle in Portland - A Marketing Lesson For All of Us

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Thousands of fans packed Pioneer Square in downtown Portland at 1am last night to see and hear comedian Dave Chappelle perform. Later dubbed “Davestock” by some in the crowd, the event was a truly remarkable night.

The evening unfolded something like this.

Allegedly, Chappelle, while wandering around Portland yesterday, told a handful of people he would be doing a free set at 1am on the steps of the downtown gathering spot.

Word began to spread through social networks, via Twitter and Facebook status updates. Anticipation began to build. (As did some healthy skepticism that it was all a hoax).

Chappelle expected a couple hundred people to show up and instead, this is what happened.

An utter mob scene – but in typical Portland fashion, totally chill.

I think this is a wonderful illustration of two driving concepts in today’s web economy; the power of giving something away for for free and the power of social networks to distribute that message for you.

Let’s tackle the first concept – as Chris Anderson explains in his book Free, “free” is a incredibly powerful motivator and can instantly build brand loyalty. How many Chappelle fans, spurred on by the thrill of him just showing up, raced home and purchased his CDs or DVDs off Amazon? How many will be in line to buy tickets the next time he swings through Portland? By deciding to perform for free on a whim, he instantly connected with a legion of local fans and gave them a unique night to remember.

So what are you giving away for free? A market report, your home search tool (i.e. no registration). There’s lots of things you can be doing for free.

Secondly, the excitement around the mere thought of a Chappelle appearance in Portland was amplified exponentially by online social networks, as friends told friends, and the word of mouth buzz spread. And, either online or offline, this buzz (and good will) will likely continue for weeks as the story is retold over and over.

Granted most of us aren’t stars the magnitude of Dave Chappelle, but each of us, in our own way, can use this understanding that by doing something remarkable, and better yet, by giving it away for free, you can create instantly communicate, invigorate and even resuscitate your brand to your fans.

We can all learn something here. Even from a funny man like Dave Chappelle.