A Business Week article tries to tackle a “new” form of advertising it is calling “guerrilla advertising,” “a catch-all phrase for nontraditional advertising campaigns that take the form of theatrically staged public scenes or events, often carried out without city permits or advance public hype.”
The term riffs on “guerrilla marketing,” which was first coined by author Jay Conrad Levinson in 1984 to refer to unconventional, non-big-media-dependent brand-building exercises such as sending out a personalized letter touting a product to consumers, or canvassing with brochures. Such take-it-to-the-street DIY marketing and ad campaigns were once a low-budget strategy for startups and small businesses unable to afford a thirty-second spot.
But now, for a variety of reasons, even big-name brands are taking the guerrilla approach. It offers a way to engage highly targeted audiences, to develop a streetwise identity, and simply to jar consumers who are so inundated with advertisements—which have crept into video games and even onto egg shells—that they tend to ignore them.
But, interestingly, even practioners of the guerrilla advertising seem to think it has a limited shelf-life:
Adam Salacuse, chief executive officer of the Boston ad agency ALT TERRAIN (which devised the Microsoft [butterfly] sticker campaign), estimates that 65% of his firm’s clients request what he calls “engaging” ads—a category that, he says, encompasses guerrilla ads.
Despite the trend, Salacuse says he and his colleagues are starting to “recommend turning away from ‘eye-catching’ or ‘novel’ tactics because they’re initially amusing, but sure to fade,” he writes in an e-mail. “Even if unique, more is not better. The focus needs to be on quality of consumer engagement.”
Salacuse says that ALT TERRAIN is pushing more toward “influencer marketing,” getting a brand’s message out over time via tastemakers such as hair stylists or nightclub DJs who will promote a product or service in everyday conversation. He sees this as the next wave, now that consumers might already be growing weary or at least suspicious of guerrilla ads, which can seem like desperate publicity stunts.
Uh oh. Going into influencer marketing? Sounds a bit dodgy. As you have already read my opinion on buzz agencies like BzzAgent and others, I won’t dive too deeply into this discussion. But a company who has made its mark stickering thousands of unwanted stickers for MSN (and then being made to take them down because no one liked them) is now going into influencer marketing. So, trade in the stickers for real people. Do you think that these influencers will disclose their marketing role? Do you think that the buzz that they want to create will be anything more than the buzz that the stickers had (albeit mostly negative)? I fear that to take lessons learned from something called guerrilla advertising and apply them to influencer marketing is either deep folly or real danger.