Is it guerilla or gorilla?


Remember the Samsonite commercials where they dropped a brand new suitcase into a gorilla’s cage and filmed it as the primate beat and bashed the luggage without harming it at all? That was classic advertising- extremely clever and directly illustrating a product benefit. The gorilla is strong but our suitcase is stronger. Samsonite was among those advertising pioneers who broke new ground utilizing extreme creativity to clearly speak to potential customers. I suppose, in a way, it was the guerilla marketing of its day. Because of the results that it produced, clever marketing and the companies that execute it are worthy of emulating.

However, just because a company is big doesn’t mean that they’re a good marketing role model for our homegrown businesses. Companies of all sizes are becoming guilty of adopting what I call, the Malcolm X school of marketing – attempting to develop business by any means necessary. Successfully done, these rash, brash and extreme measures can yield results that can save a struggling company on the brink, but more often than not, marketing efforts that are not strategically planned and carefully funded fail.

There’s no denying that sometimes you need to act quickly to take advantage of a marketing opportunity, but often these under-planned efforts smack of desperation and, as the old saying goes, ‘you should never wait until you have to advertise to advertise.’ Put another way, the best time to advertise is when you don’t need too.

Another saying born out of the advertising age, “never let them see you sweat” holds especially true for the business universe. Customers can smell desperation and it’s no more attractive on a business than it is on an individual. That doesn’t seem to be stopping a lot of large companies from not preparing strategic marketing efforts.

The current upswing in desperate marketing measures made me wonder why I would see the most recent marketing experiment of the region‘s huge chains more than once.

Have you seen the latest tactics that the big box retail chains are using when undertaking a massive quarterly liquidation sale? They employ real human beings with sandwich boards to stand at intersections or place placards on vehicles and drive around the area on a non-stop loop. I can’t be certain what they’re hoping to achieve with either endeavor- I assume they wrongly believe they’ll appeal to individuals who have casually heard the term guerilla marketing, but both of these efforts are strange exercises in a time when extremely creative guerilla marketing is getting real results for companies of all sizes.

Paying a person to stand at some wind blown suburban crossroads wearing a thin coat and a sign announcing sofas half off isn’t creative, it’s crass. When I see companies employing this technique I assume a number of things, none of which reflect positively on the retailer. Obviously it is cheaper for them to pay someone minimum wage than to utilize traditional methods of announcing their sale, but it’s nothing more than perverse voyeurism to watch these degraded individuals passively peddle next to the line of Expeditions, Navigators and Hummers humming guiltily next to them at a red light.

Furthermore, why don’t the retailers just put the signs at the intersection, strap them to the traffic light? Because it’s illegal. That isn’t their property and it isn’t being offered as ad space. There is, however, no law about someone standing on that property and if he or she happens to be wearing a billboard for an overcoat, well, so much the better for the store with too many sofas. Also, if the law happens to have the time to investigate it’s quite easy for that sign to get up and walk away.

The placard positioned on top of a P.T. Cruiser or banner wrapped around a Beetle driving a radius around the store in question is almost equally offensive with the cost of gasoline. Understandably, someone may be in the market for a couch and see this vehicle as venerable but, on the whole, I believe most people find it vile. Again, the retailer has gotten away from paying anything but a tank of gas and a minimum wage but at what cost to their image?

As you can see, there are clear benefits to employing guerilla marketing. It’s often cheap and usually very different from what your consumer audience is used to encountering, but it’s not always clever. We are more concerned with longevity than a quick fix, your marketing mission would more than likley benefit more from the strength of the suitcase ape than the run and gun style of the jungle fighter.

Todd Palmer and Virtual Farm Creative, Inc.