Costco and 7 Other Popular Companies That Don’t Waste Money on Advertising

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If you’ve ever heard the phrase you’ve got to “spend money to make money,” you already know that major companies often have to spend a good chunk of change to get you familiar with their product. How else would you know about a new burger, soda or national chain?

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For some companies, however, traditional advertising just isn’t a necessity. They don’t need to show up on your TV in order to get customers in the door. Why? Because their quality, low prices, or an “it factor” (yes, it applies to companies, too) speak for themselves. Here are eight companies that have become household names in other ways.

Last updated: Oct. 11, 2021
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Krispy Kreme

Krispy Kreme was founded in 1937 and the company’s delicious pastries have been a mainstream favorite since then. Want a doughnut? Yeah, you’ll drive the extra few minutes to get a fresh glazed doughnut that’s just come out of the oven. And you’ll tell your friends on Instagram about it, too.

That kind of word-of-mouth makes a TV campaign completely unnecessary. Krispy Kreme does some digital campaigning, but the doughnuts are so good, the company expects its customers and employees to become the brand’s best marketers. It also donates doughnuts to local events!

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The hot sauce brand didn’t have a Facebook page until 2014, but that’s not because the brand’s only been around for six years. In fact, Sriracha has been around since 1980 — it just doesn’t need to advertise.

There are several reasons that Huy Fong Foods, the sauce’s parent company, doesn’t do ads. First, the company’s CEO, David Tran, claims that it wouldn’t be cost-effective. All the money goes toward making the best product possible and not cutting corners. Second, people just love the sauce. Not only have fast-food franchises embraced the sauce, but influencers also love it. There’s even a cookbook dedicated to the sauce!

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Trader Joe’s

Trader Joe’s breaks all the traditional customer-facing rules for running a business. The grocery chain doesn’t have sales, runs out of popular products and never advertises. And yet, everyone loves the place! The store has been going since 1958.

So how does it do it? By creating unique quality products (don’t call them “generic!”). It also offers fewer products than other stores so that customers become really familiar with what they’re purchasing. All while Trader Joe’s saves on real estate and passes that savings on to the customer.

Trader Joe’s doesn’t need ads because not only does it have a loyal fanbase, but there are now people trying to make a living by being professional TJ’s influencers!

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Zara, founded in 1974, is the world’s largest clothing retailer. And the retail giant isn’t fighting to stay No. 1 by running ads. Instead, the brand focuses on creating experiences that get clients into stores. In 2018, the brand created an in-store augmented reality experience where customers could see what models would look like wearing the clothes on display via their phones.

It helps that the store sells quality items, is focused on customer experience and only operates locations where it has the most impact. The brand’s not afraid to open and close stores — and it’s always expanding.

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Costco doesn’t just reject advertising, it’s branded the entire enterprise as “evil.” Why that word, specifically? “Because it costs money; anything that is going to raise our price on merchandise is bad,” Jim Sinegal, the store’s co-founder and former CEO, said in 2013. That’s kept the brand going since 1983. 

Lowering costs allows the members-only store to keep prices low and pay its workers well. And that keeps customers happy, too. Being able to buy pizza at the same place you buy an industrial-grade personal paper shredder doesn’t hurt. Speaking of pizza, did you know that Costco is also one of the nation’s largest pizza chains?

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The company has been selling products for the face and body since 1851 and that’s given the brand enough time to get its products into the hands of customers all over the world and onto the faces of celebs who happily evangelize Kiehl’s to their fans.

Another reason Kiehl’s does so well? Its salespeople will hand out generous samples without any judgment or reservation. Those samples often turn into sales.

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Lululemon has been making clothing for those devoted to athleisure since 1998. But the company didn’t get big through advertising. In fact, the brand didn’t start making ads until 2017. Instead, it expected sales to soar via word-of-mouth (those into the brand are really into the brand) and its network of ambassadors.

Though the brand has made a foray into advertising, its best marketing still comes from seeing its $100 leggings worn (and envied) on the street and in yoga and cycling studios.

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Tupperware has been around since 1946 and, before 2019, hadn’t been advertised in decades. The only ways to purchase the products was to go to a “Tupperware party” or purchase directly from an independent sales representative ( like your Aunt Mary).

It’s true — though you might think you bought Tupperware from Target (they do advertise), what’s really happened is that the brand has fallen victim to being genericized (colloquially if not legally). People say “Tupperware” when they really mean “plastic container.”

So the brand had to think fast. Last year, it opened a pop-up store in New York’s SoHo district to get customers reinvested in the brand and to help them more easily access the product. (How will this influence your aunt’s sales? Maybe give her a call!)