The rules of a great guerilla marketing campaign

It started out as a story about a tiny restaurant with cardboard walls giving away free pizza; it ended up being a crafty, if flawed, guerrilla marketing campaign for a very large company.

At the beginning of 2010, Sensis watched its flagship product, Yellow Pages, gradually succumb to a market dominated by Google.

Then came an opportunity – make use of social media and other online properties to highlight what the product is best at: helping consumers find stuff.

So the great “free pizza scavenger hunt” proceeded, with word-of-mouth fuelling a frenzied scramble to find the location of this spontaneous outburst of yumminess.

With over 6,000 calls to the secret number that would reveal the location, YellowPages proved a number of things:

1. People love free pizza.

2. Consumers will go the extra mile for something new.

3. Social media is ridiculously powerful.

4. Guerrilla marketing tactics worked for this campaign.

Yes, this campaign happened over a year ago and was executed by a company that has a marketing budget bigger than many small business’ annual revenues.

It also drew criticism for its over-exaggerated search results and social media response.

But here’s the kicker – the outlay for the campaign was stupidly small compared to the media response value and the brand’s available budget (an exact number wasn’t forthcoming, but I’ve been assured by a former YellowPages marketing department employee who wished to remain nameless that it was negligible).

Advantages of going guerrilla

“Guerrilla marketing” isn’t just an opportunity for your brand to get into the paper – it’s a way for your fledgling company to take advantage of a situation swiftly without spending heavily.

Guerrilla tactics are, by nature, supposed to be clever, memorable, original and, crucially, cheap.

But the term itself is somewhat of a misnomer for a series of marketing tactics that are now in everyday use in many integrated marketing campaigns, for big or small businesses.

Associate Professor Dr Con Stavros from the School of Economics, Finance and Marketing at RMIT, says that guerrilla marketing has become the norm for businesses.

“It has become part of the furniture. I see little companies and big companies both trying to do this, so it’s not really different anymore,” says Stavros.

“A decade ago it may have seemed new, now it’s more like commonsense.”

Adam Ferrier, founding partner and consumer psychologist at Naked Communications, agrees that while the term “guerrilla marketing” itself has become “a little dated and disruptive”, its key ideas are useful to all brands who want to make their presence known to consumers.

“The world is moving towards communications we choose to engage with, not disrupt us,” he says.

“However, that said, the principles of guerrilla marketing are still sound. Basically, it’s doing stuff that is attention getting and remarkable, that is worth remarking on.”

Many people around Melbourne know of Father Bob McGuire, a local celebrity and champion of the homeless.

In 2008, the Father Bob McGuire Foundation was looking for a way to bring increased attention to the plight of the homeless in a clever way, but would suit their modest budget (which was zero).

With the help from ad agency Clemenger (which offered its services for free), they came up with a sticker that featured a knife, fork and napkin that would be placed on the top of bins throughout the CBD, with the slogan: “For the homeless, every day is a struggle.”

The campaign was very well received. It was clever, required little outlay and did what it was supposed to do: it raised awareness.

While not many for-profit start-ups can get the Clemengers of the world to offer their services for free, there’s nothing wrong with working with another SME or related partner on a guerrilla marketing campaign, as long as both of your objectives are clear and expectations aligned.

The cooler the story, the better the coverage

Eddie Zammit, founder of publication T-World, knew that there was a market for a magazine based on his love of the humble t-shirt, but getting it to his targeted demographic (fellow “T freaks”) wasn’t going to be easy.

Passion, says Zammit, is always the key – but opening the door requires some persistent groundwork.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve been told it’s just a t-shirt, but the industry is just amazing – maybe 80% of labels that exist now didn’t exist until the early 90s,” he says.

“I get excited about it because so many people wear t-shirts but they don’t know much about them.”

Being a niche, printed publication in a digital world isn’t easy, admits Zammit, but his persistence has placed T-World in the hands of consumers in 30 countries around the world.

