Advertising has been an effective marketing tool for more than a century. Little did Timothy Eaton know when he published his first catalogue in 1884 that it would become a household staple for many decades. Quite unwittingly, he stumbled on a dynamic and different marketing tool - one that built his business into a retail empire. In his way, Timothy Eaton was a guerrilla marketer.
Today, "guerrilla marketing" is used to describe any non-mainstream method of advertising, promoting, persuading or marketing. It has a plethora of sub-terms to describe new methods, such as grassroots, viral, alternative and undercover. It is based on human psychology, so is focused on our sense of curiosity, greed, guilt, etc.
So how does guerrilla marketing work?
In some ways, guerrilla marketing is much like regular advertising. For instance, it's never random. It is highly targeted, just like other advertising, but is more of a "raid and run" than a sustained campaign: Hit a market hard, then retreat, rally and hit again, but with a different method. It is easy to understand why this type of promotion is usually used by small companies that have more imagination and energy and less money than large companies.
That is not to say, however, that large companies never use guerrilla marketing tactics.
Undercover marketing, or product placement, for example, is well known and recognized in the movie industry. When a star picks up a can of Coca-Cola, roars off in a BMW or hugs her Manolos, the act is deliberate and meant to directly promote the product to a captive and unsuspecting audience.
The premise is that if we see a character or star that we admire using a product, we will want to rush out and buy the same thing; it's cool to associate with a hot star. Companies pay millions for this kind of exposure to their target audience.
Smaller companies have neither the means for, nor the need, of movie audience exposure but this marketing strategy can be used to great effect on a smaller scale.
A neighbourhood Italian bakery was barely making ends meet, so decided to offer hot lunches along with its usual breads and cakes. A call to the local fire station brought the big red truck and a bunch of calendar-worthy firemen in for a free lunch. The veal-on-a-bun laden with mushrooms, peppers and tomato sauce was an instant hit with the suspendered ones, as were the home-made pizza, lasagna and salads. The local newspaper ran a story about the firemen's twice-weekly lunch stops and the bakery's fortunes rose like its bread.
So using celebrities works. Regularly send the morning team at a radio station a basket of your buttertarts so that they smack their lips and lick their fingers on air. It won't be lost on listeners. Provide outfits, hairstyles or jewelry for a local TV news person for credit in the credits. People notice.
How do you tell people that you have started a new salsa dance class or opened a club? Since your market is highly visible on Friday and Saturday nights, stick postcards or flyers on every windshield of every car parked around existing salsa clubs and hand them out personally as dancers leave. Find your market and speak to them directly - one aspect of guerrilla marketing is a "do-it-yourself" attitude. Eventually, dancers will talk about you among themselves on the dance floor (buzz marketing) or through websites such as TOSalsa.com or at dance classes (viral marketing).
There are many examples of alternative styles of promotion. The Interactive Urinal Communicator, triggered by, ummm ... an active presence, delivers a 15-second audio message to the user. Target male travellers (airports), beer drinkers (bars), high-end diners (expensive restaurants), or teens (arcades).
The female alternative is not interactive, but is certainly "in your face," on the back of the cubicle door.
Text messaging has been played with a bit as a promotion tactic, but the results are unclear. People who pay for each message resent junk mail, so the idea can backfire. And finding a list of targeted individuals is tricky.
Taking to the streets can be effective if your target market is there. During the July Beaches Jazz Fest in Toronto, samples of a new chocolate bar were offered and readily gobbled up by the throngs of attendees.
At the Gay Pride Parade, condoms were liberally scattered into receptive crowds, along with myriad other lifestyle products.
At the Greekfest, Taste of the Danforth, restaurants took their kitchens outside on the road to seduce passersby. It was effective. I succumbed to the lure of feta pastries and souvlaki slathered in tzatziki. And have gone back to the restaurants as a result.
Not for everyone, professional boxers have been known to sell space on their bodies to advertise a product or service. Boxing draws a huge audience and is televised, and the market is definable.
Sometimes a costumed character can garner attention at an event.
Depending on the outfit chosen, children and their parents or teens or Elvis fans could be attracted and a product promoted. Want to sell organic bananas at your market? A monkey costume might do the trick - a new form of persuasion - gorilla guerrilla marketing.
(Brenda McMillan can be reached at email@example.com)