Happy Birthday, Purple Cow

Ten years ago, Purple Cow changed my life.

At the time, I was working with my father in his sheet metal fabrication business and trying to create awareness for the company. The market barely knew our little four-person shop existed and we needed a way to get some attention. We focused our marketing to a single industry segment, developed a remarkable marketing kit, and doubled our customer base in twelve months. All that from a book that came in a milk carton.

Now, Seth would never take credit for what happened to our business. He would say something like, “I just created the spark. You did the rest.”

What’s always been great about Seth’s books is the marketing of the book practices what is preached in the book itself. With Purple Cow, Seth printed 10,000 paperbacks of Purple Cow himself and put each copy inside a milk carton and like most truly remarkable ideas, the milk carton almost didn’t happen, in this case, because the printer balked at marketing copy on the packaging.

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Having been a columnist for Fast Company magazine for the previous four years, Godin had a built-in audience for his milk cartons and offered them to readers for five dollars each. The carton itself was designed to be sent in the mail and had a blank panel for addressing. If readers wanted additional copies, the price was the same, but you had to buy them in quantities of 12. The idea was that you would keep one or two and give the rest to friends. He sold out of the entire print run in 19 days.

Portfolio bought the rights to publish the hardcover and the book has gone on to sell more than 250,000 copies.

A few years later, when I was working at 800-CEO-READ, we found this copy in a carton of Purple Cows we received.

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Our shipping person thought we should return the book or throw it out. I told him, “No, I’ll keep it.” He looked at me with a confused “whatever, Todd” look and went back to packing orders.

Besides a few Purple Cows still in their milk cartons, this is the only copy I have left of the book. The misprinted dust jacket represents a potent mixture of what the book represent to me: the value of scarcity, failure’s power to teach and why what people talk about is the most important commodity of all.

Happy Birthday, Purple Cow.

  • sethgodin

    Thanks Todd. It’s been a privilege to watch you make such a ruckus…