In today’s age of media and technology, it can be hard to make your mark in the advertising world. More and more, companies are turning to Guerrilla Marketing as a means of grabbing attention and inspiring interest by using consumer participation and/or engagement. This tactic involves extensive planning and a comprehensive knowledge of consumer culture. While it’s proven to be wildly successful, it does come with its share of risks which is why it is of the utmost importance to know your stuff before attempting to execute a guerrilla strategy. Take a lesson from some of the failed pursuits described below.
Not all attempts at this exciting and in-your-face approach to marketing are rewarding. When Ask.com decided to have a group of people hold a giant banner over a busy freeway in Seattle last year reading “Morning commutes suck. Let us help,” they didn’t seem concerned about the illegality of their stunt, but more worrisome is that they didn’t think about the safety of the drivers if the banner were to fall onto the 60mph freeway! Breaking the rules is one thing, but this was up there with Michael Jackson dangling his baby over a railing in terms of foolish decision making. Fortunately, thanks to the Twittersphere, Washington State DOT was on top of the ball and the banner was quickly removed.
A not-so-dangerous failed attempt was Universal Pictures’ promotion of the popular comedy, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which didn’t appear to win over everyone. Especially the Sarah Marshalls of the world. Guerrilla-style scrawled ads were posted across major cities featuring disparaging phrases, such as “I HATE YOU SARAH MARSHALL” and “YOU SUCK SARAH MARSHALL.” Unhappy Sarah Marshalls retaliated with posters reading “You Suck Judd Apatow,” images of which went viral… Ouch.
Also, take for example, Cartoon Network’s epic fail, post 9-11 in Boston, Mass. While promoting their popular show, Aqua Team Hunger Force, they used jerry-rigged, wire- filled, LED signs installed inconspicuously on structures such as buildings and bridges prompting a crew of police and members of the DHS to mistake them for possible explosive devices. Too soon guys, too soon. This resulted in massive fines for Turner Broadcasting (I’m talking millions) paid to city police and Homeland Security.
Fortunately, many of these situations are avoidable if you follow some important steps:
- Do your research – I’m not going to say that what you do needs to be legal. There are a lot of laws out there after all, some more bogus than others. For example, did you know that in Washington state the “harassing of Bigfoot, Sasquatch or other undiscovered subspecies is a felony punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment.” See more strange laws at www.dumblaws.com. What I will say is that it is helpful to know if you might be breaking one, and what sort of trouble you could get into. And how much it might cost you if you do. That way, you know whether to list “running from the law” as a requirement when hiring a team.
- Know your market (and try not to offend them) – Who do you want to react to this? And what do you want their reaction to be? Direct your efforts toward planning an event in an appropriate time at an appropriate place. Yeah yeah, you want exposure and ideally a massive crowd, but you also want the audience to follow-up. If your target audience is largely teenagers, catch them in line for a Bieber concert. If you want beer drinkers to Google you, why not host an experience at a tailgate.
- Commit, and hire people that are just as committed. Don’t half-ass it. You can be subtle or you can be bold, but regardless it is important that the plan is thorough and the execution is flawless. Account for anything that could go wrong and make sure everyone you bring onboard is on your side and well-trained. This might be tough if you have to contract out work, but it will be well worth it when it comes to execution.
- Have fun, for heaven’s sake. If you’re having fun, people around you will have fun. And more importantly, people around you will want to join in on the fun! If your plan is visual and you don’t have a crew, try and make people laugh or make people think. Some of the most effective modes of guerrilla marketing involve displaying data that the consumer can relate to.
Whether it’s a rainstorm, an unruly participant or a complaining vendor at the same event as you… sometimes you have no control over the elements. However, with carefully thought-out activations and lots of gusto, your brand is sure to make a splash!