They may smack of gimmickry but guerrilla marketing techniques can have far-reaching results and could warrant a place in retailers’ communications campaigns.

T-mobile geese

T-Mobile let a flock of geese loose in London for its latest ad campaign

A flock of geese driven through the streets of London, a giant karaoke version of The Beatles’ classic Hey Jude and a dancing flash mob in Liverpool Street Station.

They all sound like stunts; but for T-Mobile they have become part of its award-winning “Life’s for sharing” marketing concept - delivering footfall and sales uplifts as well as advertising industry acclaim.

T-Mobile’s integrated marketing campaign used these innovative events to create publicity alongside more traditional marketing media. It’s an example of guerrilla marketing, the term used to describe promotional activity that harnesses energy and imagination rather than purely massive marketing budgets, particularly involving interactive elements and targeting consumers in unusual ways and places.

It came up with the idea in conjunction with ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi after doing consumer research showing that consumers didn’t understand what T-Mobile stood for, and also felt that mobile phones are primarily a way to keep in touch with other people that matter in their life.

The result was the concept “Life is for sharing” and from here came the idea to create events that people would want to talk about and share using pictures and video on their mobile phones. T-Mobile head of brand marketing Lysa Hardy says: “We would film the events but also film people sharing them.”

The first involved a flash mob of dancers suddenly making themselves known in unison in the crowd at Liverpool Street Station during rush hour. The second event was a singalong in Trafalgar Square with the pop singer Pink. And the third aspect of the campaign involved one man named Josh, creating a band with more than 1,000 strangers to release a song on iTunes.

In the latest instalment T-Mobile ran a flock of geese through central London for an ad currently airing on TV, and the launch of a further ad with men practicing the longbow will hit TV screens imminently.

Hardy says that there was a specific objective to create press coverage, so the dance event was chosen as one that could generate press attention as well as create content for paid-for marketing.

To maximise the hype and keep consumers interested the dance event was held on a Thursday morning and the first ad was screened on TV the next evening in a prime time ad break within Celebrity Big Brother.

The T-Mobile campaign won nine Cannes Lions awards last year. And Hardy estimates that it generated £1.2m in media coverage. Some press were tipped off about the dance event and invited along, including the Evening Standard, which featured it as a centre spread in that evening’s edition.

T-mobile flashmob

T-Mobile’s flash mob that danced in Liverpool Street Station resulted in £1.2m of free media coverage

Hardy describes the impact: “We didn’t have anything particularly new coming out at that time in terms of handsets so we attributed most of the uplift we saw to the campaign.”

And the results were indeed impressive. T-Mobile saw a 16% year-on year footfall surge in its stores following the campaign’s launch. It broke its web sales targets by 22%, and sales of a £30-a-month tariff it was promoting at the time jumped 52%. At the same time searches for T-Mobile on the internet rose by more than 30%.

She adds: “We had more than 20 million views of the dance ad online and ours was the most visited channel on YouTube at the time.”

Another upshot was that it raised morale hugely among T-Mobile employees on the shopfloor upwards, creating a sense that they felt proud to work for T-Mobile again. Hardy explains: “The impact was absolutely phenomenal - the night it broke we texted all our employees to tell them it was coming on.”

In good elf

OfficeMax Elf Yourself Event, New York

OfficeMax has become synonymous with its ElfYourself promotion

Saatchi & Saatchi strategy director Richard Huntington says that this kind of marketing can succeed where retailers do more than “just pull stunts”.

He says: “The fundamental social currency of our time is being interesting,” and adds, “We need to earn people’s participation in a way that perhaps we didn’t think we needed to before.”

Across the pond, office goods retailer OfficeMax has engaged consumers to participate, becoming synonymous with the holiday viral campaigns it runs.

It identified that people often have stationery needs around the holidays - for instance at Christmas or back-to-school times and wanted its brand associated with those needs. So it created an interactive greeting card consumers could send to each other where they can superimpose their own faces onto dancing elves.

A spokeswoman for the retailer told Retail Week: “By engaging millions of consumers during the holidays, OfficeMax hopes to become top-of-mind when it comes to holiday shopping. Over the past few years, ElfYourself has become a holiday tradition and part of popular culture with icons including Prince Harry and Ellen DeGeneres joining in the fun.”

The “ElfYourself” viral has run every Christmas since 2006, and secured 378 million visits from consumers. During the latest 2009 Christmas season 160 million elves were created with 70.5 million unique users. To prove the buzz, OfficeMax also counted 260 press stories and 32,000 tweets on ElfYourself.

The spokeswoman adds: “ElfYourself has become a pop culture phenomenon and one of the most viral campaigns in internet history. The value of this exposure is incredible and has certainly raised OfficeMax’s profile during the holiday season and beyond.”

