How To Use the Trojan Horse Strategy to Sell your Handmade Products

It’s funny, the day I started this article, I was browsing the Internet in the evening, killing time, and came across a *GQ interview with Steve-O. In the interview he mentions a stunt he was getting ready to pull.

His plan was to sit in a lawn chair, on the roof of a wooden outhouse, and his friend was going to drive a car, at 50 mph, through the outhouse.


He stated, “I’ll fall a good eight feet to the ground, but the idea is we’ll film it in super slow-mo and the car crash will look super cool.”


The interviewer asked “why exactly?” he was doing this stunt and Steve-O said he was partnering with Lyft to promote their app and instead of simply telling his fans about Lyft, he thought it would be more effective to show them something cool and mention Lyft at the end.


Dumb stunt (I think he ended up breaking his ankle during it)…


REALLY smart marketing tactic.


Are Steve-O’s fans (aka ideal customers) going to talk about a video for days and tell their friends they’ve got to see it if Steve-O is simply standing there saying, “Hey, have you heard about Lyft? You should download their app.” 




But are they going to be shocked by Stevo-O sitting on top of an outhouse and watching a car plow through it in slow motion? Yes.


Are they going to watch it over and over? Yes.


Are they going to tell their friends about it? Yes.


Steve-O knew his fans would find it lame if he simply solicited information to them. And if his audience thought it was lame, they weren’t going to download the app or forward the video to anyone else. And if no one downloads the app, there goes his partnership with Lyft.


This is the perfect example of selling without it feeling like selling.


Steve-O used the Trojan Horse strategy to market an app.


You can also use the Trojan Horse marketing strategy to more effectively marketing your business and products. I’ll teach you how in this article.




It’s important to understand the tale of the Trojan Horse in order to understand this concept. If you’re not familiar with it, here are the cliff’s notes:


The Trojan war, a war between the Greeks and the Trojans had been going on for over a decade. The Greeks crafted a large wooden horse to present to the city of Troy as a peace offering.


The Greeks then sailed off; leading the Trojans to believe the war was over. They opened the huge gates to Troy, lugged the huge horse inside and had a huge party to celebrate.


What they didn’t know was there were Greek soldiers hiding inside the horse. They waited until everyone passed out in a drunk stupor to sneak out of the horse, open the big gates to Troy and let the rest of the Greek army in, who had sailed back in the darkness of the night.


The Greeks were able to defeat the Trojans and end the war.





This section contains an affiliate link to a product I personally own and recommend. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


I first read about the Trojan Horse in relation to marketing in Jonah Berger’s book Contagious. It shares the key elements involved when something goes viral or becomes popular. Which is important when it comes to selling a product.


It’s hands down, one of my favorite marketing books and shares tons of examples, stories and actionable techniques you can actually use in a small business, which is why I’m recommending it to you using my affiliate link: CONTAGIOUS: Why things catch on.


In one of the chapters, Jonah talks about how a good story is a great tool to carry a marketing message. People repeat stories and thus pass on your marketing message.


The tale of the Trojan Horse has helped pass on the message: don’t trust your enemies.


Jonah also points out the lessons of hard work paying off taught through “The Three Little Pigs”, the dangers of lying through “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”, and shares many more examples of how real businesses have successfully used this tactic (and those who have tried, failed and why they failed).


When people are entertained by a story and it’s told over and over, it also passes the message/lesson on with it.


But you can take another important marketing strategy from the Trojan Horse. And that is:


Wrapping something people don’t want, in something they do want, so they’re more likely to receive it.


I know you don’t want to think of what you have to offer as something people don’t want and we’re not trying to hide anything malicious in your Trojan Horse or swindle people into spending money.


But when everyone has a product to sell and consumers feel as though they’re always being sold to, “not interested” is their first reaction.


That’s why commercials have to be extremely clever to get noticed these days.


I’ll happily watch a commercial if it makes me laugh or entertains me but I tune out if it’s the same basic: car, Greek yogurt or weird perfume commercial.


Marketing messages and sales pitches are unwanted in this day and age. But they’re required to run your business. So to get people to listen to them, you must wrap them in a more appealing package.




A guy rang my doorbell the other day and opened with:


Hi, I was just chatting with your neighbour across the way…Jody? I’m not sure if you’ve seen our signs on her yard but….


My first reaction when I opened the door was “Ugh, another door-to-door salesman.” But he got my attention because I know Jody, I like Jody and I respect her opinion; she’s suggested some great companies to me in the past.


