Think for a second: what was the last commercial you saw that impacted you enough that you wanted to share it with your friends and followers? It may take you more than a second actually, because for all the money poured into them, companies struggle to come up with truly memorable marketing vehicles. Spending is no substitute for good, old-fashioned creativity and imagination. Guerrilla marketing, on the other hand, is often dirt-cheap, but can become something that generates word-of-mouth, Internet chatter, free press coverage, and all the other things for which marketing folks live and breathe.
Whether you are pursuing your MBA as an experienced, working marketer or a young business student, wouldn’t it be cool to turn your next MBA-track marketing project into an experiment to see if you could make some real-world headlines with an unconventional, remarkable campaign, rather than turning in another boring hypothetical write-up? After all, grad students start successful companies in college all the time. You could make a name for yourself as a genius ad man or woman before you even graduate.
To help you try to catch lightning in a bottle, consider the following takeaways from three noteworthy examples (two good, one bad) of street marketing campaigns of recent memory:
The Stanley Cup Ice Sculptures
Early in the morning of the first day of the 2010 hockey season, in which the Chicago Blackhawks would be defending the title from the previous year, ice sculptures of the Stanley Cup trophy appeared in various spots around the Windy City. With the team denying responsibility, Chicagoans began spotting, photographing, and buzzing on social media about the frozen replicas, all of them speculating about who could have pulled off such a cool trick. Finally, the Blackhawks took to Twitter to say the sculptures were in fact an effort of its marketing team.
- Strike the right tone: It says volumes for this idea that the Blackhawks were able to convince people they weren’t behind it. It seemed like exactly the type of thing a passionate fan might do, just for the love of the team. It was a simple statement of shared pride in past achievement and excitement about the future, both things any business would love their product to be associated with.
- No risk, no reward: These marketers took a risk that the sculptures would melt before generating any attention, or that they could be vandalized once they were left on the street. But good guerrilla marketing needs that extreme edge to push it outside the bounds of normal and get people talking.
Aqua Teen Hunger Force and the Boston Bomb Scare
Guerrilla marketers for a movie based on a cult favorite cartoon TV show set up electronic light boards at busy spots around the Boston area, including subways and interstate overpasses. Although the character featured was instantly recognizable to fans of the show, it took five hours for before authorities realized the signs are part of a marketing campaign. In the meantime, bomb squads, emergency crews, and federal agents were rousted, and bridges and roads were closed for fear the signs were improvised explosive devices. Parent company Turner Broadcasting and its marketing firm agreed to a $2 million fine.
- Don’t get too obscure: Mystery is key to guerrilla marketing; it creates a puzzle for the audience that hopefully will push them to want to know more. But you have to give them enough to go on. These marketers ignored the fact that Aqua Teen Hunger Force is mainly popular with college kids, who presumably already knew about the movie coming out. The general public — who they were targeting — is far more familiar with IEDs and the concern over homeland terrorism. Because the signs were over their heads, many went with the most plausible explanation they could think of, which was cause for alarm, not fun curiosity.
- Obey the law: An obvious point, but apparently not obvious enough for a professional marketing firm to pay attention to it.
- Not all publicity is good publicity: ATHF‘s TV numbers stayed flat and the movie ended up the 177th-grossing film of 2007. Turns out that there is such a thing as bad publicity.
The Carrie Coffee Shop
To promote the release of this year’s Carrie remake, the people behind the movie rigged a New York City coffee shop to stage a Carrie-esque telekinetic freak-out. Unsuspecting patrons “witnessed” a woman use her mind to throw a man up a wall, knock books off shelves, and push tables and chairs around, all with the help of some ace wiring work
- Don’t shy away from scaring: Some business experts argue against frightening people with your guerrilla marketing campaign, but as this prank proves, scares are totally on the table. It’s simply a fact that for whatever reason, people love watching other people be pranked, and the scarier the better; the page views don’t lie.
- Do it right: What elevates this stunt to the upper echelon of guerrilla marketing are the craftsmanship and attention to detail. Visually, it’s perfect — the “marks” have no idea half the coffee shop is rigged to wires. If you’re going to tackle a big project like this, be sure you have the means to pull it off to full effect.
Image Credit: Jonathan Lurie