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How to succeed at guerrilla marketing

Guerrilla marketing uses innovative and creative campaigns to stop people in their tracks, make them blink, make them think or make them smile all while boosting brand awareness. Viral marketing falls under the guerrilla marketing umbrella, in fact, one of the aims of guerrilla marketing is for campaigns to go viral.

The nice thing about guerrilla and viral marketing (apart from the chance to flex your creative muscles) is that you don’t need a bottomless budget to capture the attention (and imagination) of millions of people. According to the father of guerrilla marketing, Jay Conrad Levinson, small businesses are better positioned to take advantage of guerrilla marketing tactics than large enterprises, mostly because they are more flexible.

Business beware

The thing with guerrilla marketing is that it’s risky by nature. You want to attract attention, you want to get people talking, you want to drive traffic to your website and that means pushing limits. A lot of guerrilla marketing campaigns rely on shock value, which opens you up to criticism and oceans of backlash.

Take, for example, the new South African film Night Drive.

It’s a horror about a group of tourists who end up stuck in the middle of the South African bush at night where they are hunted not by wild animals but poachers that indulge in human trafficking.

These days, it’s not just enough to release trailers to market a movie. People expect some sort of viral gimmick (Cloverfield used the internet to great effect, generating interest, arousing curiosity, and keeping audiences guessing), so Ogilvy, via its subsidiary 1984, gave them one.

South Africa is flyer-happy, every street corner, traffic light and stop street is crowded with people handing out flyers for parties, furniture sales and traditional healers. So people in Johannesburg didn’t think twice when they absent-mindedly accepted a flyer for Dr Uba. A handful of people read it and then all hell broke loose. You see, Dr Uba was offering to buy body parts (R5000 for eyes, R1800 for a breast and R2500 for a tongue) and the flyer directed people to a website, which showed some gory pictures of people in various stages of surgery.

It’s possible that a gimmick such as this would have caused an outcry no matter where in the world it was launched. But South Africa has a problem with muti killings (people killed for body parts and organs to be used in traditional medicine). Rhino poaching is also a recurring problem and as Dr Uba also offered rhino horn the flyer was a double whammy.

It was taken very seriously. The Department of Health expressed concern; it was reported that the police were readying an investigation. And then it was revealed to be a hoax. Dr Uba’s website started pointing to the official website for the movie and then things got really ugly.

Ogilvy, the advertising company that was ostensibly in charge of the campaign, issued an immediate apology and publically castigated its subsidiary, 1984, for going ahead with the campaign.  According to an article on Screenafrica.com, Ogilvy stated: “While the motivation behind this campaign was honourable, 1984 acknowledges that this was in bad taste and apologises unreservedly. The intention was never to mislead the public or media.”

But, Indigenous Film Distribution is of a different opinion and believes that rather than being in bad taste, the campaign was intended to raise awareness of the issues concerned (not to mention the film). In that case, the campaign was a resounding success and could be considered guerrilla marketing of the first degree.

The fuss without the mess

Of course it’s not necessary to go to such extremes to generate buzz.

If you have a designer on your staff you can easily create eye-catching banners for your website. But you need work completely outside of the box on this; you can’t just go with your logo and standard text. You know how impactful Wonderbra ads are? You know why? Of course you do. Tie your service or product in with a similar concept. It’s been shown time and again that sex is fantastic when it comes to selling brands (not so much products). So, risqué could be the way to go.

Try your hand at videos. One of the most impressive and obvious guerrilla marketing videos was Cadbury’s drum-playing gorilla. It was a worldwide hit. Why? Because it was unexpected, it was entertaining, it was funny and it used an animal everybody loves. You don’t have to hire exotic wildlife to shoot your video (we would actually rather you didn’t), but if you have a dog or cat or hamster that has funny habits or quirks, you could film them and tie that into your product or service.

You could even take your campaign onto the street, film it and upload it to YouTube; that way you get double exposure.

Jeff Haden used the example of the Clean Bottle guy. Clean Bottle, basically, is a water bottle that unscrews at the top and bottom so that it can be properly cleaned and will dry easily. The owner, David Meyer, needed to create some awareness, so he got an enormous plastic bottle costume made, flew over to France and ran with the cyclists taking part in the most famous cycle race in the world. He managed to get on camera and millions of people took his picture and recorded him on their cameras (and phones) and uploaded the videos online.

For the price of a costume and plane ticket Meyer got all the exposure and publicity he could manage, and his Clean Bottles are now available in chain stores across the United States.

All of which goes to show that you don’t need mega bucks to succeed at guerrilla marketing. All you need is the willingness to go where no man has gone before.

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