Had he started with the typical sales pitch, I would have stuck with my initial reaction, told him I was in the middle of making dinner and asked if he could come back later.


He needed that “I know your neighbour” Trojan Horse to get me to open my door and be receptive to his sales pitch.


Of course, consumers are more receptive when they’re the ones coming to you in search of a product, which is your ideal situation. For that, you must have a signature style consumers are actively seeking, here’s how to find yours.


But if you wait for shoppers to come to you for every sale, you won’t have many sales to count. 


Let’s figure out how you can get your audience to be more receptive to the messages that help sell your products, by building your Trojan Horse.





There are many types of marketing Trojan Horses, several methods to deliver the Trojan Horse and several places to present the Trojan Horse.



  • Entertaining stories
  • Free gifts
  • Interesting facts
  • Quizzes
  • DIY’s
  • Funny videos
  • Amazing experiences
  • Etc.




  • Written
  • Spoken
  • Visually




  • Sales pitches
  • Product descriptions
  • Social media posts
  • Newsletters
  • Blog articles
  • Press Releases
  • Etc.





The Greeks had one thing in common with the Trojans, they both wanted to win the war. Knowing the main interest of the Trojans helped the Greeks craft their effective plan.


What’s the common interest you have with your customers?


It should be related to your products, but the interest should not be your products.


For example:


  • A common interest may be parenting, not teething necklaces
  • A common interest may be health, not workout clothes
  • A common interest may be decorating, not pillows


You must know what your audience’s interests are before you can come up with a gift/trophy they’re actually interested in receiving.


*If you need help figuring out who exactly your audience is and how you’re going to sell more to them this year than you did last year, check out this free email course: BEAT LAST YEAR’S SALES





A horse was the emblem of Troy so the Greeks choose an appropriate animal to build. Had it been a huge wooden monkey, the Trojans may not have been as eager to pull the “trophy” into the middle of their city.


Put your audience first and think about what they’d truly be interested in receiving, not what you’d like to deliver.


  • What do they hope to achieve?
  • What do they want to learn about?
  • What are they skeptical about?
  • What will make them put their guard down?


  • A parent may be interested in receiving a list of the top 10 best ways to sooth their baby’s sore gums when they’re teething
  • A health nut may be interested in quick five-minute videos to tone a specific area of the body
  • Someone interested in home décor may love a trend guide each season, which shares the hottest colors, textures, styles and prints and how they can inject them into their home.


Brainstorm what you can offer for free (or at a low entry price) that will pique your audience’s interest.





If the Greeks focused on sneaking the soldiers in, they may have come up with a less effective plan. Instead they put the wants and needs of the Trojans first. They knew the Trojans wanted to win the war so the Greeks put their egos aside to let the Trojans believe they were admitting defeat.


They probably didn’t want to spend all the time and money construction a giant wooden horse but they knew it was necessary to get the Trojans to take them seriously.


You don’t want to lead with your message or it can feel forced. If you start with a story, funny video, DIY, gift, etc. you know your target market wants to receive, it will feel authentic.


Your Trojan Horse must be relative to your message or the message will be lost.


You can’t create a cute cat video and then stick a “Check out Jane’s Jewelry” at the end and hope to get results.


If you’ve done a good job of finding an interest of your ideal customers’ and creating an appropriate Trojan Horse, you should be able to fit one of your products or marketing messages inside.


  • An amber teething necklace may be one of the tips on the top 10 list with the benefits of them and a link where readers can buy one.
  • The instructor may be wearing one of the workout tops they sell, while working out in the video. Then they would include a mention of where to buy it at the end of the video or a link in the video’s description.
  • Rich, deep colors and velvet may be a current color and textile trend and using throw pillows is a budget friendly way to add those elements to a home. A picture of a living room infusing those colors and displaying deep teal velvet pillows with a link of where to buy them would help market the products.


Find a way so subtly mention your business or products and fit a link in if your Trojan Horse is delivered online.




“If you build it, they will come” does not apply. That Trojan Horse never would have made it through the gates of Troy if the Greeks said “Hey, we made something for you. But you have to sail across the sea, get it on your own boat and then into your city.”


Once you’ve built your Trojan Horse, you must do the work to get it out there.


Writing a “Top 10 Ways to Sooth your Baby’s Sore Gums when Teething”, creating a great workout video or a fabulous home décor trend guide isn’t enough.


Once it’s created it’s got to be shared in a newsletter, on social media, with other bloggers, etc.


