Guerilla Marketing In Wallets

September 16, 2005
Print
Text Size:
A A

GRAND RAPIDS — Starting tomorrow, Massachusetts-based Staples Inc. will test a new guerilla marketing tactic in West Michigan. The office supply retailer has partnered with dozens of coffee houses in West Michigan for a program called Easy Money, in which 7,500 removable coupons will be attached to dollar bills that will be randomly distributed throughout the course of business.

Grand Rapids is an important market to us," said Staples spokesman Joy Errico. "We've opened three stores there in the past year and we thought it would be a great place to try it and see how it goes."

The coffee shop customer shares a common demographic with Staples' customer base: small business owners and people with home offices.

"That's why we targeted coffee shops," Errico said. "We wanted to make it as easy as possible for small business owners and these types of business folks to get the offer from us and try our services."

The Staples promotion, a debut tactic known as branded money, resembles a recent promotion by another large retailer, McDonald's. During the launch of its new Premium Roast coffee line, McDonald's positioned "street teams" armed with thermoses, cups and coupons in downtown Grand Rapids and other urban centers to surprise workers with free cups of coffee.

The area's most notable recent guerilla marketing campaign was 2004's Kalamazoo Air Zoo promotional blitz orchestrated by Jager Group. Jager positioned actors dressed as paratroopers in downtown Kalamazoo, along with vintage Army trucks patrolling its streets and air traffic controllers outside of the attraction's gates.

In Grand Rapids, mannequins dressed as paratroopers were hung by their chutes from buildings and billboards along high-traffic corridors.

"We're big proponents of anything that makes it an event," said Jager Creative Director Tom Crimp. "The general public is already so savvy to traditional advertising media. They see this is a form of entertainment, more of the brand speaking to the audience. And it's immediate, it catches people off guard."

Steve Harney, an associate with Full Circle Marketing and Design and president of the West Michigan chapter of the American Marketing Association, has helped his clients with similar promotions as part of event marketing packages.

One case involved blitzing a trade show with cars plastered with the brand, people on the street and on bicycles wearing company gear and handing out promotional material and samples, with billboards, posters, and ads all pointing prospects toward the client's showroom.

"It's controlled PR," he said. "It's taking advantage of another way to reach customers and it can be a great strategy to reach people doing the things they do every day."

He notes the tactics used during sporting events and concerts at the Van Andel Arena and other venues, where passersby are given product samples and coupons. The same is true of the Red Bull van and cigarette vendors distributing samples in bars.

"It's an interesting development that comes from the change that's taken place in American consumers," said Robert Eames, a marketing professor at Calvin College. "People are rethinking their marketing dollars, using energy and ingenuity instead of massive media budgets to get people's attention.

"Something that can be used in a quick and flexible way that you can target market pretty easily."

Unlike traditional advertising, it's easy to measure Return On Investment (ROI) with guerilla marketing techniques, Eames said. "With something like branded money, they can be almost surgical in the way they do it."

Plus, these tactics often generate a buzz unto themselves, he noted, such as Air Zoo, or this Staples promotion.

However, like its namesake style of warfare, many of guerilla marketing's targets may not appreciate the novelty.

In fact, the most famous examples of guerilla marketing have pushed the boundaries of decency enough to be offensive and sometimes illegal. Take, for example, the gambling Web site that sent a 39-year-old man wearing nothing but its brand scribbled on his chest onto the field of Super Bowl XXXVIII. The same Web site's paying a woman $10,000 to tattoo its brand onto her forehead. Then there's the high-profile launch of a firm this summer that brokers body part ad space.

In New York, a group has taken to projecting promotional images on the sides of buildings, much to the dismay of occupants and owners.

If guerilla marketing is defined by its unconventional channels and not its event status, the most prevalent examples are actually windshield wiper fliers and the individuals that hold signs on the side of the road.

"They're constantly trying to break through the clutter with their message, but it could be a double-edged sword," Eames said. "When you put something under a windshield wiper, how many people see that? Most just crumple it up and throw it away."

This does lead to concerns of how far marketers can go, he said. In David Foster Wallace's 1996 novel, "Infinite Jest," set in 2009, powerfully offensive commercial messages have destroyed television as a communications medium, forcing advertisers and marketers to brand everything from the calendar year to the sides of every domestic automobile.

According to Tim Penning, a communications professor at Grand Valley State University and past president of West Michigan's chapter of Public Relations Society of America, guerilla marketing tactics present marketers with some difficult choices.

"The battle is to be unique and unusual so you get noticed," he said. "A lot of people might like it and go shop at Staples, others will find it annoying and respond negatively."

Penning believes marketers factor this into the percent response of the campaign, from which ROI is determined. If the loss of potential customers to annoyance is outweighed by the positive response, it is a successful campaign and a worthwhile risk.

What that doesn't measure, however, is corporate image.

"Maybe they are going for a certain demographic that is young and hip and will think streaking across a football field is cool. They might hit that target, and it might not matter to them if they offend everyone else," Penning said. "But if they ever want to break into the mainstream, they're going to have to care about value, relationship building and what the customer cares about, not just making a sale."    

Recent Articles by Daniel Schoonmaker

Editor's Picks

Comments powered by Disqus