To keep ahead of the game, says Zammit, it’s not only his marketing tactics that need to be quick on their feet, but his product offering as well.

“Our greatest competitor is the internet – we’re constantly trying to include content that doesn’t appear on the net,” he says.

“In the next issue I’ve tried my hardest to have the most unique content I can find, asking people for stuff that hasn’t been written about yet.

“I’ve changed the format and the design of the whole publication and I’m releasing a five-minute viral campaign execution to support it.”

Zammit maintains that while he’s eager to get the T-World brand through to as many people as is possible for a small business, it’s not his brand that counts the most.

By focusing on creating a piece of enjoyable content that will, hopefully, be spread across different media outlets, Zammit is attempting grow the size of his potential market, rather than merely plug his own brand.

“The campaign video has high-profile people from the industry featuring in it, lending it credibility, as well as unveiling the new look of the magazine… (but) the campaign is more about getting people interested in t-shirts again, with only very little actual T-World branding on it,” he says.

Naked’s Ferrier says: “Media is often more likely to pick up a story if you’re a SME – they’ll back an innovative underdog.”

“You’re also more likely to be able to respond nimbly and quickly, and create more topical and timely communications.”

“The opportunities are limited only by your imagination and creativity, and the resources it takes to develop the idea and carry the activity out.”

Avoiding the slip-ups

But the the door swings both ways. Growing burger chain Grill’d got itself into trouble over a “2 for 1” campaign that involved a print ad it placed as an “O Week” promotion in a university newspaper for students in Victoria.

The promotion itself went viral, with friends emailing it to each other and printing out copies. The problem was that the Grill’d marketing team neglected to add the proper T&Cs that would restrict the coupons to the print version only.

When they attempted to retract the offer, the public lashed out, claiming, quite rightly, that the chain was penalising its consumers for a mistake that it had made.

The error was compounded when its competitor Nandos took advantage of Grill’d’s situation by launching its own guerrilla tactics, offering to redeem the disaffected Grill’d customers’ vouchers for its own burgers.

While Grill’d managed to get itself out the situation by accepting the vouchers to a specified date and openly admitting its mistake, owner Simon Crowe accepted that regaining its consumer’s trust would be difficult.

“We’re not a big chain, so we can’t just ‘turn on’ an offer like this… we’ll be trying our hardest to still deliver the same burger and customer experience that (consumers) come to expect from us,” he said.

This is an example of a good marketing idea not going quite to plan, but the indication of success is how it’s dealt with at the time of crisis.

While Grill’d may have received an amount of media attention that any SME would have dreamed of, it was for the wrong reasons.

“Ultimately the success of a campaign can only be based on (answering the question): did it meet or exceed your objectives?

“The objectives could be to raise awareness, generate sales, or build the brand, or any combination thereof,” explains Ferrier.

“So for all SMEs, go for it – as long as you do activity that builds on your brand proposition.”

Pondering strategy

So think about your brand/company/product and what you want it to be linked to.

Integrate a number of platforms and don’t rely just on the print ad or billboard – allow your consumer to interact with you through social media, see you in outdoor executions and feel the incentive of seeking out your business or purchasing your product.

For example, if you’re marketing a new kind of freshly squeezed juice and want to align it with your favourite sport, get some tickets to a local game for you and your mates and go wearing some eye-catching sponsorship gear that will spruik your juice.

Post some footage and photos across your social media channels and offer some tickets as a prize.

Small incentives, done with little outlay but with clever ideas and utilising integrated marketing platforms, will no doubt raise your profile with your customers and create the attention that will, hopefully, deliver the objectives you’ve set out to achieve.

Rules of the guerrilla jungle

  • Be clever.
  • Keep your eyes peeled for a good situation.
  • Take advantage of it!
  • Integrate your campaign.
  • Be as interactive as possible.
  • Link up with a like-minded organisation in a joint campaign.
  • If you make a mistake, work with your consumer – don’t vilify them.
  • Be transparent.

This article first appeared on StartupSmart.

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