It adds an extra step and you may be wondering; why would I go to all that work to create something for free and then market it, in hopes that it’ll sell a product for me? Why wouldn’t I just market my products and skip the middle man? (The Trojan Horse is the middle man…or middle horse).


You can. But people are less likely to pay attention to a marketing message when it feels like a marketing message.


Remember Steve-O? It would have been a lot easier (and a lot less painful) for him to simply mention the Lyft app than to set up the stunt, attempt it over and over, edit it, etc.


But going to all the trouble of creating that video ensured it would get more attention and be more effective.





If the Greeks tried to fit a few soldiers, a couple doctors and a couple chefs inside the horse (you know, to make the soldiers stay inside the horse a little more comfortable), there wouldn’t have been enough room for all the strong soldiers needed to open the gates to Troy and let the rest of the army in.


You must choose one message to deliver per story or Trojan Horse in order for it to be effective.


What do you want to deliver along with the Trojan Horse?


  • Do you want people to learn about your business and why it’s different?
  • Which specific product do you want to promote?
  • Is there a feature you want to point out?


Choose one specific message you’d like to focus on.





If the Greeks showed up with a gift horse, lion, sphinx and eagle, the Troys would have been like “Woah, what’s up with all these gifts? We don’t have time to load them all in right now…maybe come back tomorrow.” And they would have thought something was off.


Whether you’re sharing your Trojan Horse on your website, through your newsletter or a social media post, focus on one at a time. The strategy won’t be effective if you try to cram too many messages in at once.




If you can’t find a connection from your products to a popular interest, play around with your products or brand.


Someone selling home décor wreaths may find there isn’t really a style of décor they can use to describe their wreaths, making it hard to work them into a trend guide, a set of holiday decorating tips, etc.


So they could go back to the drawing board with their wreaths and think about the specific interests related to why someone would use a wreath to decorate and switch up the wreath on their front door.


They could find a signature style and shift their wreaths to focus on:


  • A specific home décor style
    • Masculine
    • Farmhouse
    • Modern
    • Vintage
  • Season themed wreaths
    • Spring
    • Summer
    • Fall
    • Winter
  • Holiday themed wreaths
    • Halloween
    • Thanksgiving
    • Christmas
  • Specific purpose
    • Custom made street address wreaths
    • “Welcome” wreaths
    • Family name wreaths
    • To add fragrance to a home through fresh flowers or essential oils
  • Specific material
    • Fresh flowers – appeals to gardening interests
    • Recycled materials – appeals to environmentally friendly interests
    • Bicycle wheel as the base – appeals to cycling interests


Or combine ideas. For example, create farmhouse style holiday themed wreaths.


Now they can create Farmhouse home décor trend guides, decorating for Thanksgiving tips, Housewarming gift guide, etc.


Don’t be afraid to swallow your pride and change what’s not working. I had to do it with Made Urban and I’m so glad I did.




You may also be wondering why your handmade items aren’t selling, in which case, check out this article.



Now that you’re aware of the Trojan Horse strategy, you’ll notice it being used everywhere.


One of my favorite ones I recently discovered is this funny video. Berlitz will be top of mind when I want to learn a new language.

Are there any genious Trojan Horses you’ve come across lately? I’m also curious how many of you have read Contagious. Share in the comments!

And don’t be shy to let me know about other topics you’d like to learn about or areas you need help with 🙂


*GQ interview source (NSFW)

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  1. Joyce Rosselli says:

    Erin; Thank you for another great article. Now to find the time to implement it. Joyce

  2. Ashley Carver says:

    Wow!! Yes, I love the creative use of ads, and now know the method they’re choosing! Such a great challenge. I’d definitely love to see an active use of everyone’s “Trojan”!

  3. Lulu rose says:

    HI Erin,
    How wonderful to know about the (Trogan), this is something new, since I started long time to see that kind of advertising but I thought it’s weird and maybe because we didn’t have a clue about it.
    actually I tried some of those strategy for my product without knowing what it called, and I think I need more tips for that .
    Thank you very much:
    Lulu rose .

  4. I recently updated my “about” section on Etsy in an effort to revamp and reopen my shop. I’m pretty sure I accomplished the Trojan Horse message there. I wrote about being a CPSC compliant vendor of children’s clothing without a specific sales pitch to buy anything.
    My new shop name is LilyRoseLilClothes and I’m hoping to do better with a new children’s clothing line. Your articles are spot on, Erin. Thanks.

  5. Stephanie says:

    Love this idea. It goes well with your materials about being an introvert as well – how can I make a sales pitch that doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable. Thanks for this!

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