When a guerrilla marketing scheme backfired earlier this year, few people outside the world of advertising had ever heard of the term.
But, when mysterious battery-operated light boxes, intended to promote Turner Broadcasting System's show "Aqua Teen Hunger Force," triggered bomb scares in Boston in February, guerrilla marketing went from advertising industry newcomer to terrorist in a matter of hours.
Despite this unsavory moment in the spotlight, guerrilla marketing has proved successful in attracting attention and garnering consumer loyalty for its products. Originally designed as a way to help brands stand out in today's advertisement-filled world, this new type of marketing has taken off, rapidly expanding to meet demand from clients, sponsors and even consumers.
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According to Sam Ewen, the CEO of Interference Inc., the company behind the electronic light boxes in Boston, guerrilla marketing's tactics work because they "treat consumers with respect" and allow them to make decisions "if they want to be aligned with a brand … or not."
"In my experience as a guerrilla marketer, I have found that clients are looking for more and more ways to form a connection between their consumers and their brands in ways that are relevant, in ways that touch [the consumers], that also activate [them] and get them to take a position or take a stand on something," said Ewen in an interview with ABC News.
Ads Become 'Events'
Undoubtedly, anyone who saw the full-scale Roman procession making its way through New York City's Times Square last August to promote the DVD release for the HBO series "Rome" or the couple getting married last week in a giant "Wedding in a Box" erected in New York City's Diamond District to mark the launch of iVillage's new Wedding Channel certainly won't forget those sights anytime soon.
Unlike more traditional TV or radio advertisements crammed into a 30-second spot, guerrilla marketing campaigns often involve a performance aspect, an event designed to catch people's attention, which then facilitates a lengthy, often 10- to 15-minute, one-on-one interaction between consumers and the brand (or the person representing the brand).
"Brands are trying to make these connections where they create … these experiences, some of which are very unexpected, some of which might be a little more traditional, but, regardless, they're different," said Ewen. "They're something that [consumers] can look at and … say 'I am more behind a brand because it speaks to me in a way that I am, not in a demographic that I fill.'"
According to Ewen, the goal of these "events" is twofold — first, to generate word of mouth support for the product, and, second, to attract the attention of the media.
"The No. 1 reason that people tend to visit Web sites or use a product is because they heard it from a friend that they know," he said. "The second most important reason is that they read about it in an article in the press. Guerrilla marketing focuses on those two things specifically. We want to get people seeing something that they're not used to seeing and then telling someone about it and, if the idea, is interesting enough then the press will hopefully cover it."
In fact, guerrilla marketers are banking on the shock value, or rather the talk value, of these publicity stunts. They are hoping that people who see these events not only tell their friends and families, but also post pictures of them on the Internet, blog about them, videotape them and post them on YouTube.
Unlike traditional advertisements, guerrilla marketing lets the consumers do the work, allowing them to bolster support for these brands and products on their own and, thus transforming these individuals from just your average consumers into "brand advocates," people invested in and loyal to a certain product or brand.
According to Ewen, guerrilla marketing is the next frontier of advertising, but that does not necessarily spell the end of traditional print, TV or radio ads as we know them. Guerrilla marketing, he insists, is meant to reinforce and strengthen mainstream ad campaigns.
"We don't want traditional advertising to go away, we want to be a compliment," he said. "We want something that says 'Here's something exciting,' that adds some new energy, something that will not only get [our clients'] consumers, but their advertisers, their sponsors, their board members [and] their shareholders interested in the fact that they're taking chances, they're taking risks [and] trying to do something that's just a little bit different, that stands out from all of the marketing that you're seeing every day."
While many say that guerrilla marketing got the best publicity it could have in February in Boston, Ewen says that, when it comes to this new genre of advertising, not all publicity is good publicity. Instead, he insists that guerrilla marketers must learn from the mistakes that occurred in the "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" campaign and take every possible scenario into account when planning their events.
"In the end, it was a mistake. We learned a lot from it and, I think, the category of guerrilla marketing got better because of it," he said.
Ultimately, Ewen's objectives, when creating a campaign, do not differ from the more traditional billboard, Internet and TV ads we are all used to.
"My goal is to create positive attention as much as possible, get people talking, get the word-of-mouth element, the viral element to as many people as can be, but to do so in responsible ways that pay attention to what the parameters are of what people are expecting from marketing programs."