Promotional behaviour

Newburgh Quarter

The Newburgh Quarter in London arranged innovative events to raise its profile with international shoppers

West End shopping area the Newburgh Quarter has raised its profile to international shoppers with its “Wish You Were Here” campaign - which saw it do a “cultural swap” with the trendy Lower East Side district of Manhattan, including setting up pop-up shops in both destinations and running a series of events.

I-am Beyond founder and director Jo Jackson, who helped to create the campaign, is a specialist in alternative marketing, using viral techniques and brand advocacy to get clients noticed.

Jackson says the Newburgh Quarter wanted to raise its visibility in the US, and so the plan was devised to take it there to show people what it is all about, as well as generating publicity in the UK.

Jackson estimates that £400,000 in press coverage was generated, and this was complemented with marketing and PR. She adds that a next stage in Newburgh Quarter’s promotion will be to launch a competition for designers to create a unique park bench that will be erected outside each of the stores as a symbol of the area. The competition is designed to catch the imagination of just the kind of creative types who are likely to shop in the Newburgh Quarter themselves.

Other retailers are beginning to create ties with their customers through their marketing using competitions.

Huntington says that he expects to see more consumer participation-type campaigns. He adds: “The user-generated content obsession will wane, but we will see more of those that involve people before or after the commercial is created.”

However, while the original premise of guerrilla marketing was to generate a buzz on a budget, big brands find that this is not cheap, especially if guerrilla techniques are used as part of fully integrated marketing campaigns.

Hardy says the costs of the flash mob ad were on a par with a more traditional ad using a lot of post-production skills. For instance, the dancers were retained for several weeks before the event and rehearsals took place overnight in the station before the big day.

In comparison, the Josh campaign was done very cheaply building on the brand equity T-Mobile has now built.

Huntington says that for this to continue to work you need to keep coming up with ideas that consumers do not expect.

And he also warns retailers that the result of interactivity in marketing is not that you can slash your marketing budget and get customers and the press to do your work for you, but rather that the reward you will get can be far greater than you would have got from just running a traditional marketing campaign.

And as well as cash, T-Mobile also had to take something of a leap of faith. “Normally we would test a concept, but we decided that either people wouldn’t understand it or they wouldn’t know how they would react,” explains Hardy. “We went into this completely blind. It was an amazing feat to have pulled off.”

However, she did have a few heart-stopping moments on the morning of the dance flash mob, saying the crowds of commuters being rude left her thinking it was going to be a disaster.

Hardy says that by integrating these guerrilla aspects with a much wider campaign on TV, in print and online has produced changes in the way media is consumed. “Last year the role of the TV had changed. The TV was driving people online, for instance driving a lot of people to our YouTube channel.”

T-Mobile also found that people who visited the YouTube channel were then a lot more responsive to its digital advertising.

To generate massive numbers, the audience for each type of marketing also needs to be carefully thought through. Hardy points out that the marketing’s widespread appeal is by design. “We have tried to think of angles that are relevant to all sectors of the market. Pink could be perceived as a young artist, but we had her sing Hey Jude.”

T-Mobile has proved that consumers are open to something new and interactive when it comes to major brands communicating with them. Other retailers will need to be brave if they want to emulate its success.

Publicity Stunts


Benetton’s global casting call for its ad campaign

Iceland has worked an element of guerrilla marketing into its upcoming campaign by first running a competition to find the face who will star in the commercial.

It’s an interesting change of tack for a retailer that is famous for its celebrity-packed ads, and for standing by Kerry Katona despite the negative column-inches she was generating about her private life.

Similarly, Benetton has just embarked on a competition - called “It’s my time” - to find models for its autumn/winter 2010/11 ad campaign. More than 15,000 aesthetically blessed youngsters have uploaded profiles of themselves to enter so far.

From February 8 to March 16, 2010, people will be able to vote for their favourites among the young people chosen to take part in Benetton’s global casting session. 100 finalists will be whittled down to a group of 20 by a jury of experts, and they will then be flown to New York and feature in the ad campaign.

These retailers are not the first brands to use such a competition as a way of generating free publicity. Perhaps the most famous is the Queensland tourism authority, which advertised for someone to fill ‘the best job in the world”. The press interest-generating stunts that applicants were encouraged to embark on caught the attention of a global audience, and the final stage of interviews saw a Brit triumph. But did it work in raising the profile of the area as a tourist destination?

Well, the estimated media coverage was valued at more than AUS$400m reaching more than 3 billion people and the site set up to allow people to apply for the job and then track shortlisted candidates received 8.5 million unique visitors and 55 million page views.