Roomba Poopocalypse and Storytelling in Marketing

Storytelling is an up-and-coming opportunity in the world of content marketing. But because the story format differs so greatly from traditional ad copy and taglines, many marketers are still unsure how to craft a strategic, entertaining story that accomplishes the goals of a traditional marketing campaign. For those willing to step outside the box, storytelling presents a compelling opportunity to win the attention of our audiences and, at the same time, inspire them to take action.

One of the most memorable examples of storytelling in marketing comes from a viral Facebook post affectionately known as the Roomba Poopacalypse. In the post, Jesse Newton, a Roomba owner in Arkansas, describes in vivid detail the night his Roomba ran over his dog’s poop and spread it all over his living room carpet while he and his wife slept soundly in the other room. In the process of cleaning up the mess, Jesse tossed the Roomba in the bathtub and ended up ruining it.

The reason this stands out as an example for content marketers is that Jesse specifically calls out Hammacher Schlemmer, one of the oldest hardware stores in the U.S., for offering to replace the waterlogged Roomba he originally bought from them. Even if Hammacher Schlemmer had hired Jesse to write this story as a form of guerilla marketing, it’s hard to imagine it being any better or more effective than it is in its current state. Amendments to the August 2016 Facebook post reveal big brands like Merry Maids and Clorox attempting to jump aboard this viral storytelling bandwagon.

The Roomba Poopacalypse has several important lessons to teach us about crafting the perfect story:

  1. It hooks us from the start.   Jesse’s opening line, So, last week, something pretty tragic happened in our household, at once creates suspense and intrigue. We wonder immediately what could have happened. Since he doesn’t say right away, we’re pulled forward into the story by our desire to learn more.
  2. It’s relatable. Jesse says in the opening paragraph that this is something that’s probably happened to most of his readers. The story takes place in a home and involves a dog, a child, and a major clean-up. It’s a scene most of us are likely somewhat familiar with. For that reason, we empathize with Jesse. He becomes a character we care about because we see ourselves in him.
  3. It’s easy to picture. The scene Jesse sets is so vivid that even if we haven’t experienced anything like the Roomba Poopocalypse before, we can picture ourselves in that situation. This causes us to start feeling emotions—we become more focused on the story and invested in its outcome.

    Then, when your four-year-old gets up at 3am to crawl into your bed, you’ll wonder why he smells like dog poop. And you’ll walk into the living room. And you’ll wonder why the floor feels slightly gritty. And you’ll see a brown-encrusted, vaguely Roomba-shaped thing sitting in the middle of the floor with a glowing green light, like everything’s okay. Like it’s proud of itself.

  4. It’s humorous. Not every story has to have humor to be successful, but in Jesse’s case the humor adds another layer to the story that makes it enjoyable and entertaining to read. It’s what really drives the emotion we feel toward the story and his situation.

    Why, friends, that’s because our Roomba runs at 1:30am every night, while we sleep. And it found the poop. And so begins the Pooptastrophe. The poohpocalypse. The pooppening.

  5. It includes helpful information. Not everyone knows Hammacher Schlemmer’s warranty covers its products for life, and for any mishap. This unusual warranty is Hammacher Schlemmer’s differentiating factor in a world where its biggest competitors have a nationwide presence and convenience factors like free two-day shipping.  

    They have a funny name, but they have an awesome warranty. They claim it’s for life, and it’s for any reason…If you’re buying anything expensive, and they sell it, I recommend buying it from them.

Jesse’s story worked in the way content strategists design brand storytelling to work—it hooked an audience, held their attention, made them feel better about a brand, and inspired them to take action. Visit Hammacher Schlemmer’s Facebook page and check out visitor posts from August 2016, soon after Jesse’s story went live. Many people expressed their delight in the story and confessed that the post is what turned them on to Hammacher Schlemmer.

The best unintentional advertising ever. I just checked out your most recent catalog. I’ve started my wish list!  

I had never heard of your company until the “pooptastrophe” post!

Please tell me you can ship your wonderful products covered by your outstanding warranty, as noted in the #Pooptastrophe literature, all over the United States Hammacher Schlemmer?

If you would replace a pooptastrope roomba then this is definitely a place i want to shop at. Will be placing my 1st order tomorrow.

That poohastrophe story is probably the best advertisement I have ever seen and your site is the first and only shopping site I have liked and followed. Thanks for sharing!

I liked your page because of dog poop. Strange, but okay! Kudos for the fantastic customer service, I’ll be buying a Roomba sometime in the near future.

Hammacher Schlemmer hasn’t released any information regarding their increase in social followers or sales in correlation to the pooptastrophe, but they did send Jesse a posh dog bed in addition to replacing his Roomba as a token of their appreciation. As marketers, we can see here the incredible potential of a well-crafted story. Whether it happens in an email, a Facebook post, a web page, or a thirty-second television ad, opportunities abound for those willing to explore new territory and make storytelling part of their marketing campaigns. 

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