They created a new brand - HAEFTLING (inmate) - and set up a website - www.haeftling.de. It all looked very sophisticated and well designed. Then the spin-machine was started and many German newspapers, like Der Spiegel or Stern, carried the story a few weeks ago (Article in English on DW World).
The idea became an instant success and in less than a month the website was flooded with over 3600 orders from all over the world !!
There was just one hitch: only 50 inmates were working for the HAEFTLING label and they couldn't keep up with all the orders coming in. So the e-commerce system had to be shut down for the time being and 30 additional inmates were hired.
The interesting thing is that according to an article in the FTD, nearly every German penitentiary is selling products made by inmates. But Herr Ledesi, the agency behind all this, did something totally different: they didn't just start selling shirts from yet another prison tailor shop. Instead they came up with a very elaborate concept: the brand, the website, the story - everything feels very authentic and makes you want to buy this stuff.
In fact, they did their homework so well that nobody seems to ask an obvious question: How good is the quality ?
None of the articles mentioned above says anything about this ! Perhaps everybody assumes that the products are as perfect as the branding !? Which is of course a classical function of a brand - but this kind of trust-building usually takes a bit longer than just a few weeks !!
There are still quite a few loose ends to tie up, tough: besides the quality issue, for example, it won't be possible to boost output in that one single prison after a certain level is reached. If they move the production outside, the products would loose a lot of their authenticity. But perhaps they can establish some kind of prison network, where many small groups are all working for the HAEFTLING label. This would create much needed jobs for a lot of inmates.
Anyway, if they solve these problems, it is pretty easy to predict that very soon HAEFTLING will reach cult status at internet speed - perhaps even worldwide !! And it has the potential to become a real best practice for "How to build a great international brand in today's world - with nothing but extraordinary products, a decent website and a little bit PR to start the buzz..."
...but however this plays out, it is already an excellent example for how to create a Purple Cow !