Purple Cow: Summary, Review & Criticism

purple cow book cover

In Purple Cow author Seth Godin teaches readers and marketers that in a saturated market advertising doesn’t work anymore, and to spread their ideas and products, you need to be remarkable.

Bullet Summary

  • Consumers are overwhelmed by ads and messages: ads and promotions don’t work anymore
  • Being “very good” is not enough. Very good is playing boring
  • What works is “remarkable” and “unique”. You must be remarkable and get people talking about you. Then you can even charge a premium

Full Summary

About the Author:
Seth Godin is an American marketer, blogger, and author. He has written many books on marketing, productivity and creativity.

Issue 1: Too Many Products Advertised

Seth Godin says that there are so many products and advertisements these days that advertisement has lost much of its value.

You simply cannot get noticed in this deluge.

The author for example once asked people reading a newspaper in a lobby if they could name two advertisers with full-page ads in that newspaper.

Nobody could name two of them.

My Note: This is meaningless
Anecdotes don’t mean much. But that anecdote means even less. To begin with, he asks for two advertisers, not just one. What if there were only one full-page ad in that newspaper?

And second, advertising also works at an unconscious level. Possibly, it works mostly at an unconscious level.

Issue 2: Advertisement is Ineffective

Seth Godin says that most general advertisement is ineffective.

Imagine you advertise X.

First, you need to find people who are interested in X among the multitude of people who aren’t interested in X.

Even when you can reach people who are interested in X, only a fraction of those interested in X will be paying attention when your product shows.

Finally, only a fraction of that fraction will not be happy with what they already use and only a fraction of a fraction will be willing to take action on your advertisement.

My Note: Such a generalization, and plain not true.
Why then do advertisers spend billions in advertising?
This makes little sense. Advertising is an industry that kept on going for decades because it works. Plus, modern advertising is targeted advertising and works even better.
In short: some advertising doesn’t work, but plenty of advertising works.

Going Back to Old Advertising Ways: Word of Mouth

Seth Godin says that before advertising all the buzz was through word of mouth.

Then advertising came along.

And in the beginning, it really worked well and there was a strong link between how much advertisement and sales.

But now we are in the era of advertisement saturation. And we should be going back to the word of mouth marketing.

With Facebook, Twitter, and social network it’s even easier.

The Solution: Be Remarkable!

Today there are so many products that satisfy customers’ needs is not enough.

And advertisement is ineffective.

What’s the solution?

Be remarkable.

Taking Risk is The Only Option

Being safe means being boring and unremarkable.

And that’s the safest way to sell little and go straight into oblivion.

The author mentions the car maker Buick, which always “kept it safe” with its design and, well… Never sold well.

Another “safe” strategy is to follow the market leader and copy them.
But that means you’ll never be the leader.

Companies following that strategy will always fail in the long run because the market will invariably change and they won’t be able to innovate.

Focus on Innovators

Seth Godin argues that you should not try to sell to the mass market and the average Joe.

But you should instead be remarkable and sell to a smaller group of innovators.

Those guys are the ones who are willing and excited to try new things. They will talk about your product and they will help you to make it grow.

Little by little, the early majority and later the majority and the laggard will catch on.

This is called the diffusion curve, and Godin takes this concept from the famous book Crossing the Chasm (without crediting it, as far as I can remember).

Target Ads and Measure

Seth Godin says that in this era where so few people pay attention it’s paramount that you target your ads to the early innovators and to the people who care about your product.

That’s the first step.

The second one is to measure and adjust your advertisement depending on the feedback you get.

purple cow book cover

Real-Life Applications

  • Don’t Be Afraid of Being Remarkable

One of the reasons many individuals and companies resist being remarkable is the fear of failure and ridicule. Don’t!

Even if some might don’t like you, you only need to be liked by a few to be successful. And you have an immense higher chance when you are remarkable.


  • Too Long For Such A Simple Messages

Some of the ideas are good and noteworthy.
The main idea is also solid.
BUT you don’t really need a whole book for it.

  • Some Bits Don’t Make Much Sense to Me

In his TED talk on Purple Cow Seth Godin shows a picture of multicolored packaging products that all try to be remarkable.

Then, he says that all products try to capture people’s attention.

And what’s his great plan for selling more?

Trying even harder to catch people’s attention by being remarkable.

But, what a second… That’s exactly what they were all trying to do!

It feels like telling to the soldier going to war that the secret to staying alive is to shoot the enemy first. Well, that’s what they’re all trying to do, isn’t it?

  • Generic Advice That Doesn’t Always Apply to Everyone

There are plenty of niches where you can be unremarkable and complement a market leader product with an add-on product and make lots of money.

Investor and entrepreneur Jay Samith in Disrupt You talks about exactly that strategy. He says that today everyone’s trying to be unique. And there are plenty of opportunities left for those who occupy the more boring area of the marketplace.

Samith has plenty of examples that he exploited himself to make lots of money while thriving with unremarkable products.

  • Quite Unscientific

Purple Cow relies heavily on anecdotes, stories, and correlation -also read Fooled by Randomness on correlation bias-.

There are little numbers, data, and science.

Just Seth Godin’s hot takes and opinions, turned into a book.


Godin says he had the idea of the purple cow while watching a long field of cows in Europe.

However, there is a well-known brand in Europe that has a purple cow as a brand.

Should we believe Godin that he had his inspiration watching fields of mammals instead of following his sweet tooth in some shop?

I don’t know.

But whichever the case, I like the book’s concept.
However, frankly, albeit the main concept and idea are solid, I don’t think you need to read this book in its entirety.
Purple Cow is a heavily padded book, stretching a couple of ideas to make it long enough to publish a book.

And I think you can get better to employ your time by getting the same message through a summary or a 10 minutes speech.

Read the best books collection or get the book on Amazon

Scroll to Top