Are you really going to die? Or is someone just trying to sell you something?

Aaron Dinin, PhD
5 min readNov 12, 2019

The best-known examples of successful “growth hacks” — low-cost alternatives to traditional marketing — have been executed by tech companies. There’s the story of how Airbnb scraped Craigslist, the Dropbox referral program that went viral, and the classic example of Hotmail adding “Get your free email at Hotmail” tagline to the end of every email. (Ah! Simpler times when consumers would let you add spammy messages to the ends of their emails…)

While those are all fine examples, they teach would-be growth hackers, entrepreneurs, and marketers that growth hacking is something that only happens online. In contrast, I would argue some of the best growth hacks have nothing to do with the Internet.

Let me tell you about a brilliant growth hack executed by — of all things — my local Lexus dealership.

I’ve owned a Lexus for eight years. Every month since purchasing my car, I’ve received a glossy postcard with a picture of a shiny new Lexus and incentives meant to entice me into my local dealership for a test drive of their latest models. And every month I’ve tossed those postcards into the recycle bin without a second glance.

However, six months ago, I began receiving thick envelopes from Lexus with “URGENT SAFETY NOTICE” stamped on their fronts in bold, threatening red letters.

The messages were related to a massive Takata airbag recall that’s been ongoing for the better part of a decade.

Note the line where it says: “metal fragments could pass through the airbag cushion material, striking the vehicle occupants, and result in serious injury or death.” That sounds… umm… less than ideal.

What struck me as odd about these recall notices was how persistent they were. Companies don’t usually encourage consumers to take action on recalls because the repairs cost lots of money. But not this time. The more I ignored the letters, the more I received. I started feeling like Vernon Dursley trying to stop Harry Potter from getting his Hogwarts invitation.

That’s right… I made a Harry Potter reference… I’m not ashamed.
Aaron Dinin, PhD

I teach entrepreneurship at Duke. Software Engineer. PhD in English. I write about the mistakes entrepreneurs make since I’ve made plenty. More @